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BearCreek Habitat Plan

BearCreek

Member
I have gained a lot of knowledge from this site regarding habitat management so I thought I would attempt to give back by sharing my progress and plan. I purchased my property in late October of 2020. It is located in west central Illinois (about 25 minutes of southeast of Keokuk, Iowa.) The property is almost 200 acres and consists of 60 acres of tillable ground, the rest in pasture and timber (mostly pasture). There won't be any cattle on the property so the pasture and timber is all fair game for habitat improvements. Much of the property is low lying and subject to temporary flooding.
I had a habitat plan created by Land & Legacy (which I would highly recommend) and I was able to start implementing it in January. I was also able to hunt the property last season to observe deer usage.
The first item of business was marking trees for release. I am now in the process of releasing them by felling, girdling, and hinging trees to allow the canopy of the crop trees to expand. Based on the make up of my property I have prioritized trees as follows: White Oak, Swamp White Oak/Bur, Mulberry, Persimmon, Red Oak, Pin, Shingle. I am not managing for timber value. I have also cleared trees and brush from fire breaks. I have a variety of shrubs and trees coming from MDC and IL DNR that are native to my area and are absent or underrepresented in the landscape.
Some of my takeaways from the work and observations so far:

-Be careful when marking trees after leaf drop as a few species are easy to confuse.
-Running a chainsaw in snow and muddy conditions is not advised, especially on slopes. Gaiters are a great investment. A pole saw can be helpful in cutting trees when the felling or hinging did not go as planned. Wear your safety equipment and make sure you know what you are doing. The MS261 is a great chainsaw.
-When the polar vortex hit, trail cam photos were almost non-existent. The deer on my property left and went to neighbor's farm that had standing soybeans.
-I have piles of Red Oak acorns on the ground that appear untouched which has me questioning if I should not move that tree down the priority list as I observed deer gorging on pin oak acorns.
-Trail Cam photos would also suggest that Turkey left my property in December.

I am attaching a photo of an area that is completely overrun with Reed Canary Grass. This area will be burned this month and treated with appropriate herbicides in the future.
Feel free to ask any questions or offer critiques. Thanks for following along.
 

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Hardwood11

It is going to be a good fall!
Good luck, sounds like some nice habitat to work with. Very nice mix of oaks on the property!
 

deerdown

Active Member
Is the reed canary grass in a low lying area? I'm thinking of broadcasting some on a creek bank area, coupled with willow stakes to try and slow the current in a few places.
Will it overtake an area? I know you just bought the property but might have researched this?
 

BearCreek

Member
Deerdown, thanks for chiming in. Yes, I have spent a lot of time researching reed canary grass. I am usually not a supporter of overreaching government regulation, but I would applaud a ban on the sale of reed canary grass seed. In the drainage my farm is in, many areas have been completely taken over. It is extremely aggressive in areas that receive sunlight. As you can tell from the photo, once a frost hits it, it lays down. It is easier to eliminate in upland sites where water is not constantly bringing in new seed. I don't have a good recommendation to re-enforce your creek bank. I know prairie cord grass is a good native alternative to RCG.
 

Tmayer13

PMA Member
Does that field flood? Because that spot looks like a good area for a giant food plot and some natives.....good luck on your plan
 

BearCreek

Member
It floods, but not necessarily every year. Usually, it is just extremely wet in places. Removal of the grass should help dry it out. I am planting patches of native shrubs (ROD, Silky Dogwood, Holly, Buttonbush, etc.) that enjoy such habitat and adding a food plot near my current hunting setup. I am hoping native forbs will pop up once grass is set back. The plot will probably be installed in August by spraying and burning. I'm planning on some type of fall blend. Soils in the bottom are 7.2 ph but phosphorous is depleted.
 

IowaBowHunter1983

Super Moderator
Staff member
It floods, but not necessarily every year. Usually, it is just extremely wet in places. Removal of the grass should help dry it out. I am planting patches of native shrubs (ROD, Silky Dogwood, Holly, Buttonbush, etc.) that enjoy such habitat and adding a food plot near my current hunting setup. I am hoping native forbs will pop up once grass is set back. The plot will probably be installed in August by spraying and burning. I'm planning on some type of fall blend. Soils in the bottom are 7.2 ph but phosphorous is depleted.
Usually pretty dry by August no matter the year. Big brassica plot should be just fine.
 

BearCreek

Member
I took the afternoon off yesterday to spread some lime to help raise the PH in my future food plots. My soil tested at 6.4 pH in this location which is on the low end for alfalfa. I will not be planting these plots until late summer so the lime should have some time to start working. Lime, in some forms, is very difficult to work with when wet.
I am almost finished releasing crop trees and will probably wait until leaf out to determine if I need to cut more. I am hoping that the additional sunlight will also create many pockets of herbaceous growth and cover. If I cannot fell or hinge the trees, I girdle and spray them. I use a spray mix of 50% Triclopyr, 40% water, and 10% Imazapyr, with dye in it. Dr. Craig Harper, whom I respect as much as anyone, recommends this mix to virtually guarantee the death of the tree and avoid killing nearby trees. Some trees that provide little value to whitetails, such as Sycamores, I have left standing. I know that Turkeys like to roost in them on this property and I like their aesthetics. I also noticed that switching to a more aggressive chain made girdling slightly more difficult as the saw is harder to control. It will cut wood much faster though.
Last November 7th I decided to plant some cereal rye during the heat wave. It was able to germinate and provide some forage. I pulled the card from the trail camera I had over the rye and had 3500 pictures from December 26 until yesterday. Deer came to the rye every evening to feed, except during the week of tremendous cold temps, which has become even more intense with the rising temps. I am overall very impressed with cereal rye as a food plot component. It would seem that not having winter wheat or cereal rye to provide late winter/early spring food is a missed opportunity.
On a side note, my buddy heard gobbling coming from my property's direction this morning. It won't be long now.
 

BearCreek

Member
I have learned a few things over the last year and thought I should update this thread.
Shrub Protection:
When I initially planted shrubs last year I used 7 foot vinyl deer fence, it was cheap and I thought it would be sturdy enough. After a year of observation, I would still endorse this method but would install it differently. I initially used pieces of pvc to extend the fencing as high as it would go as the T posts I used were not tall enough. There is no reason to extend the netting above T-post if your enclosure is not too wide, deer won't jump it (at least not on my place.)
The netting catches a lot of wind and I went through a lot of zip ties fixing it. I would now suggest using standard t posts and string a wire around the top of the enclosure to provide additional support to the netting. I used wire that was used for a single strand electric fence. You can then drape the fence over it and secure at random lengths with zip ties. After I made this change, I have not had any issues with wind, even the severe wind, or icy snow (which will stick to netting and pull it down.) This netting won't last forever but I only need a few years for shrubs to be large enough to survive browse.

I have also been using cut branches and trees to protect shrubs when only planting 1-2 shrubs. Its a good use for Honey Locust and Hedge. I flag with tape so I can come back through and spray a grass selective herbicide when appropriate or hand weed once a year. Using other trees such as Maple and Elm is also a good way to create additional browse by flush cutting them and using limbs to protect other shrubs.

I have really focused on adding shrubs to landscape as they seem to really be lacking across my region. I also eliminate any nearby invasives while planting shrubs. Younger bush honeysuckle can easily be pulled from ground on a wet spring day. I use my electric polesaw to cut multi flora rose and then come back and spray, however, my understanding is repeating cutting can kill it.

Food Plot Preferences
I'll have a lot more on this later but the Alfalfa I installed last fall has been a huge attractant, really impressed so far.
 

Daver

PMA Member
I think I must have missed this thread in the past...sounds like a great property with a lot of potential. Please do continue to update and we will try to share our ideas and experiences with you too.
 
Sounds like a great property with a lot of fun ahead of you. I think i enjoy working on and improving my farm more than hunting it. Keep us posted!
 

BearCreek

Member
Food Plot Attraction
Thought I would share a quick thought about relative attractiveness. I broadcasted Frosty Berseem and feed Oats into a 1/3 acre brassica plot(that I installed last fall), I did this in early March in what would normally be the "frost-seeding window." The Berseem appears to have germinated well and survived the few frosts we had after that date. The oat germination was average which is unsurprising since I broadcasted in those conditions. I am hoping the Frosty Berseem will pump some additional nitrogen into the plot as I want to make this a permanent brassica plot. I really want the Oats to go to seed as an additional food source for game. Whether either of those goals is accomplished remains to be seen, but the camera photos I have received in the plot seem to suggest a high preference for one if not both of these plants as the deer are in it more than the Alfalfa plot currently.
That being said, I am very pleased with the two alfalfa plots I installed last fall. The Alfalfa seems to have tolerated the extremely warm and dry September better than the clover I planted at the same time. In hunting over these plots last season, it was fairly typical for deer to visit all sections of the plots before exiting, that includes the dirt cold January hunts in which I observed deer hitting my standing soybeans and then digging in the snow for brassicas, alfalfa and cereal rye. It would be tough to convince me to abandon the dbltree method of planting in strips or sections.
In my mid season food plot hunts last year I noticed the deer absolutely pounding the chicory. Most of my seed came from Welter's and I was very pleased with it. However, not all clover varieties come with the same amount of PLS (Pure Live Seed), so you will want to confirm when ordering.
 
Great writeup, thanks for sharing. I have never tried the doubletree strip rotation but sounds like i need to read more about it and consider it.
 
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BearCreek

Member
Herbicides and Spraying

I spent an entire day spraying fescue and reed canary grass. Besides a flat tire and a surprise raccoon in a trap I didn't "unset," the day went well, here is my set up and strategy:

I use a 250 gallon water tank and a 25 gallon ATV sprayer (my 80 gallon sprayer came in the day after I sprayed :). To get the water from the tank to the sprayer I used a 12V battery operated pump from Harbor Freight. It works great. Takes a few minutes but nothing terrible. With the 80 gallon I will probably use it as a chance to make phone calls or shoot my bow during fill up. I don't have my rig precisely calibrated, but I can easily spray two acres per tank with this setup.

I use 2-3 ounces of generic glyphosate per gallon, and humectant (crop oil) and AMS per label. I use clethodim near food plots or shrub and tree plantings. I tend to mix clethodim a little "hot" when applying it to areas that are not food plots. Its difficult to get Clethodim on grasses before they reach a height that exceeds ideal spraying conditions because it's usually too cold. Clethodim takes longer to kill grasses so don't assume it didn't work, can take 2-3 weeks, especially when cold. Cold temps will also slow down glyphosate kill. Grasses are typically easier to kill than broadleafs. I really like using clethodim around edges so that I'm not killing forbs, but I can kill grasses that are invading the forest edge. Spraying late in spring with gly can kill many great forbs and I ended up with strips of foxtail in late sprayed areas last year. My advice is to spray cool season grasses as early as possible or spray in fall. I have never sprayed in fall for fear of its effects on deer hunting. If we get frost when we typically should, I'm going to spray this fall.

Best advice I have found regarding temperature and herbicide use was from a study which was discussed on Ag Phd podcast. Ideally, you want temperatures above 50 degrees 48 hours prior and post spraying. It apparently makes a huge difference.

Another great tool I have used is a measured pitcher that I marked up. I used a permanent marker to indicate precisely how much of all chemicals I need in the tank, this really reduces my time and I don't have to think about amounts.

Also be sure to spray your selective herbicides first, you don't want remnant glyphosate in the tank if your going to spray with selectives.

Elimination of cool season grasses a great way to improve habitat for every creature.
 
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BearCreek

Member
I like to spray my perennial plots this time of year for grasses. I hit them with clethodim, 8-16 ounces per acre with non-ionic surfactant and AMS. There is some information out there that suggests AMS and regular crop oil might be hard on clover, so I use about 60% rate on AMS, probably not really a concern. I installed these plots last fall with a cereal rye nurse crop (dbltree method). I decided I wanted to terminate the rye with herbicide as it was probably too thick in areas. I had to frost seed into these plots as my clover didn't have ideal growing conditions last fall. I am attaching photos below of my sprayer setup that I referenced above.
 

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Sligh1

Administrator
Staff member
^^^^success!! That’s a lot of thought, preparation & diversity!!! Love seeing this. Looking forward to seeing what deer prefer & what u like & want to change. Awesome!!
 
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