11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Managing Wildlife A Science

Vicksburg - While driving on maintained roads that meander though bottomland, riverfront, hardwoods and food plots, it is easy to see why Tara Wildlife has the reputation of a top destination for bowhunting whitetails.

The oaks are in the early stages of developing acorns for fall, mature wheat blows in the wind and leafy browse is everywhere. Seeing the entire 9,000-acre spread could take a while.

Executive director Gilbert Rose is in charge of managing the miles of land located along the Mississippi River near the Eagle Lake community.

His philosophy of managing and improving the land for all species is what produces big bucks and he feels most of the management and conservation practices at Tara can be used by any landowner with about 600 acres or more.

“The average deer we score is 139 P&Y,” said Rose. P&Y refers to the Pope and Young Club, a bowhunting and conservation organization. Rose said smaller deer are harvested, but they only score racks that exceed a score of 125.

“Three things make a quality deer: age, nutrition and genetics. The age and nutrition, you can control,” said Rose.

The age of the bucks at Tara is controlled by focusing on harvesting mature animals. The nutrition aspect takes a little more work.

According to Rose, one of the components of land management and nutrition is stand improvement. “Taking out less desirable trees, sweet gum, elm, box elder,” Rose said. “It opens the canopy up, creating more browse. It is also letting your oaks and pecans germinate.”

When reforesting areas without a natural seed source, Rose said, “we went in and planted bare root seedlings like oak, persimmon and pecan.” Rose said many hunters are surprised to hear deer will eat pecans. He also points out, “hackberry is an underrated tree, it has a lot of wildlife value.”

Landowners harvesting timber too often make the mistake of not hiring an independent forester to select trees for cutting, said Rose. “There is a charge for that service, but at the end of the day, the landowner is better for it,” Rose said. He added that a good forester can also help determine what species of trees are most suited for planting in a given area.

When it comes to buck-to-doe ratio, “getting the right balance, an acceptable balance, is key to a healthy herd,” said Rose. Anywhere from 1.7 to two does for every buck is a good ratio for Rose. While he feels there is no way to get an accurate count, he said recording deer sightings provides a good picture of the herd make-up and hunters at Tara are asked to fill out forms documenting what they see.

Keeping the population within the carrying capacity of the land is also important to a healthy herd. Rose said if browse such as dewberry vines are already eaten down to the ground in the fall, there could be a food shortage for deer in the winter. Rose’s solution is harvesting more does.

Rose admits that these practices are difficult to implement effectively for landowners with smaller tracts. His suggestion is a cooperative effort with adjoining landowners. “If you have guys with the same views around you, suddenly you have a 500-acre block to work with.”

With 68 Pope and Young deer killed in 2010, this type of management and conservation certainly has worked at Tara.

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