Wildlife managers interested in improving their land for wildlife, particulary wild turkey, will often plant food plots or create forest openings. But like most things, the best things in life tend to cost the most — brush control is not different. And brush management is a constant monetary input because, even though it may not be an annual costs, it is a continuous expense that must be repeated down the road. But despite the hard work, time, and money involved to control brush, brush management is an important component of any turkey management program. The thing you should be most interested in is cost-effective brush control techniques that improve habitat and create better turkey hunting. With that said, managers have three primary brush control alternatives that can be implemented with varying costs and benefits. These brush managment techniques include prescribed burning, mechanical control or applying herbicides.
Controlled burning, also commonly referred to as prescribed burning, offers the most natural and cost effective way to control brush and improve wild turkey habitat. It takes more work up front, but a lot of country can be burned once preparations are made. A properly prescribed burn can increase plant species diversity and create more brood habitat for turkey poults than costly work using heavy equipment. Burning costs vary widely depending on the equipment a landowner has on hand, but can range from $6 to $35 per acre. Like most things, the more you can do yourself, the lower your costs.
Burning is highly recommended for controlling brush because it is cost effective and it is a natural process. Turkey habitat developed under periodic fire. Thus, mimicing nature will help you generate more beneficial plants for turkey and other wildlife species. In fact, most plant species have evolved with fire and respond well to periodic burning. Burning reduces the accumulation of dead plant material and burning releases the nutrients tied up in dead material when burned. Fire also stimulates plant growth, fruit, and seed production. Have I got your attention yet?
The biggest downfall of burning is that the technique only achieves temporary brush control and it requires that burning be done every few years. Make sure to complete a prescribed burning class that instructs you on proper burning techniques before lighting your first match. If burning is not feasible on your property, another alternative for brush control is the application of herbicides for vegetation control. Arsenal, a selective herbicide, is formulated with the active ingredient imazapyr. Arsenal is specifically recommended for establishing and maintaining wildlife openings because this selective herbicide controls unwanted hardwood brush and permits beneficial food plants for wild turkey and other wildlife to grow. If you are concerned about chemicals on your property, then mechanical control is another brush management option.
Mechanical control involves using a roll-drum chopper, chaining, or even mowing to control brush. Research has found that a single pass with a roll-drum chopper can cost almost $100 per acre! On the other hand, mowing costs can run from $35 to $70 per acre, but may not be applicable in all cases. Of course, the most important component of your brush management program is to identifying where you will and will not control brush. If you have the option, always control brush in areas where you will get the most bang for the buck. In other words, find the parts of the ranch where brush management will be most beneficial.
A selecive herbicide will not harm most legumes, but will instead allow them to grow in the absence of competition. Other herbaceous plants can quickly regenerate after herbicide application. This is a good situation for seed-bearing plants because it allows them to produce heavier and more nutritious seeds. In addition, flowering plants are able to boom, attracting an abundance of insects, which provide food for wild turkey poults! The cost of using herbicide depends on the brush species present and brush density.
A moderate brush stand requires three to five gallons of spray, representing about $20 of herbicide per acre. A one-time application can last 7 to 10 years, making this a very cost-effective choice for turkey managers. In addition, because you’re encouraging the growth of native food plants, you’ll spend less on supplemental food plots.
To sum up, turkey managers have three options for controlling brush. Prescribed fire is the most beneficial, but it can has moderate input costs and takes trained personnel to carry out the technique safely. Herbicides allow very select treatment areas and are less expensive, but they too take trained and licensed personnel. On the other hand, mechanical methods are more simple to implement, but input costs can be high. In the end, it is up to each manager to make the call!