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 a 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?

The negative aspect of 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. Here is a brief list of safety tips to address before starting a prescribed fire.

  • Fire lines
  • Amount Humidity
  • Wind direction/Wind strength
  • Water engines
  • Plenty of personnel
  • Communication
  • Smoke management
  • Notifying the fire department/permits

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!

“There’s a lot that goes into these burns, but it’s cool and in Georgia, it’s very legal and you get permits and the Georgia Forest Commission supports landowners and lessors that are actually attempting to control and take care of habitat for wildlife and the tree’s themselves. For more information on prescribed fire watch our 2 part series of videos below on scouting and burning for better habitat.” – Michael Waddell

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 provides 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).

Fire Terms You Should Know

Backing fire – a backing fire is a slow burning fire started from a fire break or wet line that runs into the wind or fuel load only downslope, not allowing it to preheat the fuel load. This creates a safe black burn area minimizing the chance a fire has to jump a fire break.

Flanking fire – a fire set usually in lines at right angles to the wind. These burn at a medium speed and quickly create safe burnt areas before a head fire is started.

Head fire – A fire lighted with the wind ran into fuel or up a slope where it can preheat fuel and spread quickly. This fire is running through an area to increase heat and the resulting success of setting back succession by killing saplings and bushes.

Fire break – a break or lack of fuel (at least 10 feet or 10 times the height of the flame to be expected) to stop the spread of fire, usually made in one of the following methods:

  • An existing road or compacted path.
  • A strip of clover or other moisture filled green vegetation.
  • A mowed path with a wet line.
  • A tilled or disked line that exposes dirt and gets rid of any fuel load.
  • A cleared path in the woods without leaves or debris, usually done with a leaf blower.

Wet line – a line of water sprayed over or on the edge of a fire break where a fire is usually started from.

How to Light a Backing Fire

When it comes to burning, black is safe! While you might think of 10ft flames climbing cross native grasses in a roaring head fire when you hear prescribed burns…that image is only created once a safe backing fire has been set. A backing fire is lit from a fire break, with the fuel (grasses and dry vegetation) only in the direction the wind is coming from. The fire heads into the wind or down a slope, meaning it does not preheat the fuel before igniting, and as a result slowly and safely creates a blackline to ensure the fire does not jump a fire break. Once a safe blackline of 10-20 yards, or more depending on fuel load and type of burn, flanking fires can be set to start ringing the fire. Depending on the type of habitat desired, a backing fire may only run through the entire burn area to keep the heat down in order to avoid sapling damage in planted areas.


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