Behind an ATV Habitat Management

By Phil Rockers | February 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2004

Missouri's landscape is changing. In the last 10 years, land ownerships have become smaller, and the number of landowners has increased. This is due to a desire by many families to move away from the stress of urban life, purchase land and a home in the "country," and raise their families in a more rural, relaxed setting.

In some cases, people just want recreational land, a place where their families can enjoy hunting and fishing, hiking or photographing and watching wildlife. Recreational landowners usually aren't very interested in raising and selling crops or livestock. However, recreational landowners often want to do whatever they can to attract and produce more wildlife.

Landowners often believe they need an expensive tractor and implements to improve wildlife habitat on their property. That's not always the case. They can also take advantage of the all terrain vehicles (ATVs) they use for hunting and fishing or other recreational activities. Properly equipped, an ATV allows landowners to manage habitat on their land in ways similar to their neighbors who have tractors, discs, cultivators, planters and other farm equipment.

Many new kinds of equipment are made especially for use behind an ATV. These implements can do the same jobs as those pulled by a tractor, except on a smaller scale. In fact, the ATV is much more versatile than a tractor because it can maneuver in smaller, isolated pockets that may be the best locations to manage for wildlife.

The kinds of habitat management an ATV owner can perform include:

  • Controlling undesirable vegetation with herbicides.
  • Plowing, discing, cultivating, harrowing, planting and fertilizing food plots.
  • Mowing and discing firebreaks for conducting prescribed burns.
  • Controlling prescribed burns using a water unit pulled behind an ATV.
  • Planting warm-season and cool-season grasses, legumes and wildflowers.
  • Mowing between rows of newly planted trees and shrubs for maintenance.
  • Light discing to improve brood-rearing habitat for quail and turkey.
  • Overseeding legumes and forbs in warm and/or cool-season grass stands or on glades and other areas.

Controlling burns

When conducting a prescribed burn, you should first prepare a proper firebreak or fireline around the area to be burned.

A Plotmaster or a flip-over disc works great to disc in the line. If the grass around the perimeter of the burn area is too tall and thick to pull a disc through, you can use the ATV bushhog. The ATV bushhog cuts the grass short and allows the Plotmaster's disc and cultivator or flip-over disc to break up the ground thoroughly to create a nice "disced firebreak" that will help contain the fire.

Having a pull-behind water unit, along with drip torches, flappers, rakes, backpack sprayers and leaf blowers can make conducting prescribed burns easier and safer.

Light Discing

Creating bare strips of ground through grasslands near nesting habitat is beneficial to a variety of wildlife. Use a Plotmaster or a flipover disc to lightly disc or disturb sites to create more variety in plant species and habitat. Beneficial annual plants will grow in areas opened by light discing.

Also, the bare ground between plants serves as high quality brood-rearing habitat for young quail chicks and turkey poults. The open area provides a place for the chicks to dry off from heavy dews. It also makes it much easier for them to find insects and seeds. Quality brood-rearing habitat is crucial for chick survival soon after hatching.

Firebreak Construction

As mentioned above, the bushhog can be used to help create a firebreak. It can be used by itself or in combination with the flip-over disc to create a firebreak. By mowing the firebreak several months in advance, the "line" will green up nicely. This green-grass area will reduce the chances of the fire moving through the firebreak, which could result in a fire burning out of control. The flip-over disc or Plotmaster can be used to create a bare soil line on the inside of the green line, making for a much safer firebreak.

Tree and Shrub Planting Maintenance

For the first three years, mowing is crucial until planted trees and shrubs are well established and don't have to compete with taller weeds for sunlight. The ATV bushhog is ideal for this task.

When riding on an ATV, you are closer to the trees and can see them more easily, which decreases the chance of mowing over them. The ATV bushhog gives you the ability to mow closer than a tractor to the trees and shrubs. This reduces weed competition and increases the likelihood of the stand's success.

Controlling Vegetation

When converting vegetation to a wildlife-friendly, warm-season or cool-season grass stand, your success depends on how well you prepare the site to be planted. A boom sprayer that attaches to the back rack on an ATV will help you kill all unwanted plants. Although small, the boom sprayer works great when creating 30- to 50-foot warm-season and cool-season grass buffers around fields.

Planting Foodplots

The design of the flip-over disc and harrow makes this piece of equipment easy to pull between sites. Flip it over on the disc side and start working the ground. After the seed bed has been prepared and the seed has been broadcast, the harrow can be used to work in the seed.

The Plotmaster also can be used to disc, cultivate, seed and cultipack your foodplot.

Broadcasting or Overseeding

Overseeding an existing stand of cool-season grass with legumes, such as clovers and annual lespedeza, to improve species diversity can be easily accomplished with an ATV-mounted broadcaster. The broadcaster is ideal for overseeding forbs (wildflowers) in native warmseason grass stands. You can also use it to broadcast food plot seed.

Planting Warm-season Grass

Because of its light, fluffy seeds, native warm-season grass cannot be spread with a regular broadcaster. Usually the only solution is to use a no-till, warm-season grass drill that needs a 40-horsepower tractor or larger to pull it. However, an ATV's warm-season grass broadcaster makes it possible to establish a stand of warmseason grass. The broadcaster has a "picker" wheel in the hopper that pulls the seed through to the broadcast plate for easier spreading. The flip-over disc or Plotmaster should be used before broadcasting to prepare a good seed bed. The cultipacker on the Plotmaster or the harrow can then be used to work the seed into the soil. Although much smaller than a no-till drill, the broadcaster works great for establishing warm-season borders along field edges.

The ATV equipment discussed in the article can be purchased from implement dealers or other businesses in your area, or from some outdoor specialty catalogs. Also, some of the equipment can be rented from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

By using your ATV like a tractor, you can perform habitat management efficiently and effectively. And, unlike a tractor, your ATV can also be used for hunting on your property. Try taking your tractor down a narrow path to haul out the nice buck you harvested over your new foodplot --the foodplot you established with your ATV!

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler