It’s Been A Busy Off-Season

With the deer season quickly approaching it makes sense to dive into the work done thus far to prepare for it. Off-season preparations began as soon as the 2015 season ended so it’s been a long process, but we’ve accomplished many things along the way.

Here’s a list of the many projects tackled:

  • Post-season scouting
  • Post-season inventory
  • Mineral Station work
  • Spring Food Plots Put In
  • Summer Scouting Began Early and Continues to This Day
  • Trail Cam Inventory
  • New Food Plot Prep
  • Old Stand’s Worked On and New Stands Put In
  • Fall Food Plot Plantings
  • Purchased New Hunting Gear and Prepared the Old
  • Shooting My Bow
Buck
Buck

Here’s some of the thing’s still left to be done:

  • Hang Simple Tree Stand Spots in Low Impact Locations (these shouldn’t bother deer to much putting them in)
  • Finish Prepping Hunting Gear
  • Continuing Shooting the Bow and Adding Challenges to It
  • Fertilize Plots One Last Time to Increase Desirability and Growth
  • Check Camera’s Once with a Rain Right Before Season
  • Find New Properties

New Insight Taken Away from this Past Off-Season:

  • Scouting is a long process that can teach you many things about your local deer herd
  • Obtaining New Properties is so helpful to your chances at mature deer
  • Sanctuaries are more critical then ever and must be respected
    • After hanging two of our stands I stopped getting pictures of a mature buck on a particular trail in that area (those mature deer are very wise)
  • Food plots are tricky at time, but continue to do all of the right steps and try new seeds if necessary, sometimes even retilling if the plot does not do well might be necessary
  • Checking trail camera’s in the rain is the only way I’ll do it going forward, the scent getting washed away is quite helpful. Also waiting a month between check’s is another essential for me. This minimize’s the disturbances.
  • Killing mature bucks is all about precision, if you get sloppy and don’t pay attention to all the details your chances of pulling it off are greatly decreased
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Pre-Season Efforts for June

Nutrition:

Food: Clover/chicory/corn/beans should now be planted. These plantings types provide whitetails with good summer forage. Browse in the timber is equally as important to the whitetails diet during this time of year. Throughout much of the whitetails range there has been ample rain for food plots. The only reason you may want to wait on putting bean in the ground is to have them green during the first of October, with this in mind wait to plant your beans until late June/early July. This is a tactic we’re trying.

Plot Preparation: First we did a soil test early in the year. At this point we’ve sprayed all of our plots, some multiple times. We’ve also mowed them to knock down all of the dead vegetation. Then we proceed with tilling. We’re still in the process planting right now. When we go to seeding we’re spreading the fertilizer and the seed. After that we roll (cultipaking even better) the plot to ensure for good seed to soil contact. Then it’s time to let Mother Nature do her thing.

Minerals: I’ve been refreshing mineral sites lately. My preference is to mix the minerals with dirt as best as possible. Deer like to eat minerals mixed in with dirt better then they prefer straight mineral. I have a couple of mineral sites that are getting buck and doe activity in them. Deer certainly love the minerals this time of year. I’ve made it a priority to have minerals at each of the properties I hunt.

Water: Thanks to all of the rain my water holes are now full of water and receiving good deer activity.

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Bucks at the Water Hole

Trail Cameras: My trail cameras over scrapes are continuing to get some activity. I’ll be leaving a few cameras over scrapes for a long time. The cameras I have over minerals are getting lots of activity. I also have one camera over alfalfa and another over growing beans.

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are basically old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting pretty good deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails.

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Buck on a Scrape

Food Source Scouting: I’ve just recently started doing a tiny bit of food source scouting. I’ve seen a little bit of activity in doing this, but until the beans get bigger they’re not going to be offering the type of activity I prefer would scouting over food sources. Come mid to late July food source scouting should heat up.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: I have one more new stand that I really need to trim shooting lanes for and get a nice access trail too. Once that is done I’ll be somewhat happy with where I’m at getting stands ready for the season.

Shooting Practice:  I’ve been slacking in this area. Pretty soon I’ll need to get the bow out and begin fine tuning my shot. A buddy of mine is in the process of getting some of my arrows refletched. Once that is done hopefully I get excited about getting myself in form for the season.

Continual Learning: It’s food plot season so I’ve been teaching myself as much as I have time to regarding food plots and how to go about planting them. I’ve recently come across to food plot seed websites that I am very impressed with: Deer Creek Seed and Hancock Seed Company. These sites offer individual seed sales as well as seed blends. My favorite aspects of these sites is the attention to detail provided regarding nutrition information, planting dates, seeding rates, ect. In addition to that I’ve been enjoying some great habitat articles from Jeff Sturgis as of late. Here are a few that I found to be very insightful: Creating Daytime Buck Travel and Attracting a Buck to your Property

Magazine Guide

Most serious hunters agree that there is no offseason. When you’re not hunting it’s time to learn, and it’s time to get ready. I make every effort to do at least something everyday to either learn or prepare for the upcoming season. Certain days that doesn’t happen, but 9 times out of 10 it does.

Here’s the magazine’s I’ve come to appreciate and learn from when I’m looking to gather more details about whitetails.

  • Field and Stream: If you’re looking for unique ideas and approaches on how to tag a mature buck this magazine will deliver that. Certain parts of year this magazine shifts it’s focus to other topics, but when it’s time to cover whitetails you can count on great information.
  • Whitetail Journal: This magazine cover’s everything whitetails – food plots, hunting strategies, calling in deer, habitat management…you name it, they cover it.
  • Peterson’s Bowhunting: Experts write articles to fine tune your hunting skills in this magazine. Grant Woods and Bill Winke are regular contributors along with the Peterson’s staff. Monthly excerpts will provide you with an edge coming into your next season.
  • North American Whitetail: For monster buck stories, deer biology information from Dr. James Kroll, and more turn to this magazine. I always enjoy the contents of NAW.
  • Quality Whitetails: You can’t go wrong here. All QDMA members receive Quality Whitetails. This magazine provides all things whitetail. If you’re a habitat manager this is a magazine you need to get your hands on.

Post-Season Efforts for February, March, April

The post-season came and went in a flash. Once bucks start growing their racks I consider the post-season over and the new season alive and well. April marks the month were that happened. I’m not seeing bucks with some decent bases while I’ve been out turkey hunting and I’m also seeing the start of growth on trail camera pictures.

Bed, Trail, Rub, Scrapes and Food Source Scouting: Once the snow melts it’s a whole new type of scouting. You’re able to see old trails that weren’t necessarily made in the snow. Beyond trails scrapes become quite visible at this time. Since food sources are scarce this time of year I’ve put a good amount of time into searching for and monitoring scrapes. Whitetails use them year round. In my one of my two adventures in state land scouting I was able to locate a few new rubs and a scrape of two. That specific area is loaded with deer sign. A lot of the sign is located in a staging area not far off the primary food source in the area.

Stand Scouting and Preparation:  My father and I made decisions for our new stand placements on our main hunting property. I hung my lone wolf briefly in one of them and was able to completely get the stand ready for the upcoming season. I was delighted to get the project done this early. I have one more major stand project to do. I cannot wait to get that done and out of the way.

Shed Hunting: Shed hunting was unsuccessful for us, but a good friend of mine has been having some dynamite action this past shed season. One of those finds was a 190″ buck. When I was able to actually put my hands on those sheds my jaw dropped. What an amazing set of antlers. I hope to learn more from him in the coming days to effectively find sheds in the post-season.

Trail Cameras: As the snow melted and food sources for deer have completely changed I’ve switched all of my trail camera efforts primarily to scrape monitoring. The action on the scrapes has been quite impressive. This is the first year I’ve made it a priority to maintain these scrapes and monitor them. Thus far I’ve been rather impressive with the results. My plan is to leave a handful of cameras on scrapes all the way into late October when the scrape use starts to die down. Mineral spots as well as spring food plots are equally if not more effective trail camera spots. My state does not allow minerals to be placed in any location so I’ve chosen to use scrapes for the most part.

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Nutrition: Supplemental food is all I’ve provided for deer in moderation (always check state laws for what is ok). During the winter months I did drop numerous white cedar branches and had quite a bit of success getting the whitetails some browse in a tough time of year.

Minerals: If you’re state allowed be sure to get your minerals out early. A lot of guys wait until antler growth starts, but providing year round minerals can be quite helpful to your herd.

Food Plots: I’ve gotten excited for food plotting in the spring already. I’ve worked on creating a poor man’s plot. I’ll need to spray it here as soon as time allows. Beyond that I’ve got my soil tests in and soon we’ll be buying fertilizer and spraying all of the plots to kill weeds. A good friend of mine already has a clover plot plowed and planted. The quicker you can get the spring plots done the better. Food for the local deer herd this time of year is critical.

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Predator Control: Personally I didn’t spend any time in this department on my own farm, but we did take a few cracks at my buddies farm to no avail. There was one coyote that was missed by a member of our hunting party. All things considered it was great to get out with the goal of taking down a few coyotes.

Year Round Learning: The whitetail is a genius of a creature. Take the time to learn about them whenever time allows. I just watched a great habitat video that Jim Brauker filmed on Andy Hayes property. Jim Ward leads much of the discussion on this fascinating property tour. Another article of interest is this deer lab article regarding trail cameras and how to most effectively use them.

The projects we fail to do for whitetails now will often lead to some of the regrets we have for the 2015 season. It’s the guy that does the hard work now that will often reap the rewards come fall.

Minerals: A Must

Minerals should be out for deer year round if not shortly after the hunting season and certainly on the ground by early Spring. If you’re behind or looking for cheaper options there are numerous mineral possibilities. Before getting into the cheaper options lets consider one of the best products on the market, the Trophy Rock. Trophy Rock has delivered quality nutrients to deer for years and these rocks can be found throughout the whitetails habitat thanks to the countless hunters that purchase trophy rocks for the nutritional needs of their herd. Some claim that the nutrients found in these rocks don’t really help deer, but that seems to be far from the truth. First and foremost these companies would not be in business if their product didn’t help deer. Secondly, deer would not spend so much time visiting trophy rock mineral sites if the minerals weren’t of use to them. Regardless of what you believe about minerals it is proven that this product and others will get deer in front of a camera for you. The bucks are early in their antler growth at this point in time, but their racks will continue to grow at an exponential rate from now until September. If you have any desire of getting an inventory of bucks in your area consider using Trophy Rock minerals or another popular brand of mineral. Now for those of you looking for a bargain Realtree Outdoors has developed a more affordable solution. Mixing your own minerals can be a great way to save a few dollars.

Don’t waste any more time. Get your minerals out there.

 

Soybeans: A Recipe for Giant Bucks

It’s no secret that corn and soybean country produces good bucks, but what is it about soybeans that makes bucks into something special. Soybeans are a unique plant compromised of anywhere to 25-30% crude protein. The standard needs of a whitetails diet are roughly 20% crude protein. The result of excessive protein from soybeans is healthier deer and bucks with the nutrition for much larger racks than standard deer. Beyond the high amounts of protein that soybeans deliver they act as a food source for whitetails throughout the majority of their growing cycle. Even after soybeans mature the pods which farmers typically harvest are a tremendous later season food source for whitetails. Hunters that plant a soybean food plot and leave them standing throughout the season and into the late winter are providing whitetails with exceptional nutrition during a difficult time of year. Dr. Grant woods wrote an article about this subject a few years ago. The QDMA soybean profile also describes the amazing benefits of this plant.

10 Soybean Harvest USDAThe USDA chart reveals many of high producing soybean locations also yield impressive bucks: Iowa, Southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Eastern Kansas, Eastern Nebraska, Western Kentucky, Northern Missouri, Southern Michigan, Eastern South Dakota, far Western and South-Eastern Pennsylvania, and even into Western New York. The majority of these soybean growing regions offer incredible whitetail hunting. Obviously state regulations, hunter densities, whitetail population structure, and other factors influence the ability of certain states to readily produce giant bucks despite the presence of soybeans. Even with these other factors influencing whitetail populations it is possible to find large bucks in almost all of these areas especially on private land where the pressure is minimal. One of the only areas that regularly produces large whitetails that is not in soybean country is south Texas, yet South Texas is notorious for nutrition programs that enhance the local herd of whitetails.

The good soils that allow for great soybean production seem to produce trophy whitetails. The nutrients in the soil likely provide many other nutritional benefits outside of great soybean and corn forage. Great soil effects nearly every type of forage growing in these regions enhancing the whitetails overall diet.

As your sort through the various options for a food plot this year. Consider soybeans as a fantastic year round food plot for your local whitetail population.

Extreme Management Can Pay Dividends

The QDMA promotes numerous types of management techniques for the improvement of a whitetail herd. For Steve Elmy those management techniques are part of whitetail hunting. A responsible land manger considers all things important to a whitetail habitat and attempts to enhance the habit to improve the land for the deer. These improvements can be: food plots, timber stand improvement, hinge cutting, water holes and ponds, planting trees, and many other property enhancements. Management is not limited to the property itself, it also factors in the management of the deer herd itself. Managing for the harvest of mature bucks and attempting to maintain an appropriate doe numbers is a principle goal of deer management. The combination of deer management and land management exemplifies the priorities of someone the engages in serious QDM.

Steve Elmy took QDM to heart and has begun to reap the rewards of his efforts, read about his story here. Taking the time to improve the whitetail habitat can eventually lead to increased harvest numbers. The longer these strategies are practiced it may be possible to even dramatically increase harvest numbers. The hunter that is willing to put in the time will often reap the rewards of their work.

 

Deer Management: The Good and The Bad.

Deer management is a fascinating topic. In fact I’d argue it is the most exciting aspect of hunting outside of hunting mature bucks that are difficult to kill. Managing a deer herd as a resource is a unique experience. Through management practices a hunter becomes a true steward of the resource that God has blessed him with. The process of managing a deer herd entails an understanding of all these topics: food, water, habitat (bedding), population numbers, age structure, and numerous other aspects. By investing in education of these topics a hunter and deer manager can better assist a local deer herd. Time spent improving these aspects of a whitetails habitat helps the hunter to better appreciate the deer and understand both the simple side of deer and the complex nature of deer.

To be an effective manager of a deer herd many consider the important variable to be land. Without enough land it becomes quite difficult to manage deer as a resource. An option for small land-owners is to create co-ops of some sort. Those could be QDMA co-ops or even verbal/written agreements between landowners to deer management principals and guidelines. I’ve taken somewhat of a hybrid approach. Our local area has numerous deer hunters, each of which considers a trophy deer to be something different. Instead of attempting to develop some sort of agreement to the locals I’ve chosen to simply educate all local hunters on the status of our deer herd. By recording harvest numbers and doing trail camera surveys I have a good feel of our local deer herd. It is my hope that by providing information on these numbers I’ll encourage the locals to shoot older bucks and take part in managing our local doe numbers. If this is accomplished then I consider my efforts a success.

Everything discussed thus far is for all intents and purposes the good side of deer management. The bad often boils down to two main issues in my opinion. The first is when management becomes all about antlers and frustration results when the antlers desired aren’t produced. This often robs the hunter of the joy that hunting brings. The second issue is when neighbors refuse to participate and tension is caused. If one party is concerned about management and the other party shoots every deer they see issues can arise. Handling these negative aspects of deer management is simply part of being a deer manager. The issues a deer manager faces are not limited to these two issues, but these are often the primary issues. Any manager should be prepared to deal with these issues.

Bill Winke has taken serious stock in deer management for some time. In a very tactful article Winke discusses the good, the bad, and his new perspective on deer management.

Trail Camera Survey Results and What They Mean

After the season concluded I put together my entire season inventory of bucks that my neighbor and I collected throughout the season. In a roughly 1.5 square mile area identified approximately 54 unique bucks not counting button bucks. This is the 2nd season I’ve collected such data between the two of us. This year I took it upon myself to produce a buck to doe ratio and important statistics such as mature buck and immature buck numbers. It was my first season attempting this sort of exercise and I found it to be both enlightening and useful to me as a deer manager.

M2E60L171-171R393B312Not long after doing this survey of my own I came across an episode of Midwest Whitetail which explains the results of a post-season deer survey. The episode looking begins into the results of the shed hunt on Bill Winke’s farm. Sadly Bill’s farm is not producing anywhere near the sheds that it used to. It reminded me of a great article Bill wrote about the state of the whitetail herd. After reading this article you’ll have a better idea as to why Bill’s shed numbers are way down. As the episode progress’s Bill and Jeremy Flinn break down the survey results from a trail camera survey that Jeremy conducted on Bill’s Iowa farm. This sort of survey is something that any serious deer manager should consider doing. Here is an additional video Jeremy produced on this topic of post-season deer surveys.

Major Reason’s to Consider Doing a Deer Survey:

  • Understanding the Buck Age Structure on Your Property
  • Identifying Target Bucks for the Season
  • Getting an Idea of Your Buck to Doe Ratio for Your Local Deer Herd
  • Understanding Fawn Recruitment Numbers
  • Knowing Which Deer Use Your Property Year Round Vs. Seasonal Use

Surveys are often conducted prior to and following the deer season. I took the liberty to include both my pre-season and post-season data along with my in-season data to create one master survey. Whatever process works best for you is worth considering. This is a great way to understanding what is going on in your neck of the woods. Not to mention this can be an enjoyable part of studying your deer herd.