By Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator, MUCC
This weekend I had the privilege to promote cooperatives at the Cadillac Area QDMA Branch Habitat Day. Rick Lucas (a forester with the Conservation District) and Nick Percy (Killer Food Plots LLC) shared their knowledge about habitat management. In this blog I will highlight my observations from Rick’s presentation, and next week I will share my findings from Nick’s presentation.
By Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator, MUCC
We have been hearing for years that this day would come, that the dreaded statement “CWD is in the Michigan wild deer herd” would be uttered. While this is horrible news, and the effects of this discovery will be felt in the surrounding townships and counties for years to come, let’s sit back and breathe for a minute.Read more
Last week I had the privilege of being on the Wired to Hunt podcast. We talked about my position, what cooperatives are, and how to handle a slew of situations that cooperatives deal with. If you have not listened it, it is worth your while to do so! You can listen to it here.
I wanted to dig deeper into one of the topics of discussion: encouraging increased harvest standards from cooperative members. One of the questions that Dan brought up was how to address a cooperative member who did not follow the guidelines agreed upon by the cooperative as a group. My answer was along the lines of remembering private landowners still retain legal rights to do what they will on their own property and trust may not have been established yet.
When you are part of a wildlife cooperative, respecting private landownership and gaining trust are essential. It will take a couple years to build the relationships within the group, as well as for deer to mature. Entering into a cooperative scenario, it is vital that we remember that as long as activity being conducted on private land is legal, they are entitled to that activity. It may not fit into the goals you hope to accomplish, but their rights and a private landowner must be respected. The last thing you want to do is create a rift between you and a cooperative member because they are not following the “agreed upon cooperative guidelines.”
In regards to the levels of trust, it is important to remember where the group came from. Many hunters harvest a deer because they feel that their neighbor will harvest if if they do not. This is not a feeling that is going to go away instantly once a cooperative is formed. Be patient, and create environments where people can grow in their trust for each other.
The best way to instigate change in behavior on your cooperative, is to embody that standard. Hold yourself to a higher standard, encourage those publicly who are doing the same thing. At the same time, do not demean or speak negatively about or to your neighbors who have not decided to dive in fully just yet. Be patient that in time they may decide to pass younger deer too. You never know, and you don’t want to burn a bridge and eliminate the potential for them to be fully on board with the cooperative goals and harvest standards.
Jason Myers talking about habitat grants and cost share opportunities.
Jason Myers talked about improving habitat on the landscape, and the slew of opportunities there are for cost sharing for habitat work on private land. Click here to look at a document that outlines the various options there are to assist in funding habitat work. Jason, and Farm Bill biologists like him, are also able to offer free technical support like writing management plans and offering habitat advice. Contact your local Conservation District to see what resources may be available in your area. Jason also mentioned a few other resources that can help reduce costs. Conservation Districts often have drill and tree planter rentals available, as well as tree and seed sales in the fall and spring. He suggested you connect with your local QDMA branch or Pheasants Forever chapter to find out what resources (seed, cost share, etc.) they may have available to assist with habitat improvements.
Trent Masterson showing a foot hold trap.
Trent Masterson is a guide, outfitter, and trapper who also has a background in land management. His primary focus is on predators and nest predators. The best time to trap predators, is before they have the ability to have the largest impact. You want to have the populations reduced before fawn drop and nesting time. Trent talked about how trapping isn’t as complicated as people may think. He offers one day trainings that provide strategies for baiting and trapping. His big tip for attracting coyotes is to use coyote turds from somewhere 10 or so miles away. He recommended you trade coyote scat with your buddies. They carry the scent of a “territory invader” and coyotes are highly drawn to the scent. Trent also did a trapping demonstration for the group after the presentations were over.
Matt Ross talking about attracting and holding deer on small properties.
Matt Ross spoke about attracting and holding bucks on small properties. He said that deer require natural vegetation, and while food plots offer some great food options, they cannot replace the need deer have for their woody browse. When you are looking to manage your land for deer, it is important that you look at it from a landscape, or up in the sky, perspective. You want to use your land to complement what is already there, and improve it. By looking at what surrounds your property, you can get a good idea on if you need to create, maintain or enhance the parcel. Matt also reiterated several times the importance of involving a forester in your management planning. There are foresters out there who are able to look for the valuable timber on your property, and also take into account management practices that benefit the wildlife you are seeing to manage. Finally Matt talked about winter cover. It is important that deer have quality cover with woody browse to get them through the winter. When the food source isn't in the same location as the cover, they have to burn calories to travel to the food source. Reducing travel will help improve the condition they are in when spring comes.
After the speakers, and the trapping demonstration, we went out into the woods. We looked for deer browse, tried to avoid poison ivy, and admired some hinge cuts. This property had very little browse, so we were able to see the regeneration of maples, beech, and even a few oaks. There was also some trillium, and morel mushrooms.
We all have busy schedules. Especially once you have kids (or so I hear). One thing I do know, is that the leaders of cooperatives put a lot of their personal time and money into organizing a cooperative, and any cooperative functions that come up. Given all they have going on, and the time they sacrifice setting up a cooperative, we can all imagine and understand how disappointing it would be to do all the planning and grunt work for a cooperative meeting, to only have a few folks show up.
However, aside from supporting our cooperative leaders, what benefits are there to me, as a cooperative member, when I show up to a cooperative event? We benefit from the changes cooperatives have brought to our hunting, we ourselves hunt differently too, and we get cooperative updates from our leader. Why show up to a meeting?
- Community. The biggest benefit to attending a cooperative meeting is spending time with your neighbors, and getting to know some new ones. Face time is lacking in our culture, and in a time where we need to band together as hunters more than ever before, seeing your neighbors and talking with them is essential. Another big benefit - food. I’ve never been to a cooperative meeting where there wasn’t at the very least, some awesome venison summer sausage, and typically there is some fabulous venison chili.
- Conversation. Cooperative meetings are a great time to find out who is doing what habitat work on their property, who saw deer where, or who shot which deer when. This is a great time to talk about past season outcomes, and the goals for the coming season. Another benefit is that these meetings can be used to provide some valuable feedback on how you feel the cooperative is affecting your hunting, and neighbor relationships.
- Support. Cooperatives are designed to create mutually beneficial situations. As you build relationships with fellow members, you find areas you can help each other improve as hunters and land managers. if you need help with a habitat project, seek assistance from other members. Many cooperative meetings have wildlife biologists, conservation officers, and other great speakers. Take the opportunity to ask questions and learn more,
If you are a cooperative leader, feel free to contact me if you would like to brainstorm some ideas! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 517-346-6454.
We are all part of various social groups. Church groups, sports groups, hunting groups, family groups, party groups... you name it. The common factors of why we are part of these groups is time together and common interest. If you never spend time with the people of the group, you grow distant, lose interest, and disconnect. If you don’t share a common interest, well let’s be honest, you probably wouldn't join anyway, unless a significant other roped you in. Keeping these things in mind, how can we increase participation within cooperatives? The answer: keep them relational.
Sometimes the motivation for participation may be to see better deer, more pheasants, bigger turkeys, less coyotes, greener habitat, etc. But a lot of times, that motivation is not enough to keep people engaged. As a cooperative leader, you want to do all you can to create an environment where you get individuals who are active, driven, motivated, and equipped to participate and model sound wildlife management and harvest. Below are a few event ideas on how to incorporate relational events into your cooperative plan.
- Family friendly events. Your significant other may spend a lot of time with the kids while you are out doing deer season prep, deer hunting, venison processing, shopping for hunting equipment, talking about deer hunting, dreaming about deer hunting, drinking beer with your deer buddies. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan! And I bet your significant other is too (they are with you after all)! But, how much more supportive would they be if there were events they could enjoy with you? As a cooperative leader, you have the ability to provide some quality relational opportunities to bring together cooperative members and their families. Get the wives talking to each other, kids playing together, and ramp up the deer talk. Everybody wins.
- Non hunting/habitat events. We know we can talk hunting day in and day out, but let’s be honest, you don’t need a habitat day, a management planning day, or a formal event to sit around and chew the cud. Sometimes just getting together for no good reason other than to be together is enough.
- Create a tournament event. Clay shooting, bow golf, range day, archery competition, handgun competition, etc. Have some competitions kids can enjoy, have a woman’s category, and encourage everyone to bring their A game for some serious fun. Hone in on your hunting skills before season sets in, and have a great time doing it.
Freebie tip: Get a couple women in the cooperative to help out with the planning. You are pretty much guaranteed to have better attendance and food. Am I right?
Questions on starting a cooperative? Or growing on what you have? Contact me at email@example.com or 517-346-6454.
These deer are all from the Carpenter Farm. They have been an active cooperative for several years.
Well, I had another busy week in the office last week. I proceeded to wrap the week up at two QDMA Branch events, where I presented about cooperatives, and was able to hear some other great speakers. I cannot lie, spending Saturday outside at a habitat workshop made for a great weekend! The weather was perfect for an outdoor event.
South Central Michigan QDMA Branch had a great event where they hosted Don Higgins and Levesque Outdoors at the Carpenter Farm near Bronson, MI. Bob Ducharme also spoke about deer management. I wasn’t able to stick around for the predator demonstration by the Levesques, nor Don’s habitat tour, but I was able to hear Don talk about habitat. I even picked up a few tips.
Don Higgins sharing his knowledge about habitat management at the South Central Michigan QDMA Field Day.
-When you are looking to manage habitat on your property, you want to manage it in a way that reduces the human intrusion as much as possible. The more work you have to do to maintain your property over the year, the more you are back there disturbing the deer.
-If you want grasses, but do not plan on burning grasses then, find something different to plant. Best management results come from burning grasses.
-Whether planting grasses, trees, etc., it is important to verify where the seed is coming from. You want seed within 200 miles north or south of where you are planting, to increase the likelihood of it being successful.
-When planting small trees, use tree tubes, and be sure to spray the grass around the shoot. The grassroots will compete with the tree roots if left to grow, taking away from the trees ability to grow in the critical first couple years.
After I listened to Don’s presentation, I packed up and headed over to Dowagiac, MI where Michiana QDMA Branch was hosting a two day Whitetail Workshop. Prior to my arrival, Jeff Steinkraus presented on forest management, and Congressman Fred Upton shared on hunter impact. Community Mills also provided some information on weeds and herbicides. On Sunday, they had the privilege of hosting Charles Alsheimer. I made it to the last half hour of Jim Brauker’s presentation on Game Theory and scent control. I jotted down a few tips that will help you control scent better.
Jim Brauker talking about scent control at the Michiana Whitetail Workshop.
Scent control tips:
-Deer communicate through scent, and they can pick up your scent very easily. We wear camo to make ourselves less visible, we control our scent to make ourselves less odorous.
-Your body creates an exponentially increasing about of bacteria throughout the day. Start a hunt day off by thoroughly washing and scrubbing your body to start that bacterial level off as low as possible.
-It is critical that you reduce odor as much as possible on your boots. The path you walk will leave your scent every step of the way if you are not intentional to eliminate the odor.
-Tuck your pants into your boots to avoid skin cells from wafting up your pant leg and down on to the ground.
-Most scent busts you won’t know about, the deer sniff you out before you see them. If you take extreme measures to conceal/reduce your scent, and find yourself busted, it is because you are getting closer to deer before they notice you.
Overall, both events were great, and had a great set of speakers. I hope you enjoyed your tips! I would like to thank Matt DuCharme and Mike Seigel for the invitations to speak! If you have an event coming up, please feel free to reach out. I would love to come and support your group, and promote cooperatives.
Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO
Missouri has over 30 wildlife cooperatives scattered around the state. Their main game include deer and turkey, while parts of northern Missouri has some good pheasant potential. Honestly, other than a couple road kill deer, I did not see any live deer, despite many hours in the truck. It helped me realize my appreciation for the deer I see on a regular basis here in Michigan. As I drove up to Roscommon this weekend, I saw over 12 deer in the first ten minutes of my drive, and then just stopped counting. I wasn’t even looking for deer! Turkey, however, Missouri has a generous population, similar to many areas in southern Michigan. Of the many beautiful birds we saw, the bearded hen stands out as most memorable.
We had a couple of cooperative meetings, where I had the great fortune of meeting some welcoming Missouri Cooperative Members and leaders. One of the exciting aspects of my trip was being able to compare many similarities between Missouri and Michigan cooperatives. Sure, the antlers were a little larger, but the common interests, challenges, and motivations were all the same.
Meeting with one of the Southern Missouri Deer Cooperatives.
One big area of partnership Brian encouraged was working with neighboring cooperatives to drum up volunteers to aid in prescribed burns. A lot of times, one cooperative may not have the expertise to accomplish a task, yet by working together and sharing resources, even across cooperative boundaries, can prove to be extremely beneficial.
Another area of note - if you are starting up a cooperative, and you have fewer show up to meetings than you expect, be careful about being disappointed too quickly. One of the meetings we went to only had five guys show up. However, these five guys could account for a majority of the deer harvested around the cooperative properties just by recalling conversations they had with neighbors over the fall and winter months. They were able to provide enough information to get some good starts on harvest estimates for the entire cooperative! These were also guys who were willing to help out with administrative aspects of the cooperative, which is something some cooperative leaders will give a hand or foot for.
In summary, we are doing some great things here in Michigan. We have a lot of cooperatives already, and some good habitat work going in the ground. We have some solid networks of cooperative leaders, and some new groups getting started. Let’s keep up the great work, and see what we can accomplish - together, one neighbor at a time.
Monique Ferris, habitat biologist for Clinton, Gratiot and Saginaw Counties, shared about the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative (MPRI). The goals of this program are to increase quality grassland habitat in southern Michigan to support a resilient pheasant population. Monique emphasized the importance of banding together as landowners to accomplish organized landscape level habitat projects. There is money available to support quality habitat restoration and improvement. If you own property in Monique’s area, please feel free to contact her to find out how she can help you get habitat on the ground. She can be reached at 989-875-3900 ext. 101.
Central Michigan Cooperatives
Mike Parker, Private Lands Manager, MDNR, presented on grassland habitat and the significant benefits they provide for both deer and pheasants. The MPRI’s primary focus is to establish and restore nesting cover for pheasants, yet it also creates excellent cover for deer. A secondary focus of MPRI is to improve winter cover and food sources for pheasants - again, switchgrass and food plots also provide significant benefits for deer. Whether you want to manage deer, or pheasants, or just wildlife in general, quality grassland habitats provide fabulous cover and forage for many wildlife species.
In 2013, Tom Dodak and some of his fellow pheasant hunters took action to improve habitat in their area by starting Layton Corners Cooperative. While they see a good number of pheasants now, they want to see more, and are improving habitat to meet this goal. Layton Corners hosted a youth hunt last year, providing a great opportunity for youth to hunt wildlife pheasants, right here in Michigan. The group meets monthly to plan habitat projects, and in the summer months they meet at each other's properties to get work done on the ground. As an additional benefit, they have seen an increase in deer on their properties as a result of the habitat work they have completed.
Chad Thelen started the Stoney Creek Cooperative in 2005 with the understanding that you need 100’s of acres to properly manage deer, and to find 100’s of acres, you need help from your neighbors. Chad quoted Red Creek Cooperative’s explanation of who they are to define a cooperative: “We are landowners, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts who have banded together for the purpose of improving the quality of our local deer herd and our own hunting experience.” Chad encouraged individuals interested in starting a cooperative, to make a brochure that clearly outlines who the cooperative is, what the goals are, and a couple contact people. There are templates I can provide to help you get started. These brochures can be used to leave with people who may be interested in joining your cooperative. Chad closed by saying “starting something is better than nothing.” It is a lot of work, but it’s well worth the effort.
Finally, Jarred Waldron, cooperative leader of Stoney Ridge Cooperative, spoke about his experience leading a his cooperative since 2009. They started out with ten landowners and 500 acres. Five years later, they had just over 1,800 acres. Jarred talked about the social implications of their cooperative. Satisfaction and camaraderie increased significantly within the cooperative. Jarred had a bad relationship with one of his neighbors prior to starting the cooperative. Because of the conversations they started within the context of the cooperative, they are now good friends. In fact, they hunt out of state together! Jarred warned that starting a cooperative takes a lot of volunteer time, but there are different ways to engage conversation, build relationships and increase trust. Biannual meetings are a great idea, however, in his cooperative, he found that by just opening up his home for people to come by, grab a beer and talk deer, has increased interactions with neighbors in a positive way.
I felt this workshop went well. We had a hard time getting people to leave, the conversations after were going so well. Ultimately, getting to know your neighbors is key to the success of a cooperative, and as reiterated in each of these workshops, increased positive neighborly interactions has been a great reward for the rigors of cooperative development. If starting a cooperative is something you would like to learn more about, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-346-6454.
Last week Michigan Wildlife Cooperatives hosted it’s second Cooperative Leader Workshop in Adrian. We had a great turnout! It is exciting to see the dedication some have to take time out of their evening to talk about cooperatives. We had a habitat biologist and three cooperative leaders out to talk about getting habitat work done on the ground and social aspects of managing a cooperative.
Dennis Tison, Habitat Biologist for Hillsdale, Lenawee, and Monroe counties took some time to share on the different financial incentives there are for habitat improvements on private land. There is lots of money out there, its just a matter of figuring out what programs best fit the need of the property. If you have property in one of these counties, feel free to contact Dennis for more information on getting some habitat improvement on your property at 517-263-7400 ext. 119.
From Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative, Dave Ames and Ken Prats shared about their struggle to bring in private land owners into their Pheasant Restoration Initiative cooperative. They started out by enhancing the Lake Hudson Recreation Area grasslands for pheasants, and then sought to work with the neighboring private lands to create some quality grasslands on their properties. In an effort to overcome this challenge, they are going to seek out hunter access properties and promote that improving habitat on these parcels will also increase the money per acre value the landowners can receive as part of the Hunting Access Program compensation.
Wildlife Cooperatives in Southeastern Michigan
Despite Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative’s struggle to expand the pheasant restoration area beyond the recreation area, they have done a phenomenal job increasing awareness and activity for pheasant restoration and hunting in their area. They have hosted youth events, shooting events, habitat days, and much more.
Doug Weeks, the cooperative leader for Lost Lowlands talked about his motivation for starting up his cooperative back in 2010. He knew it would be a great opportunity because the habitat around him was great, and the changes would mostly need to be in the mindset of his neighbors. He sent out a letter the the surrounding property owners, and was surprised by a good response. He made sure to keep the letter simple, and not have many rules to avoid offending people, and increase his chances of drawing a good crowd. By about their 5th year, they had over 5,000 acres participating in their cooperative.
Shortly after that, Lost Lowlands began to taper. They now have about 3,000 acres of actively participating members, but the victory Doug sees, is that he now knows and trusts many of his neighbors. They meet once a year at his house, and focus more on the social aspects of things. Doug noted that he knew he couldn't get everyone on board, but if he could get the right people, they could make a difference in their hunting. This year, his son was able to harvest a 169 inch buck during the muzzleloading season. This is the biggest buck the cooperative has grown so far, and the collective group is able to take pride in what they grew on their combined properties.
Jim Brauker, cooperative leader for Bean Creek talked about the importance of starting small. He and Jake Ehlinger started by knocking on over 70 doors. They had a great response and a lot of acres of committed properties, but after a few years, they were not seeing much of a change in the harvest. However, a shift occurred about 4 years after the cooperative’s formation.
Jim started focusing on building trust with his direct neighbors, a plot of less than 500 acres. In the summer of 2013 the group began watching the trail cameras and came across a 4.5 year old buck. After each harvested a trophy buck in 2014, Jim and his neighbor Luke decided to pass on three other shooter bucks in the neighborhood. They came to realize that if their neighbors shot one of those bucks, it would strengthen the cooperative. They had a heart shift and came to understand that this sacrifice will make a future benefit. They also started a neat tradition where when a buck is harvested, all members who had pictures of the buck on trail camera, print off the pictures, and as a tribute to the buck and the hunter, present those images to the successful hunter. This action really captures the heart of cooperative success and celebration.
The common theme all four cooperative leaders spoke to was the challenge and time commitment of starting up a cooperative. My hope is that a few of you will be willing to take on that challenge and spark a change for better habitat and harvest management in your area. My position grants me the ability to support you as you take those next steps. If starting a cooperative is something you would like to learn more about, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 517-346-6454.