Beyond Food Plots

Safe areas, sanctuaries, refuges are pretty much the same thing. First and foremost safe areas can be natural. All one needs to do is not enter it and deer will find it and use it as a part of their home range, core area or primary bedding area even if it is a mature wide open forest. That is not my recommendation; you can do much better with a bit of habitat manipulation.

As mentioned, safe areas can be the primary deer bedding area and we are including bucks. When you have this basic key area covered, think of going to the next level. Do some vegetation manipulation to encourage Mr. Booner to bed where you want him to and a preferred forage source nearby that he and his female acquaintances cannot resist. Now you are controlling more than 80 percent of his daytime movements and all on your land. It all starts with a safe area.

Grassy Safe Areas

Bucks and does will use medium height grassy fields all summer long but prefer taller stuff come late August. During the fall they will bed in these tall and large open area grassy fields, (3 or more acres) somewhat but will prefer these same type of fields, even if ½ acre in size, but located within a wooded or brushy habitat. A large and tall grassy field located around the perimeter of a wooded habitat works. It becomes an extension of the woods.

Combination Grass Cover

And Forage Safe Area

There are many grasses out there and all have their place. We have been looking for answers in creating effective safe areas using a combination formula of grasses and forbs since 1985. Our goal also included serving the nesting, fawning, food, bedding, cover and shelter needs of wildlife and in particular, Michigan’s whitetail deer. We will not go into the many dozens of trial and error attempts through the years, except to say we learned much. We have

learned that a combination seeding that includes deer preferred forage in addition to a variety of grasses is a distinct advantage. For the do it yourselves group you are invited to try the following seed formula, which will work. For one acre, mix 5/8 lbs each of the following seeds, forage rape, (for nurse crop) birdsfoot trefoil, alsike, medium red, white and Kura clover, chicory and grazing type alfalfa, (for year round forage) timothy, (the only cool season bunch grass for early June game bird nesting and deer fawning) Canada wild rye, shelter and cave in rock switch grass, (for bedding, cover and shelter and the cave in rock can reach eight feet of height) for a total of 7-1/2 lbs.. Be sure to include the proper innoculants for the legumes.

The hard earned information for correct site preparation, several options in seeding methods and maintenance is an article by itself. For this info get on our web site and click on the planting instructions for the Wildlife Cover and Forage blend.

Please do not try short cuts or eliminate the minimum required three sprayings! I have been there, done that and paid the price. A properly made wildlife cover and forage blend safe area field as described above with simple maintenance can last for decades and be the key in keeping and controlling deer movement on your land.

Old Fields

Let’s start with an old field. Old fields can be varied in vegetation and is usually a field that was a pasture, an old hay field or abandoned farm land due to less than fertile soil that is in an early phase of plant succession. The early growth of forbs such as sweet clover, pokeweed, dandelion, poison ivy, pigweed, jewel weed, golden rod, ragweed, plantain etc., gives way to grasses then brushy vegetation and finally a large variety of trees.

It’s the first phase of forbs, also known as weeds, that is most beneficial to wildlife. It serves nesting, fawning, foraging, cover, bedding and shelter for much of wildlife. A spring fire, non-selective herbicide spraying, heavy mowing or tillage pass every 3-5 years should maintain the desired early phase of succession. See your local MSU Extension Agent for best maintenance advice to apply in your area. Expect the vegetation to reach up to five feet in height and serve the needs of much wildlife from ground nesting song birds, game birds, small mammals and deer.

Clear Cuts

How about getting paid to create a safe area?

Clear cuts by themselves with no additional habitat manipulation can evolve into a fine safe area. They can provide instant forage and last for 5-8 years. In only a couple of years they can evolve into a safe area with good cover.

Clear Cut

Safe Areas Seeded

We have created combination grass cover and forage safe areas within clear cuts with exciting results. It is vital that there be a plan when clear cutting. It should impact the entire property acreage. The clear cut planning should include the future location of a number of safe areas, future food plots, access lanes to hunting site locations and finally and very important, connecting these areas with clear cut deer travel lanes.

Choosing clear cut safe areas that are preferably elevated and removing the stumps within the elevated area leaves a clean and flat area. This clean flat area will be sprayed, tilled and seeded with the above mentioned combination cover and forage blend. Connecting these wildlife blend seeded safe areas to other features with deer travel lanes that were also cleared, stumps removed, tilled, sprayed and wildlife blend seeded does wonders.

The above type of clear cut safe area that is destumped, tilled, sprayed and seeded with a Wildlife Cover and Forage blend is just one area that can be observed in its early stages of development in our upcoming Ultimate Habitat Day on August 28. Take a walking tour through a 49 acre wooded area with Tony LaPratt of Ultimate Land Management and get the facts. Bring a camera and a note book. For more information check our Wildlife Habitat Day ad in this issue and our web sites, or or call 586-784-8090.

Ed Spinazzola will also be speaking on this topic at the 24th Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend held at the Eastern Michigan Fairgrounds in Imlay City, Sept. 10-12. Check out for more information.