Plotting to raise whitetail trophy deer -- and healthy ones -- takes more than buying a bag of clover seed.
Everything from soil quality to land layouts and deer biology enters into a program to upgrade deer habitat areas, according to Ken Allein, formerly a seasonal Department of Environmental Conservation fish and wildlife technician.
Allein has been involved in land management for a decade, starting Habi-Tech two years ago. "This is a growing business," Allein punned as he described this highly specialized market that serves landowners with better hunting acreage.
"Habitat improvement is so much more than just growing grasses; this is a very comprehensive business; it's everything together," he said. A thorough assessment of a landowner's land area will take at least eight hours and cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000 per study. The results can be stunning -- but changes often occur gradually.
"A good habitat program may take the landowner three to four years before achieving the best holding conditions for the land area under improvement," Allein said.
"Most studies are just under 75 acres, but I've had some [assessment areas] as small as two acres and up to more than 500 acres," he said of successful clients.
Most hunter-landowners key on deer management, but an increasing number of owners realize that good habitat will also improve the size and healthy numbers of turkeys on their hunting areas.
Like deer, turkeys need a good start. Before birth, a turkey egg improves birth and early-stage development when hens have to get forage. Egg production improves birth success and suitable cover adds to insect growth, essential food sources for poult (turkey chicks) growth to maturity.
For deer, healthy does survive the winter season and then deliver stronger fawns each spring when they have good food sources late into the fall and early in the spring. A well-fed doe provides not only increased birth weights but also better milk quality for feeding early-stage fawns.
Healthy bucks need a food boost after an exhausting rut period each fall. Usually, active male whitetails lose considerable body weight at the end of the rut just as winter weather reduces food sources for these stressed bucks. A high-protein food source before and after the rut season ensures survival and an increased number of mature bucks in the next year's breeding pool, Allein asserts.
To begin a land-area study, Allein has to get down and dirty, with attention to the testing of soil samples to the location of the largest trees and all the brush and open areas between those grounds and treetops.
"A mix of heavy cover and open areas work best, but soil quality is essential if not the most important for establishing an ideal plot," he said. Getting the pH level as close to a neutral reading of 7.0 works best. Acidic soil, well below 7, and base soil, well above 7, curbs all grass, brush and tree growth, protection and chow for game.
Allein looks at both the food and footpaths game birds and animals take through the plot, setting motion-detector cameras to check on movements. Along with the game photos, he also relies on aerial photos and mapping to see how game bed, feed and travel through the area.
Tree plots become important in where to place food plots that usually measure less than a quarter acre. Allein often consults with Dave Paradowski, a DEC forester, for tree planting, trimming and removal work. He encourages owners to look into FLEP (forest landowner enhancement programs) when considering tree growth. Staging plot growth to maximize food plants and minimize weed growth ensures that deer have more than just a late summer and an early fall food source. All plantings depend on weather conditions, but good plot planting adds to the overall growth potential for deer herds.
"We rely not only on herd numbers and appearance, but we also rely on biological data on the deer in and around a specific area," he said.
Consistently good food sources increase the numbers of 100-class bucks after two years and more of those trophy racks that have grown for 3 1/2 years and more. Before leaving a study area, Allein also makes useful suggestions for sites where hunters could best place blinds and tree stands.
A licensed guide for more than five years, he often can provide an objective overview of a tree-stand site that was great years ago but would give a hunter more views of passing deer if placed where habitat changes have shifted deer movement. A thorough assessment improves hunting prospects and also increases real estate values when upgrades are completed. For an initial evaluation and more detailed information on how to upgrade food plots, habitat area, check with Allein at 833-4939.