November Wildlife in Mind

Reader Questions About Minerals, Winter Disking and Planting an At-Home Tree Nursery

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | April 2, 2006

November is a quiet time of year for habitat management, relatively speaking, but there are always a few things you could do-and things you don’t have to do-out there in your habitat. This month’s column looks at a few items on which readers have asked for more information.
We recently received questions concerning minerals: if, when, where and how to provide them for your deer herd. According to wildlife biologist Robert Smith of Albany, mineral supplements should be near the bottom of your habitat work list.

“Minerals usually aren’t a limiting factor in habitat management,” Robert said. “They are not the first thing we need to address. Deer will use minerals if you provide them, especially when the does are carrying fawns and the bucks are growing antlers. Minerals are not used as heavily during the hunting season, which is when most people put them out, unfortunately.”

The fact that the fall is not the optimum time to supply minerals works to your advantage for two reasons: first, it is illegal in Georgia to use artificially supplied minerals to attract deer into your sights, and second, minerals can be expensive. Skip them now and you can be certain that you are hunting legally, and you can save your money until spring and summer, when minerals are needed most.

If you want to start a serious supplement program, start it in the early spring when the first green growth appears. As deer begin to focus again on green, juicy forage, their water intake through food sources jumps back up, meaning that they will begin to need those minerals again. Plan to continue supplementation through the end of summer; just like a supplemental feeding program, a mineral program won’t be of much benefit if you install the mineral source once and then never go back to recharge it.

“Rather than a salt block, buy a good granular mineral mix,” Robert said. “The ones developed for dairy cows are real close to what you need for whitetails.”

If a dairy cow mineral mix is not available from your local seed supplier, choose a mix using these guidelines: 1) The salt content (NaCl or KCl in the ingredients) should be less than 35 percent. 2) The calcium to phosphorous ratio (Ca:P) should be 2:1 or higher. 3) Make sure the mix contains other micro-nutrients like manganese, zinc, copper and iodine to name a few, said Robert.

To establish a mineral lick, select an area near travel corridors or bedding areas so that deer will locate the lick quicker. Don’t select a site that is wide open: give the deer a place where they will be concealed and more deer will be likely to use the lick. Clear an area four to six feet wide, rake out the leaves, then dig a hole that is two feet wide and about six inches deep. Pour out 25-40 pounds of the granular minerals and mix them around with the dirt you loosened. Check back in two weeks to see if it is being used, and if so keep it recharged by adding another 25 pounds of mix about once a month. Keep the lick charged through August.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that minerals will make a significant difference in antler size. They can contribute to antler growth, but a far more successful way to have a healthy herd and thus bigger antlers is a simultaneous combination of improved habitat and native food sources, good year-round food plots, and sound herd management through selective harvest.

“Winter disking” is something you should start doing right now, especially if you are trying to create better habitat for quail and turkeys. It involves turning over the soil in woods openings, not in food plots.

“October through February is the time to do your soil disturbance to encourage those good quail foods-ragweed, partridge pea, beggarweeds, and other native foods,” said WRD Game Management biologist Reggie Thackston. “But disking also sets forest succession back and provides good brood range for the next year.”

The soil in a woods opening is filled with the seeds of native forbs; by turning the soil of openings and knocking down plants in later stages of succession, like shrubs and saplings, you are allowing the seeds of forbs to germinate, keeping that ground in an early-succession stage that offers the most food and cover for quail. Supplying more early-succession ground also provides browse for deer.

This kind of habitat work can be done in a number of ways. You don’t necessarily need a tractor-a 4-wheeler equipped with a set of mini-disks will do fine, as will a gas-powered, manual tiller. In fact, a small rig like this might be able to reach and disturb more pockets of ground than a tractor. When you select locations for disking, choose ground that is not erodible and that is close to thick cover.

“The results you get from disking vary by the soil type and by the season of the year,” said Reggie. “On some sites you disk in November you’ll get wonderful results, others might do better disked in January. You should do a little each month, and adjust depending on the results you get.”

One of the sounds that you are probably listening to while sitting in your deer stand these days is the plunk of acorns hitting the dirt. Most likely, in your scouting, you have located the oaks on your property that are producing best, and you are probably hunting near them, if not in them. The next time you head into your stand in the morning, take a bucket with you. On the way out, take a moment to gather up a bucket-full of acorns for your do-it-yourself nursery, something we discussed back in January.
Now, while acorns are falling heaviest and most of them are viable, is the time to get them. Back at the house, perform a float test on your bucket-full of acorns by filling the bucket with water. Take all the acorns that float and throw them out: their hulls are cracked or have been penetrated by insects. With the others, you have a couple of options. 1) Put them in individual seed cups and cover with soil, then leave them outside in the weather. If you bring them indoors they will germinate too early. 2) Plant them in an outdoor plot set aside for them. With these first two options you will have to continue caring for the seedlings, moving them to buckets as they grow, so that in two years or so you can move them to the woods. 3) Go ahead and scatter the acorns throughout your property, along edges, in openings, places with good sunlight, and anywhere that you want to establish some mast trees. Poke a hole in the dirt two or three inches deep, drop the acorn in and cover. You get lower survival with this method, so plant several in each location and plant as many locations as possible.

One thing to remember: genetics counts. Gather acorns from that old swamp chestnut oak that’s dropping golf-ball sized fruit down by the creek, and from that white oak that has always had a bumper crop every season. Be sure to pick up a few persimmons, too, before they are gone, and include the seeds in your planting.

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