Dudley Phelps of Nativ Nurseries talks about Turkey Trees

There’s a Time and Place for Turkey Trees

by Dudley Phelps

Black Gum FruitLate every winter while the rut is winding to a halt, and the freezer is bulging at the seams, thoughts and daydreams transition from “what can I do for my deer” to “what can I do for the birds.” I think it’s pretty safe to say many of you guy’s thought processes follow the same calendar. Even though its engrained in our heads how important it is to follow a long-term management plan, that small block of thinned pines you swore needed a couple years allowance to grow super thick for deer cover suddenly needs a burning to create a scratching and strutting hotspot come the turkey opener. The same can be said for that field you wanted to put in soybeans suddenly just has to become a chufa plot. Or what about all those cameras you wanted to put out to see which bucks made it through the season? Instead you find yourself spending weekends setting traps to catch nest predators!

The list of “seasonal mindset changes” happens to just about every so-called gamekeeper, and the good news is that all of these practices are beneficial and rewarding, even if they do weigh a little more towards either fur or feathers. So what are some things we as hunters and land managers can do to benefit both ends of the spectrum? And to be more specific actually improve deer huntability AND provide a food source for the Sultans of Spring? Since one of my main passions aside from deer and turkey hunting is trees, and the three can go hand in hand, I’m going to cover a tree planting strategy we implement on our client’s, and our own personal properties that tackle both buck and bird with one stone.

In a nutshell, it’s all about what trees you plant and where you plant them that make a drastic difference. At Nativ Nurseries, we raise a wide spectrum of species… all beneficial for wildlife, but it’s about where you put them that makes a difference when it comes to huntability. Huntability and recreational value pretty much go hand in hand these days, don’t they?

The almighty oaks, my personal favorite, are by far the most popular trees to plant when it comes to wildlife, but a common mistake I’ve seen over the years is in the choice where they are planted in respect to improving huntability for deer. In my opinion, the single biggest mistake a tree planting deer hunter can make is to raise “acorn” trees along access routes to deer stands. To be a more effective deer hunter, it makes sense to NOT attract deer to the same roads and trails you use to access them for hunting. Think about it! Why on earth would you want to bump multiple deer en route to the hunt? All this will accomplish is to encourage them to wait until way after dark to come out and eat. The best solution is to establish plants and mast trees that aren’t attractive to deer in the fall and winter along these pathways. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid mast producing species altogether. Just make a point to plant these access areas in something wildlife can utilize at times of the year other than deer season. I’ve found the best scenario is to establish spring and summer dropping “turkey trees” such as: black cherry, blackgum, and red mulberry along your access routes, or any other species such as plums or dogwoods. Save your oak seedlings for everywhere else.

It’s not that deer won’t utilize these turkey trees, in fact they relish ‘em. The driving home point is this list of soft mast species won’t be a source of attraction during deer season. This will greatly reduce your human impact when human impact is a no-no, and on the flip side give your birds a reason to stick around. Bucks and birds bagged with one stone, how’s that for a win-win scenario?

Dudley Phelps is the Manager at Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries in West Point, MS for more information on what plant species will work best on your land email Dudley at dphelps@mossyoak.com.

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