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Clipping for wildlife: a great management tool

Among the easiest and most used wildlife management tools are clipping, mowing or bush hogging. Proper wildlife management means clipping properly. Identifying beneficial plants very important.

Among the easiest and most used wildlife management tools are clipping, mowing or bush hogging -- whichever name you choose to use.

Clipping, in my opinion, is the second best tool in wildlife management if preformed correctly and in a timely manner.

Most landowners start clipping in September or October before hunting season starts. They want that neat, clean look as well as nice trails to ride on and pretty, open fields to easily see wildlife moving across.

While all of this is beneficial to the landowner and hunter, it is not beneficial to wildlife.

Late clipping is the most used and the most destructive tool in wildlife management and here is why: Some of the most beneficial plants for deer, quail, and turkey are annuals and perennials that are producing seed from July to November. If these plants -- such as partridge pea, ragweed, honeysuckle, wild plums, blackberries, etc. -- cannot produce a seed, they will not be present next year. Basically, late clipping destroys habitat and decreases available browse and forbs for all wildlife.

I am not telling landowners and managers to stop late clipping. Instead, I’m suggesting you just change the way, amount, and timing of your clipping.

Remember, the golden rule is to keep browse below the 3-foot to 4-foot range where wildlife can reach it and also keep the browse young, tender, nutritious, and palatable.

What is the proper clipping method for wildlife?

Between February 1 and April 1 is the prime time to complete 80 percent of your clipping. That time frame is before the breeding and nesting seasons.

Spring clipping removes the dead and mature vegetation, which promotes new growth in the spring. Spring clipping also spreads fall native seed crops and opens up ground to sunlight, which stimulates new plant growth.

Remember these new annual and perennial forbs -- some call them weeds -- can have as much as 35 percent protein. These forbs (called soft tissue plants) and young browse (called woody plants) produce 80 percent of whitetail deer nutrition throughout the year. Forbs’ growing season is between late March and frost, which is usually late October. The forbs also supply 90 percent of the nutrition of quail, turkey, songbirds, and other wildlife during the winter months.

Try to leave at least 15 to 20 percent cover for wildlife and try not to clip blackberry and wild plum thickets. Wild plums are endangered in most areas due to landowners “neatness,” or desire to keep edges and old-growth fields too clean.

Thirty years ago, when I was a young boy, I loved wild plums and every plum thicket I invaded was full of quail. You have to look hard now to find a plum thicket to plunder.

I want to encourage everyone to learn how to identify plants such as wild plums, partridge peas, blackberries and other wildflowers. These species usually grow in patches or thickets.

An easy way to do this is to purchase a copy of the National AudubonSociety Field Guide to North American
and keep it handy. This will help you decided what to clip and not clip.

Blackberries and wild plums take two years before soft mast production or fruit production. Blackberries and honeysuckle will need a high clipping every four or five years to stimulate new growth.

Try to never clip wild plums. If you find it necessary, try not to clip them too close due to small plum trees on the outside of the main body.

Spring clipping is easy: clip everything but shrub bushes and trees such as wild plums, blackberries, sumac and anything blooming such as vetches, honeysuckle and everlasting peas.

Fall clipping should be more of a maintenance clipping of roads, trails, fire lanes or shooting lanes and to open up a few areas for food plots and fall annual forbs. Fall clipping should begin in October and end by November 1.

Only about 20 percent of the land needs to be clipped and the need to know your plants is a must. Many of the important plants that produce seeds for quail and turkey are blooming from June to October and must not be clipped.

Another good handbook to have for this is Flowering Plants Important to Bobwhite Quail.

When you become a novice plant biologist you will clip around these plants and it helps to know the color of their blooms. For instance, partridge peas have a yellow bloom and a pod. Usually anything with a bloom or flower should not be clipped due to their value as seed producers for wildlife.

Try not to clip open fields using straight rows. Instead, clip mosaic patterns which create more edge, since most wildlife are edge creatures. This also keeps predators from systematically working straight rows. This also allows you to clip around important plants for wildlife and keep the mosaic pattern.

Many times I have been accused of C.U.I., “Clipping Under Influence.”

When you have completed clipping a field going around shrubs and beneficial plants using a mosaic pattern, many people will say, “How much have you be drinking today?” Or “Was Jack Daniels driving that tractor?”

Whitetail deer will utilize a field of 3-foot to 4-foot vegetation much more than one that is bare with no cover. These mosaic strips give them a safer feeling of cover as well as forbs and browse.

Spring and fall clipping require no additional work or time, just a change in the way you clip and knowledge of what you are clipping that will benefit you and your wildlife.

Just remember to open your eyes and pay attention to when and what you are clipping. You will be surprised how much you have changed your habitat by creating a landscape for all wildlife including songbirds and honeybees.

If you have limited open space for wildlife, look into various wildlife habitat incentives offered by the Farm Service Agency or Natural Resources Conservation Service.

A good rule of thumb is to have 5 to 20 percent of your land in open growth fields 4-to-5-feet-tall clipped on a three to four year rotation.

Clipping is like mowing your grass, run over mama’s rosebush or flowers and you better run, hide, lie, buy a new plant or whatever it takes to be able to sleep inside again. Pay attention and you will have a beautiful landscaped yard and wildlife habitat.

Payne is the owner/operator of Oakhaven Forages (, based outside Senatobia, Miss. Contact Payne at [email protected].

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