In the last few weeks of our new webcast, Grow ’em Big with Steve Bartylla, his advice has been about laying the groundwork for your deer management goals before starting anything on your property.
That’s just common sense, isn’t it? You wouldn’t start planting a garden without plowing the ground or adding any fertilizer or dirt that might be needed. You wouldn’t host a holiday meal for the family without planning what to eat. Right? So it’s no different when you’re wanting to improve your habitat for deer hunting.
By Alan Clemons
There’s been some huffin’ and puffin’ going on, though, here and there about how Steve’s advice isn’t good or it would take hitting the lottery to do what he’s suggesting.
First of all, Steve’s advice is pretty doggone good and is based on decades of his experiences managing big — and small — tracts. He also has hunted big — and small — tracts of private AND public land in the Midwest and elsewhere. He’s put in his sweat equity, made his share of mistakes, had his bundle of “Oh, hmmm” moments and seen a good number of deer — big and small — benefit from his efforts and fall to his arrows.
As for hitting the lottery to do what he suggests, that’s a big ol’ load of “Naaa, not true,” too. It doesn’t take deep pockets to do some things to make your land better. Many of us likely would love to have the time and scads of money to really churn up the ground and get some things done. But that isn’t always the case for everyone, me included. I don’t have deep pockets and don’t have tractors, big shooting houses, bunches of ladder or tree stands, or truckloads of seed or supplemental food to spread around where I hunt.
The primary ground where I hunt, about 200 or so acres of rocky, hilly hardwoods, is not mine. I’m blessed to be able to hunt there, and the landowner and I have discussed some things we could do together to make it better. Here are are a few that we’ve talked about that you can do, too, that don’t take hitting the lottery or “being given all these free goods from companies” or anything else.
The common thread, though, is what Bartylla has suggested: thinking about what we want, what kind of deer are there, if other deer can be attracted and/or held, our reasonable expectations for enjoying the hunt, and our budget, time and equipment constraints. Common sense things, y’know?
Run Game Camera Surveys
Camera surveys give you a great idea of what’s on your property, from deer and turkeys to predators and, unfortunately, any poachers or trespassers who might be slipping in. The latter is something to deal with through law enforcement and I’d recommend contacting your local game warden to establish a relationship. They love catching bad guys about as much as we hate having them on our land, so work together with them instead of keeping them at arm’s length.
Game camera technology today is vastly improved from even five years ago. Depending on your budget you can get high-dollar cameras with wireless capability and HD video or the basic models that provide black-white or color images. You don’t have to have a dozen cameras, either. Three or four (again, depending on your budget and size of land) placed on known travel routes, near bedding areas or, if legal, over supplemental food or mineral sites, can give you an idea of what’s there.
Right now on my property (well, my friend’s property), I have three Stealth cameras set up. One is over a mineral site and I’ll be putting out some Antler King products after turkey season. Last year I got some good images of a doe and two fawns, several small bucks and one nice 8-point buck that I only saw a few times in photos. He’s stealthy. But he was new to the area. Hopefully he’ll come back.
Plan a Prescribed Burn
My friend never has burned his property and I’ve urged him, gently, to do so because it’s a great way to help restore the soil, get rid of built-up leaf litter and generate new vegetation.
If you’re able to do so and want to burn, contact a someone certified in the process so you won’t have any problems. Your local agriculture extension service agency or state wildlife agency should be able to help you get in touch with someone.
One other benefit I believe would help on our property is being able to get through the woods more stealthily. More leaves return each autumn, of course, but years of built-up litter makes it sound like I’m a tank tromping through the woods. Clearing the ground would definitely help.
Tree Trimming, Thinning and Hinge Cutting
The last few years on our property, before it gets sweltering hot in Alabama, I’ve taken some time in spring to go through with loppers to trim small trees for pathways to stand locations.
This sounds simple and it is. Our woods aren’t so jungle-thick that I can’t get through, but clearing out smaller saplings and cutting overhanging limbs has helped. I’ve cleared some paths so I can get to stand and ground blind sites without getting snagged or bumping into anything. Cutting some of the cedars also has provided me with some ground blind material, too. It’s easy to do.
Because of the hilly terrain where I hunt, I’m keen on ground blinds so I can overlook draws and travel routes. I’ve trimmed trees and limbs in different directions around these blinds so if I get a shot, I won’t have to worry about having an arrow go awry. It takes a little time but it’s worth it.
Hinge cutting is an easy technique, too, that can provide multiple benefits. Hinge cutting smaller trees involves cutting almost through the trunk so it lays on the ground but doesn’t completely die. Shoots may emerge from around the stump, possibly providing some new browse. The tree also may provide some screening cover for you and create a path or funnel toward your stand.
If possible, you may want to consider thinning your woods of undesirable trees or others in order to open the canopy, provide sunlight to the floor and give mast-bearing trees more opportunity to thrive. A choked forest doesn’t produce as well as one that can get sunlight. Trees competing against each other don’t produce mast as well, either.
In the last year I’ve identified several persimmon trees on our property that put out fruit but are stunted. I suspect part of that is the soil and part is that they’re battling other trees for water and nutrients. My friend and I have discussed a timber thinning that I believe will help. Talk with the timber specialist and identify the trees you want to protect, plan what he will cut, and the benefit could be great.
Food Plots and Fruit Trees
Photos in Deer & Deer Hunting and other publications or TV shows of vast, lush food plots look great, no doubt. Not everyone has the land, money or time to plant big plots, though. That’s just a given and completely understandable.
Doesn’t mean you can’t plant some smaller plots, though. On our land we have at least two areas where we can do some simple “throw and grow” plots. It’ll take some work, of course, to get rid of the existing vegetation and till up the dirt. Another friend with a tractor has offered to help, which is a plus. We’re looking at keeping it simple, too, and definitely will do a soil test before starting anything.
But I’ve also identified a couple of open areas in the woods where some small, hidey-hole plots could be planted and I think they’d grow just fine. It’s going to take a few hours of raking away the leaf litter (unless we can burn it!) to get to the dirt. No big deal. I’ll gladly put in that time to see some smaller plots that might keep deer hanging around longer.
Another option I’m considering in one of the openings is planting fruit trees. Apple, pear and persimmon likely would do well in them, but I’ll check with our agriculture extension service first to make sure. Tree tubes to protect the saplings are a must, too, so the deer won’t munch them to nubs. But I think in a few years we could have some trees growing that would do well and be a plus.
In this episode of Deer Talk Now, Dan Schmidt discusses how to pick, plant and maintain fruit trees for deer:
Don’t Just Sit There
If you’re truly interested in doing something, then do it. Figure out a way to make some improvements, even small ones, and then get to work.
That’s the point of Steve Bartylla’s advice in Grow ’em Big. Think about what you have, get an idea of what you want to do and what you can do, and then formulate a plan to get some things done. Be realistic and have realistic expectations.
Doing nothing and complaining about it isn’t going to help. I did that for a few years on our property and sulked around late in the season when my hunting success was zilch. Now, I’m getting on track with my friend to plan some things, put them in action and, hopefully, have some more success this season.
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