PRICING YOUR LAND TO SELL

A tract of land is likely the largest asset you have. That means you will want to be diligent in how you price it. Listing your land for too little could mean you lose out on making money, while pricing it too high could drive buyers away.

When determining how much you should price your land for, it’s a good idea to talk with land specialists. They will be helpful in determining the value of your property, as well as clue you in on land buying trends, which might influence your pricing.

Factors that determine a land’s value

Tom Rayburn, a LAND SPECIALIST with Mossy Oak Properties AgriRec Land in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, said the No. 1 factor to determining the price of land right now is whether it generates income or not.

“That seems to be driving most the pricing and most the lending on it,” Rayburn said. “No. 2 is the location of it. A piece of property within an hour of Chicago – if it’s all timber – might sell for $4,500 to $5,000 an acre, and a piece of property in Hope County, Illinois, which is in Southern Illinois, will sell for maybe $2,000 an acre.”

Rayburn added that demand is the driving force behind this price difference, where the northern area will see hundreds of buyers, the southern counterpart might only get a handful. Therefore, your land’s location may warrant a higher price.

However, location and whether or not the land generates income are not the only two factors in determining the price of a property. Rayburn also noted that improvements on the land can impact price, whereas adding a building or a house might mean it’s more valuable. In addition, the general condition of the land is another important aspect of pricing, Rayburn said, adding that timberland that has been logged will likely sell for 40 percent less than land that hasn’t been logged.

Now is the time to sell

While pricing land can be a challenge for sellers, it’s equally important to know when to sell, and according to Rayburn, the time is now.

“Recreational land is always strong in August, all the way through to the following March or April,” he said. “Right now, you’re going to maximize your sales price by selling recreational land.”

Rayburn said while FARM LAND prices might have topped out, recreational land sales are hot right now.

Advice for buyers

Rayburn had one piece of advice for individuals selling their land, and that was “to use someone that’s knowledgeable.” While he added that he’d love for sellers to use him as a broker, it’s important they get the help they need and find the right person for the job. Even though Rayburn did indicate that Mossy Oak Properties is likely the right choice, primarily because of their dedication and experience.

“At Mossy Oak Properties, we have a training program called the Certified Land Specialists training program,” Rayburn said. “We’re the only ones that have it in the industry. It’s a pretty intense training course everyone has to go through to be certified at Mossy Oak Properties.”

3 ERRORS LAND SELLERS MAKE

As any landowner can tell you, selling a piece of property and getting your money’s worth can be a tricky subject because everyone has different opinions about the value of your land. However, at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you are, in fact, the owner of the land, and that you don’t always have to sell until the conditions are in your favor.

The problem is that, more often than not, some sellers pull the trigger too quickly or rely on their own knowledge to price their land. These approaches can hurt the odds of finding a buyer.

1. Not knowing the value of their property

Brad Morrison, broker for Mossy Oak Properties of the Heartland Woods N’ Water Land in Gower, Missouri, noted one of the biggest mistakes sellers make is not knowing how much their property is truly worth.

“[Sellers] hear stories from their neighbors about how much land sold down the road and do not verify it to be true,” said Morrison. “Being a landowner myself, all owners are proud of their land, the improvements they have made as well as the big bucks they grow. But they have to realize the neighbor’s property [grows bucks just as big] and produces the same bushel an acre of crops as their land.”

Because sellers want to get the most out of their property, they frequently overprice their land. This is a common issue that goes deeper than just money because landowners need to be aware of a variety of factors that determine the real value of their land.

Just because a plot of land with the same acreage sold for a high price doesn’t mean a piece of property of the same size should come with the same price tag.

For instance, the type of soil and the taxes incurred on the sale could affect the overall sale price more than landowners know, according to Morrison.

2. Not knowing the market

Being aware of just how much a piece of land will go for on the market only works to the benefit of the seller if he or she knows the conditions and the proper timing to sell.

The same piece of land can sell for more during one season compared to another, which is why it’s best to do some research beforehand.

“While hunting ground sells all year round, the best time to look at hunting ground is winter, when you can see the features, deer trails, signs and the true layout of the land instead of just relying on an aerial map,” Morrison said. “The same is true of agricultural land, as the optimum time to sell is usually fall to early spring. That way farmers can report to the FSA [Farm Service Agency] to be tillable and plan on the upcoming season of growing.”

Morrison also suggests that soil tests be conducted on the land to determine exactly which types of crops are capable of growing on the land, which may affect the decision making process of buyers.

In addition, knowing how the market is performing both locally and regionally can help give a better level of understanding when it comes to pricing – not to mention, during certain economic times, it may be harder for buyers to secure loans from banks and other lending institutions. This could make it difficult for a seller to complete the sale despite the land being priced reasonably because of the lack of financing available to buyers.

3. Not reaching out for advice

Though being independent and confident are good qualities to have, the backing of a certified LAND SPECIALIST can be even more important when it comes time to sell.

There are a lot of factors, both internal and external, that go into completing a large sale, and both buyers and sellers want to be sure they are getting the best deal possible. Sellers may be too quick to simply take the first offer and move on. However, it could turn out that the land was more valuable than originally thought and that profits from the sale could have actually been higher.

It’s always best to speak directly with an experienced professional, which sellers may not take advantage of as much as they should.

Morrison stated brokers at Mossy Oak Properties can, “give [sellers] an idea of the market in their area and the demand for their type of property.”

Brokers can also bring price comparisons, recent listings of other properties and speak from experience with sellers about how quickly they can expect their land to sell. These factors are crucial things to keep in mind for any seller, as the trust and support of a specialist can go a long way in securing a profitable deal.

Don’t make mistakes that can be easily avoided when selling sand. Instead, reach out to a professional from Mossy Oak Properties to getter more insight before making a sale.

EXPLAINING THE BUYING PROCESS: PART 1

Purchasing land may at first seem like an unending process of getting your hopes up and filling out paperwork. In the blink of an eye the prized property you had in mind can be taken off the market or you may uncover there are outstanding debts associated with the land. These worries will certainly deter you as a prospective buyer, but you shouldn’t jump out of the market just yet. There are plenty of opportunities to find a piece of land that meets your needs, you just have to know where to start.

In a multipart series, certified land specialists from Mossy Oak Properties provide their insight on the types of things buyers need to know. By understanding the buying process, you can complete a land transaction more quickly and within a price range you deem acceptable.

The first few steps

The key to a promising land search is to start off on the right path. Perhaps the foremost concern when BUYING LAND is whether you will have enough money to do so in the first place. Of course there are funding options available, but if your financial position is not stable, then it may not be the best option to make a large purchase.

Robert Eason, co-owner and principal broker of MOP Delta Land Management in North Little Rock, Arkansas, explained buyers are better-served by already understanding their purchasing power.

“Some folks come to us with cash, then shy away from looking at a larger property that they could afford if they were to get a loan at today’s cheap interest rates,” said Eason.

While you may have your financial house in order, you’ll still need need assistance from a land broker, and likely a lender as well. As such, it may be unclear how much of the buying process these vendors should be dictating compared to how in control you should be.

Eason noted he prefers to work with someone who already knows what they are looking for and is conducting some of research on their own.

Jamie Spencer, owner and broker at MOP Tennessee Land and Farm in Nashville, Tennessee suggested the same thing, however, it’s still important to contact an agent before moving forward with process.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing your own homework when searching for land,” said Spencer. “In fact, I recommend it. Any extra ‘bullets’ you can load into your real estate search ‘holster’ the better, however, always communicate with your broker any questions that may arise from your own research and don’t make any assumptions without consulting your broker.”

In the initial stages of your property search you can get a good idea of how certain tracts of land are priced and whether they are located in a region of your choice. Spencer recommended buyers should first look at the MOP website because it is a map-based network of properties and agents. Further, Eason stated that through MOP, you can refine your searches to categorize the listings by county, price, date, etc.

In essence, the more you know, the more you bring to the table, thus increasing the chances of closing a deal.

Entering the land market

Once the initial preparations have been made, it’s time to actually look for financing and narrow down purchase options.

“In most cases, folks don’t even realize the options they really have when looking to finance land, especially when it’s not their primary residence,” said Spencer. “There are several farm/land type lending institutions that have more favorable financing options than your typical large banks. Local Farm Credit Services locations are very customer-friendly and offer rates that sometimes surprise clients simply because people don’t know those options exist.”

Eason echoed this sentiment, saying Farm Credit Services have 20-30-year loans that are customized to rural property types.

“Farm Credit Services creates products that allow you to finance improvements you plan to make, such as irrigation on a row crop farm or ponds on a recreational property, along with the initial purchase price,” Eason stated.

You’ll need to tie your lending requirements to the specific type of property you intend to buy. While land prices may differ by region, other factors such as availability, interest rates and easements can also affect pricing.

“In the Southeast, an exceptional parcel of recreational land can really stretch your wallet, as it could contain features that are hard to find in most areas,” said Spencer. “Features that can drive up the price of recreational property are views, water, rivers, lakes, mature hardwood, wildlife availability and seclusion.”

Additionally, investors – those simply seeking a return, rather than to live on the land – can also affect prices of land. Eason noted that in the past six years, agricultural land has become more expensive as investors have looked to ag as a way to increase wealth. Further, flooded green timber tracts have also been selling at record levels.

Flooded green timber stands are very rare, making them prime real estate targets of high net worth individuals who are quick to purchase.

While prices can fluctuate depending on the state of the economy, understanding how the market can affect prices is crucial to getting a good deal on a land transaction. However, it’s important that you avoid trying to time the market, as it is much better strategy to purchase a tract of land as it appears on the market because you never know how quickly it can be bought before you get the chance to.

EXPLAINING THE BUYING PROCESS: PART 2

So you’ve found a property you’re interested in, but what happens next?

Once you make a first offer on your priority real estate, then the real journey begins. In the days and weeks ahead, you’ll likely encounter a series of back and forth between yourself and the property owner, making it critical that you have a certified LAND SPECIALIST from Mossy Oak Properties at your side to guide you through the process.

Most people aren’t skilled in the art of negotiation or recognizing how much bargaining power they actually hold at any given moment. So when it comes to making a real estate transaction – typically the largest asset people hold – the bargaining and final closing process is critical.

Robert Eason, co-owner and principal broker of MOP Delta Land Management in North Little Rock, Arkansas, stated when you find the perfect property, you should consult with your agent first because you never want to make a lowball offer or pay full price.

“Your agent should have a good knowledge of comparable sales and should be able to provide you with enough information to make an offer that is in line with the current market,” said Eason.

Additionally, Eason noted there are many incentives you can provide the owner to make the first offer more attractive, including:

  • A reasonable price
  • Being able to close quickly
  • Providing or paying for surveys

Handling the counter-offer

Though you may be in the front running of candidates for a tract of land, owners still want to ensure they are getting adequate return on their investments. Though some owners may be looking to recoup lost money or settle their financial positions, most are wanting to at least earn a profit when they agree to sell.

As a result, you can always expect a counter-offer. While there is a certain level of gamesmanship involved in this process, you should still be ready to take action – whether it be walking away from the deal or to come to an agreement.

Jamie Spencer, owner and broker at MOP Tennessee Land and Farm in Nashville, Tennessee, summed up this moment in the buying process by saying, “If the owner makes a counter-offer, then the art of making a deal has begun and you’re on your way to becoming a landowner.”

Likewise, Eason stated a counter-offer is a sign that the owner takes your bid seriously – there’s no reason to worry or become discouraged because your initial price point has been exceeded.

“Most willing and able sellers expect to receive another offer from you if you do not accept the counter,” said Eason. “A counter-offer is much better than just being rejected. Make sure you have a competent agent that is willing and able to help with the negotiation process – someone who doesn’t get personal when making deals.”

The counter-offer is critical to keeping the process moving along so it’s important that negotiations be carried out with little delay. Nick Marinelli, partner at MOP Land & Luxury in Mooresville, North Carolina, remarked you have three options upon receiving a counter-offer.

  1. Accept
  2. Decline and walk away
  3. Decline and counter

“Sometimes buyers and sellers counter a number of times before they are able to reach an agreement,” said Marinelli.

Signing on the dotted line

To entice the owner to close the deal, you should have your financing all set. This means closing costs and other expenses should already be incorporated into the final offer. Having to backtrack and renegotiate these various fees at the last minute can put a stall in closing talks and potentially kill the deal before you can sign.

“All the negotiating should be completed before the the offer is executed,” said Eason. “Who pays closing costs, and when the closing will take place are all terms that should be addressed in your written offer.”

“I have found there are three things that slow transactions down,” said Marinelli. “Financing, closing companies and brokers.”

Because outside parties like banks and agents can sometimes bring transactions to a standstill, selecting the right advisors is key.

“Hire a good closing company,” Marinelli suggested. “I have found that some attorneys are better-suited for closing land than others. Finally, have a good broker on your side to speed things up. Experienced brokers will successfully navigate you through the closing process and typically help you overcome any hurdles.”

With everything laid out on the table, the next step is to wait for acceptance.

Say the owners accepts your offer after the second or third try, now it’s time to seal the deal. If you’re paying cash, then the process is expedited, but if going the traditional loan route, all the specifics of the loan should be finalized at this point. As soon as you get the green light on an agreement, have your money readily available to ensure the property is taken off the market.

Additionally, a certified LAND SPECIALIST can make sure nothing goes awry during these last stages, and that all surprises are avoided.

“There really shouldn’t be any surprises once the deed has been transferred to your name,” said Spencer. “The last thing I want my clients to endure after a closing is a surprise they were not expecting. If this happens, it can turn a positive real estate transaction into a negative one.”

Transitioning to the closing process

Eason noted there are a few things that need to be wrapped up before the process is completed, including crop rent prorations (for ag land), official ownership transfer via the local Farm Service Agency and addressing any leases pertaining to farming or hunting on your new land.

Further, attorneys, lending institutions and probate judges will have to get involved at this point before the deal is fully closed.

While you’ve made it through the entirety of the buying process, you must still account for the legalities of the transaction, which takes time. Everything must be properly documented and authorized by a number of parties, which a broker can assist with.

After the property is under contract, the due diligence period begins. To better understand this final step in the process, stay tuned for the next chapter in this multipart series.

FINDING YOUR WHITETAIL PARADISE: TIPS FOR BUYING HUNTING LAND

Keri Butt | Originally published in GAMEKEEPERS: FARMING FOR WILDLIFE MAGAZINE

Gone are the days where you could knock on a door, ask permission to hunt and it was given – at least they’re gone east of the Mississippi. These days, you need to belong to a club, lease property for hunting or go all in and buy your own property.

It’s certainly not your grandpa’s deer woods anymore. Private landowners who will allow hunters on their land out of sheer kindness are becoming fewer and further between with each passing year. Perhaps what’s more daunting is that many of them have gotten wise to the staggering amount of dollars and cents a hunter is willing to forgo in the name of leasing a good hunting property. It sounds like a good idea to lease, that is until the property changes hands when nobody told you there was an auction!

SHOULD YOU LEASE PROPERTY FOR HUNTING?

How about this scenario: your lease is up, the property has only been subpar, you haven’t killed a single bruiser and the worst part is that you have nothing to show for it except for an empty wallet. Here’s another: you spend your hard earned money, time, blood, sweat and tears into building a leased property and you begin to have some great success and knock down several whoppers. Then the property owner leases the land to someone else who offers more than you can afford.

If either of these situations sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to take matters into your own hands. It’s likely that you’ve reached the point where there’s just one simple solution. It’s time to bite the bullet and purchase a piece of land — one that you can call your own and have the ability to MANAGE IT HOWEVER YOU CHOOSE according to your personal goals.

WHERE TO START IF YOU DECIDE TO BUY

Of course, the million dollar question here is, where do you begin? It goes without saying that a lack of education leads to making hasty decisions, consequently proving to be nothing short of a nightmare. Doing your homework is crucial to finding a property that you can transform into a deer hunter’s paradise, and one that you can afford without breaking the bank.

The owner of FULL DRAW HUNTS, INC, Jeff Butler, is a West Central Illinois Land Specialist and a Broker for MOSSY OAK PROPERTIES AGRIREC LAND. Butler says he became a broker for Mossy Oak Properties because he saw a need in his area for hard working agents who are looking to help people realize their dreams of land ownership.

“When looking for a property for whitetail hunting, the number one thing is obviously location. However, while location is key, there are a number of other factors that come into play and must be considered, including habitat, the breakdown of neighboring properties, and perhaps just as important as any, access.”

A great land agent will be able to tell you about the soils in the area, the type of crops that grow best, the average rainfall and other important information that will help you make your buying decision.

LOOK FOR LIKE-MINDED AND EDUCATED BROKERS

When you need a new lawn mower, do you visit an automobile dealership? Hopefully, your answer is, “no.” So, why would you call a snazzy, fast-talking realtor you have absolutely nothing in common with to help you locate that amazing piece of land you plan to use for the sole purpose of HUNTING AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT? You hopefully wouldn’t, and you definitely shouldn’t.

Thankfully, these days, there’s no reason to search far and wide to locate a well-respected and experienced land broker who specializes in recreational property. The key is to research and find an agent or company that is reputable, knowledgeable and whose mission statement conveys that the buyer’s satisfaction is their priority.

While finding an agent that is like-minded in regards to hunting and land management is important, it’s equally essential to look for a trained and educated professional. In Butler’s home state of Illinois, all real estate agents must be licensed and tested, which includes 90 hours of pre-licensing classes and the state examination. After receiving the license, you must go on to complete 30 hours of post-licensing education. Talk about dedication!

One of the keys to finding a property that will meet your needs is communicating with your land specialist. Do they reply promptly to your calls or follow up on any loose ends that arise? Your satisfaction should be their priority.

“What sets MOSSY OAK PROPERTIES (MOP) apart from the rest is our own Certified Land Specialist Training Program. This gives all MOP brokers a headstart and the tools necessary to be successful. Mossy Oak Properties has the only certified land specialists in the industry.” Butler says that becoming a land specialist for Mossy Oak Properties AgriRec Land is definitely something he takes a lot of pride in. “One thing I’ve learned is that the Mossy Oak Property family is different than other brokerages. It’s all about developing relationships and doing business with honesty and integrity at MOP. That is what drew me to MOP in the first place, since those traits are just as important to me.”

ASSESS YOUR LONG TERM GOALS

Before you begin to comb the market for a broker or land, it’s a good idea to take some time and assess your goals if you haven’t already done so. Will the property be only used for hunting or will it provide you and your family with other recreational options? Do you plan on utilizing any of the space for FOOD PLOTS? Will you be the only person hunting on your acreage or will you choose to allow guests? Is there a specific location or county that you have in mind? How often do you plan on hunting throughout the season? For example: are you a GUN HUNTER with limited amount of season available, or a diehard BOW HUNTER who is in a stand every chance you get come hell or high water?

Asking and determining the answers to these questions ahead of time helps you to relay your directive to a land specialist, which in turn, will allow him or her to put you on a piece of land specifically suited to your needs. Having a prepared list of objectives will also keep you from making hasty, uninformed decisions as well as help you and your broker begin your relationship with positive lines of communication. After all, one man’s (or woman’s) hunting property might be another’s idea of a bona fide dump, or vice versa.

MONEY TALKS: SETTING A BUDGET

Defining your budget and setting monetary boundaries is another essential factor to predetermine. Again, this gives your broker a place to start, or more importantly, a place to stop. There’s no point in falling in love with a property that you can’t afford. All this will do is force your subconscious mind to compare affordable properties with those that are out of reach, which can sometimes make even a really good parcel seem mediocre.

Confusion and frustration are the last emotions you should be feeling when you’re in the market to make such an important decision on a sizable purchase. So, while realizing your financial limitations and then discussing them with your chosen land specialist may be a bit uncomfortable, the conversation is necessary to prevent you from getting in over your head…or in hot water with your spouse!

It’s important to find an agent who has knowledge of land management and hunting, in addition to having information about the properties available in the area.

SEARCHING FOR A GREAT LAND BROKER

First of all, purchasing a tract of land, regardless of whether it’s 20 acres or 2,000 acres, may be one of the largest investments you’ll ever make. And, for the average person, it’s daunting at best and may prove to be nearly impossible at worst. Finding a land broker who realizes this point is fundamental for you to be satisfied with the end result — calling a great piece of land your own!

Butler says that when searching for a real estate broker, there are several things to look for. “The first thing I would suggest is to look for good communication. Do they answer when you call? This can suggest a lot. Secondly, do they have the tools and knowledge about the area you’re looking to purchase in? Be sure you find an agent that specializes in whatever type of property you’re looking to purchase, always remaining mindful of your personal goals and wishes.”

Lastly, Butler suggests that you build a relationship with your real estate broker that will extend far beyond the close of the sale. Paying close attention to a broker’s behavior during the initial contact and beginning stage of the relationship can prevent a ginormous mistake further down the road.

Another characteristic of a land broker to consider, especially if you intend to incorporate food plots, is the extent of their knowledge and expertise when it comes to taking a great piece of land and transforming it into an amazing hunting property. Different locations come with a host of variables in regards to ecosystem and terrain. This is why it’s important to understand if your food plot and/or hunting aspirations coincide with the property’s attributes. What’s the soil like? Does it have a tendency to hold water or does it drain well? Is there a water source nearby where your future food plots will grow? Which plantings are best suited for the area and habitat? What farm crops and natural vegetation surround the acreage? And will they not only be conducive to, but also complement your goals?

Ask the broker many questions and take note of the thoroughness of their response. Don’t assume asking questions is foolish. It’s simply a matter of smart business sense. Does the agent in question eagerly answer your queries, or do they skirt around them like a politician, or seem annoyed or bothered? References from previous clients are also useful tools in helping you locate a land broker and a credible agent who will happily provide you with them.

ACCESSIBILITY

Knowing the accessibility to a possible chunk of property is undoubtedly necessary and definitely brings those original goals and plans into play. Is it accessible by road or does it at least have some sort of maintained path that will get you in and out of the area? Will you be using a pickup truck or ATV to transport equipment, such as treestands and trail cameras, in addition to getting to the treestand during hunting season? Or, will you be planting large food plots that will require large landscape or farm machinery to be used?

Perhaps the property is a parcel of timber that’s surrounded by agricultural crops. You may have to discuss with adjacent neighbors about property access, even if it’s only to cross a single path to gain access to your timber. Maybe you’ll have to clear an access road or path yourself. If you have to hire the project out, are you prepared to spend the money? Or, do you own the proper heavy equipment that will be needed? Once again, just remember that it’s important to be certain you have permission from neighbors, especially if there are farm crops or livestock involved.

Unfortunately, accessibility isn’t always considered until after the fact. While ground that has virtually been free of human intrusion is quite possibly a deer haven, if you can’t get to it fairly easily, it has no capacity to be a productive hunting spot.

MAKING NICE WITH THE NEIGHBORS

Do surrounding landowners or neighbors hunt also? What type of hunter are you? How about them? Are they strictly big buck hunters or do they simply want to put meat in their freezer? Are bucks under a certain age considered off limits, or will you be dealing with the, “if it’s brown, it’s down” mentality? While this might not be the most important aspect of choosing a hunting property that’s right for you, in the long-run, you’ll be happier and more relieved to have discovered what your neighbors are like before you sign papers.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon for sparks to fly between neighbors over simply having different styles of management and goals. But, if you can find a location in which you share commonalities with those who hunt around you, then you have the ability and relationships to make your ground fantastically successful.

Taking your time to research and locate a reputable and knowledgeable land specialist, and then asking what may seem like an insane amount of questions, can only provide you with a positive outcome and help you to find the reward of your own hunting paradise.

PROPERTY BUYING NO-NOS

When making a large purchase, even as exciting as it may be, sometimes the idea of your hard-earned cash changing hands and leaving your pocket can bring about a certain level of stress for some folks, causing common sense to float out the window. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and lots of them. That’s why you hired an experienced agent. They expect you to ask questions. They want you to ask questions. Remember, their priority is your satisfaction in how they’ve done their job. If you feel that an agent isn’t properly answering your inquiries or is avoiding them entirely, you should high-tail it out of their office, not pausing to look back.

Again, it sounds cliché, but no question is too small or ridiculous in a transaction this big. Besides, chances are that the broker has already been asked the same question before. “Don’t settle for a piece of ground that you don’t really want,” Butler insists. “Every piece of dirt is a project, but never settle for something that can’t be what you really want it to be in the long term.”

A REWARDING DECISION

Clearly, making an investment in a tract of land you plan to utilize primarily for hunting and LAND MANAGEMENT is not something to be considered lightly. Still, if you’re deciding whether to buy or lease property for hunting, buying usually makes better sense. Making snap and uninformed choices will get you nowhere in a hurry, including the possibility of wasting a whole lot of cash in your haste to simply own a property…any property. While patience is difficult for some, taking your time to research and locate a reputable and KNOWLEDGEABLE LAND SPECIALIST, and asking what may seem like an insane amount of questions, can only provide you with a positive outcome. Signing your name on the deed of what will hopefully become your very own whitetail hunting paradise will be a great reward.

DUCK DIGS: HOW TO DEVELOP A WATERFOWL HOT-SPOT

Tom Dokken | Originally published in GAMEKEEPERS: FARMING FOR WILDLIFE MAGAZINE

A lot of hunters buy land; however, very few purchase ground specifically for duck hunting. This is no surprise considering the hunting world is dominated by the PURSUIT OF WHITETAILS, which have spawned a land development craze involving food plots, sanctuaries, man-made funnels, water sources, and a litany of other deer-friendly additions.

Although it may seem daunting to turn any tract of land into something more desirable for ducks, it’s not. It’s just necessary to BORROW A PAGE from the whitetail improvement handbook (and write a few new ones if you have to), to tweak your ground in ways that will not only draw in ducks, but hold them.

I started these processes years ago, largely by accident. Since TRAINING DOGS is my trade, and many of those dogs happen to be “duck hunters,” I needed to buy property that had water on it. It didn’t take long to realize that those training ponds also drew in waterfowl and that I could put in a little sweat equity and truly turn my ground into duck hunting land.

If you’re sitting on a property that you think holds the potential to be prime duck hunting land, there is truly only one starting point – your local game agency. What you can and can’t do on your property is going to be dictated by Federal, State, or even County government and you need to talk to the right folks to make sure you’re going to stay within the laws when you start your improvements. That’s the potential downside of involving Uncle Sam.

The upside is that there are plenty of programs out there that might offer you payments for duck-friendly improvements by pairing you up with conservation organizations. It’s win-win to partner with certain conservation groups if they are willing to offset your personal costs to produce the most beneficial waterfowl features possible on your ground.

Additionally, contact the NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS) to gain further guidance on depth of potential ponds, preferred nesting cover, feeding cover, resting cover, and even how to prepare a refuge on your ground. The NRCS is very familiar with the process of creating quality land that benefits all animals including ducks, and they’ve been there and seen it all, which can come in handy when embarking on a new endeavor like this.

Once you’ve contacted the right agencies and developed a plan for how to improve your land, you’ll likely find that two common themes that continuously crop up when concerning waterfowl – food and sanctuary.

Using ATV implements and outfitting your unit with J-Wheelz can make the process of developing duck hunting land fairly easy.

BUILD A BUFFET

Depending on the size of your property, developing the RIGHT FOOD SOURCES might be extremely easy, or might not. The good thing is that even small HUNTING PROPERTIES typically feature at least one spot that can be turned into a bird buffet provided you plan it correctly and employ the right tools.

The author is shown here standing in one of his waterfowl food plots. He prefers to plant Japanese millet, buckwheat, and Biologic’s Guide’s Choice along with row crops to draw in a wide variety of fowl all season long.

One of my personal favorites is a seasonal low spot that fills up with water at certain times of the year and is dry during others (make sure the area is not designated as a wetland with improvement restrictions). When I find a spot like this I try to get in with a four-wheeler in the spring when it’s starting to dry up. This often necessitates the usage of J-Wheelz on my ATV because they allow for much better traction in mud and muck.

In addition to J-Wheelz, you might need to buy or borrow a brush hog depending on the existing vegetation. These are perfect for clearing out brush and providing a fresh template to work with, although they are cost-prohibitive and will not work in every situation. When I encounter just such a situation, I often go in and do a controlled burn. This is a great way to REMOVE UNWANTED VEGETATION but make sure you pay attention to the conditions and have some experienced help to ensure that your blaze stays controlled. To further control weeds and promote proper plant growth, enlist either an ATV-mounted sprayer, or a handheld sprayer. There are a number of contact herbicides that may be applicable depending upon your specific conditions.

When I get the ground cleared to the soil I’ll come in with a disk on my ATV, but I’ve also simply used a metal rake in places where the ground was too soft. The goal is to work up the soil just as you would with a deer food plot designed to draw in big bucks.

When the soil is worked up, it’s time to broadcast seed. I prefer Japanese millet, buckwheat, and BIOLOGIC’S GUIDE’S CHOICE, especially in the spots that I can’t run my ATV through. These seeds are great for mud flats and simply require soil-to-seed contact for germination.

Keep in mind that Japanese millet is an absolute blackbird magnet, so you may need to get creative and hang some balloons around the plot to scare them off so your crop isn’t gone before duck season begins. Also, before planting any of these seeds, check the Weather Channel religiously. Planting just before a soaking rain will do wonders for plant production and will usually give you the best stand possible.

In the case of areas that are ATV-friendly, also consider disking up the ground and planting sorghum, soybeans or corn if you have the means. These crops are even better if you have impoundments or water control structures on your ground so that you can flood them later in the year.

If this sounds like too much work, and it is work – albeit fun work, you can simply disk up certain low areas and let the native vegetation grow back. If the ground is low enough this action might even stir up some invertebrates that will draw in even more ducks.

THE RIGHT REFUGE

The goal of anyone who sets out to develop a waterfowl oasis should be to fill a duck’s belly and then give them a great place to loaf away the day “without harassment.” Good cover is good cover regardless of the size of your duck hunting land; however, developing a refuge takes more planning and sometimes, more space.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but when you develop a “true refuge,” it needs to stay a refuge. The pond or lowland you deem off-limits to human intrusion has to stay that way, whether you’ve been filling out your limit each morning or blanking more often than not.

Food and sanctuary are equally important. Develop some feeding areas and at least one place for the ducks to loaf throughout the day.

On my property, the pond that we actually hunt is nearly 400 yards from the sanctuary we have established. The ducks quickly learn that the refuge is a great place to feed and rest, and we force ourselves to leave it alone. That doesn’t mean that we don’t shoot ducks that use our refuge, because we do. Hunting nearby affords us the chance to shoot ducks that are in the air because of the proximity to our self-imposed sanctuary, while preserving its status throughout the season.

We can do this because we have several ponds to work with, which isn’t the case for everyone. If you’re only dealing with a smaller property, you can still create “refuge days,” or make sure the spot receives ample rest between hunts.

Simply put, exhibit enough patience to only hunt your ground on certain days of the week. If possible, try to make your hunting days on weekdays, and have your off-days be on the weekends. This will be the reverse of most hunting pressure and will often result in more ducks using your property when they get pushed off nearby waters. A spot exclusively devoted to refuge will be best.

Along those lines, it’s also a good idea to consider what you’re trying to get out of your duck hunting land. If you want a place to bring several buddies and limit out every time the sun rises you will be sorely disappointed unless you’ve got unlimited funds and a huge tract of land to work with. For most, the reality is that creating a few duck-friendly food plots and a pond or two will result in the chance to have many quality hunts that aren’t focused entirely on heft in the game bag.

This flies in the face of the modern image of DUCK HUNTING we are often subjected to, where the goal seems to be to clear the skies of all fowl as quickly as possible. For me, it’s much nicer to hunt for an hour or two on chosen mornings and have a quality hunt with birds that will work the decoys well. This discipline leads to an entire season of enjoyable hunting as opposed to a few days during the fall where our barrels are hot to the touch and the ground is littered with beaked-corpses.

Ducks of all varieties will visit your property if you pay close attention to developing proper food sources and establishing a refuge or two.

Whether you are dealing with a large property and several sanctuaries, or a smaller property with no refuge for the ducks and have to implement off-days, it’s important to take advantage of short-in-duration hunts. On my property we enjoy the hunting at sunrise and then sneak out to give the ducks the remainder of the day to rest.

Again, it’s all about patience. This conditions the ducks to the “comfort of your property.” The results will keep more birds around longer and the birds that are present react to decoys and calling much easier. This means that whether you only have a single duck in the game bag, or a limit splayed out on the ground, it’s best to leave your site after an hour or two and discuss the morning’s hunt back at home – not while standing around the blind, flaring new birds trying to gain access.

I realize again this might sound like I’m trying to take all of the fun out of the hunt, but after doing this for years I’ve come to realize that everyone from the hunters to the ducks benefit from this strategy and it can help you to maintain quality hunting all season long.

YEAR-ROUND DUCK LOVE

Shown here is one of the author’s hunting ponds. These are different from his sanctuary ponds. If you don’t have adequate acreage you may not be able to delegate a pond to sanctuary only. Instead, you may have to simply limit your hunting pressure to maintain the quality hunting.

Thus far I’ve really only touched on land improvements designed to increase action in the fall, however there are things you can do yearlong to further the attractiveness of your land. For example, just about anywhere your ground is located on the flyway you can develop what I call a “spring refuge.”

Water is everything when improving property to draw in ducks. Partnering with conservation organizations can result in offset costs when putting in a water control structures like the Agri-Drain structure pictured here.

The idea behind this refuge is that it’s another off-limits pond that will offer ducks a chance to rest and feed when migrating north during the spring. Depending on your location, you might also have nesting ducks call this refuge home throughout the summer, which is an added bonus.

There are simple things to be done during the off-season as well. Wood duck houses are always in need of some TLC, and building a few during the winter is a great way to foster more ducks on your property and kill some time during “hardwater” months. We also like to work on duck blinds during the winter and spring, with careful planning going into construction and placement so we can utilize our hunting ponds and sneak out without disturbing the remaining ducks.

CONCLUSION

It may seem that you need to own or manage a lot of land to create your own duck hunting land, but you don’t. Even a few acres can be turned into something that will draw teal, woodies, mallards and a host of other feathered fowl throughout the season. It just takes some planning, sweat equity, and self-restraint.

That may seem like a tall order for a few duck hunts a week during the hunting season, but consider that many of the improvements you make to suit ducks will benefit deer, turkey, doves, and a host of other game animals. This means that while you’re making a heck of a place to have some fine wing-shooting, a litany of non-duck species are reaping the benefits as well, which is a win-win for all involved.

BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BUYING HUNTING LAND

While you may have been hunting for years on a friend’s property or public acreage, there is nothing quite like having your own hunting land to do with what you want and when you please. You can set your own guidelines for how many people are on your property at a time or only use it yourself. You set the rules.

Before you begin your search for hunting property for sale, there are several things beginners need to know to ensure you find just the right property at an affordable price.

Determine your budget

Decide how much you are willing and able to spend and be realistic about that figure. Think about not just your income but all your expenses and make sure that buying this property will not cause financial hardship.

Will you be writing a check or getting a loan? The process is quite simple if you will be paying cash outright. However, if you plan to finance the purchase, start shopping lenders as soon as you can. Most traditional banks do not finance recreational property or vacant land so locating a lender who does may be a bit of a challenge. Loan terms for these properties vary as much as the lending institutions themselves. Your credit history and the actual property you choose play a large part in interest rates and loan terms.

No matter which option you select, you will have to front a down payment. This is typically 20 percent of the purchase price, but it can be as much as 50 percent, which can be a steep amount to pay all at once. Will you use some of your savings or acquire the money in some other way? Planning can save you unwanted grief in the future.

Find a realtor who specializes in recreational property

Buying land is different from buying a house or condo. There are other factors to consider. Unless you have a specific property in mind, it is better to find a real estate agent with experience in this type of deal so they can offer their wisdom regarding the entire process.

Location

Set some restrictions about the location of the hunting land. You want it out of the city but within a reasonable driving distance from your home. Travel time should factor into what you are willing to pay for the land. It’s always a better idea to spend more time hunting than journeying to and from the area.

Setting a travel time of three hours or less is ideal. You can leave in the wee hours of the morning, arrive at about daybreak for a long day of hunting and travel home before the day is over. This is particularly appropriate if there is nowhere to stay on the land. You might also consider the proximity to lodging like hotels and motels for those times when you may want to stay overnight.

Type of hunting land

Terrain is important, particularly if you plan to build a cabin or will bring a camper to set on the property. You need at least one dry, level area to place it and accessibility to this spot should not be complicated. Finding a good location near the road will be less likely to intimidate wildlife as you enter and exit the area. Take note of trees that will accommodate tree stands and open expanses where deer will feed.

Observe the adjacent properties to ones you are considering. Introduce yourself to their owners and ask some questions. People are generally happy to offer information that will be helpful to you. Learn about their hunting behaviors, if they practice effective deer management practices, if they permit rifle and/or bow hunting, etc. Inquire if there is public hunting land nearby. It’s wise to forge a positive relationship with neighbors and ensure you have similar thoughts about hunting habits and property management.

While deer hunting may be your primary reason to purchase hunting property for sale, there may be an abundance of ducks, turkeys, and other wild game that could also provide excellent hunting opportunities. Also, you may want to investigate other outdoor activities you enjoy and how they can be factored into your buying decision. A lake or pond offers an excellent opportunity for fishing when it’s not deer season. Camping and birding are also fun pastimes that you can take part in at any time of year and can involve the entire family.

Are deer on the property?

It is important to know if deer only pass through the property or if they reside there. Check for scat and buck scrapes, as well as deer trails. Getting permission to set up some trail cameras before you buy the property will give you a better idea of what you can expect before you make a final buying decision.

Is there water nearby?

It is ideal if there is a convenient water feature on the property but not a complete necessity. If there is water on neighboring land, that is usually enough for hunting purposes. Streams or ponds are welcome benefits, though, as there will be no need to put in a water source. If there is no water available, consider the cost of adding a pond or well into the purchase price.

Consider food sources for local wildlife

Deer obviously require food and water to survive. Look over the trees on the property. Whitetail deer prefer woody plants that are evident all year, leafy vines, brushy vegetation and trees that have overhanging branches. Most deer eat this type of plant life.

Are there fruit trees and bushes? These include nuts like hickory, pecans, and acorns, as well as berries and other fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, apples and persimmons. Deer also enjoy eating weeds and non-woody flowering plants and grassy vegetation. Based on this availability you can determine how many food plots you want to add and where would be the best places to put them.

Shelter for deer and other prey

In this case, shelter means refuge for the deer, not for you. During the day, deer need cover for protection so they can rest without fear. Areas that have tall grass, swamps, pine trees or thick brush are just right. Of course, you can always hinge cut a small group of trees, leaving stumps about four feet high, to provide areas where the deer can feel safe during the daylight hours.

Final thoughts

Buying your own hunting land can be very rewarding and a wise investment for you and your family. With a little advanced research and planning, you can be confident you are getting the property you want and will use for a lifetime of memories.

HOW PRESCRIBED BURNS CAN HELP IN THE GROWING SEASON

Brad Mormann | Originally published in GAMEKEEPERS: FARMING FOR WILDLIFE MAGAZINE

The late winter dormant season is the most popular time to conduct PRESCRIBED BURNS, but is this timing right for your prairie, savanna or woodland? It all comes down to your goals and objectives—and your willingness to get a little sweaty. Depending on the exact timing, “growing season burns” have a couple of distinct advantages over “dormant season burns.” These advantages include vegetation suppression of some types, INCREASED VEGETATION of others, and greater biodiversity. Suppressing a particular vegetation type, while encouraging others is a major part of land and wildlife management. This process has been going on for millennia as fires swept across our prairies, savannas and woodlands. The fun aspect today is that for the most part, we control when a burn occurs on our property allowing us to maintain or transition habitat types according to our goals.

Burning cool season grasses, such as fescue, after they have grown 4 inches tall in the spring robs their roots of energy. This provides an opportunity for a diversity of wildlife friendly plants to sprout and gain a foothold.

Cool Season Grasses: Weakening the Competition

One of the most common transitions that I like to implement is from a cool season grass dominated field to one containing a mix of native warm season grass, forbs, legumes and shrubs. Cool season grasses such as fescue and smooth brome have been a staple for farmers across the country wanting to stabilize soil and feed cattle. These cool season grasses are often selected because they are remarkably hardy and easy to establish and maintain compared to their warm season counterparts. However, because they are often planted in monocultures the quality of the habitat they provide is usually only useful seasonally if at all. For instance, these fields may provide pretty good nesting habitat for pheasants, poor quality habitat for quail and after a winter snow storm, little habitat at all. Remember, habitat is the food and cover wildlife need to survive.

These grasses can also be problematic when growing in warm season stands because they often take over the stand, literally pushing out the competition of some of my favorite grasses such as switchgrass and big bluestem by locking roots and starving other plants of moisture and nutrients. I’ve seen it first hand as some of my best pheasant hunting areas continually lost their warm season component and winter cover.

Tackling these types of issues almost always requires at least a couple of tools from my “management tool box.” In this case I generally do one major step before implementing a fire regime in these fields, I get the transition rolling with a good dose or two of herbicide to wallop the cool season grasses. This turns the table on the cool season grass dominance that is often root-bound and suppressing other high quality vegetation. With the cool season grass dominance gone there is opportunity for a wide variety of seed in the seed bank to flourish. However, after years of dominance there is also a ton of cool season grass seed piled up in the seed bank and sure to germinate. This is where growing season burns take over. Let’s back up a second and think about how a growing season burn affects a plant. As the name suggests, growing season burns are conducted when vegetation is green or “greening” up. In the spring, in order for plants to break dormancy and begin sending up shoots and growing leaves they must draw from the energy reserves stored in their roots (carbohydrates). They rely on this stored energy until the new leaf or shoot starts photosynthesizing and creating more energy. During the summer and fall these same plant parts are actively acquiring energy and using it to grow the plant. These above ground portions of plants are susceptible to fire and can be greatly affected by it.

This woodland was losing its open understory and herbaceous component. By initially cutting and then periodically burning it is transitioning back into a high quality woodland.

For instance, one of my favorite times to weaken cool season grass stands is in the early spring. Fire lines are prepped and stands are monitored until the grasses have put on 4 or more inches of growth. As mentioned, the new growth of spring is sucking energy from root stores with little input from photosynthesis. This means when you top kill the grasses with fire you’ve effectively taken away a portion of the root reserves making the plant weaker. This allows other plants to gain a foothold and compete. These “other plants” may be high quality forage and cover species for a variety of game such as ragweed for quail and pheasant forage, or switchgrass for deer cover.

With this said, a question I often get when speaking with landowners is “why can’t I just mow the grass with my brush hog, it’s doing the same thing right?” Wrong! Mowing has a couple of very specific uses in habitat management but for the bulk of management the mower needs to be left in the shed. Sure mowing cuts grass and removes nutrients but it also does it extremely uniformly and causes tons of cut material to build up in a duff layer. Fire on the other hand, burns erratically, consuming a thin layer of duff in some portions of a field, more thoroughly in others, and some areas don’t burn at all. This causes a diversity of micro habitats and conditions that favor some plants and animals over others. Imagine a bumble bee sized quail chick moving through six to 10 inches of built up mowed material versus a grass stand that was burned the previous year with little, if any built up ground level material. It’s not hard to see the difference, especially when it comes to visualizing a tiny quail chick chasing insects and dodging hungry predators.

Woody Vegetation: Let There Be Light

The history of our nation often contains stories of wildfires stretching for miles across the countryside. Coupling this history with data on when most fires were ignited due to lightning strikes it becomes apparent a large percentage of past fires occurred during the periods of spring, summer and fall. These fires were important in maintaining open prairies, savannas and woodlands with a large diversity of herbaceous vegetation. Herbaceous vegetation is more than just the “green stuff” growing at ground level, it is the mix of plants that feeds a deer herd during times of drought, hides turkey poults before they can fly, and attracts insects for quail to chase.

Today however, because of our suppression of it, fire does not play as big of a role in our savanna and woodland habitats, allowing them to transition into a more densely treed forest. Even within our prairies, woody growth often eventually dominates.

Prairies, savannas and woodlands evolved with fire. Maintaining their quality requires using the tools that made them. Whether you are managing a hunting property or family farm, consider working growing season burns into your management plan.

Of course you’re assuming from what you’ve read so far that I’m going to lean toward growing season burns to help restore habitats taken over by brush, and you are right. However, as noted before there are always other tools in addition to fire to help a restoration along. One of these methods is cut stump treatment. This is basically the cutting and spraying of unwanted trees and shrubs. In the case of a woodland or savanna the goal is to restore a more open tree canopy and understory. With the felling of trees rapidly opening the tree canopy and the herbicide killing the root systems, the restoration is in full swing and very obvious to the common observer. The challenging part; however, is if you’re the person running the chainsaw and applying the herbicide. It can be back-breaking work with the rev of the chainsaw seeming to draw in ticks from all directions, couple that with wood chips flying everywhere masking the ticks’ steady march from your ankles to your head, and the restoration effort adds new meaning to “sweat equity.” Luckily for me, but probably not for my family, not all of the ticks hold on tightly when returning home. I just say “those must have come from the backyard…” Did I mention burning can pack a wallop on the tick population, at least temporarily?

Depending on the brush size and quantity, a growing season burn may be all a restoration effort requires. The exact timing isn’t quite as critical, but usually needs to be done during the spring leaf out or late summer. During the spring leaf out is when minimal shading is occurring allowing the fuel (fallen leaves/branches) to burn thoroughly. Fully leaved canopies later in the spring and summer usually maintain a high humidity, suppressing fires. During the late summer when rain and moisture are in short supply and in areas where at least 60 percent of the sunlight reaches the floor, an effective burn can be achieved. It doesn’t take much heat for very long to girdle an actively growing sapling or small fire intolerant tree. The important aspects to consider when performing a growing season burn is how tolerant the trees are you want to remain alive at the end of the fire, what the fuel moisture levels are, and what your burn plan is. If you are used to burning in prairies, be sure to do some research on proper firing techniques in a savanna or woodland. Lighting a ringhead fire probably isn’t your best plan. That doesn’t mean that at the last moment you don’t tie in your fire lines all the way around the fire, but it will take some time before that is necessary—sometimes hours depending on the size of the burn area. The important aspect is to keep flame heights at manageable levels – mostly below two feet tall.

Of course you’re not killing every little sapling the fire touches, nor are you scarring many of your larger trees, but a good percentage of the saplings will be top killed allowing a variety of herbaceous plants to gain a foothold. After several growing season fires an herbaceous plant foothold can be expanded to truly maximize the biodiversity and thus wildlife carrying capacity in the restored habitat.

Native Warm Season Grass Stands:Too Much of a Good Thing

These trees have been girdled by a growing season fire.

Yes, even a stand of native warm season grass can be lower quality than its potential. Here again, diversity is critical. Depending on your goals a dense, pure stand of grass with little legume, forb or shrub component can be almost as bad as a pure stand of cool season grass or a two hundred acre field of corn. Especially on small properties where landowners want to provide all the wildlife needs to survive, having the appropriate year-round food and cover all in one field can be critical.

Timing a native warm season grass burn for late summer and fall can stress the grass allowing other plants in the seed bank to germinate. It also provides an opportunity to overseed a variety of forbs and legumes.

Mop Up

Growing season burns have shaped the habitats we see today. Whether set by lightning or by Native Americans, growing season burns have been a tool in nature’s tool box and should be a tool in yours. Fortunately this important tool is often much more economical and requires less effort than many of our other options. With a little planning, creating fire lines, and enticing of friends and family, many acres of management can be completed in a morning or afternoon.

The important thing to remember is that CONTROLLED BURNS are “one tool.” By coupling it with a rotation of growing and dormant season burns, spraying, and/or tree cutting, a property can maximize its highest habitat potential and reward the manager with a lifetime of wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities.

UNDERSTANDING AND PLANTING OAK TREES

Andrew Walters | Originally published in GAMEKEEPERS: FARMING FOR WILDLIFE MAGAZINE. To subscribe, CLICK HERE.

As WILDLIFE MANAGERS, we understand the significance of hard MAST PRODUCING TREES, particularly oak trees. Their presence is a critical aspect of land management and arguably the best natural forage for wildlife. Oak species belong in the Fagaceae family which can be broken up into two subfamilies: the red oaks and the white oaks, which are also names for individual tree species. These are the most well-known types of oak tree species but there are many other important variations that can slip under your management radar. In order to maximize your land’s management potential, it is crucial to have a variety of oak species in both the red and white oak sections on your property. Let’s start by breaking it all down.

WHITE OAKS

Here is a dense cluster of acorns on a rare shumard/water oak hybrid.

Some of the most well-known oak trees within the white oak section are the swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii), bluff oaks (Quercus austrina), overcup oaks (Quercus lyrata), chestnut oaks (Quercus montana) and of course the common white oak (Quercus alba.) All of these oak species variations germinate in the fall and their acorns mature in one growing year.

The leaves have rounded lobes and their bark is furrowed, shaggy, and lighter in color compared to red oaks. They also produce less tannic acids than red oaks. The lack of tannins makes the nut less bitter and favored by wildlife. The bitterest portion of the acorn is the very bottom where the acorn is the narrowest, opposite of the cap. This is where the majority of tannic acids are concentrated. Many animals, especially squirrels, will eat the acorn but leave the bitterest portion of the nut which is the embryo. This ensures that another crop of trees will have the opportunity to sprout the following year because the embryo is left untouched and sometimes even buried.

 

RED OAKS

The most well-known species in the red oak section is the northern red oak (Quercus rubra) but there are many others such as the water oak (Quercus nigra), pin oak (Quercus palustrius), black oak (Quercus velutina) and southern red oak (Quercus falcata.) These species have a darker colored bark than their cousins and when mature they will have light-colored vertical lines that run the length of the trunk. Some refer to these lines as “ski-trails” and this trademark appearance allows them to be easily recognized.
The ed oak tree’s leaves are usually more deeply lobed than white oak species and come to a distinct point. The acorns germinate in the spring and it takes two years for the acorns to mature and drop. The tree will produce acorns every year but it will have mature and immature acorns being produced on the tree simultaneously.

The increased tannin content allows the fallen acorn to be somewhat preserved on the forest floor if it is not consumed by wildlife. In a properly managed habitat, there may be times when other more palatable food sources are desired, sometimes other acorns, than the bitter red oak acorns. If this is the case it may result in red acorns left scattered on the forest floor during late winter and early spring. This provides a beneficial food source prior to the spring green-up, especially if it has been a rough winter.

White oaks have leaves that have rounded lobes and their bark is furrowed, shaggy, and lighter in color compared to red oaks.

Now that we have the plethora of common types of oak trees covered we can begin describing how their presence applies to our land management. Oaks are notorious for producing a bumper crop of acorns one year then enduring a few years of mediocre production. This is a natural phase that most oak trees cycle through. This is why it is important to have a variety of species on your property. The recommended ratio of red to white oaks is three to one. Of course, the particular red and white oak species can vary. This diversity results in staggering acorn production and provides ample amounts of forage for your herd.

MAPPING IT OUT

Using aerial maps and satellite images is a technique commonly used when scouting new land. While it is tough to beat “burning boot leather,” always attempt to survey land with aerial maps before walking the property. Most oaks are deciduous, therefore they lose their leaves every year in the autumn and winter, unlike evergreen trees such as pines and cedars. Interpreting satellite maps that were pictured in the winter months allows you to differentiate between evergreens and hardwoods due to the lack of canopy cover.

Topographical maps, while not as clear as aerial maps, are still a great tool to use to overlap with aerial maps. The contour lines on topo maps distinguish the steepness of the elevation. The closer the contour lines, the steeper the slope. If the elevation reveals they are located on a slope it is most likely to be an upland species such as a northern red oak, or if it is located in low lying areas it could be a bottomland species such as a swamp chestnut oak. While the particular species is irrelevant, this allows you to locate oaks then spend your time focusing on managing the area, not spending additional time trying to locate.

PRE-EXISTING MANAGEMENT OF OAK TREES

I know what you are thinking—why don’t we just fertilize the pre-existing oaks to increase mast production? While that sounds great in theory, releasing the crop trees will have a much bigger impact. This is done by cutting into the bark around the diameter of the undesired trees. These trees will soon die but remain standing. This allows sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, eliminates nutrient competition, and allows the oak’s canopy to expand. The goal is to ensure that the oak trees are the dominant species in the canopy and to remove any co-dominant tree competition.

A tree’s height is directly related to the number of nutrients it takes in; while the diameter of the canopy is dictated by the amount of sunlight it receives. This also increases the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor. This has been proven to be much more effective than fertilization and is highly recommended to increase the production of acorns. It’s estimated that roughly half of the oaks within a stand produce 90% of the acorns.

It’s always good to do some pre-season scouting to find those “bumper crop trees.”

A little known factor that plays a huge role in acorn production is genetics. Like all living organisms, a tree has a unique genetic makeup, some of which may not be ideal in order to produce acorns on a regular basis. In this case, a management plan can be modified, such as removing these trees. This is why it pays to keep a close eye on your oaks and monitor the acorn production from year to year.

WHAT ABOUT BURNS?

A common misconception is that you can’t conduct a PRESCRIBED BURN in stands that are primarily oak. Once an area is sectioned off to be burned, all dead wood at the base of the tree should be removed to prevent smoldering that could potentially damage the tree. The fire will creep slowly through the forest floor, being fueled only by the detritus, or the leaf litter. The flames will not be hot enough to scar the oaks but it will be enough to remove most vegetation. While the intervals can vary, it is most common to burn stands of oaks every three to five years, reducing the forest’s fuel load and favoring a shrub understory. The burns can be conducted during the growing or the dormant seasons, but doing so during the dormant season will destroy any acorns that have already fallen. A growing season burn allows the vegetation plenty of time to bounce back before the autumn and winter months, which is why many conduct burns between April and July.

 

PLANTING YOUR OWN OAKS

Many times oak trees are scattered throughout a property and aren’t in a distinct stand. If this is the case you are likely to have a diverse collection of oaks instead of a monoculture of a single species. Determining what your target wildlife concentrates on is the best way to modify your management strategy. While it varies from location to location, wildlife may key in on a particular species of oak over others. Determining this can help you tweak your management efforts towards a particular species. This is invaluable if you are considering planting oaks on your property.

Before you purchase any type of tree to plant on your property, you must find out if the tree variety will persist in that particular environment. Upland is a term used to describe trees that grow on sloped, well-drained areas. Bottomland is a term used to describe a low-lying area near a water source and consists of moist soils. It is important to know where you plan to plant a particular variation of oak before you purchase them.

Pollen-producing male flowers (called catkins) occur on all oak species in the early spring.

Once an area and an oak tree species has been chosen, you must prepare the planting site properly. Mechanical preparation such as disking and tilling is used, but BURNING IS STILL FAVORED. Mowing the vegetation is the least effective method, but should be done if that’s the only option. When planting trees in a forested area, make sure there is an opening in the canopy that allows the tree to receive sunlight and be sure to remove any competing vegetation. Mossy Oak’s NATIV NURSERIES offers a wide selection of previously mentioned oak varieties that can be purchased. There are dozens of packages that have a variety of oaks to fit a wide array of habitat types and wildlife uses.

Once a tree has been planted it is important to protect it from any wildlife that may damage it, primarily whitetails browsing or bucks rubbing their antlers on the trunk during the pre-rut periods, which can sometimes kill the tree. Another common problem is deer nipping the tops off of the trees before the trees are above their browse height. Once they are about five feet tall they are usually out of reach of browsing deer, but it is necessary to protect them if they are any shorter.

 

Cages similar to the type that monitor browse pressure on food plots can be erected around the tree. Or tree-tubes can be installed at planting time. It does absolutely no good to plant trees only to have them ruined before reaching their potential, therefore it is vital that all precautions are taken to protect them.

You can’t go wrong by managing pre-existing oaks or establishing new stands of oaks. While the trees you plant will not produce acorns immediately, you are creating something that will benefit a diverse range of wildlife species for decades to come. Likewise, your management efforts on pre-existing oaks will not only contribute to your land management experience but is a valuable investment for your future hunting experiences.

12 THINGS YOU NEED TO HOLD MATURE BUCKS ON YOUR PROPERTY BESIDES FOOD PLOTS

Food plots are for many of us the most fun and dramatically rewarding part of being a gamekeeper. But as you delve deeper into habitat and wildlife management, it becomes clear that there are plenty of other improvements that need to be made to the habitat if your goal is to attract and hold mature bucks on your property.

IT’S ABOUT CREATING A LEGACY FOR ALL FUTURE GENERATIONS. SUBSCRIBE TODAY.

Attending to these “extra” things besides food plots becomes especially important for those who, like me, only have a hundred or few hundred acres. If you have thousands of acres of mixed habitat and let young bucks walk, chances are you already have some older bucks present.

For those of us with less acreage, packing the maximum amount of things that will attract and hold older bucks in a small area and managing it extra carefully are especially important. Here are 12 projects and management principles that will help make your land attractive to older-age-class deer. There are certainly other steps you can take, but these are good ones to start with.

If you don’t give the deer these things, chances are your neighbors will, and that’s where they’ll go.

Before getting started, realize that to get the maximum benefit from these projects, you need to carefully analyze your property using topos, aerial photographs, and your knowledge of the land to lay them out for maximum attractiveness to the deer and maximum enhancement of your hunting success. The latter aspect requires careful consideration of things such as best access to stand sites, prevailing wind direction, sun angle, approach cover, and other factors. But knowing where the different types of cover and food are that you have put in place will help you know how the deer will travel and where they will likely bed as they make use of the habitat enhancements you’ve made.

1. Create a transition corridor for mature bucks. Most land is to open for prime deer habitat and big bucks don’t get old by traveling where they can often be seen.

Locate a natural potential travel route from bedding to feeding areas or between doe bedding areas and make it appealing to bucks by adding a variety of shrubs or tall annual grasses and partially felling a few low value trees. This serves two purposes. Besides offering cover, a lot of the species you plant will also offer food as will the HINGE-CUT TREES. That will make the travel corridor even more appealing.

Here’s an example. You have a small stream or drainage ditch flowing through an area that could be a big buck travel route between doe bedding areas, feed fields or blocks of timber, but it’s too open. Without brush and trees, only does and young bucks will likely use it during daylight. Put in a swath of shrubs that grow 5-8 feet tall or cover grasses such as BLIND SPOT along the creek, however, and mature bucks will start using it because they’ll feel secure there.

A number of different shrubs will work well for this project. Some good ones to consider are: native American honeysuckle bushes, dogwood shrubs (graystem, silky, or red osier), lespedeza, crab apple, Chickasaw plum, chinquapin, viburnum and indigo bush. They’ll not only create security cover, deer will nibble on most of these plants, adding to the travel corridor’s attraction.

Plant two rows of these bushes on the side of the creek a buck would likely travel, 8-12 feet apart. For variety and winter cover, you can mix in a few pines or cedars.

2. PROVIDE MINERALS. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have a natural mineral site on your property. Most of us, though, are less fortunate and need to build one or more mineral licks to satisfy the deer’s need for macro and micro elements that they don’t get enough of from natural foods, crops and food plots.

BIOROCKS are good. I also like to dig up and mix in Full Potential into the top 8-12 inches of soil in several key sites for every 50 acres of land. Place them in or near cover, where a mature buck is more likely to make use of them. By putting that many sites out, you can monitor which ones are most attractive and keep those activated while eliminating the others. Refresh them as needed, but avoid checking the site too often.

3. Add water. This one is pretty obvious. If a deer doesn’t have a source for water that it feels comfortable using it will move off your land to find it. If you expect him to use it during daylight, it needs to be in or adjacent to cover, with a route leading to it that doesn’t make him expose himself. If the source you have is in the open, you should build a travel corridor to it (see step one) with cover.

Water sources don’t have to be big or elaborate. You can often use rocks and logs to dam a small wet-weather stream. Placing water troughs, kids pools, or pond liner plastic in dug out spots is another relatively easy project. If you want to tackle both mineral and water needs in one step, consider the Banks Outdoors Watering Systems with their H2O Wild Water Mineral Supplement added to the water.

IF YOU LOVE WILDLIFE AND WANT TO IMPROVE HABITAT SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

4. Create or enhance staging areas. Crop fields and food plots are attractive to deer, but if they appear abruptly at the edge of open woods, mature bucks might not move into them until after dark. By adding or enhancing a STAGING AREAbetween the field and woods, older bucks will feel comfortable hanging out in these areas and perhaps even approach the plots in daylight.

Cut down some low-value trees along the border to create a thicket of brush. Leaving some of the tops partially attached makes even more valuable cover.
Grape vines, greenbrier and honeysuckle will grow up the fallen trees and form thick shelter that big bucks crave as they approach an open feeding area. And those plants are also great foods for deer.

Add a few bushes from a nursery to fill in spots that are still too open and you’ll soon have a staging area bucks feel comfortable using well before dark. The edge should be at least 75 feet deep, 100-150 feet is better still. Be careful not to make the area too thick, though. Deer also like to socialize and see each other in these areas.

5. Plant native WARM SEASON GRASSES. This not only keeps more mature bucks on your property, it also benefits species such as quail, pheasants, turkeys and song-birds. Switchgrass is one of the easiest to grow and my favorite warm season grass. If you are considering planting a wet area, it’s definitely the one to choose. It can survive up to 30 days in standing water. Other species should also be considered such as Indian grass and big and little bluestem. I like to mix several of these in my plantings.

These grasses will grow from 5-7 feet tall, providing great cover for both mature bucks and does which will draw in those bucks. You can plant these by broadcasting the seed and covering it lightly, but drilling is preferable. Special drills for these seeds are often available from local conservation agencies or farm co-ops. Since this is a strong conservation step for the land, government programs can sometimes be used to help finance seed purchase and planting.

It’s not important to have large warm season grass fields. The main thing is to locate the stands in good strategic spots where deer will use them to bed in or go to when there’s pressure in other areas. Putting in several small plantings in long narrow fields is an excellent strategy.

I prefer not to hunt these warm season grass fields. Their best use is to hold deer on your property. On the other hand, hunting near them is a good way to intercept a buck moving out of the stand to chase a hot doe. This tactic yielded a huge eight pointer for me recently with bases just shy of six inches.

6. Add shrubs and vines. Habitats that are mostly open crop fields and mature woods can benefit from releasing and enhancing any shrubs and vines present and planting others. If you have Japanese honeysuckle, fertilizing can double the forage production of this non-native, but still valuable plant for deer. Also nurture any raspberry, blackberry, greenbrier, and plum shrubs on the property. These offer both food and valuable cover.

Trim them back if they are growing too high for deer to reach or pull the vines down. Also daylight them if low-value trees are shading them by cutting back overhanging branches of those trees. Adding lime and a 10-10-10 type fertilizer can also help.

If you lack these shrubs, consider planting rows or clusters of them or other plants such as strawberry bush, American beautyberry, shrub dogwoods, crabapple, and mulberry.

7. Build big buck bedding cover. Mature deer might walk through your land or venture onto it looking for does as the rut swings in. They might visit food plots you’ve created for a bite to eat, but you’ll never have old bucks stay on your land without good BEDDING COVER.

Fortunately, that’s easy to create if you don’t have it. The first step is to select a good location. I like to position it far from human activity, close to the center of the property. A good spot would be on a shelf or bench or just a slight rise if that’s all the elevation that’s available. The heads of hollows are also good.

Bucks like to bed high and move low in the afternoon to feed or chase does. They typically choose the leeward side of a ridge or hill based on prevailing winds. Put your beds in these spots for maximum use.

Using a chain saw, cut some low value trees in the spot you’ve chosen. Don’t knock everything down, but enough to create a jungle-like rough and congested area that bucks will take to. Cut mostly low quality, bent, injured or diseased trees, and just hinge-cut some of them.

Before starting, learn the safety rules for logging and always wear the proper protective gear. If you aren’t comfortable doing this work, hire a professional. He might cut the wood for firewood or pulp and take a few saw logs that you specify to make it worth his time coming in for the job.

Besides creating a bedding area, this cutting also allows additional light to enter the woods by removing some of the overhead canopy that shades the forest floor. This lets new shrubs and forbs that offer valuable deer food emerge – species such as raspberry, blackberry, honeysuckle, greenbrier and grapes. That makes the jumble of fallen timber even more appealing as a buck hideout. Maple stumps from the cutting will also generate shoots that bucks snack on. Eventually saplings will spring up, adding even more cover.

Since you build this bedding area yourself, you’ll know exactly where it is and how it’s laid out. With trail cameras you’ll be able to quickly learn the routes bucks use as they head to it in the morning and leave in the afternoon—prime stand sites.

BECOMING A GAMEKEEPER IS NOT JUST THE BEST WAY TO PRODUCE GREAT HUNTING… IT’S THE BEST LIFE! SUBSCRIBE TODAY.

8. Create a thermal refuge. To keep deer on your land during inclement weather, you need a thermal refuge. These can be anywhere from a half to several acres, close to the center of your property when possible.

A dense grove of pines, spruce, or cedars offers deer thermal cover and shields them from blustery winds, snow and sleet in winter. The conifers are also immensely valuable as psychological security cover, offering great escape areas. When hunting pressure mounts on nearby lands, there’s nothing a buck craves more than thick cover and seclusion. His life depends on it. A grove of dense young evergreens in a secluded spot is just what he’s looking for. Species may vary according to what will do well in your area. I particularly like white pines. Plant as large of an area as you can, anywhere from one-half to several acres.

To add extra wind protection and bedding cover, also fell several low-value small to medium trees, cutting some through and hinge-cutting others. Intersperse these through the conifer plantings.

9. Plant oaks. Most properties managed for whitetails have some of these, but you can improve their output by thinning trees around them. If you have enough open land, by all means consider planting more oaks purchased from state forestry departments or sources such as NATIVNURSERIES.COM. Try to put in some early maturing and some late-maturing nut varieties. Planting these in open areas rather than woods will make them magnets for old bucks with the heavy mast crops they’ll produce there.

10. Give them fruit. They may not be important in the overall nutrition of a picture of a mature buck, but trees of species like pear, apple, mulberry, peach, and persimmon offer treats that will hold and draw deer to your property. They also provide a vital energy boost just before the rigors of winter set in and are packed with phosphorous and vitamins.

Plant them in areas receiving at least five hours of sunlight. Slight slopes are good, rather than bottoms. Put in at least six trees in each location so they will cross pollinate. If possible, put tree shelters around them so they don’t get damaged by deer and rabbits.

11. Delineate sanctuaries. No matter how small your property, it’s vital to have some part of it placed off limits to any human activity except entering to retrieve a hit deer. It should have some cover, perhaps including some of your bedding areas and thermal cover sites. The rougher, thicker, and steeper the terrain, the better. If it’s an ideal habitat, five or ten acres may suffice for a sanctuary. In most cases much larger areas are better, up to 25-50 percent of a property sometimes.

Besides delineating SANCTUARIES, also keep pressure light on areas that are hunted. Don’t use a stand when the wind is wrong or where the deer will be spooked by your entrance or exit from the stand. It won’t take much of that before mature bucks either leave your property or become nocturnal. Also keep a lid on non-hunting access and activities. Mature bucks and human activity simply don’t mix.

12. Don’t just “scatter” these improvements throughout a property. Rather, integrate them so they mesh and complement each other, helping, instead of hindering, your hunting success. And don’t forget to ask for help and advice from other gamekeepers nearby with similar properties.

Often state wildlife biologists will visit your land and give recommendations for free. Institute as many of the habitat projects described here as you can and chances are any mature bucks in the area will make your land their home year-round.