If you own or lease land in the southeast, most likely there are pine trees planted for income. Probably loblolly or longleaf. Tree farms get a bad rap by hunters and often viewed as “wildlife wastelands”. With proper planning and managed with a little TSI (timber stand improvement), pines can be a wildlife paradise offering safety, food and hunting opportunities.
It’s not headline news that the dormant growing season is an excellent time for controlled burns to promote native plant species. It’s an ideal and cost efficient mgnt practice to establish natural food plots, bedding and nesting cover. There are plenty of in-depth articles and podcasts discussing prescribed fire that you can easily find. I’m going to cover the advantages of hunting over burn sites and why I like it better than traditional food plots. However, a planted food plot is a key asset to create a destination feed site and to promote deer movement.
Frequency of prescribed fire results in various results. So much depends on soil and the amount of available sunlight through the tree canopy. We typically burn blocks in 3 year intervals but may be scaling back in some of the big timber sections to maintain a little more cover. The food diversity options for deer is crucial when hunter pressure increases and the mythical “October Lull” is thrown around.
Fire checks many boxes for wildlife diversity in the Southeast. Both dormant and growing season burns will produce different results.
By staggering out your age classes of planted pine stands, you can create a “checkerboard” type design on your property. This will provide more frequent future income and will also maintain diversity on your landscape. See example below. By clear cutting smaller 5-30ac blocks, you will produce high quality deer bedding thickets within 1-3 years whether you replant pines or let it grow up wild. The timeline depends if the soil is low or high ground. These pine thickets can last for 8-10 years on low ground and a little less time for higher, well drained soil. After that, it’ll be too open for bedding until the canopy is opened by the first and second thinning. At that point, TSI work can produce tender, highly digestible food sources for deer. Early, cold weather bedding starts within 1-2 years, while warm season bedding may take 3 years to begin.
The “checkerboard” design promotes deer movement with easy, safe transitions from thickets to forage within cover.
Climbing in big timber over control burn areas next to pine thickets, aka, whitetail bedding are some of my favorite places to hunt at the farm. In Whitetail Tracks , Valerius Geist details how security is more important than food. Think about that; deer will choose poor food options with better cover over premium food and insufficient cover. Safety is above all for the species and it’s how they’ve survived for nearly 4 million years. I always think about this when laying out hunt setups. A deer will be at ease and if they can vanish in a couple bounds. Always keep this in mind when establishing supplemental feeders, food plots and any type of forage created by fire or ground disturbance. Deer feel safe moving through vegetation height created by fire or early successional disking and can vanish quickly with pine thickets close by.
It looks deceiving but the vegetation height is 2-4ft tall. Ideal for deer to browse within cover and be a couple bounds from safety.
The first picture was right after a burn in February 2019. The second is the same block in May.
As the season progresses and hunters blow up the woods with activity on food plots and agricultural fields these areas will draw in deer movement during daylight. Especially, as deer plan to arrive at destination food sources after dark watching defeated hunters leave the area. Furthermore, rut hunting these blocks with bucks checking various pine thickets for hot does can produce results!
These bucks were killed 8/28/19 about 2 minutes apart. They were in a bachelor group of about 12. The story is for another time but I cut them off at first light coming to bed in a thicket. A designed planted pine hunt. No food plots or corn piles. Creating destination food sources, TSI and ample bedding thickets made this possible.
For an in-depth, comprehensive breakdown on prescribed fire check out the below podcasts. All are legit and incredible resources.
- Land & Legacy Podcast
- Mississippi State University – Deer University Podcast