Jim Casada

I grew up surrounded by folks with painful memories of the Great Depression. My parents were in their late teens and early 20s during the hard times of the 1930s, and my erstwhile sidekick, Grandpa Joe, often shared with me the impact those lean years had on him and his family. Indeed, Grandpa Joe, always a frugal soul, had a seemingly endless supply of maxims about dealing with life’s hard knocks. 

“Waste not, want not” was offered almost daily, and leaving so much as a morsel of food on your plate would bring a stern admonition about being “thankful there’s food on the table and your plate.”

Dad and Grandpa Joe saved everything that might have a potential use in the future. Even as I write this, I can envision my 99-year-old father’s basement filled with row upon row of Mason jars filled with nails, bolts, nuts, washers and the like, while strips of wood and pieces of plank were neatly stored on shelves.

When you grow up in hardscrabble circumstances and have your life shaped by individuals who waste nothing, some courses of action come as naturally as breathing. One of those principles that has governed my years, and it was the guidepost in Grandpa Joe’s daily life, was, to use his words, “making do with what you’ve got.” For Grandpa, that simple, sensible advice figured in every aspect of his life — from hoarding chicken manure for use as fertilizer to making sure that every weed pulled from the garden went directly to the ever-ravenous residents of the nearby pig pen. Nothing was wasted, and he could find a use for everything.    Looking back, with memories of his tutelage and wisdom as sharp as the keenly honed edge of his treasured Barlow knife, Grandpa Joe’s ways offer a sterling lesson for everyone managing a piece of property for wildlife. Here's a glimpse at several ways you can “make do” for wildlife. And because I'm writing this the day after an election and in the midst of an economic rollercoaster, it is also a tribute to and reminder of the manner in which recent generations scrimped, saved and survived with striking success.

When assessing a piece of land, become intimately acquainted with the property. That means walking the land, whether it's 30 acres or 300 acres, and making notes on anything with potential when it comes to management. Those notes can be mental, but you will probably be better organized and more thorough if they are faithfully recorded on paper. Through time, written records form a fine source of reference to check progress, note successes and failures, and generally maintain a track record.

Although it’s outside the main thrust of this coverage, these walks are wonderful ways to get information on things such as bedding areas, favored travel routes and logical places for stands. They can also offer insight on prime roosting spots for turkeys, haunts frequented by small game and more. Mainly though, you are making an inventory of what you have in terms of mast-bearing trees, other favored food sources, and old roads or home places.


Almost anywhere whitetails are found, nature offers them not only grasses and forbs but mast sources. 

Most common are the various species of oaks, but don't overlook beech trees, wild pecans, chinquapins and others. Even though deer don’t dine on them, hickories and walnuts are also noteworthy. In addition to these and other sources of hard mast, there are many types of soft mast. These include pawpaws, persimmons, honey locust pods, and muscadines and other wild grapes. Don’t overlook wild berries, for turkeys love blackberries, strawberries, dewberries and the like, and bramble leaves form an important food source for deer in the heart of winter.

One further potential source of deer delicacies is domestic fruits: apples, pears, grapes and plums. Surprisingly, these are often found on properties not occupied by man for decades. Old home places are prime spots for this type of mast, and in some parts of the country, apples abound in the wild. Similarly, pastures, whether abandoned or in use, often hold fruit trees.

Don’t overlook other plants of note. Honeysuckle can be an important browse item. Even that bane of the Southern landscape, kudzu, has virtues. Deer dine on it with considerable delight in the weeks immediately before the first frost of fall, and it also provides a fine bedding area. Besides, if you are stuck with it, nothing short of a nuclear holocaust will get rid of this vegetative agent of the devil, so you might as well get what you can out of it. 

Pay careful attention not only to trees and shrubs you want to protect and nurture, but also take note of those you would like to reduce or eliminate. Patches of fescue — which presents problems such as reduced lactation in does that use it — must be scheduled for removal. Floribunda rose has to go, and trees with minimal or no benefits to wildlife or as a timber source should be marked for elimination. Sweet gums certainly fall into that category, as do sycamores, scrub pines, cedars (though pine and cedar thickets can be good bedding areas) and other trees. Consultation with a local state forester can probably be helpful. In every case, your job is to locate and mark these trees, shrubs, berry patches and other beneficial vegetation. Do so with an eye to giving them special treatment after the preliminary process has been completed. Perhaps the simplest way to complete this process is to use surveyor’s tape combined with a detailed plat map of the property. The tape lets you locate trees and the like after you are ready to put in some sweat equity, and because it shows the location of everything from a pawpaw patch to a plum thicket, you can study the map before you get started and begin planning for the future.


Beneficial vegetation probably ranks at the top of any make-do list, but there are many other things that enter into the management equation. Old logging roads or existing trails have many potential uses. Small open areas — such as livestock lots, abandoned garden spots, any types of openings or a loading area where logs were gathered during a timber operation — have potential. They might be ready-made for spending sparse cash to create food plots. After all, it’s much easier to use land that has already been cleared than to spend endless hours doing it by hand or paying someone with equipment. Indeed, areas that once held gardens or livestock will almost certainly be more fertile than other parts of the property. Imperial No-Plow and Secret Spot are great choices for these locations. If the land has springs, branches, creeks, marshes or any water source, analyze its potential. Down the road, it might lend itself to building a fishing pond or creating an area to attract wood ducks or other waterfowl, or it might suggest ditching and draining. Thinking along similar lines, it doesn’t take too much imagination to recognize likely places for building a pond even if there isn’t a consistent water source. Even though such efforts might not be immediate, they should figure into your overall work plan.


After you've located the treasures already existing on your property, it’s time to get down to serious business. Here’s a laundry list of things you can do with what you’ve got. * Clear competing shrubs and undesirable plants away from those you want to keep. This will give them more elbow room and let them grow faster.

 * Undertake sensible thinning is situations where you have too much of a good thing. For example, when I acquired my land, there were lots of walnut saplings in the 5- to 10-year old range crowded together. Removing some of them gave the others a better chance to grow.

 * When placing permanent stands or clearing shooting lanes, make sure to use food sources to good advantage. A sizable persimmon that's a proven fruit bearer (the tree has males and females), for example, makes a logical focal point for a stand. The same would hold true for a mature grove of oaks.

* Remember you can get multiple uses from certain types of vegetation while doing little more than letting it grow naturally. Blackberry briars do well if they aren't shaded out, and along with providing food for wildlife (and humans) on a predictable basis, they shelter small game such as rabbits and quail and are used as nesting areas by turkeys.

* Don’t hesitate to do some transplanting. Small oak seedlings, dogwoods and the like can be put where you want them in the “down” time of later winter.

 * Grow your own. It isn’t particularly difficult to plant a bunch of Chinese chestnuts, sawtooth oak acorns or other desirable mast providers where and how you want them. Not every nut will sprout, but you can plant them thicker than you want the final stand to be and thin as is necessary.

 * Create things such as food plots in an incremental fashion. That might mean investing money for lime and fertilizer one patch at a time, but if you have the clearings and keep them that way until you can afford the next step, you are ahead of the game.

* Get the most bang for your buck. That might mean doing a lot of planting and fertilizing using nothing more than a hand spreader, garden tiller or an ATV with attachments. Or, if push comes to shove, you can use hand grubbing tools and an ax just like our pioneer predecessors did.

* When you do spend money, do it right. For example, after you are in a position to plant a food plot, don’t skimp on fertilizer, lime or seed. It doesn’t make much sense to take preliminary steps right and then fail to follow up with a proven seed such as Imperial Whitetail Clover. One of the great joys of making do is the sense of satisfaction good, hard work brings. When you take a piece of land and then shape and mold it, relying on little more than what nature provides and your own ingenuity and effort, you soon realize why traditional farmers have such a love for the land. They form a sense of connection with it and know theirs is a job well done when they make it better. That’s how your perspective will develop as you make do with what you have. There are few better feelings, especially if they culminate in a thriving deer herd or the harvest of a noble buck.