Make Your Hunting Land More Fruitful

Woods Rx for soft-mast deficiency.

food plot fix
Light Feast: An Ohio buck feeding on blackberry brier.Lance Krueger

Problem: Soft mast on your property isn't living up to its potential.

Diagnosis: Vines and low-growing shrubs such as raspberry, blackberry, grapes, plum, and greenbrier can offer a bounty of food for whitetails but often are stunted, starved for sunlight, low in protein, or inaccessible to deer.

Rx: There are two ways to remedy the problem:

1. Add Daylight: Opening up dark woods to sunlight is often all that's needed. Trim back branches on competing vegetation with pruning shears, or cut down low-value trees shading the soft mast with a handsaw or chain saw. Hinge-cut some of these at chest level so grapes and other leafy vines can use the cut tree as an arbor. Pull down vines growing over 6 feet high and drape them over the cut trees so deer can reach them. Cut back tall blackberry, raspberry, and plum bushes to 3 to 5 feet. You'll stimulate fresh, tender regrowth and make them accessible.

2. Improve the PH: Most soils where soft mast grows are too acidic. I've had great success adding pelletized or ag lime if a soil test shows the pH is below 6.0, about a pound per shrub. Chances are these areas have depleted supplies of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. I also sprinkle 10-10-10 or similar fertilizer around the bushes or pound in several time-release fertilizer spikes and follow up in late winter or spring with a booster of 43-0-0 (ammonium nitrate).

Preventive: Monitor areas with soft mast and periodically cut back trees or branches that start to shade them out. Make sure the pH stays 6.0 or higher and add fertilizer every few years. Also find other areas along your woods border or semiopen spots where a chain saw or bulldozer could create additional soft-mast habitat.