Autumn – The Other Habitat Season

5aa45089-0ea6-4521-8b44-0775e53cf664 When summer ends, my thoughts turn to harvesting the fruits of spring habitat work as frequently as possible. My wife, however, who is also a fan of wild game, still has this odd thought that perhaps I don’t need to hunt all the time. And, she peppers that philosophy with ideas for activities that don’t involve gun smoke and feathers. Agreeable me, I always offer to get right after the autumn projects beckoning from the farm.
While fall really doesn’t summon habitat work to mind like spring does, the list of potentials is long. Some involve habitat prep and upkeep necessary ahead of spring work – burning, shrub and native plantings, food plots. Other fall endeavors provide more immediate results.
For either upcoming fall or spring prescribed burns, mow existing firebreaks and disk new ones. This creates barriers that fire won’t cross, and with a bit of thought, that fresh dirt can be put to double duty. Seeded to winter wheat or rye in September, a firebreak creates attractive fall forage for deer and greens up quick next spring to help control fire.
Timing matters with fire, and it sets the stage for the vegetation that follows. Spring burns stimulate grasses. Fall or winter fire encourages wildflowers and sets grass back – opening up a field (bare ground between plants = easier brood access), and attracting next year’s bugs with soft plants rather than stiff grasses. It favors the creation of seed producing foods for pheasants and quail – sunflowers, ragweed, and partridge pea. Patch burning is preferable, but more difficult to achieve than whole field fire.
Any burned area can be enhanced further by winter frost seeding of native wildflowers or legumes if you are short on those components. Fall is also the best season to set back woody plant invasion with fire. And, if you planted millets last summer for dove shooting, a late August burn puts that seed on the ground where doves will flock to it.
Of course, fall is the perfect time to get up early and learn something about your wildlife. Park the ATV on a ridge while it’s still dark, break out the binocs and see what pops up. Survey your domain and dream about spring projects. Do a whistling count if you have quail, and start tracking that data every year. Mostly, savor this time away from more mundane fall chores. And don’t forget the gun….heck, you’re there anyway, right?
Story by Jim Wooley, Pheasants Forever Senior Wildlife Biologist