As the years go by, everything is continually changing and that also holds true for the world of whitetail deer. From the creation of research centers to the technology of all the new gizmos and gadgets, even the actual methods of hunting deer are changing. I grew up hunting with my father and brothers on a small wooded lot, maybe 50 acres behind our house. We nearly always hunted from the ground, in-between crotched trees, located in areas that had that way of making you feel “deer must like it here.”
We walked into the woods the most convenient way and at the end of the hunt stomped all through the woods trying to drive the deer to the others. Don’t get me wrong, we did scout the area, but mostly by hunting the woods season after season and learning the deer patterns. There is no substitute for time in the woods… and never will be. My point is that today’s hunters wouldn’t dream of hunting from the ground or leaving scent everywhere in the woods, doing drives, and especially walking in from the wrong direction. It’s safe to say hunting has changed.
The biggest change that I’ve seen with the people around me, the publications, and company advertisements is the idea of creating the perfect deer sanctuary. After seeing Dr. Deer’s whitetail research facility, I have bought into it too. Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to go to Texas with Jim Holbert to see Dr. Deer’s facility, and that brought hunting and creating a wildlife habitat to the next level. Coincidentally my father, brothers, and I recently acquired a decent plot of land and now plan on creating a deer sanctuary and I will bring you updates through Wildlife Management News.
As the title suggests, I am the “average Joe.” Busy work life, busy family life, and lack of all the time and money needed to create that perfect deer habitat. Luckily for us average Joes, to get to the awe inspiring Dr. Deer property, it took them nearly 30 years. So don’t expect a miracle… just get out there and get something started – there are no excuses and there is no overnight magical remedy. This year I set out to do the one thing everyone does first: a food plot. After going to Texas in March, I made a plan to get a spring food plot established with Buck Forage Oats, Clover, and Chicory; however, spring rolled around and no food plot was planted, but I did strategically pick the location, get the seed, lime, fertilizer, and equipment ready for fall. As fall rolled around and hunting season was only a few short months away, we got to work around August 20th to make sure we didn’t miss this season.
So what’s important for the average Joe food plot? First, let’s look at what makes seed grow. Sunlight, water, and seed-to-soil contact are probably the most important factors for germination. For me, this means how I can get the best of all these factors so I don’t have to spend a fortune on seed, and the challenge is how can I do this without the expensive farming equipment? We bought a good seed from a great family, the Bulters, of Buck Forage. On my trip to Texas, I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to the Butlers and hear their story. These men are great people as is their company and that means a lot to me as I’m sure it does to you. It’s important to note that you need to make sure seed is appropriate for your area and try not to use blends unless made by your local farm store. National big brand companies tend to blend their seed so that something will grow no matter where you are located, but all this means is there are a lot of seeds dying since only a few seeds are appropriate for your area. Also, you must understand where your seed is coming from. Buck Forage is the only company that owns their variety of oats; most other companies are just buying seed and bagging it. This can be seen by searching the tags on the seed bags and seeing the label variety not stated or unknown. Think about that. I know several sources that used Buck Forage in our area with amazing results and I talked to the local farm store, Andre & Son’s in Montrose PA, about it.
Second comes the challenge of preparing the soil comes at a great cost. Whether the cost is your backache or the actual money, there is a cost. In an earlier issue of Wildlife Management News, Ray Reeves from Lock N Load of Owego NY, wrote a great article on the ways you can prepare a seed bed from steel rakes, to weed whackers, to tractors – I suggest you find that article. I used a great piece of equipment called the Dirt Works System from Kolpin. This system is a category zero 3 point hitch system for an ATV or UTV. There are several attachments for it and I can’t say enough good about it, especially for the price. With its 300lbs of downforce plus the vehicle’s weight, you have enough power to really turn the dirt. After using nearly all the attachments, the two that really stand out to me as “must haves” are the rake and the discs.
Another impressive product that I used is the DR Roto-Hog. This tow-behind rototiller is essentially your one stop shop for quick and easy food plots, especially DR’s Landscaper package that comes with a broadcast spreader and culti-packer.
Now that you have the seed and soil prepped, plant it by any means you have – broadcast spreader, drop seeder, or by hand. Make sure you plant to the specifications on the packages, both by depth and quantity. But don’t stop there – make sure you get a good seed-to-soil contact. After the seed is down, roll it, drag it, or drive on it; make sure you pack the seed to create good contact and remove air pockets. Air will typically kill a root system. From here, just manage it with your fertilizers and make sure it gets the water it needs. Our plot grew in great and brought the bucks to prove it!
One thing that still stands out to me from Dr. Deer and Jim Holbert is that even if you don’t have the time or money, you can always do something, and one of the biggest ways to improve your habitat is just managing the forest. Clearing some of the canopy and getting light to the ground can make a world of difference, not to mention if you fertilize and turn the dirt over every once and a while for new growth. By doing this, the natural forage can be improved and work as well as any food plot.
Lastly, remember food sources are only one part of the habitat; think bedding areas, summer thermal areas, winter thermal areas, water holes and much much more.
I want to thank Jim Holbert for giving me the opportunity to take my game to the next level and I hope the rest of you take this as your opportunity! Happy hunting!