There’s an old, albeit very popular and accurate, saying that goes, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It’s a simple old adage, but it sure does make a lot of sense, especially when it’s applied to hunting mature bucks.
Simply, it’s extremely difficult to just wake up and waltz into the whitetail woods every deer season and consistently put mature animals on the ground. You need a plan, you need to prepare, and you need to execute.
Now is the perfect time to improve the habitat and hunting on your property. Simply fire up your chainsaw, cut down undesirable wildlife trees, and you’ll be immediately providing deer with instant food and cover.
Since the majority of my posts here on 365 will be geared towards Quality Deer Management (QDM), I think it’s only fitting that my first post be about laying the foundation for your 2015 success from a management perspective. In this post, we’re going to discuss three things you can do right now to make you a more successful hunter this fall.
Food is King
There’s a very popular debate among deer hunters and deer managers regarding what mature bucks need the most of to live on a certain tract of land, food or cover. Well, there’s no wrong answer. On properties lacking food sources, increasing the amount of available food sources preferred by whitetail deer will allow you house more bucks on your property. Properties that look like a state park due to their lack of cover are a hunter’s worst nightmare due to their lack of mature bucks; increasing the amount of cover on your property is the cure here.
However, in my experience, I’ve found that mature bucks are more likely to live on a property that has prime food sources, more than they will on a property that has ample cover. Simply put, deer, especially mature bucks, are slaves to their stomachs. So, what can you do right now to increase the amount of deer food on your property?
The most common response is food plots. Yes, this is a perfect time of year to plan and prepare to plant your food plots for the 2015 season. This is a great time of year to take a soil sample, which is vital to the success of your food plot. You can also create new and more food plot acreage this time of year with a bulldozer. Further, and it’s the most unexciting, though a rather important step, you should planning your food plot strategy now.
Most folks think of food plotting as throwing down some clover in the spring and watching it grow all spring and summer. There’s no doubt that will work. You’ll experience better hunting and the deer will thank you for it with heavier body weights, bigger antlers, and healthier fawns. But that’s not maximizing the potential of the ground you manage.
Consider double cropping. That is, planting two different seed blends to maximize the attractiveness and health of your plot. I like planting buckwheat in the spring, letting it grow all summer, watch the deer hammer it during the late summer, then till it under and plant the same area with winter rye, crimson clover and forage oats. This in turn provides year round food availability.
In addition to prepping your food plots for this planting season, you can also provide immediate food this time of year with your chainsaw by cutting or hinging less desirable trees. Hinge cutting is a very popular management technique that involves cutting a tree midway through and tipping it over, leaving the trunk intact. In turn, this keeps the tree alive and it will fruit and flower normally; only now the crown is at deer level providing instant browse and cover. It also opens up the canopy and allows sunlight to penetrate the forest floor to allow early successional habitat, the kind on which deer thrive, to grow. This time of year I mostly target poplar and maple trees and bring them down for immediate and long-term deer browse.
Thicker the Better
I’m aware that I just wrote a lengthy topic on how important food is when hunting mature bucks, but thick cover is a necessity as well. Mature bucks often reside in the thickest, nastiest cover they can find because that’s where they feel the most safe.
Fortunately, though, the same tool you used to create deer food this time of year can also create prime bedding cover; your chainsaw. Again, this is a perfect time of year to fire up your chainsaw and cut down less desirable trees in strategic locations to encourage deer to spend more time on your property, thus increasing your chances of harvesting them.
However, when running a chainsaw, always remember safety first. This means ALWAYS wearing a hard hat, eye and ear protection, gloves, chainsaw chaps, and steel-toed boots. If you’re lacking any one of those items, forget about running your chainsaw until you pick up whatever it is you’re lacking. No deer is worth dying for, and your family is counting on you to come home safely.
Just because deer season is over doesn’t mean it’s time to put away your trail cameras. This is an ideal time to locate the bucks you’ll be hunting next season by finding out which bucks survived the previous year.
Who Made It
Another useful management practice this time of year is taking late season inventory. It’s always good to know what deer made it through the previous hunting season, so you can begin planning how to hunt those deer the following year. In addition, capturing trail camera photos of a deer this time of year can help you identify a missing link in your game plan that you can fine-tune for the upcoming season.
To capture mature bucks on trail camera this time of year, locate late season food sources; in farmland that could be a standing corn or bean field, or a harvested field that hasn’t been tilled under. In heavily forested areas, look for clear cuts or other open areas where deer browse is plenty. Another popular option this time of year is baiting deer with corn or minerals. Where legal, this is a very effective strategy used to get deer in front of your camera letting you know which deer made it and which deer didn’t.
As a deer hunter and a deer manager, this time of year seems about as exciting as the October lull. With spring green months away, and fall bow season even further, hunting and management can easily get put on the backburner. However, now is actually the perfect time of year to start laying the foundation of your 2015 success. Consider the above management strategies now for a more productive hunting season this fall.