Reclaiming Land for Wildlife Habitat

With a little know-how, you can turn your property into a hub of wildlife activity, ideal for current and future generations of hunters and nature-observers. Whether for recreational enjoyment or hunting purposes, learn how to reclaim land for wildlife habitat.

| July/August 2018

  • deer
    Large fields bordered by dense cover is ideal for deer.
    Photo by Getty Images/mountainberryphoto
  • fallow field
    Fallow fields are perfect canvases for your wildlife sanctuary.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • rabbits
    Provide nooks or brush piles for small wildlife to set up shop.
    Photo by Getty Images/stanley45
  • turkeys
    Seed-heavy grasses will attract turkeys and other wild birds.
    Photo by Getty Images/Baiterek Media
  • planting
    Plant vegetation that will attract a multitude of animals.
    Photo by Linda Freshwaters-Arndt

  • deer
  • fallow field
  • rabbits
  • turkeys
  • planting

When my wife and I made the decision to move our family of six back to the farm, my dad gave me 2 acres upon which to build our dream house. We were able to dream it, build it, and are now raising our kids there. But the past 20 years or so have brought change to the area. In the good old days, all the neighbors allowed me to hunt whatever animals I wanted on their farm property. Since then, newcomers have bought up those old farms and either don't allow hunting, or they allow hunting for a price by leasing their land. Regardless, my dad and I decided to return some of our tillable ground to a more native habitat setting to ensure that my children and their children have a place to hunt.

Reclaiming tillable ground isn't rocket science, but it's also not a quick process. Technically, we started our project 20 years ago, setting aside about 5 acres of the family property. Ten years later, dad set aside another 5, and finally, when I moved to the farm we decided to pull the trigger and set aside another 20. For this latest portion, I reached out to the local habitat specialist through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ken Kesson, who became an advocate and consultant on our project. Ken and I had a few phone conversations, exchanged emails, and he even did a walking tour of our property to ensure we were on the same page.

Ken did a ton of research and came up with some great ideas for our property. The idea of reclaiming our land was thrilling enough, but we were also fortunate enough to find that grant money was available to help pay for the project. Be sure to touch base with your local agricultural departments and extension offices, and they'll be able to provide you with not only instruction, but possibly some monetary aid as well. Here is a solid plan that you can follow based on what I learned from Ken and my own experiences.

The right cover

A tillable farm field is like a blank slate with lots of potential. Our goal was simple: increase the number of wildlife, such as deer, turkeys, and rabbits, living on our property. Not only do we enjoy watching these animals in the summer, we also enjoy hunting them in the fall, winter, and spring. When assessing needs for wildlife, we find that it's really not much different than humans. They need food, water, and shelter. But game animals do have slightly different priorities: shelter is number one, food second, and water third.

When considering shelter, it's important to think about all times of the year, not just winter. Starting in spring, we wanted plenty of native grasses for our does to have their fawns and for our hen turkeys to raise their poults. The tall, thick grasses serve as a windbreak. Natural predators, such as coyotes and foxes, have a hard time smelling the newborns when they're bedded down because any scent is filtered by the thick grasses. Theoretically, a menacing coyote could trot downwind of a thick, grassy bedding area and not smell a thing, even though the area is full of newborn fawns and baby turkeys. These grasses will continue to grow and thicken throughout the year, offering a wonderful summer habitat area.

Next, we planted hardwoods, softwoods, and low-growing bushes and shrubs. These trees provide valuable browse for animals year-round, and they'll also continue to grow security cover as well as drop precious mast crops and other fruit.

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