The third element of the essentials is the food component. At the time there were no large open areas on my property. It was virtually all timber except for a couple tiny slivers that were likely old logging decks that ended up being locations for my early attempts at food plots. I quickly realized that these plantings would attract and feed deer, but they needed to be much larger to sustain more animals and survive and thrive in a deep wood setting. For the most part deer were leaving my property and heading off into a couple directions where they would eventually arrive at larger agricultural fields in the evenings for better sources of food. So one of the objectives for me when arranging for a timber harvest back in 2005 was to essentially clear-cut a couple of my flat ridge-tops so that after the timber crew was done I could burn the remaining tops and grind stumps to greatly expand my available areas for food sources. That year the food plot areas jumped from less than half an acre to 4 acres in 3 separate plot areas all hidden deep within the timber.
From that point on I was finally able to make an impact in providing a variety of nutritional forage covering the 3 key seasonal plant groups; warm and cool season annuals and perennials. The quality of our hunting experiences skyrocketed between the response from the deer utilizing much more of the property for bedding in the responding new growth on the thickened ridgetops, along with the predictable movement in and out of those hidden food plots loaded with desirable forage.
So as time went by the natural inclination of a habitat tinkering nut like myself, was to continually tweak and make any improvement to the land possible no matter how seemingly insignificant. Hinge cutting has been a strong addition to the cause, and by reducing the competition of non-desirable tree species while at the same time opening up the canopy yet again and providing some immediate eye-level structural cover likened to a “living privacy fence”, I have been able to re-set some of the areas that were beginning to get open again from the ever-increasing canopy. I like the ability influencing deer to bed in particular areas by really focusing and targeting those isolated locations with heavy hinge cutting. They absolutely respond if the job is done correctly. But eventually I ran out of significant improvements to do any have had to just be happy re-working plots every year and maintaining the remaining parts of the puzzle. That was until I had the opportunity to purchase adjoining acreage recently that contained a beautiful hidden tillable field in a lower elevation from the majority of the original property.
The new piece joined my original tract on the east and north sides and added an additional 62 plus acres. The biggest addition was the above-mentioned tillable field which comprises 17 acres of the total. I knew I would want to do something big and important with this field eventually but for the first couple of years I continued to cash rent it to my farmer friend who grew corn and soybeans on it in rotation. I have a hang-up of making serious decisions quickly that will affect things for years to come and I struggled finalizing a plan for what this conversion would entail. I have a background education from Purdue University in Landscape Architecture and have done hundreds of plans for clients over the years including some intensive wildlife habitat master plans, so I understand the importance of laying out a design and executing it properly, and that prospect made me nervous. I didn’t want to lose years allowing things to mature only to regret any decisions that I made.
Rounding the corner of fall and winter of 2018 I finally felt I had a habitat layout that I was completely confident in and excited to begin implementing in the spring of 2019. I notified my farmer that I was taking the field out of production and he kindly responded that he knew the day was coming. While on this subject, I almost feel a tinge of guilt in a strange way because I know that it had to have taken an incredible amount of sweat and toil to originally clear this land to allow it to be farmed. The guilt comes from not wanting that original effort to have been done in vain. My solace is knowing that this field has been intensively farmed for multiple decades and has produced a cash crop for the tenant farmer and landowner all these years.