Reclamation Food Plots How you can turn a negative into a positive.

By Bob Humphrey

Stock dams are another good location
for reclamation plots. Just make sure
your planting addresses potential
erosion problems on steep slopes.
Ed Gaw owns a 200-acre parcel of land in western Pennsylvania. On the surface, it is nothing special; just another patch of wooded ground, a place to hunt and spend time outdoors. However, it overlies a formation of sedimentary rock known as the Marcellus Shale Formation, which spans West Virginia, eastern Ohio, southern New York and most of western and central Pennsylvania. Within the impervious limestone beneath this formation is a reservoir of natural gas once thought to be marginally worth the investment to recover. During the past decade, however, geologists have significantly increased their assessments and now estimate the formation contains enough natural gas to support the entire United States consumption for at least two years, though estimates keep increasing.

That discovery has been something of a windfall for landowners such as Gaw, as gas companies are willing to pay more than $2 per acre to lease the drilling rights. However, everything comes with a price, as Gaw discovered soon after signing a lease in 2005.

The process of drilling a well affects at least five acres of land per well site, not including construction of access roads. Gas companies are required to restore the property when the well is built, but that typically amounts to little more than a token effort. Former agricultural land can be put back into production, but forested land, such as Gaw's, won’t be restored to its former state — at least not in his lifetime.
Gaw looked beyond the problem and saw an opportunity to work with the contractors assigned to restore the site.

“Ordinarily, when they fell trees they just make a big pile and burn them,” Gaw said. “We asked them to create a brush row on the windward side of the site.”

Normal procedures called for high-compaction grading. Gaw requested low-compaction grading and asked that they not track in the final grade. “We called it the final grade, they called it the ugly grade,” he said. Next came the re-seeding. “Gas companies typically contract out the seeding,” he said, “and contractors are ill-equipped for anything more than more than a quick coating of standard conservation mix.” Gaw took over and planted Chicory Plus. “We had to out-compete the ragweed (which typically takes over such disturbed sites) and stabilize the sloped hillside,” he said. “This gave us a good compromise of stabilizing the hillside, giving whitetail something to eat and competing with ragweed.” The next thing they did was create a gap in the brush line. “We pulled a chunk (of brush) out of the middle and placed it to the side, giving deer a highway to our new food plot,” Gaw said. It was a good start, but Gaw wasn’t done yet. On each well site with grade, there must be a drainage pond, which is graded when the work is done. “We saved that,” Gaw said, creating a year-round water source. However, he still wasn’t finished. “We planted 100 seven-foot spruce trees on the hillside,” he said. “They grew slowly, but are beginning to provide good bedding cover right above that pond.” And on the highest part of the hillside, they planted an orchard of what Gaw calls Charlie Brown fruit trees. “We went to all the local nurseries and picked out their poorer quality, misshapen and otherwise undesirable trees,” he said. “Knowing it would be a low-maintenance situation, we didn’t want to invest a lot of money.”- The result was a wildlife Eden instead of an ugly patch of disturbed ground.


Well sites are not the only areas that can be reclaimed as wildlife food plots. What you do and how you go about it is usually dictated by soils, accessibility and personal goals, according to Whitetail Institute’s Steve Scott.

“What you’re capable of doing might depend on what type of equipment you can get into the site to prepare and properly maintain it,” he said. “If you can get bigger equipment in, you have more options to plant perennials or annuals, or some combination of the two. If limited access prevents you from preparing the site correctly, you can still go in and plant annuals like Secret Spot or No-Plow using ATV implements or even hand tools.” Soils also make a big difference when you are planting perennials “On good heavy soil, there is no better choice than Imperial Whitetail Clover,” Scott said. “On well-drained soils, you’re better off with blends like Chicory Plus, Extreme or Alfa-Rack Plus.” It also depends on your goals. “If you want to produce a lot of tonnage for antler growing and fawning,” he said, “use Imperial PowerPlant. “If it’s strictly for hunting — fall and winter — there’s a long list of possibilities including No-Plow, Winter-Greens, Pure Attraction, Tall Tine Tubers, Secret Spot and Whitetail Forage Oats Plus.”

Log landings are another example of easily restorable sites. The activity associated with stacking and loading logs leaves a patch of bare soil. The biggest problems, according to Scott, are usually weeds and grasses and compacted soil. “Often, all you need to do is spray with a glyphosate and use whatever equipment necessary to loosen up the compacted soil,” he said. If there is a lot of slash and wood litter, you might need to power-rake the site, too. Then, simply amend the soil according to soil test recommendations, plant and pray for rain.
With ATVs and smaller implements you can access
and work harder-to-reach sites.

In a similar vein are logging roads. It is probably not news to anyone familiar with food plots and habitat improvement, but logging roads make ideal reclamation projects and great places to plant, often with minimal effort. The act of skidding or hauling logs out does most of the work for you. You simply need to soil test, follow the recommendations from the soil test and spread the seed. Deer are far more likely to use narrow, linear plots during the day. And they quickly become travel corridors, too. Stock dams are another overlooked reclamation opportunity. The key, according to Scott, is to make sure you do not create an erosion problem on some of the more severe slopes. If possible, you can try to do more drilling, but that is most often not realistic. Scott recommends exposing soil lightly and using products such as Imperial No-Plow or Secret Spot.

“In the Northeast our customers have been planting old strip mine ground in recent years. On sites that are accessible, Imperial Whitetail Extreme has been performing extraordinarily well,” Scott said. “It grows great on these marginal soils and it’s a perennial, extremely high in protein and extremely attractive to deer. You get many of the same benefits of Imperial Whitetail Clover. One of the biggest differences is Extreme needs a lot of nitrogen added and Imperial Whitetail Clover does not.” On less accessible sites, he recommends annuals designed for fall and winter, like No-Plow, Pure Attraction, Winter-Greens, Tall Tine Tubers or Secret Spot or Whitetail Forage Oats. Old abandoned orchards can be restored and even enhanced, often with minimal effort, depending on how long they have been abandoned. The first, most important step is removing competition. That means cutting out other trees and shrubs that compete for water, soil nutrients and sunlight. But do not overdo it. Reclaimed orchards can actually be more productive for hunting. A working orchard consists of little more than fruit trees and mowed grass. There is often not a place to hang a stand, and deer seldom venture into them during daylight hours. With an abandoned orchard, remove just enough cover to improve fruit production, but leave enough so deer will still use the area during the day. You can even leave some overstory trees for shade and hanging stands.
Old skid roads make great reclamation plots, and deer are
more likely to venture into narrow openings during
daylight hours.


In the end, you are merely taking advantage of openings that already exist on your property and following many of the same steps you would follow with conventional food plots. The first thing you need to do under any circumstances is a soil test. “It’s the best money you’ll spend to improve your hunting,” Scott said. You can get soil test kits from a land grant university, the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Whitetail Institute for about $10. Then you amend the soil as recommended, and prepare the site and plant the seeds. Perhaps best, the cost associated with materials, equipment and labor can often be defrayed or covered entirely by revenues from well leases, timber harvest or agency-sponsored incentive programs.