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Innovative Wildlife Opening Makes Young Pine Stand a Hunting Haven

By: Mark Thomas and Bobby Watkins

Young pine stands often are full of white–tailed deer and other game because they produce abundant food and cover. The problem, from a deer hunting standpoint, is that deer are hard to spot, particularly on recently harvested tracts. The good news is that we have devised an innovative yet simple solution to this problem–a hub–and–spoke design that brings wildlife into clear view. This concept was developed and refined at the American Cyanamid research center in Cooksville, Mississippi. Landowners, hunters, and even many biologists tell us they have seen nothing like it—but want to see more on other sites.

Here is how it was done. A 120–acre site adjacent to a hardwood forest was clearcut in 1992. Following harvest, we treated the site with Arsenal® herbicide at 24 ounces per acre, without a burn. The site was then planted with loblolly pine seedlings at 720 trees per acre. We then used a tractor and disc to create wavy wildlife feeding and viewing lanes. These lanes, or spokes as we call them, are about 35 feet wide and 100–400 yards long. They twist and turn, narrowing in places so that, to wildlife, the spokes appear to be natural openings.

At the intersection of the spokes (the hub) we erected a 16–foot–tall platform with an 8x8–foot landing and small blind. The platform is accessible by a trail opposite the spokes. It provides an excellent view of the entire length of each spoke.

In the spring, we applied lime and fertilizer and planted a perennial mix of ladino clover and ryegrass on the spokes. That fall, using a no–till grain drill, we planted winter wheat and BioLogic Fall Attractant® into the clover/ryegrass cover. The wheat and BioLogic Fall Attractant® are annual crops and provide abundant forage when the clover and ryegrass die back.

During the growing season, we mowed an 8–foot swath on one side of each spoke and disced an equal path on the other side of the spoke. Smaller wildlife species, like birds and small mammals, frequent the mowed areas. Many birds, including quail and wild turkey, use the exposed soil for bugging and dusting.

The wavy disced and mowed swaths at the edges of our spokes enhance the edge effect. Between the spokes and the loblolly pine forest, broomsedge and blackberry flourish. This is called an ecotone—a transition area between two adjacent habitats and very important to wildlife.

The area requires very little maintenance. All that is required is to replant the annual fall food crops, occasionally mow and disc the edges and eventually prune some branches as the trees along the spokes get larger. We expect this will remain a permanent and productive wildlife viewing and hunting resource through the entire timber rotation, including the two planned thinnings.

This also has improved the interspersion, or mixing of habitat components. The interspersion index (measure of habitat diversity) is measured by drawing an "X" on an aerial photo of your property and counting the number of different habitats each line crosses. For example, a typical pine forest has an interspersion index of one. By installing our hub and spokes and maintaining proper edges and ecotones, the interspersion index on our site now exceeds 20.

Where did this idea come from? Well, we had seen wildlife trails mowed in hardwood forests, but they were straight and narrow and deer just jumped across them. The same thing occurs along fire lanes and logging trails. Therefore, we developed a plan where the lanes are wider but snake back and forth, encouraging animals to linger in the openings. We believe it is much easier to create the openings after planting, even though some seedlings will be sacrificed. The openings take away very little timber production and we think more than compensate a landowner in terms of the site’s hunting or wildlife viewing value.

Mark Thomas is a wildlife biologist and registered forester with American Cyanamid. Mark is a frequent contributor to Quality Whitetails. Bobby Watkins is an Agricultural Specialist with American Cyanamid. This is Bobby’s first contribution to Quality Whitetails.