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Tools and Equipment For Whitetail Habitat Management

Its always amazing to me the responses hunters give when you ask, “if you could have three tools for managing your hunting grounds what would you choose?” Some respond with illustrious tractors and no-till drills. While some respond that they don’t require any tools for property maintenance and hunting lands should remain wild and untouched. Others just aren’t sure what to choose, and for those that really want a maximum return and lower investment this article is intended to rethink investments and refocus in on what really is essential.

When I first started hunting as a boy, I can remember my first management tool – a bow saw. In fact, the bow saw was given to me by my father, and although it wasn’t the sharpest tool, I was able to utilize this device to improve access to hunting locations and trim/prepare treestand locations. During these early times of my hunting career most landowners or lessees approached their hunting grounds without the expectations of needing expensive equipment. Chainsaws and the mention bow saw tended to be as sophisticated as one might get. The mentioned tools were most often used for firewood and opening the occasional walking trail for easier passage.

As time progressed, my father and I inherited a shiny, old1960 John Deer tractor. The possibilities seemed endless at this point and I was on my way to finding gold, antler gold that is, on my own hunting grounds. The shiny green tractor eventually faded; in fact, it was useless to areas far from my family land. When the time came to go off to college my hunting time was reduced with sports and schooling, and my tractor dreams dwindled. However, during the fall semesters I was able to schedule my classes around peak hunting times. During these periods I hunted both private and public land. Now you may ask why is this significant to tools and equipment.

Well, this period is where I began to experiment with tools and equipment that were affordable and mobile, unlike my tractor. As a college student I was financially strained, requiring some serious thought on practical and affordability choices. Budget wise I had saved $150 for basic equipment my first year in college.

toolMy first year in college I had gained access to two private land parcels, collectively totaling almost 100 acres. One parcel had large overgrown field, and the other had some young forest and shrubland settings. In order to effectively hunt these grounds, I needed equipment that would aid in creating access and deer travel corridors. I also decided to put away the bow saw and upgrade to a smaller hand pruning saw, pruning loopers and I borrowed a weed trimmer. That year my total expenses were under my budget. The idea of cutting trails and trimming shooting lanes were essentially all I had needed to do in order to enhance the setup for deer habitat and access.

The following year I maintained access to both these hunting grounds but realized the hand pruning saw had met its maker after a full season of use. I decided I would upgrade from the $15 to $30 pruner, and I also decided it was essential to purchase a pole saw. Electric pole saws were not available in these days and I decided I would invest in a pole saw pruner. Having to work both these instruments by hand I was able to keep up my physical fitness routine. That year I also wanted to ensure I budgeted for a walk behind brush cutter. A walk behind brush cutter made quick work to trails as compared to the year prior. One enhancement that I decided early on is I would recut most of my prior trails but widen my access trails. At this time, I had begun to realize that any compounds that were coming off my clothing or body were advising deer of my presence. These tactics I learned over 20 years ago taught me the benefit of a brush cutter, or any instrument that eliminated my physical contact with vegetation. Timing is critical when you are renting equipment and need to maintain vegetation so I would rent the mentioned machined a month or so before hunting season. That season was more of a success than the prior year, as my mowed trails brought my quarry into range and deer had adjusted to a “routinish” semblance of movement based on the years path travel paths.

sawAs years rolled on new tools came to market, and eventually I purchased my own hunting grounds. During this period, and as of recent, I have accumulated equipment I could never afford in college. The new equipment made hunting related activities faster and I felt a bit more sophisticated afield. Big tractors are likely on many hunters lists after they buy or lease land, some would even argue that a tractor alone is the single most important piece of equipment one could buy after owning land. As a property manager I am in the business of helping others develop land and many times I recommend a tractor. You may have guessed; I own a tractor and admittedly it’s something I don’t need. Although it can be a major time saver it doesn’t outperform some of the essential equipment I mentioned previously. The other obvious factor in purchasing big fancy equipment is it costs thousands of dollars to own and maintain. As a result, I’ve recommended three basic tools that everyone can use that remains budget minded performing deer habitat management on their grounds.

The first tool may be a surprise to some but its a hand pruning saw. The saws of yesteryear rarely lasted beyond a hunting season, and most brands today are no different. With a pile of hand pruning saws in my tool chest, there are two that I use most often. I prefer a fixed curve blade saw, but also carry a folding saw as a backup. I admit I am not brand loyal, but I have beat the snot (technical term) out of my Silky Zubat. The Zubat Pro model (330 hand saw) has been my go-to for 8 years. The company offers other models that fold, have straight blades and various sheaths/scabbards. This model has survived beyond my expectations, with the blade being replaced every 3 years I cannot fathom the total amount of trees cut per year. After cutting more than a thousand trees alone this year on my property or clients the blade may look worn but it’s as sharp as the day it was purchased. The initial investment of approximately $100 or less makes this tool my most affordable and utilitarian device.

cuttingThe next tool is an improved upon version of the rickety pole saw I purchased in college. If budget remains a concern an unpowered pole saw will work, but for many, a traditional pole saw is slow. I purchased my first electric pole saw years ago, I can’t remember how many of these I have gone through to date, but it’s been a few. Normally I stick with an electric pole saw. Companies like Ryobi and Black & Decker make a saw for under $150 dollars.

Other brands like Milwaukee or Hooyman product saws over $200. The brand is not my focus for this tool, but a consumer should focus on the basic functions of the saw itself. A pole saw that requires little maintenance, self-lubricates, easily change saw blades and permits an extension over 8 feet will likely work for most hunters. These tools support treestand setup, cutting shooting lanes and clearing trails. The pole saw is really an essential for habitat work as it supports pruning of my apple and crabapple trees, some of my other mast producers an lastly in areas that are hard to access. The pole saw is essential, and I can say with certainty that more game have escaped the clutches of hunter’s because it’s a tool that’s overlooked.

lawnThere is going to be a debate on this topic, buying verse renting. I explained earlier I had rented a walk behind brush cutter for years. In fact, it was over 15 years, at some point I began to do the math and decided I would just purchase one outright. Of course, a new machine can go for upwards of $3,000, a used machine can be purchased for much less. But the typical rental rates can be anywhere from $75 to $150, and that may include several days of use. Most cutters mow 24 to 30 inches, these are perfect for most deer trails, but may require a few more passes for walking trails. The walk behind cutter is really the most effective tool for manipulating deer travel. I tend to allow some vegetation to fall into a deer trail, and often make a path and a half when creating new trails to ensure they remain visible to deer. Deer most often prefer routes unencumbered from debris and vegetation. The brush cutter also provides a means to allow for better access by the hunter to a destined treestand or blind. In any case, a brush cutter resembles a game changing tool that will shape how animals use the property we hunt. If there was one tool, I would say creates the most impact on how deer can move through a property this would be it. Its also important to mention the mobility of a brush cutter, as compared to that fancy tractor that is far more expensive.

When developing a game plan with your property and beginning to assess action items, think hard about the tools required to get the job down. The idea that spending thousands of dollars on habitat related equipment is beyond scary and all those niceties aren’t going to help the pocketbook. The limitations on expense are different for everyone. The tools listed in the article can total $300, and some will not reoccur annually. That said, there are a laundry list of other tools that can work for your property that may cost more, and in most cases any changes to deer habitat, if done correctly, can transform a hunting grounds into something special.

By Jon Teater

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