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Productive Dove Fields and More Day 4: Understand Trees, Mulching and Leasing Farming Rights

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Editor’s Note: Chuck Sykes, the Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), has realized the growing demand by public-land deer and turkey hunters to have opportunities to hunt lands intensively managed for wildlife like owners manage their private lands. These strategies when used can help you improve the land you hunt, if you own the land or have the landowner’s permission to implement these land-management tactics. You may need several years to finance the cash to make these improvements over the next several years. Then you drastically increase the amount of wildlife on the properties you hunt and have a game plan for your land set in place.


The numerous cedar and sweetgum trees present in some sections of Alabama as in other states don’t create good habitat for wildlife. Sykes mentions that some parts of Alabama have cedar trees so thick, “You barely can walk through them. The DCNR employed a company that would purchase the right to clear some cedar trees from state lands – particularly on hilltops. Then the DCNR did a controlled burn of those areas and converted that land back into rich soil like that from decades ago that’s great for deer, turkeys, and quail habitat.”

Mulching: Another management tool the DCNR is using besides removing non-commercial trees to open up the forest floor to sunlight and provide more habitat for wildlife is mulching. A big machine comes onto the land, mulches the understory (small bushes and non-commercial trees) and grinds that brush up into mulch.

According to Sykes, “Besides opening up the forest floor to sunlight, which encourages the growth of native plants and grasses, we sow wheat in those mulched areas. Because we’re managing the land too for wildlife and timber, we can thin our timber stands more aggressively than a commercial timber company or a private landowner can. We know that the more sunlight we have hit the ground under the timber, the more food the property will produce for deer, turkeys, quail, and songbirds.” 

Leasing Farming Rights: Most hunters are of the opinion that cotton fields are deserts for wildlife. When Alabama’s DCNR bought some new places to use for hunting, some of it was in cattle and cotton production. The DCNR wasn’t in the cattle or the cotton business, so the Department contracted with a local farmer to plant cotton on a portion of this land. At the time of the purchase, the property also had a number of invasive grasses that weren’t native to the State of Alabama or wildlife-friendly, like Johnson grass and others. So, the DCNR removed these invasive grasses, before the farmer planted cotton.  

Grass on side of road

“We know that deer eat cotton,” Sykes says. “Turkeys like to strut and bug in the grasses growing underneath cotton stalks. We’re conducting a scientific study now on these cotton fields with woodcocks. We’ve put radio collars on captured woodcocks in these fields to learn their migration routes. So, the DCNR is providing a local farmer with a great opportunity to earn a living on this land and ridding the property of grasses not good for wildlife. Today these cotton fields are providing more quality habitat for the wildlife on that land.  

“Green and yellow grasses, commonly known as henbit and panic grass, are growing under some of the cotton stalks. The turkeys, quail, and woodcocks feed heavily on the seeds that these grasses produce. The deer are grazing on the grass and young cotton plants as they come up.

“Also, cotton and corn stalks provide cover for turkey poults and quail chicks – protecting them from avian predators, and yielding plenty of grass seed to feed on under the protection of the stalks. Most people never think of a cotton field as a wildlife habitat, and I agree that it’s not the very best wildlife habitat. However, cotton fields give deer, turkeys, quail, and woodcocks another type of diverse habitat, which they all prefer.”

Although most hunters probably may consider leasing farming rights to farmers who produce soybeans and corn, instead they can lease a portion of their hunting rights to cotton farmers and actually provide better wildlife habitat.

Tomorrow: Burn and Disc Land for More Wildlife

How to Hunt and Take Big Buck Deer on Small Properties
In this book, you’ll hear from 14 hunters who either have gained permission or leased properties as small as six acres to as much as 250 acres, and how they consistently take older-age-class bucks off these little lands.


Jim Crumley’s Secrets of Bowhunting Deer
Using a black magic marker and a gray work jumpsuit, Jim Crumley of Buchanan, Virginia, drastically changed the nature and purpose of hunting camouflage when he created the first sportsman’s camouflage – Trebark. Crumley’s love of bowhunting and his desire to be more invisible changed hunting clothing forever. 

In this hunting guide, he shares the wisdom that he’s learned throughout his lifetime about how to be a hunter, how to find a deer lease, how to scout for deer, and more.

Special features include how to:

  • Have a magic 60 acres to hunt 
  • Decide the best equipment to use
  • Find deer year-round
  • Locate land to hunt
  • Know the best place to put your tree stand
  • Get bucks within bow range


How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro
How do you know if the land you hunt has a trophy deer on it? Wildlife manager Bob Zaiglin, of Uvalde, Texas and Jim Crumley, the father of modern-day hunting camouflage, tells you how to find out. GPS can make finding and taking that trophy buck easier. This hunting guide will teach you how to hunt big bucks where no one else can find them, how to call deer, and how to become versatile as a deer hunter, so that if one deer tactic doesn’t work, another one will.

In the chapter, “How to find Bucks at Scrape,” Dr. Keith Causey, retired professor of Wildlife Science at Auburn University, describes the best way to hunt a scrape.

Brad Harrison of Neosho, Missouri, is a nationally-known videographer, professional deer hunter and master at calling deer. Another master is Will Primos of Primos Game Calls. These two experts will tell the best deer calls and when to use them in this book.

And for over 20 years, Bo Pitman, lodge manager of White Oak Plantation, has been studying deer movement patterns. He explains what types of conditions are best for predicting deer movement.


How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro: Volume II
Deer hunting and deer hunters are drastically changing each year. To learn new techniques for hunting deer and have more places to hunt, I’ve interviewed some of the best deer hunters in the nation and share their tactics in How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro: Volume II.

In Chapter 10, Jacob Lamar tells you his tactics for consistently taking older-age-class bucks on public lands in several states. Chapter 11, Bob Walker explains how to find places on public lands where you can hunt that 99 percent of the other hunters never have considered hunting. The Bonus Chapter with David Ramey tells you how, where, when and with what equipment to take big Kansas bucks on public lands by hunting in 100-degree weather when others won’t hunt.

Chapter 13, Mark Drury, his family and his guests take mature bucks every season by having more small places to hunt rather than one large property. Drury explains the strategy of having satellite farms to hunt that only may be 50-150 acres each or less. Chapter 15, Pat Reeve, who hunts far-northern states and Canada, says, “I don’t like hunting for mature bucks until the weather is 20 degrees or less.” Chapter 4, Dr. Larry Marchinton says that funnels are the most-reliable stand sites to hunt for big bucks and tells why. 


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