Habitat Improvement Series: Tom Peplinski

Show Notes

On this episode of the Nine Finger Chronicles, Dan kicks off his Whitetail Habitat Improvement Series with hunting property consultant Tom Peplinski. Tom breaks down his "Thick and Thin" approach to improving his hunting properties. Tom talks about first setting short and long term goals. This will help you get a plan laid out so you can implement said goals for your farm. Tom gets in to the details about falling trees, hinge cutting, edge feathering, and how to identify  different types of browse deer like to eat. Listen closely as Tom talks about how the only time he cares where deer are is during the hunting seasons, outside of that his approach to land management revolves around hold deer on his farms during the hunting seasons.

Show Transcript

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Mic check one two. Here we go. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the nine Finger Chronicles podcast. And today we kick off our Habitat [00:01:00] Improvement Series. And the reason that I wanted to get into Habitat a little bit this spring is because I don't know shit about habitat improvement. And I know there's a lot of people out there who listen to this podcast and they hunt on properties where they can do some type of habitat improvement work.

And so what I wanted to do is throughout this spring, I wanted to bring on some people who. Know a lot about this stuff and today's guest is no exception. We're gonna be talking with returning guests, Tom Plinski. Now Tom Plinski and I have a history together. We used to work together in a different venue, and now he comes on the podcast and shares his experience.

He is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to habitat work, not only on his own farm, but he is also a Habitat consultant a deer hunting cons, farm ground consultant, whatever you wanna say, on how to improve [00:02:00] properties for better deer hunting. And so he shares some of his some of his ideas, and I really think it's awesome because unlike most people, and this is one of, one of the ideas he brings to the table, is that he doesn't care where deer are in.

April, may, June, July, August. All he cares about is that the property that he is hunting is set up to hold deer during the hunting seasons so that property becomes a sponge and the neighbors don't kill the deer and they're on your property. And it helps you manage the, not only necessarily your farm, but your area as well.

And so he gets into what he calls his thick and thin me his thick and thin message and, or approach, I guess you would say the thick and thin approach to habitat improvement. And it's a good one, man. He's a, he's an intelligent gentleman with a lot of great ideas. So listen [00:03:00] closely and pull some of this information out.

At the end of the podcast, he gives out his information on how you can get ahold of him. And if you're looking for some kind of a, I guess a habitat consultant in the Midwest, he's your guy, especially in Iowa. That's what today's podcast is about. I'm thinking I'm gonna do about three or four, maybe five of these depending on how they depending on what kind of reach they get.

But I want to get the this out there and I want to add, sprinkle this habitat talk into into the content that I'm putting out. So hopefully you guys enjoy it and I think it's something interesting for you public land guys to listen to as well. And I actually, I might get someone on who manages public land, like a state agency to get on and ask how they manage public land for hunting.

So there's that. All right. Before we get into today's episode, though please listen to these commercials, man, because listening to these commercials and listening to the commercials [00:04:00] that ran previously are. Is how I get paid, and that keeps this content free and it keeps me doing what I'm doing, and I get to put out this awesome content with some of the best deer hunters and just outdoorsmen in general.

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There's the commercials. Let's get into today's podcast from my man, Tom Plinski. 3, 2, 1. All right. My fellow Iowan here, Mr. Tom Plinski. How we doing, man? Real good, Dan. Good morning to you. Yeah. Yeah. So did you get ice or snow this week?[00:09:00] 

[00:09:00] Tom Peplinski: A little both. And it's snowing right now, actually. It's like sideways snowing.

That's so 

[00:09:05] Dan Johnson: darn windy out. Okay. So we don't have anything, I mean it other than ice from yesterday. Still on everything. We don't have any snow, but it sounds like what you're gonna get, I'm gonna get, so it's coming. 

[00:09:17] Tom Peplinski: Yeah we did get eight inches of snow earlier, but it's gone. Yeah it melted off cause the ground's no longer frozen and stuff, but Yeah.

Yeah, it looks like spring, but 

[00:09:25] Dan Johnson: it doesn't feel like it. There you go. Hey question are you a shed guy? Do you go out looking for sheds at all? . 

[00:09:31] Tom Peplinski: Yeah. My wife is a fanatic. I call her the shed whisperer . She's a fanatic and she gets a lot too. Yeah. And then I just, my eyes wander. Yeah. I'm looking at other things so I can walk right over one.

But we go, but we usually don't go until March. We wait until it's all done. Yeah. I just, I pulled a camera here not too long ago, and there was a bunch of bucks with full racks, and my wife saw one, I think just last night with a full rack. Yep. Yep. So we go and we think it's [00:10:00] done.

Yeah. So 

[00:10:01] Dan Johnson: do you remember the story I told you earlier this year of that, that six year old buck who only had 120 inch rack and he was kicking the crap outta all these other bucks? Yep. So he showed up on cell cam last night with there was I think there was 10 or 11 deer in the actual picture, but he showed up with both.

Horns still on. So Yeah. A lot of these deers still packing. Yeah. Yep. And I don't know. I'm looking forward to getting out and I just, I have a little bit of cabin fever right now. It's just been a, a miserable February. There hasn't even been a lot of sunshine. This month. 

[00:10:39] Tom Peplinski: No, there was some really nice days.

I actually did a lot of I know we're gonna talk about habitat work today, but I did a lot of habitat work and now I've been doing a little bit of home remodeling for some people in the area and stuff. And then hopefully we'll get a couple nice days. It looks like next week's supposed to be really nice.


[00:10:55] Dan Johnson: Yeah. And I'm looking forward to getting out and maybe putting a little bit of corn in [00:11:00] front of some of the trail cameras just to get an inventory of what's out there and go check my stands maybe and go check my cameras and basically just, I just wanna get outside. Yeah. 

[00:11:12] Tom Peplinski: Yep. 

[00:11:12] Dan Johnson: The same.

Yeah. All right. And so you prefaced what this conversation is gonna be about today. And that's habitat now for me, I don't know anything about habitat improvement or how to keep deer on your property, other than what I've learned from guys like you and some of the other guys who are contributors on the Sportsman's Empire Network here.

And so the only thing I know is cut some trees down and let the sunlight get to the floor, the forest floor, and that creates thickness. And then that's all I know. And it's just reg regurgitated information. So I wanna start at the very beginning or somewhat at the beginning when you first moved to Iowa.

Okay. And you got the properties that you bought because how many total acres do you own? I 

[00:11:58] Tom Peplinski: own one farm that's [00:12:00] 120 acres. That's 70 acres of what I would consider hunting. And then the 80 by the house. Yep. Okay. So it's two different farms. And the 80 by the house is, as it's just a small, like finger straw that runs through the 

[00:12:12] Dan Johnson: middle.

Yeah. And so when you first moved to Iowa and you got the, you picked up these farms and you purchased 'em, how soon after that did you say to yourself, Hey, I need, I wanna do some habitat work? 

[00:12:28] Tom Peplinski: So in, in 2012 we bought the 120 acres. And that winter already we went nuts with chainsaws.

Yeah. So we bought that, I'm trying to think probably like in April, March or April of 2012. And I had a non-resident muzzle loader tag. My son did, and my dad did, and we hunted for probably three days. . And then my dad went home for Christmas and my son and I [00:13:00] stayed and had chainsaws and we pretty much just gave up our muzzle loader hunt and started to work.

Gotcha. But that, that, that farm needed a ton of work. Yeah. It wasn't, I don't care what kind of food plots and stuff we'd put on it, it just went whole deer. It was just wide open, like you said. Yeah. All closed canopy big timber, gotcha. It started right away within months after buying 

[00:13:20] Dan Johnson: it.

Okay. And so when you walked through, was that the 40 or the one 20? That's the one 20. One 20, okay. So when you were walking through that property, how did you identify what needed to be done, and then how did you prioritize that? 

[00:13:37] Tom Peplinski: So I've been lucky in my life to have had some experiences where I've learned and what to do and not to do and make mistakes.

Yep. And I've, I've, so I've made up. . I've made mistakes in the past, I'll fully admit that. But when I bought that farm in 2012, I think a lot of the mistakes, not that I'm perfect [00:14:00] now or whatever, but a lot of the mistakes were made and I had a really good idea of what I wanted to do it before we even owned it.

Okay. Just by walking it the first time. And that farm is big enough as far as acreage that I could set up a pretty good bed to feed pattern that would be like self-contained right. On that farm. So that's what I targeted on that farm. I planned out, where my food plots were gonna be, where I could have my bedding cover potentially where I could prioritize dough bedding and buck bedding.

So that's what I went after was setting up this bed to feed pattern and then always in a mind of not just doing this stuff, but as I'm doing it, how can I create it in a way that. Makes deer go where I, manipulate, put it that way, manipulate the habitat so that the deer go where I want them to go, so that not only is it just good habitat, but it's also makes it easier to hunt.

Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:14:59] Dan Johnson: And [00:15:00] so was this a before you went in there, cause I hear these stories about people just going in with chains, chainsaws, and making a mess of things. Did you do that or did you actually sit down at a desk with some paper and a map of the property and plan out like a one year, two year, five year, 10 year like a breakdown of what you wanna do, accomplish, short and long term?

[00:15:25] Tom Peplinski: For myself, I didn't do a one year, five year, 10 year breakdown because in my mind I could see it. Okay. So like when I'm helping, if I'm helping another hunter, . I'll do that. I'll break it down. This is what you should prioritize in year one. This is where you should try to be in year three and year five.

And they, people will ask me to do that for 'em so they know what to prioritize. Yeah. For me, I didn't, I just didn't have to do that. Cause in my mind, I knew what I wanted. Gotcha. But, so it's a little bit of both, I wanted to create this bed to feed pattern. , and that farm had about a 50 [00:16:00] acre block of timber.

That was a lot of mature shake bar, Hickory, closed canopy. No underbrush at all. You could stand in the woods and see for, if it wasn't for the rolling hills, you could see for probably 400 yards. It was just wide open. Yeah. So it was a lot of pockets of cover. So you'd go with the chainsaw really hard on maybe, let's say, I'm just throwing out numbers, a half an acre.

So you would make a mess in that half an acre and then you would skip 50, 60 yards and then make another mess. Okay. And in, in some areas, if it was, so that was where it would be like all shade Mark Hickory, where I wanted all the trees terminated. Yeah. So on the heavy spots, it would be a lot of cutting down the trees.

If they were a little bit smaller, you could try to hinge cut 'em. But I don't really want hickory's hinge necessarily. The only advantage of a hinge cut tree that you want terminated is it keeps [00:17:00] that it keeps the tree off the ground, which creates some side cover for you. Gotcha. Whereas opposed to if you do cuz you can girdle, for example, you can girdle hickory pretty effectively 

[00:17:12] Dan Johnson: and it kills 'em.

And that's where you cut around the base, right? Yeah. Okay. 

[00:17:16] Tom Peplinski: But the problem with only doing a girdle or only there's another method where you take a hatchet and you hack into the canum layer. and you squirt herbicide in there to kill the tree. Yeah. The problem with only doing that is the tree is dead, but now it takes sometimes 3, 4, 5 years from my experience before you get that ideal horizontal or side cover.

Yeah, because those trees are standing and you're relying on mother nature with the new growth to create that cover instantly. Gotcha, gotcha. So if you do a com, so you can actually do a combination of girdling and packing, squirt and stumping the trees and hinge cutting. And ideally what you want is a really nice blend of open canopy.[00:18:00] 

You want some side cover. A good rule of thumb is to get down on your knees, get on the ground, like simulating a deer is bedding and just look around. And if you're doing, if you're doing this habitat work and you can still see 60, 70 yards out, you haven't been aggressive enough in my opinion.

Okay. So then you can just keep cutting. Gotcha, gotcha. But it a pretty effective and easy way to not screw up is to just do that thick and thin method where you just, you hammer the hell outta one spot and then you move over. Yeah. And then you hammer the hell out of another spot and then you move over.

And that way those deer can actually bet around that thick spot. Yep. But they still have the kind of the open areas to go in and out. 

[00:18:45] Dan Johnson: Gotcha. So you mentioned shag bar hickies were a specific target for you. How did you determine what trees to keep and what trees to cut down? 

[00:18:58] Tom Peplinski: So again, that's just been, [00:19:00] that's just been based on experience on what I see deer like to bet around and what I like to see, what I think they like to browse.

So the, so for example, , I don't see deer eating too much Shake bar Hickory. Okay. It's just, the nuts, I suppose maybe for squirrels, if you're a squirrel hunter for a deer hunter, I've never seen a deer eat a hickory nut. So I just decided I wanted all those terminated. Okay. On the con, on the flip side of that is like a box elder tree.

So most timber people will say a box elder tree is useless. There's no timber value, but Deere absolutely love to browse box elder. So if I see a box elder tree, very rel, rarely will I terminate it. I'll either cut it down and let it stump sprout, or I'll hinge cut it and let it stay alive for the deer can eat the living tree that's now horizontal on the ground.

It's just different things like that. Red oaks and white oaks, deer love the brows, [00:20:00] so I'll either hinge those or i'll stump 'em and let the sprouts come up from the stump. Things like hackberry. I haven't had too much success with Deere browsing 'em, so I'll normally kill those black locust and honey locust.

I'll kill those. Meaning I'll either girdle 'em and treat the girdle or I'll stump 'em and treat the stump. Cause I don't want 'em coming back. Yeah. If somebody's not comfortable with that, you can call the DNR or just, you can Google that stuff. It's real easy. Yeah. Oaks, ash elm, any of your dog woods?

Elder berries. Why? Off the top of my head, when I see 'em I know, but I never will kill those trees. I'll either stump 'em and let 'em grow from the stump or hinge on 'em, let 'em keep growing. 

[00:20:46] Dan Johnson: Okay. All right. And is there a reason for that? Obviously oak makes acorns, deer eat acorns, but what about those other trees?

just because the deer 

[00:20:55] Tom Peplinski: like the browse. Gotcha. Yeah. If you ever, if you've ever cut down an elderberry[00:21:00] and just let it, let's say in August, cut down an elderberry tree, the deer will go nuts for it. You'll come back two days later and it'll look like that tree fell over three months ago cuz all the leaves and stuff and all the nubs and everything will be eaten off of it.

Gotcha. So when I've seen this in the past, it's not like I, it's not like I know, I knew this stuff or I was born knowing this stuff, but when I've seen stuff like that in nature just happen on its own, then I've always just made a mental note of that. Oh, okay dear. Really like elderberry, , they really like box elder.

So then that's what I've targeted. Cause I'm not necessarily trying to create the best timber value. I'm trying to make the best deer 

[00:21:40] Dan Johnson: habitat. Yeah. Gotcha. And , we're cutting down trees now. All right. You go in and you've said to yourself, Hey, I want these trees cut down now.

And then you've also mentioned this thick and thin method, right? Cut a whole bunch. Then you skip some timber, and you go to the next part. And this is obviously for timbered [00:22:00] properties. How do you decide as far as terrain layout is concerned? Where to go thick and where to go thin?

Because, sometimes these fingers can be pretty steep. We can have a big ridge, we can have a flat, basically top, so how do you do that in conjunction with certain terrain features? 

[00:22:22] Tom Peplinski: So let's just start with the bedding itself. Deer will bet anywhere, so deer, deer will bet in the ditch alongside the road.

But the thing that people need to understand is there's certain things that Deere want to do. So if you give 'em, if you give 'em what they want, then that's where they'll bed. Yeah. So as opposed to where they're forced to bed, you see what the difference is yep. Yep. So if you can, when I said that farm was large enough, had enough acreage that I could set up a to feed pattern on it, the first thing is I did is I tried to create a bunch of these pockets thin and thick, along field [00:23:00] edges and along my food plots that I had planned out.

And what I was trying to do there is promote dough and fawn family groups to bed closer to food, which is what they want to do if they're allowed to do that. Okay. And then what that does is that creates space for bucks to bed farther away from food, because we've talked about this in the past too, that these bucks don't wanna be around.

Seven or eight doughs and fawns and all this commotion. They don't want that. So what I tried to do is stack my dough and fawns in and around my food sources, and then had the back far part of the farm where I had this thin and thick and thin and thick pockets of bedding cover that would hold the maximum amount of bucks that I thought I could possibly put on that farm.

So that, that's one scenario. So y'all, you can always think about it that way as trying to stack your deer in doz and pawns close to bedding excuse me, doz and fns close to [00:24:00] food, and then bucks farther away from food. If you can get 'em two, 300 yards, 400 yards away from a food source and create some bedding, as long as there's bedding close to food, that's been my most successful way of keeping the most amount of deer on my farm and attracting the most bucks.

[00:24:18] Dan Johnson: Okay. And so as you're doing this, what time of year are you thinking about? Obviously for hunting, you want things to be right for hunting from that bed to food pattern so you can, get a shot at, said deer. But how are you also thinking about habitat? Because you want deer on your property all year round.

So how do you, like, how are you making a decision, say, Hey, I want deer here in the summer and I also want deer here in the winter. How are you making these habitat decisions based off of keeping deer all year round? 

[00:24:56] Tom Peplinski: So I guess that's where I might differ from a lot of [00:25:00] hunters. And I would just respectfully disagree that I don't care where they are in the summer.

Okay. So when I make my habitat, and I'm gonna qualify this cuz I think it's real, really important when I make my habitat, it's all about when they shed their velvet. Until late muzzle loader ends. Yeah. That's what I want my attractiveness to be is for that time period. And it's because I don't have a thousand acres, 2000 acres.

I think if you have a thousand acres or 2000 acres, then you can do the type of habitat work where you provide great fawning cover and great June, July and August, like these oak savannahs are really popular on YouTube and stuff now. But I don't have the acreage, but I can say I'm gonna set this 30 acres aside over here for an oak Savannah, for example.

Okay. Because that Oak Savannah in October, November, December is useless to me. Yeah. So I [00:26:00] wanna set all my habitat work up and my attractiveness, like my peak attractiveness. I want to be October, November, December on both of my farms. So I'll sacrifice. summer food, summer habitat, summer bedding, all that stuff for fall habitat and fall food.

Yeah. And I think that's really important because a lot of hunters, I would say the vast majority of hunters listening to this podcast right now, if you asked them, Hey, what's your goal with your land? Why are you even, why are you even doing this habitat work? And they're gonna say they wanna have probably older age class bucks on their property and they want more of 'em.

Yeah. So whether they want to take two or two year olds to three-year olds, or maybe three year olds to four-year olds, or whatever it may be. And more of them. Yeah. They're all gonna say that. Yeah. Yeah. And then the next question is how come they're not there now? [00:27:00] What's the limiting factor?

Why don't you, why don't you have three or four, five-year-old bucks on your property? And the answer is always because they get shot. , they're shot when they're one or two. That's just the reality of it. Yep. So then you gotta ask, you just gotta keep on asking why. So then you say, if they're all getting shot, what's happening?

Why are they getting shot? The neighbors are shooting them. It's just this progression. Yep. So if you wanna grow big bucks, if you wanna hunt big bucks, and I'm not saying that you have to do that. I'm absolutely not saying that. But if that's what you want to do, then you really need to target your habitat so you can protect the deer when they're getting shot.

And that's not in June. So I don't think there's too many places where the whitetails are in this country where they struggle in the summertime to get their habitat and their food. I suppose there's some places that, that there are, but drought. 

[00:27:57] Dan Johnson: Drought or really dry [00:28:00] conditions.

But, in a Midwestern state where yes, it, it's really dry and maybe sometimes some e h d pops up as far as food is concerned. They're, in Iowa they got food, especially in river, bottom 

[00:28:11] Tom Peplinski: ground as, yeah. As far as food and habitat, I just, I've never been to a farm where a hunter has said, oh, I have a dozen mature bucks running around on my land.

But they're all really small because we just don't have the habitat. It's just not, that's just not the case. It's always cuz they're not old enough. So if they're not old enough, as a hunter, in my opinion, if that's what your goal is, you need to target your best habitat in the fall and early winter so that you can, quote unquote protect those deer from getting shot by somebody else.

Yeah. So that's what I target on my farms. I don't, as opposed to going back to that, if you had a thousand acres or more, , you can have more of a diverse habitat scheme. You can set aside a 30 acre oak, white oak flat and [00:29:00] turned into an oak Savannah, even though the acorns are all gone and the Forbes and the broadleaf weeds are all dead by November.

It doesn't matter cuz you still have 970 acres left. You kinda see where I'm going there. Yep. I know where you're going. 

[00:29:16] Dan Johnson: So as you you brought up something real good and I feel this is a method of questioning that not only works with deer hunting and habitat improvement, but in life in general.

So in a, in the lean manufacturing world, there is a process called five y and you just described it there with why don't I have any deer on my property? . Because they're getting shot. Why are they getting shot? Because they're on the neighbor's farm. Why are they on the neighbor's farm?

Because my farm doesn't have the cover required. Why doesn't my, you go back five and what that is, is a root cause analysis of what the actual problem is and a Absolutely. Yeah. 

[00:29:57] Tom Peplinski: Absolutely. And it's frustrating. [00:30:00] Or I hunters get frustrated, put it that way, because they're doing the best.

And this used to be me, so I'm not trying to come from a point of arrogance because I did all this stuff. Yeah. So I used to, this years ago, I used to save up all my money and I'd go to the Deer Classic, my dad and my grandpa. We'd go to the Deer Classic and I'd listen to all the seminars and I'd look at all the vendors and I'd spend every dime I had

And it was fun. Yep. But then I would go home and I would plant apple trees and I would do this, and I would do this. And I now, it was like basically the shotgun method. And at the end of the season, , it was no better than it was the year before. Yep. Except all my money was spent. And I'd go back to the Deer Classic and I'd repeat, and that would be my cycle.

Yeah. Until I started, until I like took a step back and said, this is insane. This is, I'm not getting anywhere. And then starting to look at, okay, what actually works. And like you said, the five why's, I never had the lean manufacturing, but it's, why am I not [00:31:00] killing deer? Cuz there aren't any here.

Yep. So it doesn't matter how many apple trees I plant or how my rattling sequence works, if there aren't any big bucks here, I can't hunt them and I can't kill 'em. Okay. Why aren't they here? And just keep going. Keep going down that path. Yeah. . 

[00:31:15] Dan Johnson: As you started to progress on this farm that you had started working on you established the thick and thin cutting.

What was the next step after you created these little pockets of thickness on this farm? 

[00:31:32] Tom Peplinski: It's it's not done, so it's right, it's every year. I have to go, I'm planning on going back there this weekend actually, and spending a couple days. So it's, it never ends. So I don't want people to think that it just never ends.

Somebody asked me one time how many hours is it a year? And I think I said, an hour per acre, per year. And they were like, no way. . Yeah. But to really go all in and it's, it, that's probably an exaggeration, but if you [00:32:00] had 80 acres of timber and you've probably spent 20, 30, 40 hours in there a year, , I would say.

Yeah. That's to get it there. Yeah. So I'm gonna be going back and I probably already have, oh, I probably have 30 hours on that farmer already this year and I'll probably spend another 20. So it, it just never ends. And then of course my opinion is when it comes to habitat, you should pretend like food plots are illegal to some extent.

Pretend like you can't never plan a food plot and work on the other stuff first. Okay. Cuz that's got the most bang for the money, in my opinion. And it's permanent. And I don't know, it's just, I just have way more luck with the, like the permanent habitat over a food plot. Yeah. And then in my mind, the food plot now becomes more of a hunting method.

Yeah. It's not really a habitat thing, it's more of a hunting method. It's, I can plant two acres of standing corn. and then I [00:33:00] can come in there in November and December and I can use that as a way to attract those deer for a hunting purpose kind of thing. Yeah. 

[00:33:07] Dan Johnson: And I think you nailed it. You nailed it there, right?

And that was gonna be my next question is when it comes to bang for your buck, d do you feel so I take it from that comment that habitat trump's food? 

[00:33:25] Tom Peplinski: They need both, right? But most Midwest settings, there's food available, right? Like I said, so then food for me just becomes a tool, a hunting tool, right?

That's really what it becomes. They don't need us. There's so much. And not only that, but if you create really good habitat with all that woody brows and stuff, you're giving 'em half the food. Cuz they can't just live on corn, for example. They need. , they need 50 50 woody brows type food to eat.

Yeah. Along with their Forbes and their alfalfa and their grains. Yeah. So [00:34:00] you ha you have to have that woody brows and cover and side cover and bedding type habitat anyways, and bang for your buck. I can create better habitat and more holding power with a chainsaw than I can with, a cornfield for example.

And not only that, but if my timber and stuff is wide open, if I have that food source, they might be at that food source in the evening, the last half an hour. But I wanna be able to hunt 'em all day. Yeah. 

[00:34:31] Dan Johnson: So when we, when, whenever I've listened to people talk about habitat and this is.

I look for as a hunter, I go into a property and I look, I'm looking for some kind of edge. And from my experience, dear, love this edge that, this hypothetical edge where open timber meets thick timber or where timber meets c r p or where deer just love edge or where a swamp meets a timber, [00:35:00] any, anything like that.

Are you, do you feel that same way and is that kind of the method that you are using when you're going from this thick and thin method? 

[00:35:10] Tom Peplinski: Yes. Yeah. Absolutely. So think of it this way. Let's say you had 40 acres, and I'm from north central Wisconsin, so where I used to live, the paper industry was huge.

So these lumber companies would come in and they would clear, cut it. , it would take 40 or 60 or 80 acres or more, and they would clear cut it. So when you were done, there wasn't a single tree standing and everything was mowed right to the ground and everything was hauled off. Yeah. That's what a clear cut is.

Yep. So with that, you have no edge except for the outside border of where that clear cut is. So when I'm doing this thick and thin pockets, I'm creating probably 40 times more edge than doing a clear cut because around every one of these [00:36:00] thick, p thick pockets is now all edge cover. Yeah. And then you go to the next pocket and it's all edge cover, and you go to the next.

If you added that up, if you went like on some kind of software program and just added that up, it would be unbelievable how much edge cover you created. And now the open spots. . And by the way, when I say thick and thin in the thin spots, I'm just not dropping the trees. If I wanna terminate 'em, I can still do that.

Yeah. But I'll do more of a hack and squirt, I'll girdle 'em and leave 'em standing. So that the deer can get in and out of there freely. Yeah. So I wanted to get back to that. Yeah. The other thing a lot of, in the Midwest, we have farm fields. So you have a, you have open cover, roll crop, corn, beans, alfalfa, whatever it is, and then you go to mature timber.

So that, that's what I would call a hard edge, a very hard edge. And there's very little habitat, very little holding power. No bedding cover, nothing along that edge. And going back to my [00:37:00] earlier comments, that's where Doe and Fawn family groups want to bed if you give it to 'em. Yeah. So I'll do the same thing on those edges.

I'll go thick and thin, so I'll hammer the hell out of. 15 yards along that edge. And then I'll leave a 10 yard opening and if there's trees in there, I'm gonna terminate. Same thing, I'll girdle or I'll girdle and treat the girdle pack and squirt whatever. And then I'll do thick again. So I'll go thick and thin and thick and thin all along that edge.

And you've heard, you've probably heard this term edge feathering. 

[00:37:33] Dan Johnson: Yep. That was gonna be my next question. Yep. 

[00:37:36] Tom Peplinski: But what I'm trying to do is I'm just trying to create a soft edge so that these doll family groups can bed. And if you wanna take it one step further, talking about habitat work, the best soft edge that I've ever seen in the wild.

And so now I try to duplicate it myself is where you have native warm grasses up to that hard edge, [00:38:00] and then you go and you do your hinging, and you're thick and thin along this edge. So now you have that soft edge in conjunction with whether it's switched grass or big blue stem. so that grass will stay up in these tops, it won't fall over.

And that's like some of the best edge cover that I've ever seen. And it's fast and easy. Anybody can do that. I can feather an edge or soften an edge that's 400 yards long in one afternoon. It's so easy to do. 

[00:38:33] Dan Johnson: And so you're hing cutting to do it. You're hinge cutting these trees into that grass strip.

[00:38:39] Tom Peplinski: Yeah. So you're gonna have, you're gonna have to, you're gonna have to one say, I'm willing to give up an acre of farmland, because when you're dropping the trees out there Yeah, you're obviously gonna lose some farm ground. But yeah, when you drop these trees into that grass, and it's easy to do because in the timber when you're trying to do this, the trees are hanging up.[00:39:00] 

You have to find an opening to start with, and then they're hanging up and they're not falling where you want 'em to fall. So it's a it's harder to do. Yeah. , but along the edge, all the trees are leaning out. They're all leaning out into that field already. So when you make your stick pockets, it's just boom.

And then you skip and you boom. Like I said, I can do a quarter mile in a half a day, like nothing. Yeah. Yeah. And it's just in the doll family group, so just bed right around that. Are you trying 

[00:39:25] Dan Johnson: to do that in the low spots of the field or just everywhere? 

[00:39:30] Tom Peplinski: I'm trying to, I'm trying to do that where I want do and fawns to bed.

Okay. So if there's a spot where I have to use for access, for example, let's say I have to walk down a fence line or one of these edges cuz that's my access, then I wouldn't do it there. I surely don't wanna create good habitat and attract deer to a spot that I have to go through and bump all the time.

So the best way to answer that is I'm doing that edge habitat where I want deer to bed. 

[00:39:58] Dan Johnson: Is really the answer. [00:40:00] Okay. Okay. All right. So then you've done this, we've talked about this bedding to food pattern. You've identified it, you've started doing the cutting.

You've do, you identify what deer like to browse on what they, what they don't. Removing things like that. Let's, this is one thing I've noticed in Iowa, and maybe it might be a literal thorn in your side, but in a lot of these, in a lot of timber that I've hunted in the past, there is a lot of wallflower rows because back in the day that used to be a cattle pasture, and now it's overgrown, it's grown up.

It's, 20, 30, 40 year old timber. And so how does one go in and get rid of an invasive species like multifier rose? Or whatever other mo invasive species there is. 

[00:40:55] Tom Peplinski: I can only tell you what I've had and had to dealt with. On my 120 acre farm, there's a lot of [00:41:00] prickly ash and I don't know that's necessarily an invasive I guess I'm not a expert on that.

I think prickly ash might even be a native species, but it's pretty, to me it's invasive because if you don't do something with it and you go in and you do a lot of cutting, it'll take over. Yeah. And it's also like a clone tree where they like spout from the roots and they're, they like clone each other, if I'm explaining that right.

So if I go into an area and I'm gonna do a lot of cutting, for example, and I see prickly ash in your example, it's multi-floor rose. In other parts of the country it's buckthorne. Buckthorne is just absolutely terrible in the upper wood Midwest. Like you get in Wisconsin and there's. Farms in Wisconsin that hardly even have trees anymore.

It's all buckhorn. Yeah. But anyways, in the case of this prickly ash, if I know it's there, I won't cut any trees down until I've terminated that prickly ash. And what I use for that [00:42:00] is I basil bark, treat the prickly ash. So I'll mix diesel fuel with trie and I think the brand that I use is Remedy Ultra.

And again, you can get this from your forester. And that's where I got it from, I got it from the Iowa County Forester. I call 'em and I said, Hey, I got this prickly ash. What chemical can I use to basil bark? Treat this stuff. And he recommended that and it works good. But then when you mix this up, 50 50 TriClare and diesel fuel and a sprayer, and you just basically low pressure spray the bottom couple inches of the bark layer.

you don't have to cut the stuff down, you don't have to hack and squirt, you don't have to do anything. You just basil bark, treat it. And that herbicide will get johned in through the bark and it'll kill that stuff. What's the purpose of 

[00:42:46] Dan Johnson: the diesel fuel? 

[00:42:48] Tom Peplinski: I think it's just to thin it down and act as a I think it allows the chemical to more readily absorbant of the bark.

Gotcha, gotcha. Okay. All right. Yeah. Cause that's tri here, that's [00:43:00] expensive stuff too. So you don't, if you mix it 50 50 with diesel, I think you're just like more efficient use 

[00:43:05] Dan Johnson: of it. Gotcha, gotcha. 

[00:43:07] Tom Peplinski: But yeah, you can actually, you can, I think you can do that with multi floral rolls. I think you can do it with buck Thorn, but my suggestion would be is if you're gonna, if you're gonna try to eliminate that stuff, do that first before you open up the canopy.

Cause if you open up the canopy, now you're gonna be dealing with 10 or 20 times more trees to have to try and terminate. or multi-floor rolls to have to try and terminate as opposed if you did it first Yeah. And then did your habitat work. Because 

[00:43:37] Dan Johnson: That's what I do. Okay. And so as then you, you're weeding out this stuff.

How do you know if it's working? Obviously you can sit in a tree stand and you can look at deer, but how are you to gauge success after you've done some of this improvement work? I think that goes 

[00:43:59] Tom Peplinski: back to our [00:44:00] earlier discussion on your goal setting. Okay. You have to, the hunter or the hunting group has to sit down before they start doing this stuff.

And they really have to decide, what are their goals? Yeah. Is their goals to see more deer? Is their goals to drill larger bucks? What are their goals? And then that's why they have to use the. , like you said, the I just call, you just have to, you have to ask yourself questions to death.

Why this and why isn't this working? But it's all based on your goals. So if your goal is to see more mature bucks or if your goal is to see any mature bucks and you start doing this habitat work, then three or four or five years from now you'll know if you are meeting your goals or not.

Are they showing up on trail camera? Are you seeing 'em? If not, what you're doing isn't working. Yeah. And I see a lot of, I see a lot of people. It's disheartening actually, cuz they'll [00:45:00] go all in and they'll spend a lot of money and they'll do a lot of things. And five years down the road they're no better off than when they were when they started, except they're out 50 grand.

Yeah. And it's because they're doing this, they're just grabbing stuff out of the air and they're trying stuff and it's not really. related to what their goals are and what they need to achieve their goals. 

[00:45:19] Dan Johnson: So at what point then, we've talked about everything except food plots at this point.

Okay. Now actually, I wanna back up just one step. I saw a, I was on social media earlier this morning, drinking my coffee, and some guy came in and gave his opinion on cedar trees. And, some people say that they're bad for, gotta get rid of the cedar trees. Some people like 'em for that that cold weather.

What do they call those? Basically an insulation because it just drills, yeah. Thermal cover. Thermal cover, exactly. What are your thoughts on cedar trees? 

[00:45:55] Tom Peplinski: I think some are good. I think some are very good. Especially when [00:46:00] you're looking at targeting October through. , I'm just gonna say October through January.

Okay. If you're tar, if you're targeting those four months for the best ha habitat for deer, the best attraction and holding power, I think cedar trees and pines in general. Some is a good thing, especially if you can mix it and make it off. I don't want, how do I wanna say this? You can make it like nature would make it.

Okay. So not, I would never plant pines unless you're strictly tra, unless you're strictly putting in like a row of cedars or something. Like for screening cover for your access. But if you're doing it for habitat, I would never plant pines in a row. It would always be one and then 10 yards away. A group of three and just trying to manipulate or do what nature would do.

Cuz you don't, that's how you see it in nature. . But then the other thing is those pine [00:47:00] trees. Let's say you're gonna plant white and red pine, and you're gonna do it in these pockets, you might have to, in 15 years, actually cut 'em down and then plant 'em again. Okay. Or have a, I wouldn't say never go out and plant 500 of them.

If that's your goal is to have this one area where you're gonna have, let's say, 20 acres of this really good pine, woody brows, warm season grass, a combination habitat for more of a late bedding. If that's what you wanna have, that's what you wanna accomplish. I would say plant those pine trees over like a 10 year period.

So by the time you get your last ones planted, your first ones are 10 feet tall, as opposed to planting 'em all, and now they're all 10 or 15 tall, 10 or 15 feet tall. They're all losing their lower branches and they lose their attractiveness now. 

[00:47:54] Dan Johnson: Gotcha. 

[00:47:54] Tom Peplinski: Okay. But I, and that, that's actually, I'm glad you brought that up because here again, [00:48:00] it's going back to if my goal is to create a scenario on my farm where I can attract and hold and protect bucks to make it to the next age glass, if that's my goal, and I know the only way to do this is to do that and protect them during, let's say the firearm season in my state, then this blend of cedars and pines, if I can use that as a tool to attract and hold these during that timeframe, is a phenomenal way of doing it.

Yeah. As opposed to if you're watching a YouTube video and the guy is saying, Nope, cut all these pine trees down, because look at all these, all this herbaceous stuff that Regrows and all these Forbes and all these broadleaf weeds that come up. When does that stuff peak in attractiveness? , it's in June, July, and August.

Yeah. So the I'm not saying that's wrong, you just gotta understand what you're doing. What you're doing is you're creating [00:49:00] an area that maybe had 20 acres of really thick cedars, and if you cut 'em all down and burn 'em all and have 'em all habitat, that's summer habitat. You're, you just spent a huge amount of time and money, and you're no farther along than you were before you started.

You see what I'm 

[00:49:19] Dan Johnson: saying? Yep. And I really think that your method here is something that, that isn't talked about a lot. When, whenever I've heard anybody talk about habitat, especially on this podcast and listening to some of the other people that I know talk about habitat, they don't like.

If you asked a guy like, I don't care where they're at in the summer, like people would look at you like, what? You don't want 'em on your property all year round? I don't care. Because they're not getting hunted that time of year. And so by you saying that, it just, it opens up a different thought process of the decisions [00:50:00] that should be made on a habitat level, on the properties that you're trying to improve.

So it's really not, Hey I wanna, because I don't know you talked about this earlier when you said, what are the goals? I don't know too many people out there that, if you're going to, if you're gonna choose between, the hunting season versus, Hey, I just want really good velvet pictures on my trail cameras.

No one's gonna say that. Nobody cares about that. They want to be able to have the deer on the property during the hunting season. Yep. Yep. And that, I think 

[00:50:32] Tom Peplinski: that's a big mistake that people make and. . I think the reason is because there's it's almost information overload. There's so much information out there that you're trying to do the right thing and you're trying to create better habitat for deer and you're trying to provide food and you're trying to provide cover.

Yep. So you're throwing a hundred things at you and you're thinking I have to do all hundred of these things. I have to plant chestnut trees and [00:51:00] I have to have a, an oak Savannah and I have to have apple trees and I have to have a water source. And you're just going nuts on this stuff. And if you just take a step back and say what are you doing?

There's a difference I think between, let's say a guy out there buys a thousand acres and he says, I'm gonna hire somebody. I'm not a deer hunter, but I'm gonna hire somebody to manage my a thousand acres. Cuz I love looking at whitetail deer. I just love it. The guy that's hired to do that is probably gonna want 12 months.

habitat so that this guy that hired him can watch these deer for 12 months. Yeah. That's a completely different scenario about, from the guy that has 30 acres that says, I can't kill or see anything bigger than a three pointer. And again, I'm not buck shaming three people who shoot three pointers.

But if that's what that guy bought that 30 acres for, and he spent a hundred thousand dollars to get that 30 acres, then he needs to prioritize his habitat and his food sources and his [00:52:00] food plots, and even his hunting methods so that during, let's say a November rifle season, if that's where they're from, they're 30 acres or they're 80 acres, has its peak attractiveness.

Everything peaks the habitat, the food sources, and the hunting pressure is at its lowest level so that they have their highest chances of that three pointer staying in there during that rifle season. . That's been my whole take probably the last 20 years I've been doing this. Yeah. 

[00:52:34] Dan Johnson: Where does food then come in?

We, we haven't talked about food plots and I've heard you talk about how you like to do food plots and in relationship with Destin destination food plots or destination food sources. Talk to us a little bit about how you incorporate food plots in this thick, thin method that you've, in this edge feathering that you've already talked about.

[00:52:56] Tom Peplinski: So all that thick and thin and edge feathering, that's all [00:53:00] what I would call security cover and bedding habitat, which is still half of their food. Yep. So they're still gonna want, especially in the Midwest and mixed agriculture properties, they're still gonna wanna have that lush, alfalfa, clover soybeans in the summertime, and then they're gonna wanna have, Grains, soybeans or corn in the wintertime if it's available.

So for me, because I'm still in this mode of, I want my peak attractiveness to be in those four months in the fall, and I think for about 99% of hunters, you're gonna want that peak attractiveness with your food plots to be during that gun season wherever you're from. If it's in Wisconsin, it's over Thanksgiving week.

If it's Minnesota, I think it's earlier, Missouri's early. And the reason why is so that you can attract and hold and protect those bucks as best you can during that [00:54:00] peak level of hunting when the most of 'em are gonna get shot. So for me, my main food sources are soybeans and corn, and then my green food plots are more transition plots.

That I use for killing them. Gotcha. And then my soybeans and my corn, and I shouldn't say just soybeans and corn. You can plant. I think it's a good idea to plant a half an acre or something like that if you can, or an acre of Culver alfalfa or even a good a mix maybe even of Culver and oats and winter rye and stuff like that.

But that's out by your destination plot. And then your transition plots aren't really a food, it's not really a habitat thing. So when I plant my transition plots, it's really has nothing to do with feeding deer. It's about coaxing deer through an area, coaxing bucks through an area, be a mock scrape there.[00:55:00] 

The transition plot will be in my transition plot. I've told you this before, they look like they don't look good. Yeah. And it's, that's not the intention. The intention is I want 'em to come there and nibble a little bit, maybe hit that scrape and then leave. . So then when I get down in the evening or even in the morning, I don't want those deer hanging around there.

Yeah. So that's, so going back to remember what I was said saying before you prioritize your habitat as far as your timber and your cover first, and then I use my food plots to kill deer and to hold deer on my farm so that others can't kill them when they're younger. Yeah. And so that's what I use my food plots for.


[00:55:37] Dan Johnson: This is a method of everything you've just said that could potentially be applied to very small farms. Absolutely. 

[00:55:47] Tom Peplinski: Yeah. The only difference is when you get really small sometimes there's not enough room to have a destination food plot. Yeah. And sometimes if your neighbor has a 40 acre alfalfa field that butts up to [00:56:00] you, then you can use that alfalfa field as the destination food plot.

But then just make, try your best and make sure that you can create the best habitat. so that we're, when they're going to their bed to feed, even though they're leaving your property in the evening on their evening feeding pattern, that they're coming back to your property because you have the best hu habitat, the best side cover, the best woody brows and the lowest hunting pressure.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that's, it's just a recipe. You can implement this anywhere you go. Okay. 

[00:56:30] Dan Johnson: So we've talked a lot about your farms and what you do on your farms. You are also a Habitat consultant and you have a little business that you go out and you, some guy says, Hey, I wanna, I want to do better.

I wanna make my property better. You go out there and you take a look at it. Walk us through from a client perspective on what you do, and how the process of getting a Habitat [00:57:00] consultant and what your, what you do. In relationship with what they want. 

[00:57:05] Tom Peplinski: So that's exactly how you ended that question.

The first thing is you have to ask the farmer or the hunter landowner, why are you calling me? What are, what do you wanna get out of this? Because they're always different. , some hunters wanna grow big bucks. Some people wanna just see more deer. Some people don't have any nice mature bucks to hunt.

I shouldn't say nice cuz that's buckham and I don't wanna do that. Yeah. But some people wanna grow bigger bucks and they don't have any, some people will tell you they have, oh yeah, there's big bucks in the area, but I can't kill 'em. So that would be a different scenario, but you always have to start with the end.

You have to start with what do you want? What if in five years from now, what makes Dan Johnson. The happiest hunter he could be on this 80 acres he just bought. Yeah. Where do you [00:58:00] see yourself going to bed at night? It's November 10th, you're going to bed, you're smiling ear to ear, but what does that look like for you?

Yeah. And that's where you have to start. And it, a lot of it goes back to, what do you plant in your food plots? You plant in your food plots. What you want to get to to receive your goals or to achieve your goals. Yeah. What are, where do you create your cover? Where are your access routes?

Let's find some inside corners. I actually, quite often, I'll actually suggest that hunters build cattle fences, that they'll build a 200 yard cattle fence or a 300 yard cattle fence, cuz it'll be an 80 acre piece. South Central Michigan or Southern Wisconsin and there's no terrain features. So me and you are used to terrain features.

We're used to ditches and fence lines and draws and all this stuff. There's properties, there's, I grew up in [00:59:00] Central Wisconsin where there's nothing, there's just nothing but flat land you's all dairy. So there's not, you don't have cows on out on pasture like you do down in southern Iowa. So you don't have inside corners, you don't have fence lines and fence jumps.

You don't have ditches and draws and saddles because it's all flat. So how do you create structure and edge to hunt? A lot of it you can do with your habitat and your cuttings, but sometimes installing a 300 yard simulated cattle fence can give you structure because now you can hunt the ends of the cattle fence or you can put a fence, jump in and hunt that fence.

Jump. Yeah. So it's a combination of, as hunters. Excuse me. I don't think it's, I don't think what we want is just the best habitat. I think that's where hunters make mistakes or make a mistake in thinking, I just want the best habitat and the best food plots. That doesn't necessarily give you good hunting.

Yeah. [01:00:00] What you really want is the best habitat and the best food plots in combination with, okay, how can you use this now as a hunter? Yeah. So that you're successful, so your kids are successful, so your spouse is successful. That's, in my mind, that's what it's all about. And then what does success mean?


[01:00:18] Dan Johnson: Yeah. And then, does that make sense to you? Yeah. And so then there's really what it is it just starts off with a conversation between you and the landowner, and it's just a conversation of. What your g like, what their end goal is. Are these goals different throughout the years? Do you ever go short term, long term Hey, I would like a, here's a five year plan, and then here's like a 10 year plan.


[01:00:45] Tom Peplinski: Yep. And there's also landowners that say, I want this property to also be recreational. Yeah. I want, I wanna be able to go out here with my spouse and take a walk every, once a week. Yeah. Okay. Let's figure out a good place for you to take a walk. [01:01:00] Yeah. Kind of thing.

Or there's a little cabin on my property that I wanna be able to use. Okay. Let's talk about when we can use it and how to use it and when not to use it, kind of thing. So every landowner has different goals and objectives. Some guys are fanatics and they'll, and I'm, I could probably put myself in that tier of a fanatic.

Some guys will say, I don't care what it takes, I wanna shoot a big buck. . So I don't care what kind of sacrifices that means. I don't care if that means giving up part of a season. Let's say that's a gun season. I'll give that up because I wanna protect beer. I don't want any pressure on my farm.

Some people don't wanna give up any of that cuz they wanna hunt as much as they possibly can. And all of that is correct. There's no right or wrong. All of it's correct. Yeah. 


[01:01:46] Dan Johnson: Lot to think about. For someone now I do have to give you some props here. You, because you're a land consultant you've had customers from all over the Midwest, it sounds if someone wants to get a hold of you to either schedule a cons, a [01:02:00] consult, or just pick your brain a little bit, how do they do that? Just 

[01:02:03] Tom Peplinski: go to full potential outdoors dot. Read some stuff over, send me an email, gimme a call, and then that's like we just got done talking about. That's how we start out.

It's just a conversation. Gotcha. Yeah, it's just a good conversation. And I have guys that call and we have a conversation and they say, you know what? I'm good. Yeah. I just, I'll keep doing what I'm doing. Yeah. And that's fine too. 

[01:02:26] Dan Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Tom, man, I really appreciate you taking time outta your day to hop on and talk with us about something that I have no clue about.

And hopefully someday though I'm gonna own a piece of property and I'm gonna have you come walk it with me, and then you can I can get some, I'm gonna, I'm gonna use that friend thing where I say, Hey buddy I need you, I need a free consult.

[01:02:50] Tom Peplinski: Yeah. Okay, . No, it's all good. 

[01:02:57] Dan Johnson: And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, in [01:03:00] another episode in the book, please go to iTunes and follow the Nine Finger Chronicles. I'm pretty sure I'm banned, so a lot of the content that I put out you guys probably aren't seeing. So if you could just go there and I think there's an option to click on the three buttons and make sure that you follow me there as well, where all of my content is automatically sent to you.

You can do that and I would appreciate that. Make sure you're subscribed, make sure you're following along on the RSS feed as well, whether you download on iTunes or any other place. Make sure you're subscribed to that. And then please go to iTunes and leave a five star review on how BADASS the Nine Finger Chronicles podcast is.

Man, that would really help me out. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for uhs. Taking time outta your day to listen to this podcast. You'd shout out to tethered wasp, HuntStand and vortex. Don't forget to go check out fish and wildlife.org. Other than that, have a good day, good vibes in, good vibes out, [01:04:00] and we'll talk to you next time.