A Road to Somewhere

How quality roads can impact your property

By David Hawley

If you are an avid reader of Biologic’s Farming for Wildlife like I am, you are very aware of food plot management, how to get the most out of your deer herd, and timber management. All of these can positively impact your property and add an exponential amount of value to your paradise. However, when you go to sell that property, one factor that many people tend to overlook could mean the difference between sold or not-a quality road system.

External roads

There are three main types of roads that can affect the overall value of your property: external roads, primary roads, and secondary roads. Of these three, external roads, which reflect the access to that property from the outside world, are largely out of the landowner’s hands. For instance, if a county road or state highway does not give the landowner proper access to his tract of land, he is at the mercy of adjoining landowners for proper access to that property. He may already have an easement in place, or may have to ask a neighboring landowner for permission. Regardless, it is an unwanted position to be in.

There also is the issue of “too much access,” meaning a property is cut in half or thirds by public roads. This is an undesirable situation due to the inconvenience it causes and also the increased threat of poaching. Make sure that if your property is located on a public road, that quality gates and locks are placed on entrances and that posted signs and boundary markers are visible. Most poachers when caught plead that they simply did not know where the property lines were. If you have quality and visible markers in place, they cannot do that so easily.

Primary Roads

When someone asks me what a primary road should be like, I tell them that a Cadillac should be able to drive on it at any point of the year. That may be somewhat of a stretch, but you get the point-they should stand up under high amounts of traffic year-round. Usually a piece of property will have one or two primary roads and a number of secondary roads coming off. You want your primary roads to receive 70% of the traffic, which means as a result, they require 70% of the maintenance and 70% of the cost.

Primary roads should be 45-60 feet wide to allow proper sunlight for drainage and drying purposes. Overhanging branches should be trimmed back as well to allow the sun to dry the dirt. These roads need to be “domed” up, meaning they have a distinct curve that will allow proper draining of water. The sides of the roads should be properly ditched to move water from low spots on the road towards drainage points. Culverts and high strength bridges should be put in place if needed, and water bars (staggered bars on the ditch portion of the road) should be used on hilly portions of the road to properly flow water away from the domed portion of the road to prevent erosion. Medium grade rock can be applied as needed, but remember that there is a noise factor with rocks. I personally try to stay away from using rock if any way possible. Also, wide roads can be over seeded with clover or wheat, which will not only provide a quality food source for deer and turkey, but also cut down on erosion.

Secondary roads

Secondary roads are those that stem of the primary road to get to food plots or blocks of timber. These roads serve the same purposes as primary roads, but due to their low traffic counts, can be slimmed back in terms of criteria and expenses. They still serve as travel corridors for not only humans, but also wildlife, so completely neglecting these roads is out of the question.

I like to categorize my secondary roads in terms of use and priority before deciding how much time and money I am willing to exhaust on fixing them up. If the only time you really need to go down a road is to plant a field at the end of it, should you really spend money to fix it up? Probably not, so you need to establish which roads are the most important.

Now that we have established which roads we will give attention, let’s go through the criteria. I generally want my secondary roads to be no less than thirty feet wide, which will give adequate sunlight and space for trucks or heavy machinery. I try to use culverts only if extremely necessary, and will try to avoid doming up roads unless dictated by the drainage. Secondary roads must be treaded lightly; avoid using them during wet periods unless completely necessary. It is much better to have to walk an additional two hundred yards into your stand than to rut up the roads and be forced to repair them at a later date. Also, one thing you have to keep an eye on with secondary roads is overhanging limbs. An afternoon of trimming with a limb saw may be needed periodically to keep the road from getting shaded.

Pig Trails

On our property we have a number of “pig trails” that are roads that are only used on an as-needed basis. For example, if we need to create a fire lane around a block of timber, we would use a pig trail to do so. Pig trails should be traversed by foot or an ATV at the maximum and come in handy for slipping into a stand or getting in position on a gobbling turkey. A quick whack with a Bobcat or small gauge bulldozer may be all you need to create an effective pig trail.

Wrapping It Up

You really cannot put a value on the impact quality roads have on a piece of property. I know on my piece of property quality roads sure have made my management activities easier, and trimmed down the number of headaches that bad roads create. Remember that the “an ounce of prevention today” rule applies, so do not cut any corners on your property. It will lead to years of quality enjoyment for you and your loved ones.

Conscious Deer Management

David Hawley

Deer Hunting
You can’t prevent deer from crossing creeks such as this one and walking on to your neighbor’s place. All you can do is properly manage your property so they will not want to leave.
When I was a kid growing up in west Alabama, quality deer management was the last thing that I had on my mind when I went out hunting. I just wanted to harvest a buck, regardless of size. We did not shoot does on my family’s farm during that time, so my first deer were the usual first harvests: two and half year old 4 and 5 points with the occasional basket rack 8 point mixed in. It wasn’t how big they were back then; it was just if you killed them or not so you could go take a Polaroid to your homeroom class on Monday morning and show all of your buddies.

You can’t prevent deer from crossing creeks such as this one and walking on to your neighbor’s place. All you can do is properly manage your property so they will not want to leave.
Somewhere between 10 years old and 23, I shifted from a blood-thirsty adolescent to a conscious deer manager. I realize now that I am a vital component for the long-term management of the deer herd on my family’s 1000 acre farm, and that while external factors may try to impede upon quality deer management (QDM) on my farm, it is up to me to do my part to ensure that all the goals we set are fulfilled.

One of the common problems deer managers face on their property, whether it be small or large, is having neighbors who do not share the same QDM goals and philosophies as you do. It is easy to get frustrated and lower the expectations of your property to meet those established by adjoining landowners. However, this is completely the opposite of what needs to be done.

Setting the Bar Higher Than the Competition

If you watch college football like I do, you know that parody is very much a part of the game. The teams in Division One are more evenly spread out now than they were 50 years ago. The reason that there are so many upsets in college football is that too many good teams “play down” to the competition instead of playing like they are capable of. Deer management is the same way. If you do not make the conscious decision to offer your deer herd more in terms of food and habitat than your neighbors 365 days a year, they may be reaping the rewards of your hard work. I remember when I was younger I used to get sick to my stomach every time I heard a gunshot on our neighbors place. I eventually figured out that I can do little to change how they manage their deer. All I can do is make sure that we are managing our property in a way that makes our property more desirable. It’s like my favorite coach says, if you focus on the things that you are supposed to be focused on, the winning will take care of itself!

In looking back at the early days of deer management on our property, the one thing our property lacked was sufficient cover. We are still 50% wildlife habitat and 50% cattle habitat, but compared to years past we simply have more to offer Whitetails. We plant some summer crops and have an aggressive summer supplemental feeding program, and the results are really starting to show. Because I feel that we have done a good job on our property, I no longer worry about what my neighbors are doing. All you can do is take care of your business!

It is important to note that you should take every step possible to work with your neighbors for the better good of the deer herd in your common area. The results of QDM cooperatives speak for themselves, and it’s great to see teamwork in action! If your neighbors are unreceptive, give them time! They will come around when they learn of the success you are having on your property.

To pass or not to pass

When I was younger, one of the common justifications I had for harvesting a young buck was “when the rut comes he’s just going to run over there and get shot.” It really was a sad and selfish attitude, and one that I am glad I shed.

David Hawley
The author with a 2007 management deer taken off his family’s west central Alabama farm.
Last year I was hunting during the rut in a creek bottom I lovingly call “Cottonmouth Bottom” due to the number of evil reptiles that live there in the summer months. Needless to say I do not scout there when it is warm! It was one of those perfect mornings: low 30’s, bluebird skies, and a steady north wind. Bucks were on the move, and one deer in particular really put me into a complex. He was a good three and a half year old eight point that would have been a trophy in most people’s book. I had an easy 20 yard shot at him and thought several times of taking it. The voice in my head said “look where he’s heading. He’s going to cross the river and get shot!” I decided to pass on him because I had set my personal standards higher than that. I was not going to shoot a deer just out of fear that someone else would.

A little later that month, someone did kill that deer, and I was very excited for them. Did remorse for not taking the buck set in? No, because I had decided that I was only going to take four and half year olds or sure-fire management bucks. I couldn’t worry about what other people were going to do; I wanted to make sure I was going to do my part and hopefully lead by example.

The fact is that I will probably get wrapped up in the emotions of the hunt and harvest a deer that I shouldn’t in the future. It is going to happen to everyone! The thing that I suggest to do is to clearly identify your personal harvest goals long before the hunt so that when the deer shows up, you will not be in such a dilemma on figuring out if he is the one or not. I personally go more on body size and age than antlers. My justification for this is that if a deer is four and half or older, he is either a shooter buck or a management deer because he is at the age where most of his potential should be realized. Since doing this, I automatically shift from his antlers to his body as soon as I see him. This way, I do not get wrapped up in antler size and make an emotional decision!

There are plenty to go around

One of the fundamental flaws our deer herd had for a number of years was an extremely skewed buck to doe ratio. Remember our no-doe policy early on? It really came back to bite us! I sat in a field once and saw forty does and no bucks. That just isn’t normal!

Since then, we have implemented an aggressive doe harvest, and have done much of the damage with archery equipment. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the better the buck-doe ratio, the better the overall quality of your deer herd. We now have probably five times the bucks we had ten years ago, and the number of mature bucks is dramatically higher. Now mistakes and slip-ups don’t hurt us as badly.

Conscious Conclusions

Janet Montgomery
Janet Montgomery with her first deer, a 4 year old eight point taken off the authors’ family farm. Moments such as these are the rewards of a successful deer management program.
There are certain things in this world that I cannot change: the weather, taxes, and the fact that I will die one day. What I can change are the decisions that I make while I am here to better myself and the people and the things around me. QDM is not just an acronym or even a tool; it is a mindset. It is truly up to each deer hunter to decide if they choose to go above and beyond in managing their property’s resources.

I feel that the path I took from “shooter” to “manager” is like many deer hunters. There comes a point in a deer hunter’s life in which he or she realizes that it is up to them to manage their deer and that no one else can do it for them. When you truly love the land you hunt and all that goes with it, it makes the results of QDM even sweeter!

About the Author: David Hawley is the Franchise Sales Associate for Mossy Oak Properties, a division of Mossy Oak brand camouflage specializing in recreational land brokerage. An avid whitetail hunter, he lives in Livingston, Alabama.

Quality Maps 101

Products and Possibilities

David Hawley

I remember the first time I went turkey hunting with my good friend Bill on a parcel of land he had permission to hunt. We met at a gas station a few miles from the property where he pulled out a paper sketch of the property and valiantly attempted to show me the details of the tract. I must admit, it was like trying to decipher Russian spy code! When we set foot on the property, the map might as well have been used to build a fire, as it did nothing but confuse us.

I told Bill that if we were ever going to hunt together again on a new property, that I was going to print out a quality aerial map beforehand. After pulling the briars out of his hands and chugging two bottled waters from near dehydration, he enthusiastically agreed with my plan.

I do not proclaim to be a mapping genius. I do not work for a government mapping agency and did not receive a degree in surveying. However, for the applications that most hunters and wildlife managers use, those certifications are simply not necessary. Mapping technology has evolved tremendously over the past ten years, and the “average Joe” now has more than a few options to obtain quality, up to date, and easy to produce aerial and topographical maps.

Google Maps

By now many of you have probably heard about the monster known as Google. Google is a mega search-engine site that also offers a “maps” search console that I have found to be very beneficial. The main selling point of using Google to search for maps is that it is fast, easy, and best of all, free. I have found recently that more parts of the country are “covered,” in that the maps are high quality colored aerial maps. The main con to me is that you cannot save the Google produced maps to your computer without being a tech wiz. You can, however, print them out very easily, which is crucial if you are in a hurry on opening day.

Bing.com

Bing.com is almost identical to Google in that it is a search engine site that happens to have mapping features. The pros are pretty much the same as Google, except for one really neat feature that Bing has. In certain places, you can get “Bird’s Eye View,” which is literally what it states. I was floored the first time I saw it! It really gives you a glimpse as to what the future may hold for mapping. The negative with Bird’s Eye View is that the coverage areas are few and far between, and you cannot map large parcels of land on the same sheet. For forty acre tracts or micro-scouting, it is perfect.

MapCard™

MapCard.com is a membership site that allows you to search, save, and print an unlimited number of high quality aerial and topo maps. Standard packages start at around twenty dollars, and the MapCard Pro package runs closer to thirty. MossyOak.com has an access portal that allows you to use some of the MapCard features, but will not let you save the photos. My favorite feature of MapCard is undoubtedly the Hybrid TopoPhoto feature, which overlays lines of elevation on a high quality aerial photograph. For hunters and land managers alike, a hybrid aerial has a multitude of uses from locating funnels to designing food plot or lake sites. Visit www.MapCard.com for more information.

DeLorme© XMap

The numbers of software-based mapping systems are limitless. I could devote an entire article to those alone. One mid-range software system that I have had some experience with is DeLorme’s XMap program. It is basically a step up from MapCard, and enables you to draw property lines and measure off acreage. It is based on GIS principles, which make the maps very active and interactive. The cons with XMap are the cost, which can run upwards of $300, and the fact that the maps get outdated fairly quickly, requiring you to buy new discs every so often. However, for someone who really wants to ramp up their mapping capabilities, XMap is a very good place to start. Visit www.delorme.com for more information.

Local mapping services

Many people do not realize that they can obtain high quality area maps through local mapping services, both private and government funded. There are a number of flying services in my area that take photos for their clients. The obvious advantage is that the maps are clear and up to date. They usually run around a hundred dollars per property, but they can produce you some very high quality, laminated aerial maps. Most companies will save your maps to a disk, enabling you to use the data at your discretion. If you are unable to find an aerial service in your hometown, contact a local forestry or land management group to see if they know someone that could assist you. They lean heavily on aerial services due to the current information they can obtain.

As far as government agencies are concerned, the NRCS office in your county is a great place to start. They normally keep an extensive catalog of aerial, topographical, and soil maps from the county, from which copies can be ordered for next to nothing. Having three different classes of maps for your property can do nothing but help you in managing it more efficiently. The drawback with using NRCS is that some of the aerial maps may not be as current as you may like. For more information, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Options Abound

As you can tell by now, maps are readily available through a number of avenues. A person simply needs to identify what uses they want the maps for. I personally like very current aerial photographs that have been laminated. I buy several copies of them and use each of them for a different task, (for example, I will mark my stand sites on one map, planting program on another, etc.). For the weekend warrior, however, a Google or Bing.com derived map may be sufficient. It all comes down to priorities.

The mapping industry is constantly changing, with more options emerging on a seemingly daily basis. This article was not intended to be an exhaustive review of the available services, but more so a “tip of the iceberg” introduction to the world of mapping. I encourage you to lean heavily on maps this upcoming season. You will be amazed at their ability to make you a better hunter or land manager!

Turkey Heaven

In Search of the Perfect Turkey Place

turkeyBy David Hawley

Ever since I was old enough for rational thought, I have wondered what Heaven would look like. Would there be streets of gold leading up to a huge hilltop mansion? While we can gain clues from reading the Bible, we really have no way of knowing exactly what our Eternal home will look like. Each person has their own opinion, typically formed from the place or experience where they were at complete peace or in complete awe of the sheer beauty of their surroundings.

So what might you ask is my opinion of Heaven? It’s simple: daybreak in late March in an Alabama swamp with five to ten gobbling turkeys all around me.

I have long said that wild turkeys were our Creator’s finest work, besides humans of course. What other animal evokes the plethora of emotions as does the wild turkey? The wild turkey allows interaction, via calling. He is a beautiful bird, is smart, and provides an adrenaline rush to those who pursue him unlike any other animal, besides dangerous game perhaps or bowhunting whitetails. Many people call wild turkeys stupid, but those same people likely haven’t hunted some of the professors of hunter shame I have hunted and probably hunt turkeys whose ancestors were not hunted at all. Simply put-in the deep South, the wild turkey is as noble an adversary for the turkey hunter as Erwin Rommel was in the eyes of General George S. Patton.

So given the regality of the bird, would it be a stretch to suggest that Heaven has a healthy population of wily, crafty wild turkeys roaming its plains? I think not.

All we can do is speculate that Heaven will be in a constant state of springtime-with dogwoods and redbuds blooming and turkeys shouting their version of Amazing Grace. In the meantime, however, let’s discuss what the perfect turkey hunting place would look like here on Earth.

Based on my experience, there are two types of turkey hunting places-those suited for hunting and those suited for killing. I have been blessed to hunt to hunt some excellent places throughout the southeast, and some of the most beautiful to boot. What I have learned is that the most aesthetically pleasing places-old growth hardwood river bottoms come to mind-are not the best places to give turkeys a ride in your truck.

I, along with my family, friends, and numerous folks from Mossy Oak and Biologic, have had the pleasure of hunting amongst a swath of land in west central Alabama and east central Mississippi known by the locals as the flatwoods. This area is essentially a 60,000 acre pine plantation with little or no elevation and very few hardwoods. When I think of sheer beauty, a pine plantation is not the first thing to come to mind, but in terms of killing turkeys, this area was in a different stratosphere.

The number of turkeys in this area at one point was staggering. The main reason was the low number of predators that called the flatwoods home. If you saw coyote scat or a possum crossed the road in front of you, it was a cause for conversation. As a result of the absence of predators, the recruitment rate from year to year was impressive, and there were always a healthy number of two year old turkeys to work with.

However, having tons of turkeys is fine and good, and you are undoubtedly playing a numbers game to some degree, but some places enable you to kill them better than others. Regarding the flatwoods, the first thing that came to mind was that there were no obstacles that created hang-ups-no creeks, thickets, fields, etc. It was simply a huge pine plantation that as a result of its timber management had little or no undergrowth yet was densely timbered enough to force turkeys to search for you. They were almost trapped.

In big, wide open hardwood bottoms, turkeys can see a long ways. As a result, they tend to hang up right out of gun range and gobble and strut for hours on end. It makes for a beautiful hunt, don’t get me wrong, but if I want beauty I can go to Cades Cove National Park and watch semi-tame turkeys strut in lush hayfields on the side of the Smokey Mountains. I want beauty, but I also want a harvest and side of celebratory pancakes.

So if I had to draw up a paint-by-number turkey hunting place, what would it be? I would prefer a place with a 70-20-10 blend of timber, thickets/nesting areas, and fields/wildlife openings. Of the timber stands, I would have a moderate dose of old growth, bottomland hardwoods mixed in with massive pines with the majority being in various aged pine plantations. You needed diversity throughout your timber stands just as you need diversity in your place as a whole. Each block of pines would be on an intensive prescribed burn/herbicide schedule to prevent a heavy understory. I do not mind a light understory, so as to not feel “naked” when I am set up on a turkey, but turkeys simply cannot handle heavy cover.

There would be an extensive road system throughout the place, with primary roads up to sixty feet wide to allow for easy and safe travel for the birds, and secondary roads at least thirty five feet wide. You cannot undervalue a quality road system in terms of killing turkeys. Being able to quickly move throughout the turkey woods can be the difference in success and failure. Plus, wide roads allow you the ability to plant Clover Plus or strips of Whistleback on the sides, which turkeys love of course.

Turkeys also require nesting areas, so you’ll need either thickets (via cutovers or natural growth) or areas of native warm season grasses that will enable hens to protect their poults from predators. If I had my druthers, I would rather have five 40 acre thickets on a 1,000 acre place than two 100 acre thickets-with the reason being I personally feel you can spread the predators out a little more and make it tougher on them to work on the nests. Regarding predators-the best investment one can make towards poult survival is a batch of live coon traps. I try to hit the small predators-coons, possums, skunks, etc.-year round and have seen a dramatic increase in poult recruitment. The flatwoods example above was proof that if turkeys do not get eaten as poults, they stand a much better chance of reaching maturity.

The reason I choose to focus on small predators is I feel that because of their limited range versus coyotes and bobcats, one can actually make a dent in their population. I do not need a biologist to tell me this; I have seen it with my own eyes. Coyotes and bobcats have a much larger range than small predators, and thus you are essentially fighting an uphill battle, so I chose to focus on the possums, coons, and skunks.

The last thing my turkey heaven would have would be fields. Because field turkeys are tough to kill (and I refuse to use a decoy), I would just assume there not be any fields, but from a management standpoint they are essential. Turkeys love frequenting openings in the spring, as lush grass, bugs, and safety are all found there. On rainy or windy days, you can almost guarantee that turkeys will head towards openings.

I would prefer two larger fields and several small plots or chufa patches scattered around. I believe that just as you manage the property as a whole, you should micro-manage wildlife openings as well. You must consider that every species of wildlife on your property needs these openings to survive. So offer something for everyone. Whistleback, as mentioned before, brings a new ingredient to the table in terms of managing for wild turkeys. 90% of landowners plant food plots for strictly whitetails, which I cannot fault them for, but a strip of Whistleback down the side of a Maximum field will give two targeted species of game the benefit of the field. Chufa is undoubtedly one of the best plantings for wild turkeys, and several one to two acre chufa plots scattered around will help hold turkeys. Chufa does prefer sandy soil, so make sure it will grow in your area first. Also, feral hogs love chufas as well, so be prepared to invest in either an electric fence or a barrel of 12 gauge buckshot. Clover Plus is a product we have had tremendous luck with, and it is a product that benefits both deer and turkeys. As noted earlier, it along with Whistleback are two great products to use on the sides of your primary roads.

Don’t forget mast and fruit producing trees-we have several fields lined with gobbler sawtooth oaks and autumn olives we have planted and they have been very popular with the turkeys. Nativ Nurseries has a number of species of oaks and wildlife trees that will benefit not only wild turkeys but deer, quail, etc. Visit www.nativnurseries.com for more info.

Overall, while hunting turkeys in a field can be frustrating, fields are essential for turkeys, especially for poults. Poults thrive off the bugs and ease of travel that most fields afford. Just remember to micro manage each field, particularly the larger ones, to maximize their usage by wildlife.

In summary, that is my idea of the perfect turkey hunting place and the steps to maintain that lofty status. However, just as the opinion of what Heaven looks like differs from person to person, there is no consensus, as hunters in different parts of the country may call their stomping grounds paradise. Also, the 70-20-10 formula I prefer may be different if it were in Kansas versus Alabama. Regardless, the bottomline is this: give your turkeys shelter, give them plenty of food, give them plenty of travel corridors, and take away as many of their predators as possible, and you will stand a great chance of creating a turkey heaven!

Lull Schmull – Does the Dreaded Autumn Lull Really Exist?

Deer HuntingBy Todd Amenrud

If you listen to the chat in the local archery shop about this supposed “lull” that happens during the hunting season a couple weeks prior to breeding, you might think it is useless to venture forth in pursuit of whitetail during this period.

It even has a name, in the northern half of the country it’s called the “October lull,” but my friends in the south tell me hunters from Texas to Georgia believe that this mysterious phase happens as late as December.

No doubt, a lot is changing in the whitetails’ world during this time and many hunters will have their reasons or beliefs as to why this “calm before the storm” happens – “It’s the acorn’s fault.” Or, “the leaves are falling and their cover is gone.”

I propose that these hunters might just be looking in the wrong places.

For the best information on wildlife management subscribe to GameKeepers – Farming For Wildlife magazine at www.farmingforwildlife.com.

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Big Bang, Little Bite – Keys to Getting Youth Hooked

Big Bang, Little Bite - Keys to Getting Youth HookedBy Bobby Cole

During the past decade I have witnessed something occur that has amazedme. I have watched my 15 year old daughter grow up and continue to enjoy hunting. That’s a big deal to me.

Her introduction to the sport was carefully orchestrated and planned. She thoroughly enjoys it now and considers herself a full fledged member of the fraternity or maybe sorority. In fact, it has worked so well I am compelled to tell the story in hopes that I might be able to help someone else successfully introduce their child to the outdoors.

It’s no easy task with all of today’s distractions….

For the best information on wildlife management subscribe to GameKeepers – Farming For Wildlife magazine at www.farmingforwildlife.com.

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A Needle in a Haystack – Keys to Recovering Your Trophy

Eastern NC Deer HuntingBy Todd Amenrud

Here he comes — flaunting a set of antlers so big it looks like a rocking chair atop his head. Your legs shake and your heart is pounding so hard you wonder if he can hear it. You can’t look at the antlers because that just makes the nervous excitement worse. Your dream buck is closing the distance fast! He’s about to cross one of your shooting windows — antlers, head, neck, shoulder … pick a spot. Release!

Where did you hit? Did your arrow pass through? Now what?

For the best information on wildlife management subscribe to GameKeepers – Farming For Wildlife magazine at www.farmingforwildlife.com.

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