Why in the heck I am writing about brooding cover in the middle of quail season? I should be hunting (actually I was). Besides, quail won't be nesting for another five to six months.
Well, now is a great time to prepare next year's brooding cover. As you walk around your favorite private land hunting spots or your farm, take a look at the old fields, CRP fields and woodlands. Is the grass getting a little too thick for you to walk through? Do you find yourself struggling through grass or heading towards the edge of a food plot or crop field for an easier walk?
If you answered yes, now is the time to set back the rank stand of grass for next year's brooding cover. If left undisturbed these fields will not provide brooding cover next year.
Remember, 40 to 60 percent of a quail's home range should be in a grassy/weedy stage with lots of bare ground, better known as brooding cover. The remaining should be in nesting (10 to 30 percent) and shrubby cover (10 to 20 percent). Ideally, these habitat components should be scattered throughout the home range.
Unfortunately, many landowners don't begin habitat work until late winter or early spring. Any management is better than none, but this year consider doing a little habitat work before Christmas. Consider burning a portion of your rank CRP grass fields or old fields in late November or early December. Don't burn more than 10 to 20 percent of your grassland or old field acres. You don't want to remove too much cover during the fall or winter. You shouldn't burn it all at once either. Small, 5- to 20-acre burns are a good size for a winter burn.
In February or March, come back and strip-disk the field to really set back the grass stand and to promote desirable forbs and legumes like ragweed, annual lespedeza and partridge pea. If there's fescue or brome present, consider spot-spraying these patches in April or May (especially field edges and underneath shrubby cover). Yes, you might set back some of the warm-season grass by spraying in April or May, but that's okay. Consider overseeding the burned field with a mix of native wildflowers or legumes to improve plant diversity.
You may lose a day or two of hunting when conducting late fall or early winter burns on rank warm-season grass stands, but the results are so much better than spring burns. Plus, you can comeback in the spring and strip-disk the field or overseed forbs in the winter. I find it is much easier and less stressful to spread out my prescribed burning "to-do list" throughout the year, often starting in August and ending in April.
This winter consider getting the burn crew together to burn a rank warm-season grass stand.
Aaron P. Jeffries
Habitat is the Key!