Edge Feathering 101 │ Increase habitat for Whitetail, Turkey and Upland Birds
Better Whitetail and Turkey Hunting │ Improve your chances by improving your habitat
If you are passionate about chasing wild game such as whitetail deer and turkeys in the fall, then you understand just how important it is to stack the odds in your favor. One thing that is often overlooked by many hunters is ensuring that we are addressing all of the nutritional and habitat needs of the game we are after. Regardless if you’re after whitetail deer, gobbling turkeys or other upland game such as rabbits and quail, providing the proper habitat that these animals need year round will help ensure you have plenty of opportunites to squeeze the trigger come opening day.
Regardless if you are talking about providing habitat through management or food plots, perhaps just simply looking to increase your arsenal of hunting, the return on investment is always something to keep in mind. Most of us need our dollar to stretch as far as possible, and in this article we are going to discuss a wildlife practice that can do just that!
Edge feathering, or “feathered edges” as it sometimes referred to is a very cost effective management practice that can provide a wide range of habitat for many different wildlife species. Additionally, edge feathering is very simple practice that anyone with a chainsaw and little bit of herbicide can complete in just a few hours.
Before we get into the “how to” of edge feathering, its important to know the “why”, and have an understanding as to why edge feathering can really help you this kill more whitetail or turkey this fall. Prior to European settlement, many areas of our country were in a constant state of change or disturbance. In many cases, this would be the result of wildfires running rampant across the country side, this is especially true in the midwest and southeast parts of the United States. These disturbances provided shrubby cover, which would serve as transition areas between open fields and large stands of timber. These areas were crucially important for many game species such as whitetail deer and turkeys as well as non-game species. These shrubby transition areas provide a source of forage for species such as whitetail deer, nesting and brood rearing cover for ground birds including wild turkeys and bobwhite quail. These transitional areas were critical to many species and offered a source of safety and protection from predators as well.
Today, these transisition areas of shrubby cover are few and far between as we have removed the disturbance mechanisim, mainly fire, from the landscape. This leads to what we see today, where we have “sharp” transitions from open fields to woodlots. The good news is, through edge feathering, these areas can be replenished very easily and can start providing habitat almost immediately.
The first step to effectivly install edge feathering, starts with proper planning. While edge feathering can provide abundant habitat, it can also help you strategically. Edge feathering can be most effective when used within close proximity of a food source, such as a food plot. Utilzing edge feathering in this way, can help you dictate where game will enter and exit these areas, providing you an advantage come hunting season. Installing edge feathering next to areas such as bedding or roosting areas or near tall vegetation such as warm season grasses can be very beneficial as well.
When installing edge feathering there are few basic rules to follow. The two main methods for installing edge feathering: first, is referred to as “linear” edge feathering. This is simply a method of cutting and felling trees in a certain area in a linear fashion. Areas where linear edge feathering would be applicable would be situations where you may have a woody draw jetting out into a field. The draw may connect to a woodlot or just simply be isolated, either way, cutting and felling these trees will create shrubby cover. Typically areas such as these are utilized as bedding areas by whitetail deer and nesting areas for birds such as turkeys. The other method involves installing edge feathering along edges of woodlots. This can be done in blocks or continuous, spanning the entire edge for the woodlot. For edge feathering the rule of thumb for the “block” method is 30 ft. long by 50 ft wide. The premise for this is if you install three 30 ft x 50 ft blocks, you will have installed roughly 1 acre of edge feathering. In most cases, people will choose to span the length of the wooded edge, cutting 50 ft back into the woodlot. In either process, it is always helpful to mark your boundary. This is especially benefical if you are going to have some assistance with the project. Edge feathering can be very effective when used in conjunction with prescribed burning and timber stand improvement.
The overall objective of edge feathering is to remove the overstory cover and have sunlight reach the bare soil, which will initiate the growth of the shrubby cover. The most common mistake that can be made with edge feathering is not cutting enough. While it may look like a mess, cutting and dropping these trees, it provides immediate habitat for wildlife. In certain cases, you may encounter a nice tree that you would prefer to leave standing. This may be a mast producer such as a white oak. Leaving a mast producer or just a tree that you plan to hang a stand in this fall is always a good move.
Most people who install edge feathering choose to do so with a chainsaw. Remember, to practice safety at all times, and ensure that you are wearing the proper safety gear such as a helmet and chainsaw chaps. Always come prepared with extra chains and even a extra bar. Nothing can derail production any faster than having to run back into town to grab a chain.
Once the trees are cut, you will want to treat all stumps that may re-sprout with an approved herbicide. In many cases, a product such as Pathway or Tordon is acceptable. Treating the stumps is an important last step in the process, as it ensures that there will be no stump sprouting and that you will achieve the shrubby cover you are after.
While it may seem like a lot of work upfront, installing some edge feathering where possible can greatly increase the habitat in your area almost immedialty and will keep working for you for many years to come!
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