Food Plots in Thinned Pine Stands (Episode 19 Transcript)

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WOODS: It’s March 23rd and I’m here with my good friend, Bobby Watkins.  We’re by Aberdeen, Mississippi and this is Bobby’s private farm.  It’s been in his family for….

WATKINS: Four generations.

WOODS: Four generations.

WOODS: Bobby’s a researcher and he’s done an incredible amount of work on how to convert an old cotton farm, basically, into a wildlife paradise.

WATKINS: That’s right.

WOODS: So, today, you're gonna share with us some of those techniques that’s really applicable to millions and millions of acres of pine management.

WATKINS: Yeah.  You know, across the south everybody was farming.  Everything was cleared up and then, of course, that went away and declined in the 70’s.  A lot of places went into pines.  Some hardwoods with the CRP Program.  And so this place went into CRP pines and now, we’ve got something to work with for wildlife.

WATKINS: Of course, Grant, you know, when we plant our pine trees, they're in rows and then to harvest, to thin the first time, you have to take a row out.  So the machines can get through there.  So we’ve taken out every fifth row and so we, we break the stumps up.  We can put lime fertilizer, do our soil test.

WOODS: Sure.

WATKINS: When you take the hardwoods out by spraying, sunlight will come through these pines.  You can see plenty of sunlight.  We’ve planted soybeans in these lanes.  We’ve planted corn in there.  Our best thing is this perennial clover.  Now we use, Durana Clover through here.  We don’t have to plant it anymore.

WOODS: Okay.

WATKINS: And we’ve got it established, and deer move from the native vegetation in here and they’ll stay and stand and let you look at them and judge them.

WOODS: Because they're not nervous.  Because they're always a step from cover on one side or the other so it’s not like being in a big field.  They can just eat, but they're real comfortable because they're just a step from cover.

WATKINS: That, that’s right.  And they stop and feed.  You see them jump across a road.  Well, they're not feeding in that road.  Here, they're coming into this lane to put their head down and feed.

WATKINS: This is a drag road where they pulled the trees out so we made it into a spoke.  Here’s the stand, the, the hub and we’ve got lanes going out.

WOODS: Right here and here and all over.  Okay.

WATKINS: And, and so you can sit here and we like to have a young hunter or somebody here.  They can see the deer moving across the tree rows.  Then they hit these good planted lanes.  They drop their head and they can make the harvest shot.

WOODS: Now, I have one question about this, okay?

WATKINS: Sure.

WOODS: Now, do I qualify for the youth hunter?

WATKINS: You don’t.  You don’t.

WOODS: Man, we gotta do something else, Bobby.

WATKINS: We’ve gone through the coldest, wettest winter anybody can remember and so you look at the clover and you say, “Gosh, my clover hasn’t done anything.  But, you have to have a utilization cage to keep deer from feeding on it to see what you’ve got.  And here, you can see excellent growth.  It’s just now starting to grow.  It’ll be up here in a couple of weeks.  And right behind it, I just put out another utilization cage so I can, and each month, I’ll put another one out.  So, I’ll have three utilization cages here to look at my growth over this spring.

WATKINS: Prescribed fire is the most natural green tool, technique, we can use.  And so, the hard thing is to control it.  So, we put in our lanes beforehand to stop the fire, to manage small blocks.  And so, if you put this in in the summer or in the fall.  Then, when you're ready to burn in January or February, to move the bad plants back to cessation to get all these native herbaceous plants, it’s easy to do.  So here, we’ve got the benefit of having our feeding lane for our wildlife and our fire line versus having to bring in a bulldozer the day of burning to plow you a lane.  Traditionally when you burn, you’d bring in a, a bulldozer, plow a lane.  You can see here, a lot of exposed soil.  There’s gonna be some erosion here, as compared to our lane where we’ve got our perennial clover, we don’t have to do anything.  We would let the fire go right up to it.  We don’t have to call the bulldozer.  It’s time saving.  Plus we’ve got the benefits of perennial food plots.

WATKINS: So, Grant, what we’ve got here.  We’ve got about five acres and, of course, our fifth row thins are out.  That’s about 20%.  So we have almost an acre of planted Durana Clover through here.  We’ve got food; we’ve got native plants which is also bedding area.

WOODS: Right.

WATKINS: And so, this is a food plot.  This is a five-acre food plot.  But, we’re producing timber income of $100 per acre per year.

WOODS: Boy, that’s a win/win if I’ve ever heard one.  You know, one thing I love to do in these thin row like designs like you have here is just let the wind be coming one way or other.  These, these open rows tend to channel-ize the wind where it doesn’t swirl.  It’s either going one way or other.  So you can get on the downwind side.  Look with your glasses.  Kind of take a few minutes.  Stalk up through a cover zone like this and then peer down the next row.  It’s just a tremendous hunting technique and the deer never know you're in the neighborhood, because they're right there at the bedroom and the dining room all at once and it’s like you're getting a view into the deer’s world without disturbing them.

WATKINS: That’s exactly right.

WOODS: That’s a great design, Bobby.

Bobby, I really appreciate you having me to Coon Tail Farm and tenderloin last night from a deer you harvested here last year.  And, but most importantly, thanks for sharing your research.  Because there are millions of acres of pine plantations in the South that can be very valuable for timber production and great hunting.

WATKINS: Yeah, if you hunt or own pine plantations, don’t bad mouth them.  Manage them.  Take care of the hardwood brush in those pines and then take care of your strips.  Plant it in something good and you're gonna have deer and turkey and other game pull into those things for you to look at.

WOODS: Speaking of which, it is turkey season here in Mississippi.  And, although we’ve been working this morning, I think we’ve done enough work.  And we’ve been…

WATKINS: We have.

WOODS: …checking out those clover strips with our .12 gauge.

WATKINS: Yup.  They're gonna be right back in there in the river bottom.  They're gonna come to those strips and we’ll get one.

WOODS: Let’s get going.