As hunters and wildlife enthusiasts we tend to focus on wildlife behavior and biology during hunting season but tend to forget about them during the summer months. But the summer months are very important to our population numbers. Hunting season includes mating season, but now the babies are hitting the ground and the real fun is in full swing.
Whitetail deer are busy growing the new crop of fawns and growing antlers (for the bucks). Bucks lose their antlers in the spring after rut and grow new ones this time of year. For the most part, bucks grow bigger antlers each year until they peak around age 5-6. Several factors enter into antler growth including age, genetics and nutrition. You can’t change age or genetics easily but you can supply good nutrition as they are growing new antlers right now. The added nutrition will also help the does that are fawning and nursing those fawns right now.
Wild turkey hens are busy raising their poults alone. They breed and nest in the spring each year. It only takes about 28 days of sitting on the nest for the eggs to hatch. The poults are learning how to eat and groom themselves as well as how to roost and get away from predators. Poults that have survived to this point have a good chance of making it to adulthood. They will rejoin the larger population in the fall.
Warm season supplemental nutrition provides food sources when population numbers are at their highest. Deer are nutritionally stressed due to antler growth and fawn rearing. Turkey hens are finding places to feed their poults. This supplemental nutrition can come in the form of grains provided in wildlife feeders or in food plots. Food plots during the warm season are an underutilized nutrition source. We can grow many highly nutritious forage crops for wildlife during the summer. Some great choices include millet (brown top, pearl, dove proso), sunn hemp, clay peas, cowpeas, hairy indigo, perennial peanut, Aeschynomene Americana, alyceclover and more.
Wild Turkeys in Chufa planted in Gadsden County – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
Wildlife management continues to be an area of growing interest on our local farms and ranches and has the potential to generate significant additional income to the farm enterprise. It is also an opportunity to practice good stewardship of the natural resources that we have in abundance here in the Panhandle. Each spring I get many phone calls from landowners wanting to know what they can plant to encourage wild turkeys to utilize their property more and to enhance the quality of their wild turkey habitat. Chufa is one such plant that wild turkeys love like most of us love ice cream and it is easy to grow and will provide feed for turkeys for several months.
What is chufa? Chufa is an African variety of the native nutsedge, which is a warm season perennial plant. However, chufa is not as aggressive as the native nutsedges and typically will not create problems with succeeding crops that you might plant after it. The actual foliage of the plant is not utilized by wildlife, but turkeys, hogs, ducks, and raccoons love the underground tubers that the plant produces. Each individual plant can produce 10 to 75 peanut kernel sized tubers (see photo 1) that wildlife utilize. These tubers are high in carbohydrates and protein, and they are also edible by humans, having a sweet taste similar to almonds or raw peanuts.
Photo 1. Chufa seed for planting – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
Turkeys will usually begin to dig the chufas up in early fall as soon as the above ground leaves turn brown. In Florida, they will dig and eat the nuts from fall throughout the winter and into spring. (see photo 2 of turkeys feeding in a spring chufa patch)
Photo 2. Turkeys scratching up chufas – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
If you are considering planting chufa there are several considerations to take into account. The chufa plant typically grows well anywhere that field corn can be grown. You should soil test the area you intend to plant and lime to a pH between 6.0 – 6.5. On most soils this requires 1 ton of lime per acre. Recommended planting dates are April 1st through June 30th in the panhandle area. Earlier plantings will provide higher yields, whereas later plantings typically will provide foraging for wildlife later into the following spring. To maximize use by turkeys into the spring I would recommend looking at planting in June. Chufa can be planted later than June 30th some years but remember that it takes the plant approximately 90 days to produce mature tubers and this must be accomplished prior to frost/cold weather. Plant the seed into a well prepared and fertilized seedbed. The seeding rate for chufa is 40 – 50 pounds per acre broadcast or 30 pounds per acre drilled on a 36 inch row spacing. Strive for a coverage of 3 or 4 seed per square foot. When broadcasting the seed, set your disk to cut about 4 inches deep. This will cover the seed to an approximate depth of 2 inches which is ideal for chufa. Normal fertilizer recommendations would be 200 pounds of 17-17-17 per acre or equivalent at planting. When the plants are 6 – 12 inches high (approximately 1 month old) you should top dress with 100 pounds of actual N per acre (300 pounds of ammonium nitrate) to maximize yields. With high costs of fertilizer this may not be as desirable, but yields will be smaller if fertilizer rates are reduced. For weed control options on chufa plantings consult with your local County Extension Agent for up-to-date recommendations.
Small plantings are feasible (less than ¼ acre) if wild hogs are not present. It has been my experience that best results are obtained with ½ acre or larger plantings. Chufa is a plant that will do a good job of reseeding itself, sometimes for several years. Reseeding can be accomplished by simply disking the area of the previous planting between April and the end of June and following fertilizer recommendations for the initial planting. For most locations it is advisable to move the chufa plot to a different location after the second crop to avoid problems with soil pests. (see photo 3 of typical planting).
If you have never planted chufas before for your turkeys, you may want to pull some up or disk a row up in the fall after the tops have died back. This will assist the turkeys in finding the plants if they have never encountered it before. Once they do find it you can expect to find tremendous areas of scratching. Quite often the plots will literally look like a mortar or bombing range where the turkeys dig down to get the chufas!
Five Year old Shumard Oak. Photo courtesy the author.
One of the keys to bagging a deer or mess of squirrels or just enjoying an afternoon viewing wildlife is to locate their preferred food source. In the Panhandle, this often means finding a natural stand of oaks or other mast producing trees. However, the concept of attracting animals to mast trees isn’t exclusive to natural areas; it can be replicated by hunters and wildlife enthusiasts to attract whitetail deer, squirrels, turkeys or any other game. (Don’t let the terminology confuse you, “mast” is just a term meaning “fruit from a tree”. “Hard” mast refers to nut producing trees -think Oak, Hickory, etc. Soft mast is just that, soft-fleshed fruits – think Pear, Plum, etc. This piece will focus on hard mast trees.) Regardless of semantics, the takeaway is that planting mast producing trees as winter wildlife attractants have several benefits.
Enhanced habitat. Planting diverse groups of hard mast producing trees provides wonderful cover for deer to browse, squirrels to nest, and turkeys to roost. Also, groups of trees planted in open areas can help to create desired edge effects, see this publication on benefits of “edge” from Auburn University.
Excellent nutritional supplement to winter food-plot forages (winter food plots are defined here as open areas planted in the cool season with small forage grains like oats, clover, or ryegrass). If a diversity of species is planted, hard mast trees are an excellent, season-long (approximately October-January) source of proteins and fats. They produce high-energy nutrients deer and other critters need to get through the winter months.
5 year old Sawtooth Oak in December 2019, inter-planted in winter forage plot. Photo courtesy the author.
Reduction in time and money needing to be spent maintaining annual food plots. A well-designed grove of mast producing trees can be as effective in attracting deer and other animals as winter grazing plots and a whole lot cheaper. A study done by the University of Tennessee Extension in 2008 found that hunters spent about $200 per acre on winter food plots (seed, fertilizer, equipment, time, etc.), an expense that will happen EVERY year. And as many of you know from personal experience, $200 is a VERY conservative number, particularly if you value your personal time at all. Replacing half an acre of cultivated winter forage with mast trees will likely be more expensive in year one when you initially buy and plant but remember, if you do it right, you only have to do it once.
With those benefits of mast trees for wildlife attraction in mind, let’s address what and how to plant. Always select trees with desirable characteristics: long-lived, disease-free, and high-quality mast production at an early age (you don’t want your heirs to get all the benefit!). In the Panhandle, Oaks (Quercus spp.) fit this bill best. There are two groups of Oak to pick from, Red and White. Red Oaks generally have dark, ridged bark, leaves with pointed lobes, small to medium-sized acorns that mature in two seasons, and tend to crop reliably each year. White Oaks possess lighter colored bark, leaves with rounded lobes, large, “sweet” acorns maturing in one season, and tend to produce heavily in alternate years. Plant some of each group to ensure an acorn crop each year and maximize wildlife benefit! However, not just any old oak will do; the Oaks that most closely fit all the above characteristics are:
5 year old Nuttall Oak. Photo courtesy the author.
Nuttall Oak (Quercus nuttalli) – Red Oak Group. Rapidly growing, attractive tree, very early producer of good-sized acorns (5-6 years). Drops acorns late, providing needed fats and carbohydrates for bucks through much of the “rut” in the Panhandle (Late November-early February). Tolerates flooding and bottomland areas well.
White Oak (Quercus alba) – White Oak Group. Long-lived, stately tree. Relatively early producer of very large, sweet acorns. Acorn drop is earlier than Nuttall Oak. Grows best on moist upland soils.
Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii) – White Oak Group. Large tree with flaky white/gray bark. Relatively early producer of massive, prized acorns. Acorn drop occurs around the same time as White Oak. Prefers moist upland soils like its cousin the White Oak but will tolerate periodic flooding.
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) – White Oak Group. Non-native. Medium-sized tree with heavy branches, often full to the ground. Very early and reliable producer of large, sweet acorns (begins producing at 5-6 years). Begins to drop acorns in September – often the first Oak to produce mast in the season. Grows best on moist upland soils.
Chinese Chestnut mast in October. Photo courtesy the author.
Chinese Chestnut and Chinese/American Hybrids (Castanea spp.) – Not oaks but worthy of inclusion. Non-native or native hybrids. Medium-sized, spreading trees. Earliest producer of mast (3-4 years from seed germination). Highly sought-after by deer. Tolerates poor soils well but best production is in moist upland areas. I’m particularly partial to the newer American/Chinese Chestnut hybrids like ‘Dunstan’ and ‘AU Buck’.
It is important to remember that success starts at planting. Select healthy container or bare-root trees in the dormant season (December-February) and plant soon after to ensure the rootball doesn’t dry out. Dig planting hole the same depth plants are in containers or to depth of topmost root and backfill with native soil. Do not amend with compost or potting soil! After planting, the trees will need supplemental water, a few gallons per week, unless significant rainfall is received. Water regularly until establishment (when they no longer need your help, generally three-six months after planting).
4′ tree grow tubes are effective at protecting young trees from deer browsing. Photo courtesy the author.
Also, recently planted seedlings will need protection from deer browsing. Unfortunately, deer don’t realize these trees will directly benefit them in a few years and will do their best to destroy them by eating the tender new growth or “rubbing” with their antlers, girdling the trees in the process. I’ve found that either a small 4’ high wire cage held together with zip ties works well, as do plastic grow tubes sold by many wildlife providers. If you opt to use grow tubes, secure them with a substantial staking material such as PVC, always carefully look inside when working around the trees as tubes are magnets for wasp nests, and be vigilant in keeping fire ants out (they enjoy building their homes inside the tree tubes, the nests will often reach several feet up the tube, causing major problems for the tree!) Finally, to maximize growth rate of your trees and expedite the mast-producing process, remove competition from the base of trees by pulling weeds or herbicide application and fertilize regularly (when growth emerges in the spring, again in early summer, and again in late summer to early fall).
As always, if you have any other questions or want more information, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. Happy planting!
‘Bobwhites in Pine Savanna’ Workshop Set
For Jan. 30 in Marianna, Florida
The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) and partners will host the Tri-State Bobwhite Symposium for professional land managers and landowners Thursday, January 30, 2020, in Marianna, FL.
It is the second Working Lands for Wildlife–Bobwhites in Pine Savanna workshop funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and is expected to draw attendees from three states. The program goal is to restore pine savanna on 82,000 acres across seven states using thinning, prescribed fire, and native grass restoration. Federal funding is available to landowners who choose to pursue pine savanna management on that designated landscape.
Bobwhite quail are popular with many hunters and management is trying to restore them. Photo: USDA
“Private lands are a critical and necessary component for landscape-scale restoration of wild bobwhites, which is what NBCI is all about,” said NBCI Forestry Coordinator Steve Chapman. “Active management of pine forests on those lands, while still meeting landowner objectives, is a key NBCI strategy, and 82,000 managed acres will show the dividends of this approach.”
Dr. Jess McGuire, Quail Forever’s Working Lands for Wildlife bobwhite coordinator, added that “in order to achieve this level of restoration, wildlife professionals must be trained in the nuances of bobwhite management.”
The workshop will be from 9am–2pm at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) office, located at 2741 Penn Avenue, Suite 3, Marianna, FL 32448. Preregistration by January 23 is required by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or online at http://bit.ly/tristatequail.
Additional partners include Quail Forever, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, University of Florida Extension, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Through multiple agreements, NBCI, in collaboration with Quail Forever and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources/University of Georgia, will provide at least one of these workshops in each of the seven states identified in the project geography. Those states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Partners will also produce educational materials detailing management techniques and the results of intentional, targeted pine savanna management for bobwhites as part of the overall project.
Headquartered at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture/Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, NBCI is a science and habitat-based initiative of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) to elevate bobwhite quail recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a coordinated, range-wide leadership endeavor to restore wild bobwhites on a landscape scale. The committee is comprised of representatives of 25 state wildlife agencies, various academic research institutions and private conservation organizations. Support for NBCI is provided by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, state wildlife agencies, the Joe Crafton Family Endowment for Quail Initiatives, the University of Tennessee, Park Cities Quail and Roundstone Native Seed.
When people put in food plots and are not successful, I normally see the following three problems as possible cause. First, they didn’t consider soil pH or fertility. Second, they didn’t choose the right plant varieties for our area. Third, they didn’t manage weeds properly or at all. So following these three steps can help establish a successful food plot.
Soil pH and fertility
Often wildlife enthusiasts ignore soil pH and fertility. If the soil pH isn’t right, fertilization is a waste of time and money. Different plants have different needs. Some plants need more phosphorus than others. Some need more iron or zinc or copper. The availability of these elements not only depends on whether they are present in the soil but also on the soil pH. Test, Don’t Guess! It takes a week or two to get the full soil sample results back and costs only $10 per sample. That’s a pretty cheap investment to insure a successful food plot.
Cool season food plots are generally used as attractants for hunters. It does provide some nutrition for the wildlife as well. The goal is to select forages that are desirable to the animals as well as varieties that grow well in our area. Some great choices include: oats, triticale, clovers, daikon radish and Austrian winter peas. We recommend a blend because it extends the length of time that forages are available to the animals as well as decreased risk of food plot failure. For a more information on recommended cool season forages, go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag139.
Tetra Treat Clover Mixture Plot
Often tilling the food plot prior to planting is enough to manage most weeds. This is okay when you have native weeds on relatively flat land. If erosion is an issue, or if more problematic weeds such as cogongrass are present, a different weed management strategy is recommended. Glyphosate is a good choice as it is a broad spectrum herbicide that will not negatively affect the food plot. Spray the area with glyphosate 3-4 weeks prior to planting to give it time to kill the weeds. Also, remember that many herbicides are not effective during droughts, so you either need to wait until we have rainfall or work with your extension agent to find a solution that will work for your situation.
These three steps are crucial to successful food plots. First, get your soil pH right and then fertilize properly. Next, choose the right forages and varieties to plant. Then control the weeds so they don’t choke out your food plots. The next step is to enjoy this hunting season. For more information on wildlife food plots, you can contact your local county extension agent.
Protecting and promoting plants that produce soft mast, like this wild persimmon, can be a crucial step in improving wildlife habitat. Note: This time of year persimmons will be orange, the picture was taken earlier in the summer. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Landowners frequently prioritize wildlife abundance and diversity in their management goals. This is often related to a desired recreational activity (hunting, bird watching, etc.).
In order to successfully meet wildlife related management goals, landowners need to understand that animals frequent specific areas based largely on the quantity, quality and diversity of the food and cover resources available. Implementing management strategies that improve wildlife habitat will lead to greater wildlife abundance and diversity.
Herbivorous wildlife feed on plants, mostly in the form of forages and mast crops. All wildlife species have preferences in terms of habitat, especially food sources. Identifying these preferences and managing habitat to meet them will promote the abundance of the desired species.
Herbaceous plants, leaves, buds, etc. – serve as forages for many wildlife species. Promoting their growth and diversity is essential for improving wildlife habitat. Three common habitat management practices that promote forage growth include:
1) Create forest openings and edges; forested areas with multiple species and/or stand ages, areas left unforested allowing for increased herbaceous plant growth.
2) Thinning; open forest canopy allowing more light to hit the ground increasing herbaceous plant growth and diversity.
3) Prescribed fire; recycle nutrients, greatly improve the nutritional quality of herbage and browse, suppress woody understory growth.
Mast – the seeds and fruits of trees and shrubs – is often one of the most important wildlife food sources on a property.
Hard mast includes shelled seeds, like acorns and hickory nuts and is generally produced in the fall and serves as a wildlife food source during the winter.
Soft mast includes fruits, like blackberries and persimmons, and is generally produced in the warmer months, providing vital nutrition when wildlife species are reproducing and/or migrating.
Making management decisions that protect and promote mast producing trees will encourage wildlife populations.
Landowners can make supplemental plantings to increase the quantity and quality of the nutrition available to wildlife. These supplemental plantings (food plots/forage crops and mast producing trees) can be quite expensive and should be well planned to help maximize the return on investment.
Key points to remember to help ensure the success of supplemental wildlife plantings.
Select species/varieties that are well adapted to the site.
Take soil samples and make recommended soil amendments prior to planting.
Make plantings in areas already frequented by wildlife (edges, openings, etc.).
Food plots should be between 1 and 5 acres. Long, narrow designs that maximize proximity to cover are generally more effective.
Habitat management and other wildlife related topics are being featured this year in the UF/IFAS building at the Sunbelt Ag Expo. Make plans to attend “North America’s Premiere Farm Show” and stop by the UF/IFAS building, get some peanuts and orange juice and learn more about Florida’s Wildlife.
If you have any questions about the topics mentioned above, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Office or check out the additional articles listed on the page linked below.