Land managers often wish to plant food plots to increase forage or serve as an attractant for wildlife. At times this may be a beneficial practice, particularly as an attractant for hunting. An alternative is to use prescribed fire to stimulate food producing native plants. Depending on the soil type, location, season of year, and precipitation, prescribed fires often stimulate plants that are utilized by wildlife.
Growing Season Fire
Growing season fires can be especially productive for creating food plots for mourning dove hunting, this favors several species of desirable food plants such as snow-on-the-mountain, croton or dove weed, and sunflower, as well as creates ample bare ground to allow doves to forage. These plants are also desirable for Northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, and wild turkey. Additionally, late summer or early fall fires reduce grass litter going into the dormant season which can make certain important cool season plants more accessible. Scribner’s panicum, which is important winter deer forage in many areas, is a good example. This plant is commonly foraged on by white-tailed deer during the winter in areas that were burned during the previous growing-season.
Dormant Season Fire
Dormant season fires can be equally important. Wild turkey in particular are attracted to areas that were burned in later winter or early spring as they have actively growing grasses for the first few weeks following the fire. Later as annual forbs (broadleaf herbaceous plants) increase in abundance the area become important for insect production for hens and poults. These same forbs will have seeds later in the summer and into the fall that wild turkey feed on. White-tailed deer will utilize many of these same forbs as forage. Further, burned areas that contain woody plants will have abundant resprouts that offer excellent browse for white-tailed deer. Plants such as greenbrier, elm, and blackberry are particularly attractive following a fire.
While, these native “food plots” may not produce the quantity of forage per acre that a cultivated plot would, the cost is much less per acre, thus many more acres can be treated maximizing the benefit to wildlife. Land managers will not see the same results from year to year or place to place as weather and soil differences will influence the outcomes. Experimentation with various seasons of burns on a particular property will provide the manager guidance as to how to increase the attractiveness of a site to target wildlife. The important thing to remember is that you can successfully manage for wildlife without planting anything on your property. This requires an understanding of how to manipulate native plants with disturbances such as fire. To be successful with this type of management, it is imperative to learn to identify key plants that wildlife utilize.
Prescribed fire can create natural food plots at little cost to the landowner. These white-tailed deer are concentrated on a fire that was conducted in July, the photo was taken the following January. The deer are feeding on the winter rosettes of Scribner’s panicum which is a native cool season perennial grass.