Bold Moves, Oak, and Deer – Nice Deer

“I can’t believe you destroyed your woods.” Rick’s neighbor just couldn’t contain his opinion.

Rick Case with his patch cut in background
Rick Case in his Angus cattle pasture with his patch cut in the background. Such cuts offer excellent habitat for deer.

Recalling the exchange about the harvest, Rick’s shallow smile belied the depth of his confidence. Rick is a master of pairing bold moves and non-believers with the same delight a chef pairs wines with entrees.

In the fall of 2013, Rick and Susan Case of Ontario, Wisconsin harvested nearly every tree on a 20-acre patch in their woods. One of the goals was oak regeneration, which requires one thing above all others – full sunlight.

To be sure, if oak is to remain the quintessential tree of the Driftless it will require bold moves.

Part of Rick’s confidence in the current harvest was earned through previous experience. In the winter of 1984-85 he and Susan did a 12-acre patch cut – harvesting nearly every tree, flooding the ground with sunlight. Today, the result is undeniable: 8- to 10-inch red oak seedlings cover the landscape, beautiful and vigorous.

Patch cuts can be as small as two acres yet remain “bold” enough to regenerate oak. Popular among woodland owners, small patch cuts are not just about future oak regeneration, but offer immediate value. Drenched in sunlight, these patches rapidly become thick with flowers, shrubs and trees – providing wildlife food and cover that are second to none.

Oak and deer

Rick Case kneeling next to oak sprouts
A flush of stump sprouts from a harvested oak.

Rick has many passions, but above all he is a deer hunter. Proof: They have three management plans for their entire property – nutrient, farm conservation, and woodland – and the number one goal in all of them is deer management.

While this appears “deer crazy,” Rick knows that process and preparation lead to unbelievable outcomes, hunting being one. For example, hunting with his 1968 Fred Baer takedown prototype recurve bow he harvested the wise and wary buck known to many as the “the one that got away.”

It was quite possibly Rick’s best pairing of bold move and non-believer: recurve bow and legendarily cautious buck. In the telling, he is quick to credit luck in the unobstructed flight of his arrow, but is also surprisingly nonchalant about the presence of the near-200 pound buck on his property. Rick knows that process and preparation deserve all the credit.

Standing in the middle of their 2013 patch cut, Rick emphatically asks and answers his own questions. “If you were a big buck, where would you want to be? Right here.” With a head of steam he continues, “This harvested patch will pull deer off every food plot in the area. They don’t like being exposed in a planted food plot; in this harvested patch they have food and cover. This is the ultimate food plot.”

Oak trees standing next to harvested area
Two mature white oak trees retained within the patch cut to help regenerate seedlings. White oak are a good choice to keep as they’re less susceptible to oak wilt.

The harvest in 2013 removed nearly every tree on the 20 acres and yielded 100,000 board feet of volume to sell. While certainly larger than most patch cuts, income potential increases with size. What drove the size of Rick and Susan’s harvest was the presence of oak wilt disease.

Oak wilt

After consulting with their county forester, they delineated the harvest patch to capture timber value (before oaks became infected) and slow the spread of the disease elsewhere on the property.

On the recommendation of their dear friends, brothers Bob and Johnny Micheel (both natural resource professionals), they boosted the potential for oak regeneration by broadcasting 1,200 pounds of white oak acorns. They counted on the movements of logging equipment to “plant” the seed for them. Stump resprouts are also part of the oak regeneration plan.

As we walked the patch it revealed yet another benefit. The snapping of twigs underfoot is all the alarm necessary for prey to know that a predator is near. Within minutes, a respectable 8-pointer rose and bounded away – all the testimony necessary to keep preaching bold moves to non-believers.