The What, Where, When And How

Every piece of land, whether it is ten acres of small brush surrounded with thousands of acres of farmland in mid Michigan or 500 acres of mono culture mature timber surrounded with endless acres of state land in the UP needs to be looked at separately and treated differently. When creating a land management plan keep the following rule foremost in your mind; the major goal for all properties is to keep those bucks on your land during daylight.

Does may bed anywhere, while bucks demand security come mid September, ‘the time of velvet shedding.’ Well maintained luscious food plots will pull in does and bucks for nighttime feasting but if the land does not satisfy the security bedding needs of bucks, especially mature bucks, they will leave your land prior to daylight and may bed a mile or more away. That results in few if any bucks sighted in the morning on your land. If the bucks are bedding a mile away and evening is drawing near, your neighbors get first crack at the buck and if he somehow arrives at your land to forage on your super attractant food plot it’s probably dark.

In addition to rule number one, ‘keep those bucks on your land during daylight’ there needs to be habitat that satisfies the needs of deer year round and encourages them to move about during daylight. The primary solution of keeping bucks on your land during daylight is to provide security in their bedding areas. These bedding areas need to be many and scattered throughout the property.

This basic need of bedding area can be simply provided with the planting of tall grasses with switch grass being best designed naturally for deer. Plant a blend of several varieties of switch grass of different heights to create structure. These switch grass deer bedding areas can be as small as ½ acre to major bedding areas of 10 or more acres. Many commercial switch grass seed sources and others recommend switch grass seeding rates of 5 to 10 lbs per acre, with the higher rates especially for deer bedding areas. No doubt they work and will have deer and other critters spending time there. However, even this can be improved.

Switch grass grows in clumps, with the goal being, ‘the bigger the better.’ High seeding rates may insure a good catch of grass but there are downsides in a high seeding rate of switch grass. These desired clumps are now many but small in size, (eight inches in diameter or less) with small spacings between clumps. It can get so dense that man or beast will have a difficult time moving through it. Perhaps some of you experienced this when pheasant hunting. What is more desirable is fewer but large switch grass clumps and up 1-1/2 feet in diameter. The larger the switch grass clump, the larger is the spacing between them. This makes it easy for deer and you to move about. Now we are talking about habitat much preferred by wildlife. I have seen large and dense switch grass fields, where deer do have trails deep into the field but it’s the field edge that they prefer. You do want them through out your switch grass seeding.

This does not apply to narrow switch grass deer travel lanes, screening for food plot or property privacy, the access lanes to your blinds and small areas of deer bedding, (thick seeding rates are fine). Switch grass seeds are small and with a proper site prepping and corrected soil even one lb of switch grass seed per acre can work. Switch grass tends to have dormant and or hard seeds, which takes another year of being in the soil before it germinates, (conditions called stratification and scarification). Be patient, in addition to the dormant seed, switch grass takes three years to establish. Switch grass is somewhat invasive, (soil type controls this) and with time may appear where not seeded. With maintenance it is possible for stands of switch grass to survive for decades.

Experimental Switch Grass Field

Not pushing a one pound of switch grass seeding rate per acre but I drill seeded exactly that rate in 1997 and here’s my story. As mentioned switch grass takes three years to get established in mid Michigan. Two years later I had what most would say was a mess. Weeds and worst yet cool season grasses galore. There was quack, crap, orchard, brome and barnyard grasses that were choking the switch grass to death. Due to the low seeding rate I knew that I was inviting weed and cool season grass problems. Those weeds and cool season grasses hurt that switch grass big time. The switch grass was evident, in large clumps and separated by over a foot, so far so good, but this supposedly tall Cave in Rock variety was barely three feet tall in late July and looking weak. Not much that I could do then, but next spring I could.

Switch grass will not germinate until the soil temperature reaches 68 degrees. The following year’s switch grass will emerge at a soil temperature of 55 degrees. That’s why it is called warm season grass. All I had to do is spray Round up before it emerged, while the weeds and cool season grasses would be evident for they emerge at soil temps of 40 degrees. In mid Michigan around mid May or before is a safe date. In spring of 2000 we sprayed Round up. Without the weed and cool season grasses the switch grass reached six feet of height that year, showed large clumps and generous spacing. This plot didn’t reach maturity until its fifth year of growth. That year it grew eight feet tall, the larger clumps were over 1-1/2 feet in diameter with spacings that I could easily walk through. In my view the wait was well worth it. We showed a simple switch grass maintenance process with a single timely spraying of round up. It really is that easy.

Do not mow switch grass unless you want to hurt it. Burning works but I shy away due to a mishap 15 years ago. Disking works fine to revive a field. If you seeded a combination wildlife switch grass and legume perennial blend and in a few years the switch grass is taking over, with the legumes struggling, try spraying Round up as mentioned above at one quart per acre and disk lightly same day or soon after. Then soon after, over seed a perennial blend by broadcasting or drill at six pounds pre acre and follow with a slow cultipacking pass. Around the end of June mow at eight inches of height (no lower, for the nodule growing point on the lower part of the switch grass stem should not be removed). Unless you want to really hurt that switch grass. There is more to maintenance depending on growth conditions, but switch grass and seed combinations with it are not difficult to maintain and indefinitely. Unfortunately that one pound seeding experiment was on another’s land and has since been sold and developed. Never the less that experiment taught me a whole bunch and helped me develop the following Wildlife cover and Forage blend.

We have a blend, called, ‘Wildlife Cover and Forage Blend’ that has just less than two pounds of switch grass in a six pound bag that can do one full acre. This is a very light seeding rate and on purpose to allow the delicate perennial forages and switch grasses to get established without overcoming the other. The key forage is Kura clover, which lives forever; deer love it and is aggressive to the point of competing with cool season grasses. However it takes three years to get established as does switch grass. This wildlife blend is designed for doe fawning areas, buck and doe bedding areas, deer travel lanes that deer can move through and take a snack if desired. Have that deer travel lane routed to pass an ideal bow blind, then fertilize that area and presto you have an attractant food plot. Whether you seed switch grass at ten pounds an acre or two pounds, site prepping is critical.

See our web site, and print out the planting instructions for the, ‘Wildlife Cover and Forage Blend’ you have several options in soil prepping and seeding methods. There seem to be endless conditions that can confuse anyone. I don’t know everything but am willing to help all. Call me at 586-784-8090. or email

Knowledge Of Experts

Whitetail deer live in the jungles of South America to the northern swamps of Saskatchewan but are primarily woods loving animals. Deer certainly use those switch grass bedding areas but deer being deer, we find that some are choosy and much prefer the woods and other brushy habitat cover as their bedding area. You will find decidedly improved action by including the manipulating of woodsy habitat into doe and buck bedding areas, and other habitat creative action that influence deer movement. We have advised here about the switch grass story, which is well known for decades as a deer bedding choice.

Manipulation of habitat in creating buck and doe family beds, deer travel lanes, staging areas, proper hinge cutting, mock scrapes, creating different forms of deer travel control and site layouts is an art and best known by Tony LaPratt, see Example, we have all heard from well known and respected outdoorsmen about deer and their habits. One common theme is that bucks will bed anywhere, they do not have a preferred bedding spot and no one can control their choice of bedding area. In the north woods of endless spruce, everywhere is a buck bedding area. Deer travel great distances during the seeking phase of the rut and may be miles away from that so called preferred bedding spot come early morning, ‘no way will they head back.’ These experienced hunters are right on the money in their logic. However, Tony who spends endless hours observing deer and their ways, through years of trial and error has uncorked the deer’s hidden preferences. Yes, deer will bed just about anywhere with minor restrictions, but they do have preferences where they bed, with the feeling of security being paramount. Tony has found these bedding preferences along with many other preferences such as correctly designed travel lanes to encourage deer to move about during daylight to work their scrapes, Tony calls them sneak trails.

There are many studies using GPS collars on deer that show most scraping takes place at night. This is the common belief and it is true. Until Tony shows that you can get deer to make and refresh their scrapes from noon until sundown, just give them Tony’s special feeling of security.

Habitat Needs And Deer Management

We covered rule number one, ‘Keep those bucks on your land during daylight,’ another other important areas of habitat manipulation that satisfies the needs of deer year round and encourages deer to move about during daylight. It isn’t complicated, just give the deer habitat that creates the feeling of security in their bedding area, their adjoining travel lanes that lead them from the bedding area to other bedding areas, to food plots to secured water sources. These secure travel lanes and cover can’t be too tall. Tall and dense habitat encourages deer to move about during daylight. Surround those food plots with cover or plant them in cover. Woods grow old and forage grows out of the reach of deer in time. Put a timber stand management in place. You may need a professional forester. Year round nutritious and digestible forage is a must. Natural habitat should be the major source for this. Leaving acres of standing corn and soybeans works well for winter carry over.

I also believe that it is important that we also touch on the management of deer. We will not dwell on this except to remind you that those deer are yours and it is your responsibility to see that they are managed scientifically, which includes a deer herd that is in balance in their sex ratio and age structure and insure that their density is in balance with the habitat’s carrying capacity. Deer evolved through millions of years to be what they are today through a natural separate doe and buck social order. We all know about the survival of the fittest theory, which insures that the best genes are passed on. We certainly are not insuring that the better genes are passed on for future deer with the present deer management system. I repeat; those are your deer and if our state officials are lacking that leaves it up to you and you alone.

Site Layouts

Ten acres can be transformed into one ten acre area of total deer security for a single hunter and can be set up for the bow and firearm seasons. I’m thinking a four acre field of corn left standing with a one acre super attractant variety type forage food plot within the corn. The remainder can be a combination wildlife blend of switch grass and selected cool season grasses for the spring fawning period along with forage of a variety of legume perennials plus chicory. Leave desirable brush and trees if possible. Create several small 1/8 acre food plots within the combination wildlife blend area. On Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 do the sweetening thing, see www.deerattraction.comarticle titled, ‘sweetening thing.’ The bow blinds can be ground style and placed within the corn near the food plot or the wildlife blend if necessary.

The five hundred acre piece also mentioned could have a site layout starting with a central destination field of 15 or more acres, many scattered deer bedding areas, (sanctuaries) and each having a water source, dozens of small kill plots, several doe fawning areas that consist of a minimum of three acres and seeded with a combination wildlife cover and forage blend that provides tall cover and nutritious forage throughout the spring and summer months. High fawn birthing rates coupled with survival to one year of age is key to successful deer management. Well designed doe fawning areas adds much to that goal.

Create separate blind and food plot maintenance access lanes. Create miles of deer travel lanes throughout, which connect sanctuaries to other sanctuaries to food plots to other food plots and to the destination field. These travel lanes can be the regrowth of a clear cut but even better if they were seeded with the same combination wildlife cover and forage blend as used in the doe fawning areas. The travel lane will then need to be cleared and destumped to a width of 45 feet minimum to allow enough sunlight for the combination wildlife seeding to succeed. If the travel lane is 60 feet or wider deer will bed in that lane. If that combination wildlife cover and forage travel lane passes near an ideal tree bow blind you can change that travel lane into a lush food plot at that tree site. Fertilize in early June with 200 pounds of 19-19-19 per acre. On Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 sweeten that food plot. You now have action not experienced by many.

See for a similar setup with illustration, article is titled, ‘Creating a property set up for maximum deer control.’ There is a big difference between the ten and five hundred acre set up as it should be. The land configuration, size, forest type, water sources, topography, soil type and latitude will in most part control the land management strategy applied. Take your time when creating the plan. Once you cut down a tree it is not likely that it can be glued back on the stump and grow. Good luck to all and keep the fun in hunting!

Ed Spinazzola, Associate, Tony’s Land Management. For more information see our web sites, or or call 586-784-8090.