Off-Season Land Management: Where to Start?

As a private landowner, the off-season is a time I look forward to. Hanging up the bow and picking up the saw is a much-needed change of pace after a long season. My brother and I easily spend more time managing land than we do hunting, and we love it that way. As soon as January 1st comes rolling around, we look to the list we’ve been adding to all season long. We prefer to get as much land management work done before the temps warm up and the vegetation starts to leaf out, oh, and the ticks. For us, the list usually includes timber management through felling and girdling, prescribed fire, timber clean-up, new plot(s), and taking down our fall sets. 

Let’s start with the timber work. The million-dollar question is which trees should I get rid of, and which ones do I keep? That can be answered many ways depending on the goals of the property. For us, our goal is to make better habitat for the deer, turkeys, and other wildlife that call it home. Tree species that you’ll most often see us removing are Hedge AKA Osage Orange, Honey Locust, Buckeye, some hickory, and small walnut. Yes, deer do sometimes eat Honey locust pods, but it’s not high on the list for them, and no, deer don’t eat walnuts. Buckeye, hedge, and the other species listed do very little for deer except provide shade. Our goal is to have a stand of trees that provides shade as well as food for the wildlife. People often wonder about removing or keeping cedar’s as well. It’s easy for a property or a hillside to be choked out by cedars, so it’s important to keep them thinned out. Do that, add some sun, and you’ll have some incredible deer bedding. You’ll be sure to scoop up a few sheds there!

Girdling is a method where you take your chainsaw and cut about 2 inches in around the circumference of the tree, cutting its cambium layer. The cambium layer provides nutrients to the tree, so cutting it kills the tree. It’s important to quickly spray the cut with Tordon Rtu, or any other effective chemical that will permanently kill it. Girdling is a great option when cutting down an entire tree isn’t feasible. After all, the tree takes up a much bigger footprint once it’s on the ground. 

Burning is a great management tool for wildlife. Prescribed fire goes hand in hand with timber clean up. There are two popular times to burn: dormant season (Jan-Apr) and late growing season (Late August-September). A dormant season burn more than anything just cleans up the ground and gets rid of the leaf litter and branches. A late growing season burn will do more for the vegetation and slowly begin to change the make-up of the forbs that grow. Deer and other wildlife prefer soft-stemmed underbrush such as poison ivy and dogwood. Those are the types of plants that will start showing up more compared to the nasty multiflora rose, or honeysuckle along with other invasive species. Prescribed fire is nothing to mess around with though. Be sure to have set fire lines and the proper equipment. 

I barely skimmed these topics, so if you have more questions that’s completely understandable. Patience is the best quality you can have as a land manager. It can’t all happen at once. Hopefully this information helps your land management goals, and in turn helps you have a better deer season. That’s the end goal, right? 

By: Thomas Krick, Identical Draw