Brad, Hunter, Nathan, and I scouted some areas for new Hidey Hole food plots today. Hidey Hole plots are small plots that are usually less than an 1/8th of an acre in size. I usually create them by using hand tools – no tractors or mechanical equipment. The ideal location for a Hidey Hole plot is an area where:
- Deer frequent
- Hunters can access without being detected by deer
- Wind direction usually remains constant (like a ridge top)
- It helps if no large trees need to be removed
We like to locate these areas this time of year to limit disturbance to the deer herd closer to season. In addition, we begin killing brush, etc., now with a herbicide so when we remove saplings they don’t sprout back. We kill any grass or broadleaf weeds with a herbicide so they will dry up before planting season.
Just before planting the forage crop, I add ample fertilizer to help the forage crop grow rapidly and taste palatable to deer. For example, one 50 pound bag of 19 19 19 fertilizer applied to 1/8th acre is equivalent to applying 76 pounds of N, P, and K (400 pounds of 19 19 19) per acre. That’s usually enough to get a forage crop like wheat up and tasty for a month or two of great forage production. I plant the crop roughly three weeks before I anticipate hunting or the first frost. I also hang my Muddy stands and secure my Muddy SafeLine well before hunting season.
I try to avoid the area from when I plant until I hunt to allow deer to become conditioned to feeding in the area without being alert to two-legged predators. This is a critical step in creating a successful Hidey Hole food plot. In addition, I only hunt this location when the wind direction is appropriate. I don’t waste the effort spent creating the hotspot by allowing the local deer to associate the spot with human (predator) activity.
This is a great technique to see and harvest mature bucks that can be used on properties from ten to 1,000 acres. Hidey Hole food plots are not designed to increase the quantity of nutritious forage in an area, but to allow hunters to observe and harvest mature bucks at close range by providing high quality forage with minimal equipment and expense. Hidey Holes are a great tool to harvest mature bucks.
Growing Deer together,
In a blog entry earlier this week, Using Maps To Plan Where to Hunt this Fall, I shared a source of data from the NOAA in the form of a map that predicted precipitation or the lack of for the next few weeks in the Lower 48. Precipitation levels can be correlated with forage production and quality. Too much or too little precipitation can limit plants ability to transfer nutrients from the soil to deer.
Deer require high quality nutrition on a year round basis to express their full antler growth or fawn production potential. I doubt many free-ranging, wild deer express their full potential. The stress of avoiding predators, lack of quality forage, parasites, diseases, injuries, etc., all reduce a deer’s ability to express their full potential. Of these, it’s easiest for hunters to predict the quality of forage available when planning where to hunt during the upcoming season.
This time of year many whitetail and elk hunters are applying for tags in states where they are not residents. If antler potential is a factor of where you are deciding to hunt, I encourage you to study the following map based on NOAA data.
Precipitation amounts during spring green-up are critical to the antler development that year. Many forage plants (native and cultivated) are highest in digestible nutrients during the spring. If too much or not enough precipitation occurs during this time of year, the quality of forage and therefore quality of antlers can be reduced.
This is critical data to consider if you are planning an out of state hunt with the goal of harvesting a buck that has expressed a high percentage of his antler growth potential.
Based on the following map, most of west Texas, Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas received way less than normal precipitation during the critical spring green-up period this year. Most of the Ohio River Valley and southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas received way more precipitation than normal during this same period of time. I suspect antler development will be less than average in both of these areas.
Much of the Midwestern corn belt received about the normal amount of precipitation during the same period of time. If this pattern continues throughout the summer, antler development should progress well in these areas.
Most of us have limited time and funds for hunting. By using the data from the map in this and the previous blog, those limited hunting days can be spent in areas where antler development may be the best this fall. Maps are one of the most useful scouting tools!
Growing Deer together,
There has been much written about using maps to locate stand locations. I use topo maps, aerial images, etc., to learn the lay of the land, especially when hunting a new area. However, I study the NOAA Drought Indicator maps to plan which state or region to go hunting and to assist me with planning food plot strategies for both fall and spring.
NOAA’s drought indicator maps are available online and for free. They are maps that predict the amount of precipitation or lack thereof for the lower 48 states. It’s obvious why predictions of precipitation amounts are important for planting crops. It may not be obvious why I use them to plan where to hunt.
I’m not using them to plan where to hunt based on the chance of getting rained out! Those predictions are rarely accurate. Meteorologists rarely can predict precipitation three days out let alone three months out with accuracy. However, they are much better at studying ocean temperatures, currents, etc., and predicting general amounts of precipitation a region will receive. Precipitation is a key determinant of antler production.
You may recall that I frequently state in blogs and in episodes that plants are simply nutrient transfer agents. They can’t transfer nutrients to deer if the nutrients aren’t in the soil. If not enough precipitation occurs, the plants can’t use the available nutrients. Most folks associate drought conditions with poor forage quality. In fact, in south Texas there is great research that shows a very strong correlation between rain during the early spring and the average size of antlers per age class that year.
What hunters may not consider is that too much rain can be just as detrimental to antler growth as drought conditions. This is because too much rain can leach the nutrients in the soil deeper than the forage roots’ reach. When too much rain occurs in production ag fields, the farmers usually have to reapply fertilizer to make a productive crop. Still, the crop usually isn’t as productive (bushels per acre) or nutritious as the plants were not adequately fed during the period of above normal precipitation.
This year there are several areas that have received substantially more or less precipitation than normal. In both cases, there’s a good chance the native and cultivated forage there won’t be as nutritious as normal and as a result antler development will likely be less than average.
On the NOAA Drought prediction maps, I like to hunt areas that are white or light green (slightly above average precipitation) during the early spring through summer so antler production will likely be normal or above average for the area. The Proving Grounds has received a bit much rain so far this year, and that trend will likely continue based on NOAA’s predictions. Antler development may be hindered if predictions are accurate and especially if conditions are worse than predicted.
Based on this, how’s antler development looking for your area?
Growing Deer together,
I often hear folks say “The deer have good genetics there!” They almost always say that because the deer “there” have bigger antlers, heavier body weights, etc. However, almost always the “there” is where crops such as corn or soybeans are produced. To know genetics requires knowledge of the pedigree (who bred who for several generations). That information is almost never available for critters from a free-ranging herd.
However, data that is easily obtainable is what deer and turkey are consuming. This is accomplished by simply checking the stomach or crop content of recently killed critters. Turkeys at The Proving Grounds have had body weights above average for the local area for several seasons. These elevated body weights were noticed after I began planting Eagle Seed forage soybeans and corn in the food plots. This spring, I’ve examined the crop content of every turkey we’ve harvested (five) to date. Each one included the seeds from the Eagle Seed forage beans. In fact, four of the five harvested only had soybean seed in their crops.
I remember an esteemed scientist stating at a conference many years ago “the best way to improve genetics is nutrition, nutrition, nutrition.” I would redefine that a bit and say there is no way to improve genetics of free-ranging wildlife. However, by significantly increasing the amount of high quality forage and grain available for consumption you can improve the body and antler size and the number of fawns recruited for free-ranging wildlife.
The Proving Grounds is in an area dominated by high-graded timber and fescue pasture. There are no production corn or soybean crops nearby. However, the wildlife we produce and harvest have similar body weights and antler size as critters in ag production areas. We’ve taken no steps to alter the genetics of our herds and flocks. We have grown quality grain and forage for their consumption. My neighbors probably think “the deer at The Proving Grounds have good genetics.” The local deer herd shares the same genetics. However, the deer at The Proving Grounds can express their genetic potential because of the quality forage and grain crops. Brad and I just returned from working on our no-till drill. To some, we were working on improving the genetics of the local deer and turkey populations.
Growing Deer together,
Unless you manage land in an area where the primary land use is commercial ag production, it requires good food plots to produce forage and grain on a year round basis. The corn and soybean rotation in areas where the primary land use is commercial ag production provides a great diet for deer, turkey, and many other wild species. Even though these crops are harvested, the combines spill a bit of grain that provides high quality food through the winter.
However, as combines become more efficient, there is less and less spilled grain available for wildlife. This is why it’s important to plant specifically for wildlife in both areas with and without commercial ag production.
There have been four turkeys harvested so far during 2011 at The Proving Grounds. I checked the crop in three of these turkeys and each of them contained soybean grain! The last was yesterday when my 80 year old father harvested an adult gobbler. It was a thrilling hunt and the real trophy was the time spent with my father. The gobbler and video was a bonus. However, I always want to learn from the harvested critter as much as practical. I call this scouting from the skinning shed!
This goes beyond recording weight, spur length, and beard length. One of the most important sources of information from all harvested critters is what’s in their gut (or crop when talking about turkeys). Even though it’s late April and we’ll begin planting Eagle Seed soybeans soon, this turkey had soybeans in its crop. My father harvested this gobbler just after noon, so the crop wasn’t full (he had probably been chasing hens all morning) but it still contained soybeans.
Truly the Eagle Seed beans planted during April and May 2010 are still feeding wildlife at The Proving Grounds a year later. That’s an extreme value! Scouting from the skinning shed also provides me with more confidence on where I should take Tracy, my wife, hunting later this week.
The next time you harvest a critter don’t pass on the opportunity to learn about the local habitat and current hunting information. Sometimes the best scouting occurs without leaving the skinning shed.
Growing Deer together,
I was part of a panel at a national convention years ago when a member of the audience asked each member of the panel what they thought was the “magic bean” for food plots. Each member of the panel except me offered a suggestion like clover, brassicas, peas, etc. I refused to answer. I agreed with my colleagues that each of the crops they mentioned had good characteristics, but each also had obvious limitations.
In the decade or so that has passed since that conference I’ve designed, established, maintained and/or evaluated literally 1,000’s of acres of food plots planted in dozens of different crops. Some of those crops proved to be totally unused by deer or the preferred species of game (hence a weed for the food plot mission) or their ability to produce substantial high quality forage was limited, or limited to a very small geographic area.
During that time I was introduced to forage soybeans. The first plot of forage soybeans I planted was in Mississippi. I remember being amazed at the tonnage of forage. During late August the forage was mowed and I advised the landowner to plant a common winter crop such as wheat. During the next few years I planted or advised more folks to plant forage soybeans as the yield of high quality forage was better than any other crop during the growing season. Years later, I noted that the Eagle Seed forage soybeans were producing a tremendous amount of pods!
A good stand of winter wheat will yield 1,200 to 1,600 pounds of forage per acre. One very poor crop of Eagle Seed forage soybeans (30 bushels per acre) yields 1,800 pounds of high quality grain (soybeans) per acre. I realized that when I mowed the Eagle Seed soybean forage during the early fall, I was mowing down more high quality winter food than what the next crop would likely produce! The beans were already available while I or my clients had to pay for the labor, seed, and fertilizer to gamble to produce another crop.
I’ve now practiced for years a strategy of establishing a high quality crop of forage soybeans and allowing deer and turkey to forage on the vegetation throughout the growing season. Then I leave the crop standing and allow the same critters to consume the seed pods throughout the winter. The crop literally can provide high quality food until it is time to prepare for planting another crop the following spring.
Forage soybeans can produce high quality food for 11 months, from one planting and one expense. I was reminded of the huge advantages of forage soybeans while I was cleaning a gobbler my oldest daughter, Raleigh (age 12), harvested this past weekend. After removing the gobbler’s breast, I opened the crop to see what he had been eating. We call this scouting from the skinning shed. By seeing what critters are currently eating, a hunter can accurately predict where other members of the same species will be consuming the next few days. Raleigh’s turkey was full of soybean seeds! Using this M.R.I. (Most Recent Information), I took my youngest daughter, Rae (age 9) hunting that afternoon. We selected a location overlooking a forage soybean field that had been planted the previous spring. She harvested a mature gobbler there that afternoon.
By using the technique of scouting from the skinning shed, I was able to confirm that Eagle Seed forage soybeans provide high quality food (forage with high quality protein during the summer and seeds with high quality energy during the winter) at least 11 months throughout the year.
If I was asked the same question at a conference again today, I would have a much better idea of what the “magic bean” is for wildlife food plots. It is a forage soybean that also produces gads of grain.
Growing Deer together,
I worked a few properties in South Carolina earlier this week. They were located in the Piedmont of South Carolina where the pine tree is the predominate crop and land cover! These properties were primarily pine forest, with a few acres of food plots. The landowner and his regular guests reported observing deer in the plots on a regular basis. They really enjoyed seeing deer, and really enjoyed consuming the meat and sharing the hunting opportunities with their children and friends.
Working this property reminded me that hungry deer are easy to hunt. This is not a new principle. A very successful hunting strategy is to determine a limiting resource (food, cover, or water) and when deer are using that limiting resource. In this case, food was clearly the limiting resource. There were miles and miles of closed canopy pines (both private and industrial owned) and a few interspersed fescue pastures. There were no row crops or other cultivated crops within the likely range of a deer. Hence the primary source of quality and palatable food were the plots on my client’s property. Hence my client knows exactly where to hunt. From experience, he had learned how to approach each plot based on the predicted wind direction to limit disturbance to the local deer herd. As a result he reported seeing multiple deer almost every time he went hunting.
Because he had identified the limited resource and how to hunt it without disturbing deer, he and his guests have been extremely successful at observing and harvesting deer. I warned him that after he implements the habitat improvements I recommended, the quality of the deer should increase, but the quality of his hunting, measured by number of deer observed, may decrease.
I created a plan to thin the timber significantly so there would be sunshine reaching the forest floor. This action paired with a treatment of herbicide and prescribed fire to control hardwood saplings should result in a huge increase in the quality and quantity of native browse production. This means there will be quality food throughout the property, not just in the food plots. In addition, my plan included significantly increasing the acres of food plots and changing what he planted from solely winter annuals to forage soybeans during the summer and winter annuals during the fall (if the deer consumed the beans before they produced pods). It may take a season or two to get the deer density/forage production ratio balanced.
I’m extremely confident if he implements my habitat recommendations, the herd’s quality will increase. However, I’m not sure his observation rate will increase. We will use a trail camera survey to monitor the herd’s population trends. However, monitoring the satisfaction of the client will be through direct observation and conversation. I was confident in my proposal based on detailed and repeated conversations about his deer management and hunting goals and objectives. It is critical to listen to their objectives. Listening often allows me to give the best counsel.
Growing Deer together,
How come I see so many bucks in late summer and as soon as bow season starts I don’t see any of those bucks? Dusty
How come I see so many bucks in late summer and as soon as bow season starts I don’t see any of those bucks?
There are bucks at my place that do that also. One buck in particular at The Proving Grounds hits the road just after velvet shedding each fall. Again this fall, for the 3rd year in a row, one of our oldest bucks disappeared after feeding on my soybeans all summer long. As in past years, he will probably become a resident again in the spring and summer. This can be a challenging situation.
GPS collared bucks tell us that bucks often have a slight shift or even an entire shift between their summer and winter ranges. We’re not sure why it happens but every buck has its own personality and movement patterns.
Growing Deer together,
Last Saturday morning was very cold and windy at The Proving Grounds. It had been unseasonably cold for days so I assumed the deer would be feeding late into the morning. I had selected a stand about 100 yards from a bedding area in hopes of observing deer returning to cover. I was able to approach the stand with the strong wind in my face and the set-up seemed ideal. The wind was shaking the tree, even though my stand was located in a bottom. I rarely hunt the bottoms at The Proving Grounds unless the wind is howling as other conditions tend to allow the wind to swirl. Swirling wind was a non issue last Saturday. Keeping my balance while riding (versus standing in) the stand was an issue.
During the late morning I spotted a coyote moving about 50 yards away. Recent research is clear that coyotes consume lots of fawns. Many times folks state that only a few coyotes actually kill deer. However, research from South Carolina clearly showed that a vast majority of fawns that were killed by coyotes were killed by different individuals (the wonders of genetics in research). Therefore, I consider each coyote a potential fawn and turkey killer. Coyotes also harass and kill adult deer. I wonder how many hunts I’ve had where deer I had patterned changed their travel to avoid coyotes.
For those and other considerations, I instantly began squeaking (sucking air through tight lips) when I saw the coyote. The cameraman began filming and I readied the Z7. It was only seconds between when I first saw the coyote and when my arrow hit the mark. The first step of making a nice coyote pelt had been completed. I never worry about spooking deer during a hunt when shooting a coyote. Rather I consider the fawns, poults, and adult deer I’m a bit more likely to encounter during the future because I opted to take the shot. What will you do the next time you see a coyote while deer hunting?
Growing Deer together,
This morning was the coldest morning of the 2010-11 season to date. There is a bit of ice in the trees, and the wind chill is in the teens. These are great conditions to hunt food sources or travel routes to food sources! There was a large acorn crop this year at The Proving Grounds, so most of the treestands I hunted during the pre-rut and rut were in the woods and not overlooking or near food plots.
That means that deer at The Proving Grounds don’t currently associate the food plots with danger! This combined with the cold temperatures expected during the next week should produce some great hunting opportunities!!
Deer must consume a huge amount of calories to stay warm when the temperatures are at or below normal during the winter in the middle to higher latitudes (this is one advantage of hunting the Midwest or North compared to the South). Deer, including mature bucks, will readily feed during the daylight in quality food plots that they don’t associate with danger.
This is one reason why it is critical to limit disturbance not only at, but around food sources. Deer can easily be conditioned to feed at night if they feel threatened in such areas during the day. To reduce the chances of conditioning deer to avoid food plots during prime hunting hours I only check trail cameras, etc., during the middle of the day and when the temperatures are warmer than normal during the winter. I also am extremely conscious of wind direction and the scent cone I produce when approaching the food plot and my stand location.
In the mornings, I tend to hunt travel corridors that I suspect mature bucks will use while returning from a food source to a bedding area. This is because it is very difficult to approach fields in the morning and not spook deer since they are likely to be in or bedding very near the food source throughout the night. An exception to this seems to be on mornings when it is 10 degrees or more colder than normal. Deer tend to bed in areas of maximum thermal protection during such nights. Since they haven’t fed and used a lot of fuel to keep their furnace going all night, they will be very hungry once the temperatures increase a bit. These conditions offer an opportunity to approach a food source early in the morning without being detected for some great mid morning hunting!
The afternoons offer a great opportunity to hunt at or along travels routes to food sources. Deer will typically be bedded during the early afternoon and allow stealthy hunters a great opportunity to sneak to their stand locations.
The best tool to hunting mature bucks during cold weather is knowing where the preferred food sources are that deer don’t associate with danger and only hunt them when they can be approached without alerting deer to your presence. Cold weather, especially extended periods of cold weather, can provide fabulous opportunities to hunt mature bucks!
Growing Deer together,