By Mark Kenyon
Here’s the scenario. One of my main hunting properties is about 50% cover (timber, CRP, swamp) and 50% ag field. Much of the cover on the property is towards the back, leaving a large majority of the farm up front not being used and relatively unhuntable. In my opinion, this was a waste. There had to be some way to get more utility out of this area. And so, I got to work.
Here’s how I’m planning on gaining about 5 acres of newly huntable ground by using screening cover and a little sweat equity to improve the property in a strategic way.
2013 And Before
In the diagram above, you can see what this area looked like in 2013. For the past few years I’ve planted a food plot, outlined in green, in the inside corner of this short grassy field. The first couple years I did this, the plot received very little daylight action, as the area around it was very open and exposed. From the plot you could see all the way out across the grassy field for several hundred yards and then out across the huge ag fields that were beyond (this view is shown in the very top photo).
That said, in 2013 I planted a food plot screen of egyptian wheat and sorghum around this small plot, and that grew into a 10 ft+ tall barrier, completely blocking it out from the surrounding area. Immediately the area began getting more use, and I had multiple encounters with mature bucks in or near the food plot. It was a drastic turn around from past years, and I knew I was on to something. That said, this year, my plan was to take this same concept of using screening cover, and expand it to a larger area.
2014 and Beyond
So here’s what I’ve done since. In the diagram above you can see that I’ve taken that large several acre grassy field, and manipulated it into something totally different. The first and most important aspect of this plan was to place screening cover around the large field to block it off from the outside fields and road to the West. You can see the screening cover I planted, indicated with the yellow line. In addition to using the cover to screen off the outside, I also used interior walls of screening cover within the field to further break up the area into smaller sections. The goal here was to encourage deer movement throughout the entire food plot complex, and also to allow more deer to feel comfortable using it at the same time. I’ve then planted or will be planting food plot forages within these enclosed areas to provide the attraction needed to move deer out into this section.
What was once a 3-4 acre open field will now be a completely enclosed, secure system of several small food plots and cover. Additionally, by adding these habitat features to what was previously an unused area, I’m quite confident that the thick cover (marked in blue) to the Southwest will begin getting significantly more use as a bedding area.
The end result of all of this is that I’ll have deer using about 5 acres more ground than they typically have in the past, which should open up several more stand locations for me to use, while also further improving the pattern of movement from East to West on this property, allowing me to likely encounter deer earlier in the evenings as they move further out into my food plot system, versus stalling at the edge of the cover until dark, as they did in the past.
All that said, this is all hypothetical at this point. The real test will come this Fall. But I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on how this all pans out.
You Can Do It Too
If you’ve got open areas on your property that aren’t getting used during the daylight, you can use this strategy too. All I needed to put this into action was an ATV with a sprayer and a small disc, some Round-Up, fertilizer, and a few bags of seed. A short-term screen like I’m using, of egyptian wheat or sorghum, can work great. But you can also think more long-term and plant trees or bushes, evergreens seem to work especially well. Whatever you choose to do, the most important thing is that you create a sense of security for any deer passing through the area.
If you’re willing to put in the work, a few smart habitat improvements can open up whole new areas of huntable ground!
Have any questions about this project? Let me know in the comments!