Deer season is nearing a close and I’ve only let one arrow fly all season.
And, it was to kill a coyote that came by my stand on an early season hunt. Mission accomplished there, but the deer are what really get my heart pumping.
Since I bow hunt all season long, by this time of year, I usually have tagged a whitetail and filled the freezer. But, this season has been different than most. I’ve had quite a few career-related changes that have limited the amount of times I’ve been able to get in the woods.
So, how do I feel about this?
Well, honestly, by this time of the season, I begin to get a little bit of an itchy release finger, especially if I haven’t taken a deer yet. So, during a season like this one, I really began thinking about what defines a successful hunting season.
Maturity In Hunting
It’s a thrill to get to take a mature buck and maybe even take home a set of monster antlers. But, it’s also something that doesn’t come easily, especially when hunting at close range.
I’ve learned over the years that if you want to be in the action when the rut comes, it’s often wise to have been hunting the does all season long. Where do they feed? Where are they bedding? And, where are their travel corridors in between?
Knowing the answers to these questions requires not only logging some time in the stand, but also being patient enough not to start slinging arrows at every deer you see. Bottom line… maturity is required in hunting as well as in life.
Even with the challenges this year that have limited my time in the woods, I have been able to hunt a handful of times. And, I’ve gotten to observe quite a few deer and had the opportunity to shoot many of them. But, I didn’t draw.
As I’ve gotten older, I also see the value in learning all that I can about my craft. Much of that learning comes from hunting with friends and other seasoned hunters.
Everyone has their own strategies and methods for taking whitetail and other wild game. Many hunters might try to prove that their methodology is superior. I simply enjoy the fellowship and sharing of information.
I set out to know more every hunting season than I did the year before. This is possible whether I shoot a deer or not. There is always something to observe and learn. And that’s one of the things I love about this way of life.
Life tends to move at a breakneck speed. Technology is not only allowing the flow of information move more quickly, it’s allowing us to get more done in a shorter period of time… which means we pile more and more things on our plates. Which means we move along even faster. I think you see the pattern here.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look to the skyline from my tree stand and realize that it’s been months since I’ve even looked up and around me to observe the beauty and wonder of God’s creation.
Life gets crazy and I get wrapped up in finishing the next ‘to-do” on my list. It’s during moments in the stand, that I often realize that I have focused much of my time on trivial things. Hunting gives me the chance to hopefully get away from all of these distractions for a short time.
Sure, I may have my phone with me to capture the occasional wildlife video, but it sure is nice to not be tied to the computer that I’m currently typing this article on!
I’m thankful for moments in the woods where I can enjoy the incredible attributes of nature that God gave us to show us that there is a magnificent Creator.
I hope you are getting a chance to read this in a quiet place. But, chances are, you are cramming this information in as you do other things at the same time. It’s amazing how many distractions technology creates. Getting into that perfect tree stand location not only gives me the opportunity to test my hunting skills, but it also allows me to test my listening skills.
In the quiet of the woods, there are many sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, maybe there are things that God has been trying to tell me and teach me. What are the things He has been trying to teach me that I have drowned out with the noise of work, family and other duties?
Hunting gives me the chance to evaluate how well I have been listening to the One who gave His life and gives me reason to live. It gives me a chance to listen loudly in the quiet of the landscape. For that, I am truly thankful.
So, it’s not just about the kill or the size of the quarry. I don’t have to kill a world record to be happy. Hopefully, I can improve my hunting skills, but also be able to slow down and listen to the what the Lord wants of my life. Now, that is a good definition of hunting success.
I absolutely love the white-tailed deer. In fact, my 365-day-a-year obsession over whitetails is almost haunting. I am so happy and grateful to be able to do what I love and to also share my knowledge and love of big whitetail bucks with my clients.
You may be wondering how YOU can grow bigger bucks on your property or leased land. So, let’s get started...
When I meet with clients at their hunting properties (whether owned or leased land), I focus on the three basic necessities of deer: food, water and cover.
These three important components are critical for whitetails (and any other animal that calls your property home) to be able to thrive. I also focus on attracting and holding those big trophy bucks on your hunting land as long as possible during daylight hours.
To properly address these three basic necessities, there some questions that must be answered about the deer habitat on your property. So, let’s now break down the five steps to improving your property or lease for bigger whitetails.
#1: How are you entering and exiting stand locations?
Access is the first thing I always want to address when taking on a new property. How are you accessing your property and stand locations? What are the prevailing wind directions? Although not always practical, access from the outside perimeter of the property is always best.
In a perfect world, every property should be set up with outside perimeter access. However, it’s understandable that there are situations where this may not be possible. For example, you might have a property where you have a cabin smack dab in the middle. Or, there may also be other natural barriers that prevent perimeter access. These are all part of the land access component that I address with clients.
Accessing From The Middle
Although accessing stand locations from the middle of the property is always risky business, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. You must then pay very close attention to wind direction, and how you can access and exit a stand location without bumping out deer.
Screening plays a very important role in accessing a hunting property. Screening can be achieved by planting vegetation, such as Egyptian Wheat, Sorghum, Sudan grass, or Miscanthus.
I do not recommend corn for screening. I don’t want deer feeding in a corn screen leading to a stand or blind locations. Hinge cutting trees and planting rows of pine, such as Norway spruce are other forms of screening.
Going forward, I will discuss the advantages and reasons for screening in future blogs.
#2: What Food Sources For Deer Can Be Found On Your Property?
Are you implementing food plots currently? What kind of natural browse can be found on the property? If in Ag country, what are in those farm fields?
It is essential that you try your very best to provide as much food as possible, with food plots and natural browse for total year-round food sources.
Try not to give deer any reason to leave your property so that you can increase the chances of finding those shed antlers in the spring from the bucks observed during the previous season.
You should also determine if food plots are already implemented on the property. What kinds of natural browse, hard mast and soft mast exist, if any. If your property is in farm country, determine what the farmers are planting, and the number of acres planted.
Will there be food plots from scratch? By that I mean, if food plots are going to be planted within the woods, will trees be cleared? If so, be sure to find the best tree in the area and develop the plot layout around it in association to access and exit strategy. The same applies for a ground blind setup.
By creating a plot from scratch, you can control how deer move through the plot.
Deer can be forced past a stand or ground blind by creating soft edges and pinch points that block a deer’s line of sight and peak curiosity, especially during the three phases of the rut.
Whitetail Food Plots Options
In my own experience, clover and alfalfa provide for the best year-round food source. But, I only recommend clovers and alfalfa being only 10-15% of the total amount of food available. Corn and soybeans are great sources during late season and are good winter-long foods.
Brassica, turnips, tillage (dicon) radishes, sunflowers and canola are a few other popular food sources for food plots. In large plots that exceed one acre or more, I like to design the plots to have a wide diversity of food sources for season long variety.
When you have one or two varieties of food in one plot and another variety of food in another plot 100 yards or more away, you inadvertently create stress on the resident deer. So the more variety and diverse a food plot, the better. Just because seed blends are sometimes packaged individually, it doesn’t mean they can’t be blended with others.
My favorite plot food is a mixture of Antler Kings Honey Hole, Slam Dunk and Lights Out seed blends. The forage oats in Lights Out provides for fast green up and early season food, while the brassica, turnips, radishes canola and buckwheat provide great mid and late season food.
When this mixture is seeded on the perimeter of a corn and or soybean field or plot, you’ve just created a smorgasbord for a slam dunk kill plot!
#3: Is there a water source?
One of the key things to determine about your hunting land or lease is whether or not there is a water source. If so, what type? A deer’s water preference isn’t always what you might think.
Water is a very important element to any deer, and all wild life, that lives on your property. On our own “proving grounds,” water is the #1 limiting factor on our property, and the element we have 100% control over.
You can create very simple, and inexpensive, watering holes. Simply use a 50-gallon barrel cut in half and bury to the top edge of the half barrel. Be sure to keep them full of water, especially during periods of dry weather conditions. To do this, I recommend a minimum of 150 gallons per water tank.
Ideally, pond development is the best form of water you can incorporate if it doesn’t already exist. For more information on wildlife pond creation, I recommend Zach Haas of Wisconsin Lake and Pond Resources, LLC. His services include:
Consulting, planning and Design.
Permitting where applicable
Pond liner and fabric installation
Beneficial aquatic planting design and installation
What type of cover are the deer bedding in? Is there enough browse in that bedding area? Cover is very important when it comes to holding deer on your property. You want to determine where the deer are bedding, (or where you want them to bed), and in what type of cover they are bedding.
Cover varies dramatically in fall/winter bedding to summer bedding locations. During the mid-late fall and through winter, deer prefer thick stem count, yet low, open canopies to allow for maximum sunlight for thermal cover.
In the summer, deer prefer open, high canopy, maximum shade and air flow, especially bucks with velvety antlers. If in hill country, like here in West Central Wisconsin, north-facing, high-canopy benches are preferred. In the fall and winter the opposite is true.
Where applicable, hinge cutting to provide side cover and allowing sunlight to penetrate the canopy, is a great way to enhance that fall/winter thermal bedding cover.
Remember, deer prefer side cover over canopy, and the biggest misconception of hinge cutting is that deer want to lay in open exposure to sunlight, and not under a hinged tree. Actually, deer want side cover!
Hinge cutting can be used in a wide variety of applications. Look for future written blogs and video on my Facebook and YouTube pages.
#5: Can You Use Mineral Supplementation?
The first thing you need to know when it comes to mineral supplementation is whether or not it is legal to supplement in your particular area? You also need to know where your mineral stations are in accordance to food and water.
To me, the use of a deer-specific, high-quality, mineral supplementation strategy is widely overlooked by even top-industry deer nutrition experts. My background is dairy farming and livestock production. With any great nutrition program, mineral supplementation plays a key role in genetic maximization and forage utilization. I do not understand why some industry “experts” feel mineral supplementation isn’t necessary.
Even with top quality forage, that alone cannot provide adequate micro nutrients that deer need to maximize genetic potential. What holds true for maximum milk production in dairy cattle, is true when it comes to maximizing a deer’s genetic potential for antler development, fetal development, and milk production in does for fawn consumption and strong, healthy fawns. Mineral supplementation is critical to each.
Again, pay attention to state and local regulations when it comes to mineral supplementation.
These are the five areas I emphasize the most when I visit a client’s property. I also emphasize them on my own “proving grounds” in my home state of Wisconsin (the Coulee Region of West Central Wisconsin, to be exact).
As with any habitat plan or consultation I perform, I break things down into much further detail, and discuss other topics as well. I find these five points to be the most common topics when it comes to managing any ground for mature whitetails. Hopefully this information is helpful in your quest to manage and harvest bigger whitetails.
When it comes to any management plan, it doesn’t have to break the bank. And, we want to keep the plan implementation fun.
For more detailed information on the topics discussed in this blog, and other topics, find me on Facebook and YouTube at EpicWhitetailHabitat, LLC and on Instagram @EpicWhitetailHabitat, or contact me directly at:
Ryan Nordahl Epic whitetail Habitat LLC W11124 Neperud Rd Osseo, WI 54758 715-299-0134 Epicwhitetailhabitat@gmail.com
So, what does price say about quality when it comes to arrows? Is a household name brand better than a lesser known one? Does a higher price tag equate to better arrow flight and more successful archery hunts? For that matter, does the name brand matter in any outdoor activity?
Well, in an attempt to answer that question, I’ll use a few examples. First, I’ll start with fishing (yes, fishing… just wait for it.)
My Pops had an old sun-dried yellow, aluminum boat with a 25 hp Evinrude motor that we putted around in. We would spend a week up there, doing nothing but fishing and filling the stringer.
When I was 9 years old, a guy saw us back up our old Suburban and that ole yellow boat into the water. He yelled, “Damn, that is an expensive rig ya got there!” Of course, he was being extremely rude with his comment, laughing as he backed his expensive speed boat into the water.
My dad just said, “some people…”
We fished for about four hours or so that day and filled up the stringer with 22″ rainbows and life was good.
When we went back to load the boat, my dad yelled across the water to the guy with the expensive boat, “You catch any?”
The man answered, “No, the bite has been slow.” My father replied, “I hope that boat was worth it” and then pulled out our stringer. The look on that man’s face was priceless!
We laughed and went to camp and enjoyed the rest of the evening cooking up the fish we caught (in our “expensive rig”) on the camp fire.
Your Ford Could Be A Chevy
Perhaps you’ve seen the test drive commercials where a truck’s identity is kept secret from the driver. The test driver takes it for a spin and says “it has to be a Ford.” But, then to the driver’s surprise… it’s a Chevy!
It’s the same with many of the products in the outdoors industry. There are many awesome products out there. Some are affordable and some not so much. And, of course, the more expensive item is always better quality. Or is it?
Higher Price = Better Quality… Sometimes
Many believe that better quality and performance live where the higher price tag is. In the gun industry, this argument holds up to some degree. But, at the end of the day, all guns travel the same whether you buy a $250 12-gauge pump shotgun by Browning, or a $900 12 gauge shotgun from Winchester. Both have the same pump action, same gauge, and same function. Both will serve the same purpose of taking wild game.
One Saturday morning in November, I went out waterfowl hunting on a dyke beyond the city I lived in. When I got there, only one other guy had shown up. I thought to myself, “Hey, this may be a good morning!”
As soon as it was shooting light, a group of 20 guys (probably all from the same football team) showed up and parked right next to me. Most of the crew had 12 gauge semi-automatic Beretta shotguns and were ready to take some game. At the time, I had a model 1300 Winchester 12-gauge pump.
It didn’t help matters that none of them would get in the reeds to hide (and it didn’t matter cause there was so many of them!)
For example, some bow hunters are willing to spend $185 for a set of six arrows, when there are arrows on the market for only $55 for a set of six. And, if compared to each other, just like in that Ford and Chevy test, you might not even be able to tell the difference.
Some bow hunters won’t shoot past 70 yards while practicing, while some ethical hunters will shoot further, just in case that dream buck walks out and you may not have another chance of getting any closer.