Summer Management Tips Well, it is finally summer and one of the worst winters in history is now behind us. For many managers, the realization hit that last year was not exactly a banner year for deer herds. Winter-kill was high in many areas where herds already had been down due to hemorrhagic disease, aging habitats and increasing predator populations. It is time now to work on getting your deer into next fall and winter in condition to deal with whatever is thrown at them! So, here are some tips to consider.
For many of you, it still is not too late to plant summer crops for your deer, provided you do it right and plant the right varieties. In the north, we recommend planting soybeans and corn together, preferably with electric fences around them. Remember, the purpose of doing it this way is twofold. First, it will keep your deer from eating your crop before it reaches a point where it can defend itself by growing faster than they can eat it. Second, it will allow you to bank food you can let them have either early in fall or after the rut to aid recovery for bucks. There are a lot of folks favoring Round-Up™ Ready varieties, but I do not feel it always is necessary to go to this much expense. We prefer to analyze our food plots to see if weeds are of the volume and type necessitating use of herbicides. As with planting, it is what we call “decisionbased” food plot management. This includes planting conditions, as well as weed control. Prior to planting, I suggest you monitor soil moisture to assure there is enough to get your crops up and going. And, as I noted above, later on determine if weeds are truly a problem. If you already have an electric fence, summer is a time to monitor the wires to assure vegetation has not become so rank that it is pulling the wires to the ground or you are losing the visual effect of the fence. This is a time to spray your fences with herbicide. I prefer the RoundUp™ QuivkPro, as it contains not only glyphosate (73.3%), but also diquat dibromide (2.9%) which tends to kill more quickly than glyphosate. I use 1.5 ounces per gallon in a backpack sprayer. [Be sure to turn off your fence prior to use so that you do not have a very unpleasant experience!] There are many things that cause crop failure or reduced success for food plots, but there are two that always arise. First, you fail to prepare to plant your crop. This includes a spring soil test for pH and critical nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium; plus micronutrients such as boron, sulfur and manganese. ALWAYS apply the full recommendation of the soil laboratory, even if it means getting a custom-mixed fertilizer. Next, once the plot is up and growing, most managers just check on growth periodically. You have to build into your food plot management program what we refer to as “intermediate treatments.” As noted earlier, this includes possible herbicide control of heavy weed infestations; yet, the proper herbicide is critical. We learned by accident that lighter applications of glyphosate to second year or older clover and chicory plots does not kill these plants, only the weeds. They may stunt for a short time, but usually recover. Sixteen to 22 ounces of 41% glyphosate (WITHOUT diquat) per acre generally works on twoyear old clover and chicory. If your weed problem is mostly grass, we use 12 ounces per acre of Fusilade™, which kills only grass and is a safe product in crops. Another intermediate treatment, often as effective as herbicide, is mechanical mowing to knock the top off weeds that have grown above your crop. We tend to use this for weeds that have not reached the stage requiring herbicides. Finally, we also apply a second application of fertilizer at mid-season to boost growth. Remember, if your crop is only legumes, NEVER apply nitrogen prior to establishment or after growth begins. This only encourages weeds! One intermediate treatment that has gone virtually unknown relates to your natural browse and forb plants. We maintain fertilized openings and roadsides for natural forage production. I suggest you begin at spring green up with an application of 200 lbs. per acre of a balanced fertilizer such as 13-13-13; then apply 100 lbs. per acre of ammonium nitrate/ urea each month until the end of the growing season. Of course, some states have become so restrictive on fertilizer use, you should check first to make sure this is legal. Blackberries, raspberries, briars, grapes and other low-growing shrubs and vines make great deer food and respond well to fertilization.
The most important (yet boring) aspect of deer management is record-keeping. Without records, you cannot assess progress in your management program. Summer is a good time to review your records on each food plot to determine whether what you are doing in that plot is working. Every plot is unique and has to have a unique prescription for management. Take forage samples and have a laboratory analyze them for protein, digestible energy and phosphorus – the most critical components of deer forage. About 10-12 days after fawning, does begin to move about with their youngsters. That is yet another time when trail cameras can give you a lot of critical information. Or, you can simply write down every deer you see on your property, as bucks, does and fawns. Either way, after collecting these data all summer, add up the numbers of sightings for each class and then determine your buck:doe and doe:fawn ratios. Trail camera photographs also give you the opportunity to assess age-specific antler growth, as well as an early idea of which bucks you may want to remove next season. Take periodic walks through your woods, paying attention to availability and use of browse plants. This can tell youa great deal about the stocking level of deer on your property and assure you they are not negatively affecting mainstay plants. Recently, I have seen excessive use and even disappearance of critical browse plants in the midwest and northeast, indicating a serious problem. Lastly, I establish permanently monumented acorn survey lines around properties. Later in summer, I walk each line and stop periodically to examine 10 limbs of randomly selected oaks to count the number of developing acorns. This will give you an acorn index that, over years, will allow you to predict what your fall crop will be. Since deer management is site specific, it provides a customized system for your property, rather than a biologist’s opinion based on the broad landscape.
Ready for Fall?
All of the aforementioned lead to arriving at fall activities with the proper information to plan and carry out management activities for the cool season. Remember to obtain soil samples for your fall plot by the end of July, and set up delivery of important soil amendments. This gets you ahead of other managers who wait to the last minute. If you have divided your summer plots into those with electric fence exclosures and those with open access, you will need to decide which plots will be converted to cool season crops, which will be opened to allow deer to feed just prior to hunting season, and which will be kept closed for use later as recovery foods for bucks. I often split plots using rollers to retract wires to slowly strip graze over the summer, leaving the last section for the hunting season or winter foods. Hopefully, I have given you some things to do and think about this summer. Remember, deer management is a 365-day activity and there is something to do every day of the year. Construct yourself a calendar, specifying windows of time, rather than specific dates to give yourself flexibility in getting the job done. We will talk about fall management next issue.