March: lion or lamb for habitat

Disking up old food plots or fallow fields will provide turkeys with great opportunities to search for bugs and other food. To prevent the downside — possible nest destruction or habitat loss for newly born fawns — get your disking done by mid-March.

Improving some habitat can have unwanted, negative effects if you’re not careful

March is a pivotal time of the year for wild turkey and deer; the two big-game species on which hunters spend most of their time and dollars. When it’s crunch time for turkey hunters in March, it’s also prime time for deer managers to make waves in food plots in preparation for warm-season plantings. But can something that helps one species counteract objectives for other species? 

Well, maybe. It depends on where and when these land-management activities are under power. Disturbance at the ground level is typically very beneficial for promoting habitats.  

Expired food plots and open areas often become part of March duties to create fresh bugging areas for turkeys or to break up soil. Disk harrows or PTO-powered bush hogs are the most-important tractor implements that every land manager should have parked in their sheds. Together, they disturb the land at ground level, consequently creating current and potential future opportunities for groceries that wildlife will utilize.

Turkeys love a plowed field, and land managers can disk up rows and fallow food plots to attract turkey in time for the hunting season. 

The days are getting longer, and temperatures are warming the soil enough to jump-start the green season, too. Shallow tillage stimulates the growth of native grasses and forbs that both deer and turkeys love. Additionally, mowing can be beneficial by spreading native seeds and shortening overgrown vegetation.   

The benefits of mowing and disking can easily be realized on most properties, but they can have negative impacts as well. Turkeys in the Carolinas will begin nesting and laying eggs as early as March, and a turkey nest will quickly become scrambled eggs in the path of a disk harrow or a bush hog. To prevent this, all their spring mowing and harrowing should be finished by no later than the middle of March. 

Beyond turkeys, mechanically altering the ground layer can have negative impacts on deer recruitment. Even though deer don’t begin dropping fawns until May, mowing grown-up fields leads to a shortage of prime fawning habitat and increases levels of coyote predation. 

Coyotes are here to stay, and the arrival of deer fawns during the spring is like Christmas Day for a pack. Cover is critical for newborn fawns; they need cover from Day One. Overgrown fields and woodlots with high grass are critical to create protection from coyotes and other predators. A deer fawn is born with minimal survival characteristics, and overgrown fields come into play to increase their rate of survival. 

Typically, does will choose the same fawning grounds each year, and these areas should be identified and preserved during the fawning season. In the Carolinas, the fawning season begins in May and will usually be over by the end of June. The lack of good fawning habitat will directly impact fawn survival and the future quality of the deer herd. After fawning is over, the overgrown areas can be mowed and prepared for the fall planting season.  

Land managers can still disk and mow certain areas to promote deer and turkey habitat, but certain areas need to be stay out of the tractor’s path to encourage fawning habitat and survival. 

Mowing and disk harrowing are two important tools that should be used every year to promote wildlife habitat. However, their usage should be planned accordingly to make sure that the activities are promoting targeted wildlife species rather than negatively impacting annual recruitment. 

Hunters and land managers invest tons of energy in preparing open areas for food plots and attracting turkeys during the spring season. While working the land can take away from other activities, it can be money well spent when lands load up with wildlife right when the time is right to pull the trigger.

Off the beaten path

Creating food plots and freshly tilled areas are perfect early spring maneuvers for boosting turkey and deer habitat, but the typical farm tractor and a full complements of implements are rarely available to most hunters. The financial investment and routine care for this machinery can be too much for the hunter who will use them only a few times a year. And many of the areas that hunters want to manipulate are off the beaten path and not suitable for a full-sized tractor, either.   

While some hunters resort to ATV attachments, often they lack the intensity to do the job, especially in places that have never seen a tractor before. But a heavy duty, self-propelled machine with mower and tiller attachments is an ideal solution for handling more-remote, less-accessible areas. 

BCS America offers a solution for hunters and land managers: a single, walk-behind machine with various attachments to handle those out-of-the-way places.   

Joe Fowler of Open Season is the dealer for BCS America that services customers in the Carolinas for their line of walk-behind tractors and attachments.

“Our tractors are perfect for the hard-to-get to places where you cannot pull in a big tractor,” said Fowler (704-213-1264). “With the dozen different implements, you can mow trails, pulverize the soil and prepare ground in remote areas.” 

The BCS tractor has many PTO-driven implements, including; a flail mower, rotary tiller and rotary plow — perfect for mowing and tilling areas in faraway places for the spring planting and turkey season. 

“I load everything up in my trailer, but you don’t need a trailer to transport the equipment,” he said. “I can put the tractor, mower and one other attachment into the back of my Toyota truck with room to spare.” 

Jeff Burleson
About Jeff Burleson 1362 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.