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Making Habitat for Bob, Tom and Buck

Apr 01, 2009

There's no doubt about it. Quail habitat is good for most other wildlife. Creating good nesting, brooding and shrubby cover for bobwhites can also provide good habitat for songbirds, rabbit, wild turkey and white-tailed deer. Even if your hunting place is big timber, grassland or crop fields, managing for bobwhites on all or part of your farm is a great way to enhance deer and turkey hunting on your property. Here are a couple ideas on how to manage for Bob, Tom and Buck.

Plant Native Warm-Season Grass

Waist-high native grass (shown below) provides excellent habitat for wild turkey and quail. Native grass fields next to timbered areas provide excellent nesting cover, and recently burned or disturbed fields provide good strutting areas. I often find a few turkey nests each year in native grass fields.

White-tailed deer will use native grass fields for fawning and winter bedding. Think about it. The grass is brown. The deer is brown. The grass is at least waist high. What a great place to hide. How many deer do you see in native grass fields during the hunting season? There's a reason they're out there.

Edge Feather Field Edges

Edge feathering is great for quail and rabbits. This practice can also be used to funnel deer or turkey to your favorite hunting spot. A couple years ago during the youth turkey season I took my nephew hunting. We hunted a field edge that was edge feathered. Nothing could walk through the edge feathering so we sat up at the very end of the edge feathering. That morning we had several deer walk by and finally a bunch of turkeys. The turkeys couldn't walk through the edge feathering, so they just walked around it. Right to where we were waiting.

Woodland Restoration

Overstocked woodlands are a hidden gem for woodland wildlife including bobwhite quail and wild turkey. Woodland restoration involves thinning out undesirable trees (opening up the canopy) and eventually re-introducing prescribed fire. The combination of fire and sun promotes the growth of native grasses, wildflowers and native legumes--food and cover for quail and turkey. The downed trees look rather messy, but this mess of trees provide ideal nesting cover for wild turkey. A couple years later you won't even notice the downed trees.

Open up the Timber

I don't recommend managing exclusively for bobwhites on big patches of timber. Big timber is and never will be good quail habitat. Instead incorporate quail friendly practices such as timber stand improvement, temporary forest openings and old field renovation into your wildlife management plan. You might never see a bobwhite on your place, but I guarantee you'll improve habitat for deer and turkey.

Most oak hickory forest in Missouri are overstocked with trees. Thinning out undesirable and less productive trees (a.k.a. Forest Stand Improvement) will improve tree growth and stimulate the growth of young trees, shrubs and native legumes on the forest floor. The flush of new growth provides excellent deer browse and brooding cover for turkeys (see picture below).

Fifty years ago there were numerous small fields throughout Missouri's landscape. Over time, these fields have been abandoned. Today, these "old fields" are choked full of undesirable trees such as locust, hedge, elm and eastern red cedar. Consider rejuvenating these old fields by clearing or cutting out the undesirable trees. You can use a chainsaw (the hard way), bulldozer, bullhog, or tree clipper. Plant the cleared area to a food plot or native grasses or letting the field grow up in seedy plants. Disturb the field every few years with disking or burning to stimulate even more seedy plants. The rejuvenated field will provide good browse for deer and an excellent strutting area for turkey.

On south or west facing slopes I like to establish 1/4- to 2-acre temporary forest openings. Before starting, make sure you work with a biologist or forester to pick out a suitable site. It may sound drastic but all you need to do is cut down all the trees. Yep, cut them all down or at least most of them. You can use the cut trees for firewood or just leave them. You can save a couple nice oaks or soft mast trees for food sources, but cut everything else down. Over the next five to ten years the opening will grow up in tree saplings, shrubs and herbaceous plants. These food and cover meccas are great places to deer hunt. Turkeys like forest openings too. The abundance of new sprouts and overhead cover provide ideal nesting and brooding cover.

The Proof is in the Picture

The past couple years I've been helping a friend with managing his farm for quail. We've planted native warm-season grasses, edge feathered, restored woodlands, cleared old fields and created forest openings. Quail have returned, and the deer and turkey hunting has never been better!

Habitat is the Key!

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