Steve Bartylla on Regional Habitats
The net can be a tremendous resource. I mean, I spent my youth combing the Barron Library, as well as the grade school, junior high and HS libraries for any hunting magazine and book I could find (2 very marginal books and Outdoor Life was it, no matter how many times I looked). Today, I could do nothing but read free stuff and watch free videos all day long, every day on the net. Toss in the various Facebook groups and hunting/management related forums and the amount of info available to us today is ridiculous.
A ton of this info is incredible, and the diversity of qualifications of those sharing is equally impressive. Combined, they cover every region that deer call home.
Unfortunately, there are also dangers to all of this, as well. The one we’re going to talk about today is that every region has differences and even every property within those regions are different. So, when well intentioned people are trying to sincerely help us it comes with the risk of that advice being tragically flawed.
Steve Bartylla on Regional Habitats
A prime example of this is planting warm season grasses, such as Big Blue, Indian and Switch Grass. In the heart of the Midwest, the West and points south, these plantings can truly be dynamite for producing top end deer cover. Frankly, some of the very best deer cover there is in those areas are those plantings with a little brush and some cedars tossed in.
That typically falls apart once you hit around the central WI/central MI latitude belt on north and other areas that routinely have snow cover all winter long. In those settings, after the first handfuls of hard snow falls, those grasses have the tendency to be laid flat as a pancake. When those snows hit in October or November, that can be a real bummer.
On the flip side, norway spruce plantings are rather “meh” in those same regions that those native grasses thrive. This is particularly true when planted in rows, choking out the understory growth. Sure, a smattering of norways can be good cover anywhere, but a norway plantation is more of a desert than what would be considered quality cover in Iowa, as Iowa doesn’t really have winter.
Now, look at most of MN, NY, the Dakotas, good chuncks of Canada, most of MI & WI. In those areas, a norway plantation can be pure gold, particularly if you space them 12’x12′ in staggered rows (so their lower branches continue receiving sunlight and remain alive as they mature). No, they still don’t produce squat for food (though they can if you leave some opening inside here and there), but the thermal cover and wind break advantages they provide can be borderline invaluable for drawing and holding deer.
There are several plantings that others I respect swear by, yet they just haven’t been good draws for me at all. No doubt that they worked for those others, but I may as well have left the plot in weeds, as at least the deer would eat the weeds! Again, you’re seeing region differences at play.
The same holds true for general deer behavior. Most areas, driving a truck to drop hunters off and pick them up is far more low impact than walking. The deer are used to trucks, but don’t try that in N MO. The area I used to manage there, deer would dang near ignore humans walking. Heck, I shot a 4.5 year old buck, AFTER he busted me cold in the stand. I just remained still until he brushed the blob he’d just seen moving in the tree off as harmless and went back to eating, as if nothing happened. Why? because the locals didn’t hunt from stands. They hunted from trucks.
The videos are just random videos of mature bucks in wide open food sources during broad daylight. That’s pretty darn common in much of Iowa, N MO, IL, KS and certain areas of Canada. Outside of Buffalo Co and a few other areas, try pulling that off in most of WI, MN, PA, NY, MI and so on and you’ll be lucky to see a 1.5 year old buck entering that 50 acre alfalfa field next to the road during daylight. In those settings, you could spend all season hunting those fields and never see a shooter, yet you can make a very strong case that going into the woods after them in those other areas is a mistake, as it’s higher impact than is required to kill Mr. Big (not saying it is or isn’t a mistake, just that one can effectively argue either side).
The point is to be a bit cautious when taking or giving advice on how to hunt or what are the best improvements to make on that ground. There’s a ton of great info out here for us, but a good share of it won’t be the best fit for our hunting or improvement efforts. Just because someone (including me) swears up and down that THIS is the right way to do something, regardless of how well it works for them, that doesn’t mean the well intentioned advice will work well for you.
Trust yourself and your experiences. Don’t blindly accept that anything will or won’t work, based on what anyone else says. If it seems promising, try it on a limited basis, first. If it works, then go nuts.