Prescribed Fires | Burning For Deer and Turkey

Burning For Deer and Turkey

“Only you can prevent forest fires!” Yep, old Smokey at it again. That bear is the iconic image of fire. And who could forget Bambi and his father running through the flames brought on by who? You guessed it…man! Unfortunately, these images have worked a little too well in supporting fire suppression, to the point where fire is severely lacking on our landscape. But fire is a part of the landscape, even the Native Americans used fire frequently to change habitat. These prescribed burns are different than those displayed by Bambi and Smokey, and when conducted right, releases a flush of new growth for all wildlife, including deer and turkey.

People are afraid of fire, and who could blame them? Every year we see massive forest fires that burn up chunks of lands, national parks, homes, and in extreme cases people! But these wildfire outbreaks are due to the lack of fire…wait, what… confused?

Here is an explanation. To start, prescribed fires for deer and turkey are controlled burns that take immense planning and coordination between many people. These prescribed fires are set intentionally to reduce fuel loads on a landscape ( say a forest or grassland) as it burns off the vegetation. When applied to a forest, the understory and leaf litter is burnt up, killing some saplings if hot enough, not killing mature trees, and freeing new sapling growth. This done once every other year or on a similar schedule, reduces those fuel loads and virtually ceases any chance of a wildfire for occurring.

Controlled Burn for Deer and Turkey | Historic Management Technique

Native Americans had fire figured out when they burned, animals came… In forests the desolate black burn gives way a flush of new saplings, forbs, and thickets of blackberry and raspberry. Same is true for fields and clearings. Native forbs, briars, and grasses especially in planted native areas will burst out of the charred remains. What does this mean for wildlife? Cover and food! All that fresh food growing 1-4 ft. high and blocking the wind and sight from predators is perfect for both deer and turkey. The fresh growth is browse and cover for deer, and fresh growth/cover coupled with a multitude of insects for turkeys and turkey poults. Some may think late winter/spring prescribed fires would destroy turkey nest, but during the right time you might get 1 or 2 nests if any, and the benefits far exceed the losing 1 or 2 nests (if any).


The negative aspect from Smokey and Bambi was the embedding of the dangers associated with all fire. The one positive taken away from that past is fire “is no joke”. Safety is of the utmost importance. Fire lines, humidity, wind direction/strength, water engines, plenty of personnel, communication, smoke management, notifying the fire department/permits, and so much more are all important to consider. This means only professionals or experienced individuals should burn. Never put a match down without knowing fire, it’s an animal when control is lost… Study it, learn it, practice it, then love it! March is the perfect time to start. If you have never before tried a prescribed fire or controlled burns for deer and turkey as part of your active management plan, this year might be the year to make the difference!

Article by Weston Schrank

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