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ACE Basin QDMA native vegetation workshop

 

What does native vegetation have to do with deer hunting? First, it can greatly affect what biologists refer to as the carrying capacity of land, or how many deer your land can feed and support. With ample rains in July and August, native vegetation is booming, and the ACE Basin Chapter of the South Carolina Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) brought in Dr. Craig Harper from N.C. to address this topic for Lowcountry deer managers.

At 6:30 p.m. on August 23, about 130 deer hunting enthusiasts gathered at Coastal Electric Cooperative’s Outback Building for the supper meeting sponsored by AgSouth Farm Credit. During the opening remarks, ACE Basin QDMA Branch President Nicole Garris informed the audience of several news items. At the QDMA National Convention the ACE Basin branch was given the Branch of the Year Award, QDMA founder Joe Hamilton was inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame, and QDMA will soon have their very own vanity license plate.

After an invocation from Mr. Beaver Hardy, the workshop attendees were served a hearty meal and Dr. Harper shared his thoughts. “What your neighbors are doing concerning vegetation and habitat management is just as important as what you are doing on your land,” said Harper. “Begin by making a written management plan that outlines what you want to achieve with your deer management, and be specific.”

Utilizing deer corn is a very short-term process for attracting deer, and more and more land mangers are using food plots, since they benefit the deer 24 hours a day, and offer better nutrition. “But don’t try to carry your deer through the year with food plots only,” said Harper. “You’ve got to practice the art of native vegetation management in order to grow bigger deer.”

So, what exactly does this mean? Wildlife thrives on various habitats like agricultural fields, hardwood bottoms, and pine uplands, but they like them to be mixed together in something akin to a mosaic painting. Deer movement increases when you achieve a basal area of 60 to 80-feet per acre for trees, and strive for a native vegetation component that is four to five feet tall. A combination of prescribed fire and herbicide applications can assist land managers to achieve a healthy native vegetative ecosystem.

“For hardwoods, release the favored trees to expand their crowns and increase mast production,” said Harper. If an oak tree is known to produce a low-yield of acorns then hunters may consider removing that tree to benefit those that are genetically superior. Remember that trees compete for nutrients in the earth and this is why spacing of trees can always be tweaked to improve the habitat.

“When planting pine stands, the hub and spoke model for strip food plots can be very effective for harvesting deer,” said Harper. If your deer stand is the ‘hub’ then the pine stand should be planted so that the deer stand looks down several open lanes that run at different angles, similar to spokes on a bicycle wheel. This offers land managers a place to plant food plots, and the deer can use the pine trees as cover to move between these feeding areas. Without cover, deer movement decreases drastically until nightfall.

 Forb production in the forest is a key component, and monocultures are not helpful. “Bahia grass is simply a carpet that is covering the seed bank and not allowing native vegetation to grow,” said Harper. “Large pine stands that only offer dead pine needles on the ground don’t offer deer nutrition or structure for fawning cover.”

“Deer select food to eat based on taste, or palatability, similar to humans,” he noted. “They also need cover like ragweed, which may not look aesthetically pleasing to humans, but land managers need to understand that mowing of fallow ground for the sake of a pretty view is decreasing the very habitat that makes your property sought out by whitetails.” Providing native vegetation may be the most natural tool of all for land managers to grow and attract bigger deer.

 Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (345 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com