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WOODS: It’s February 26th, and I’m here at The Proving Grounds and it’s cold. It’s been cold for weeks on end. And today we want to talk about winter cover. Why I’m worried about cover is, I want to remove stress from my deer population and other forms of wildlife. Now, just like humans, the less stress that animal is combating, the more of their potential they can express. And I want them to express a lot of potential in fawns and general body health and antler development.
WOODS: In the winter, this winter especially, a deer’s coat is all they have to maintain warmth. And I’ve got this nice deer pelt here and you can tell when I rub through it how thick and how long the hairs are. In the winter, of course, deer molt or grow two different coats each year. That’s why they change from red to gray or gray to red. And deer can piloerect or stand all these hairs up and that fluffs it up and traps air in there, like us putting another layer of a down coat on to trap air and hold the heat inside our body. But, there’s only so much they can do to fluff it. On these really cold nights we’ve been having, they need to get into cover or a place that is warmer, because once they’ve piloerected it’s, again, they can’t turn the thermostat up or get another coat on like we can. So, if I’m laying down here on the ground like a deer would be, that wind is hitting me, I’ve got nothing to do to protect me or get me out of the wind in these wide open hardwoods. Hardwoods cover is 60 feet up in the air when there’s leave on. And think about predators, also an additional form of stress on wildlife, especially this time of year. You’ve got to remember, most of the rabbits and mice are dead, been consumed, gone. Those populations are cyclic. And those will explode this spring, but right now, there’s not many left, so coyotes are looking for wounded deer or deer they can catch or a healthy deer they can catch. They’re wanting a meal. Even if they don’t catch a deer, that’s still stress. So, these wide open hardwoods, any coyote downwind of me can smell me. So, this is not real good cover.
WOODS: Four years ago, we just cut and fell all the trees at this six-acre block. It looked just like the block we were standing in earlier this morning. And that’s obviously not cover and I want to make some cover at this part of The Proving Grounds as my overall habitat plan. Well, we cut it, burned it, native grasses and weeds come up and gosh, we were even seeing some quail around and it was great covering. Year two, year three, these saplings start coming in and that’s okay, but year four, the saplings are over my head and now about an inch in diameter. And for you and I to walk through there, we’re getting slapped in the face. We go, “Boy, this is good cover.”
But for most wildlife species, we need to think about cover from our waist down; about three feet down and when we look there, it’s already shaded out. Most of the lateral limbs and it’s just leaves on the ground. There’s no weeds or anything to block the wind from going through there or block scent from traveling through, so below this stand of saplings for quail or turkey poults or deer, it’s not cover.
Clearly, the sun is shining through here, just like those open hardwoods we were in earlier, but there’s nothing really blocking the wind from going through or providing good thermal or escape cover. If you have a patch of habitat like this on your property and you’ve let succession take place and it’s growing up, you’re getting ready like me to have to do some management activity; fire, herbicide, something, to reset the successional clock and take this down to ground zero. This year we will set our fire breaks and actually set a head fire through here; a really hot fire to revert this back to grass and weeds again; set these hardwood sprouts back to ground zero.
WOODS: Hardwood sprout thickets are not good cover. A lot of people consider cedars to be the ultimate cover for wildlife. And from a distance, they certainly appear to provide good thermal cover and wind cover and predator escape cover. But let’s go inside a stand of cedars and see what they appear like from an animal’s point of view.
WOODS: Once, we get inside a stand of fairly mature cedars, you can see how open it is. I mean this is not escape cover at all or thermal cover. As a matter of fact, I am freezing my “tooty” off in here. It’s shady and it’s almost like these tops make a funnel for the wind to go down here. Because the wind is blowing down through here. Brad, in front of the camera and me, we’re shaking and cold, getting set up.
Um, I don’t see any deer droppings in here right now, or deer tracks. I wouldn’t look for sheds in here. This is a biological desert. You know, young cedars this tall, thick and bushy, this would be filled up and there would be cover all in here. But when they’re tall and skinny and all these limbs have shaded out because of no sunshine hitting the forest… Sunshine. That’s the ticket! Sunshine is what builds cover. And if you’re not getting sunshine zero to three feet off the ground, you probably don’t have cover. In this dense stand of cedars that a lot of people think, “Boy that’d be really great,” you can see it’s wide open. A coyote or bobcat could see any rabbit, quail or deer in here. So, this is not the answer we’re looking for for providing thermal cover or escape cover.
WOODS: Well, we’ve come a couple hundred yards above the cedar patch into what was a 26-acre stand of cedars that we simply come in with a crew of guys and cut and felled and burned. Aggressively hot. Have burned it since then to keep hardwoods and cedars from coming in and you can see just a, a great stand of native grass and other stuff coming in here. And I’m warm. I’m not shaking like I was in the other areas. Of course, the sun’s up a little bit higher, but, imagine if you were a deer bedded down even lower than me up tight in here. No wind is getting to you. You see the wind kind of moving up here? But, down here, no movement. The grass down here is not moving at all. It’s like this; all the structure sheers the wind off and down low, you’re getting the thermal sun. I’m on a south facing slope. You get the thermal qualities of the sun, but not the wind chill factor. I’m warm. I may curl up here and take a nap myself. But, this is, over the long haul, very inexpensive, easy to maintain. I’m not fertilizing, I’m just burning every three or four years to keep trees and other things from encroaching. There’ll be all kinds of forbs come up here in the spring. We’re going to show you some pictures of it all green and what-not and great food. Great nesting areas. Great fawning areas, but for late winter stress, this just takes it out. A deer can stay warm. It’s close to a feeding area. Big, native grass patches is my favorite form of cover for a lot of forms of wildlife. And, and when I say “big”, you know, 10, 20, 30 acres. Distance is one of the main features for defense. If you’ve got a one-acre patch of native grass, coyote trotting down the down edge side of that can smell most of the critters in there, most likely. So, a one-acre patch of cover is probably not cover. Like sanctuaries you design on your land. A, a one acre is not a sanctuary. Your scent could blow all the way through there. Five, 10, 20 acres make great cover areas; great winter areas, so they can reduce that stress.
WOODS: It’s coming close to turkey season. It doesn’t feel like it today, but turkey season’s coming on and we’ve been placing our cameras out where we can figure out where turkeys are strutting for the early part of the year and we’re gonna review how we use trail cameras and a time lapse option to pattern spring turkeys next week on GrowingDeer.tv.