Land Stewardship Never Ends
We are constantly looking for things to do in late Winter through early Spring. Besides our usual cleaning and putting things away at the end of hunting season, we found several ways to greatly impact and improve habitat around the property in this slow time of the year. Some of these improvements are ongoing projects that we continue from one year to another. 2017 has been no different for Double Cluck and completing these projects only means one thing…planting season is just around the corner. We have identified three practices as a “must” for the property on an annual basis.
With the help of hard working guides, involved members and a management team dedicated to improving hunting and fishing opportunities for our members, we have created a system that helps us manage habitat and wildlife year round. Our practices have continued to evolve from year to year, which translates into better habitat for the wildlife that calls Double Cluck home.
Probably the single most underutilized management tool for property owners are “prescribed” or “controlled” burns. The idea of lighting a fire can be daunting and downright scary to most people, especially when looking at large scale burns like we have at Double Cluck. The overall benefits to this burning practice can certainly outweigh these fears but if you’re uncertain about what to do and how to do it, it would be best to hire the work done. Below are the reasons burns are so important to our overall management plan.
- When looking at our total property, nearly 1000 acres, you have to understand the history of the property. The ground is old strip mine ground that underwent reclamation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The ground was disturbed and then reseeded to Sweet Clover and fescue grass. Fescue is the predominant and dominating grass in these locations and a good burn, about every three years, will regenerate the Sweet Clovers and other broadleaf plants that add diversity, habitat and available food sources throughout the property.
- Controlled burns help us control our CRP programs and native grass plantings. In these plantings we find legumes and forbs that are extremely beneficial to our upland programs and other wildlife. Whether we are talking about providing nesting habitat in the Spring, bugging and forage opportunities for chicks in the Summer or cover and food sources for wildlife in Late winter, the CRP programs are an extremely important part of our habitat management plan. Burns keep dominant species such as fescue at bay while also providing different stages of growth in each one of our CRP plantings scattered around the property. We look to burn about one-third of the property and CRP each year.
- We have established a three year burn rotation around the property that allows for each part of the property to be at a different stage of growth. This is vital to our wildlife programs because each stage is important to wildlife. We strictly manage the property so that our wildlife can survive and thrive at any given point in the year. By managing the burns on a rotation, we are guaranteed to maintain the necessities for our wildlife but also can hit the “reset” button in certain areas to maintain an important balance around our property from year to year.
Have you ever fished a lake full of long but skinny Largemouth Bass or Crappie? These fish look weird when you pull them out of the water because their mouths and head look oddly disproportionate to the body. These fish look like some creature out of a sci-fi movie. Many times these lakes are misdiagnosed as “over populated” or “stunted” but really they just might not contain enough cover for fish to hunt efficiently. Just like humans if we are expending more energy between each meal or expending more energy than the calories we intake throughout the day we lose weight. If we think about a couch potato who sits around watching television, eating chips and consuming unhealthy foods all day but never exercises, you probably just envisioned a big fat guy in a stain covered white t-shirt with a scraggly crumb filled beard. The farthest trip they make for food is to the refrigerator and back to the couch. If they are really lucky, they have someone bringing the food to them and they never have to get off the couch. We want a bunch of couch potatoes for fish at Double Cluck, so we are constantly adding to fish structure around the property. Here are some of the ways we try to make our fish fat and happy.
- Big brush piles are very essential for growing big fish. We generally try to add to existing brush piles so we aren’t spreading the fish all over the lake but trying to keep them concentrated in certain areas. Staging these brush piles in the Winter during a long cold freeze is ideal. These conditions just make it easier to get brush where you want it and working on ice versus out of a boat is much better. Unfortunately getting on the ice this year wasn’t an option, so we are going with plan “B”.
- Getting creative with our piles is fun and a great way to get rid of “junk” that accumulates throughout the years. We have made brush piles out of old pallets weighted with big chunks of broken concrete and filled with cut Locust trees, old appliances, swingsets, PVC tubing, and more. Each pile is different and adds to the diversity of the ever growing piles around each lake. This year we are starting to cut some Cedar trees that were planted to close to a power line. We want to remove them and use them for structure before the power company sprays and kills them off. Even if they spray them, we can make structure out of them but we wanted to start now.
- Baitfish use these piles to hide from predatory fish and predators use these piles to hide from baitfish. Everything is in one location, which makes for bigger fish because they don’t have to work so hard for each meal. These piles make for healthier fish in general and when placed in the right locations it makes for much better fishing. We try to identify areas where we can fish piles out of a boat or off shore as well. It might make for a few more snags or broken off lures on your fishing trip but once you have the piles marked you can return each trip to see what monster is lurking in the brush pile.
Hinge Cuts and Quail Structure
Unlike pheasants, which are pretty hearty birds that can survive some fairly rough Winter weather, quail need more structure and cover to survive the freezing rains and heavy snows here in Central Illinois. Pheasants and quail both seek structure with food nearby if it is available. We use selective tree cuttings and hinge cutting techniques around the property to help increase cover around our quail release stations. The benefits are much larger than just a brush pile.
- “Feathering” techniques have been promoted for years by biologists. It provides cover for upland birds on the edges of fields, grasses and timber lines. These transition areas provide safety and cover but also provide different forage opportunities. We use the technique to help make large “growing” brush piles in these transition areas where we release our pen raised birds. The wild birds already call these locations home so we can improve our release bird survival rates and also improve existing habitat for already thriving populations.
- The simple technique of cutting half way through a tree until it starts to fall, leaves a portion of the tree still connected to the root system. The tree falls creating instant cover but also remains alive creating a thicker and denser brush pile throughout the year. Each tree can be laid in rows or into large piles depending on how you want the pile to work. For us we want to create a thicker area with pallets and pine boughs in the center for a nice “covey house” with lots of protection all around it.
- The cutting of these tall unwanted trees also opens up the canopy around these locations, allowing sunlight to penetrate to the ground and usually generating a fresh regrowth of more desirable plants and new forage opportunities for many different species. The Locust trees we use, have thick dense spikes on them that aren’t much fun to drag or stack but it also allows for a gnarly brush pile that predators, especially hawks and owls, don’t want to mess with.
If you would like to learn more about our property, habitat and wildlife management practices or information about becoming a member, please fill out the form below. We have a few memberships still available for the 2017 season.