Introduction / The Group:
March 8th finally arrived, and with it a group of deer crazed, habitat manipulating individuals descended upon the property. The group consisted of quite a cross section. This included, but was not limited to, a doctor, insurance salesman, electrician, state election official, HR manager, software entrepreneur, safety manager, realtor, saw mill owner, and a few high school kids. I didn't take an actual count today and my check in process wasn't at all solid. However based on the photos taken, I'm estimating 25 individuals made it out today for the ATW Property Walk and Field Day. See slide show at the bottom and the attach hand out provided during the day.
We had a group of guys from the Green Bay area make the trip, which was the furthest distance traveled. In addition, one attendee drove up from Tennessee in the middle of the night and slept in his vehicle at our gate entrance. Others made the trip from Michigan, Illinois and all over Indiana. We have always felt what we have been doing the last few years was special, but I never thought others would drive those distances just to walk our 63 acres. I am still amazed at that fact.
Morning Walk / North Side:
After the introductions, we got down to business starting shortly after 9:10 am. We visited the East Plots and discussed the importance of screening cover to obscure vision from the doe beds just to the NW of the plot. The walk then proceeded past the watering hole and then onto the Center Rub. Jim discussed the rub in detail explaining how this tree was hit by two different dominant bucks as evident by the way the tree was rubbed.
The Center Staging area was visited and we discussed the importance of getting sunlight to these types of areas and planting Chickory to draw the bucks to the plot. Visible markers were highlighted with emphasis on man-made licking branches, scrapes, and rubs. Jim elaborated on how bucks have to have licking branches at shoulder level and the fact that once introduced and maintained, they will develop the habit of hitting these annually.
The group navigated up and down hills, over small streams, and through thick cover as we illustrated what natural buck beds look like and how to enhance these to ensure continued use. Bucks love to bed facing out over a topographical point on the military crest. Jim explained how bucks prefer two escape routes from a bed and that these routes are usually at the same level of the bed. The importance of Japanese Honeysuckle, although invasive, is a preferred forage and shelter for deer. Jim discussed how to prune the honeysuckle and hinge cut trees containing honeysuckle to build the canopy that bucks desire.
From this point in the walk, we visited the North Trap created from '11. Stand location, hunter access trails, and stimulating the natural forage to attract deer was highlighted. After this, the group got to see the first man made buck beds during the walk. Jim expressed how to set up the beds, using a log for the bucks to lay against. He reinforced having two escape routes and how bed maintenance is critical. Using a larger tree vs. saplings or smaller trees keeps beds in place longer and reduces the amount of maintenance required. He also discussed that any sticks or debris must be cleaned from the beds.
Next we visited the mother of all rubs on our property. The cedar tree rub. This rub clearly got the attention of the group and highlighted that we were attracting mature bucks (included in the photos below). I explained how this rub was discovered shortly after buying the property, then went dormant. The '13 season the rub was freshened up, and most likely by multiple bucks. This tree is awesome in that it can be shared by many bucks and doesn't show sign of going away or dying soon.
The north rub line was walked back towards the Main Plot. Jim discussed the differences in rub height and how that is a buck signature. I also highlighted how Basswood trees are a local favorite on my property. This is primarily due to the softness of the wood and aromatics when rubbed. We have many clusters of Basswood trees and I've decided to cut some out to enable bucks easier access and hopefully stimulate use and more defined rub lines.
Upon entering the Main Plot, the group was able to see the work completed to cut some of the edge brush and briars down to ground level. The growth had reached a point making it difficult for deer to reach. Cutting this down will provide much forage needed in early Spring to recover from the harsh winter. The group then broke for a quick lunch and demonstration by my Dad flying the DJI drone, as previously highlighted on the blog.
Afternoon Walk / South Side:
As we began the afternoon portion of the walk, Jim noted fresh deer tracks through the ruts in the mud created by the vehicles coming in. At some point, the deer had circled around us and ran right past the tent, camp fire, and apparently my father taking a nap. Literally within 15 yards of the fire. As we headed west along the south edge of the property, we saw the group of deer running north back onto the property. Some would say we are pressuring the deer to the point they might permanently leave the property. We believe the cover we have provided is what keeps the deer here. They were simply circling us throughout the day as evident by the tracks and the only sighting of the day, which is what we wanted. It is never positive to get too close to deer and jump them.
The group got to see the latest work on a new staging area in the SW corner of the property. This by far the hardest area cut since we began working with Jim in '11. The hinge cutting work cut off at least three heavily traveled deer trails and focused deer travel through the staging area. Questions were fielded and Jim explained how the area could very well be the hottest hunting spot on the property. Jim showed how the connecting trail from the beds led to the staging area. This area provides several man-made licking branches and will be planted in Chickory after fertilizer and lime applications. This area is already being visited, with visible tracks in the mud. The leaves were also blown off of the ground to facilitate better seed to soil contact when planted.
The SW buck beds were visited and Jim showed the group the large Hickory tree dropped in the summer of '13 and numerous beds created. Deer manure was everywhere in this area and evidence of foraging was present. Jim discussed the method of tucking saplings to create canopy and provide forage at appropriate elevations. He also showed a natural buck sneak trail just about 15 yards off of the small 1/4 acre field. These trails are only a couple of feet wide and provide bucks a means of checking the fields without venturing out into the open.
We finished the walk on schedule just before 2:00 pm, looking at two more serious rubs along the most pronounced rub line on the property. Then we answered several questions from the group and discussed some of our future plans to continue improvements.
Thanks To Everyone:
I want to thank everyone who helped put on this soiree and those making the trip to attend. My wife and kids were a huge help and as always, I heard no complaints. My dad provided the gas grill, tent, tables, and chairs for this event. He even sacrificed a few chairs that fell off of the trailer during transport. As Grandpa used to say...."helter skelter"! Dad also flew the DJI drone during lunch to entertain the group. I think he had more fun than I did.
Thanks to Jim Ward and his sister Jane who helped set up yesterday. Jane works harder than most men in the woods. In addition, Jim showcased his knowledge of Whitetails for the group and made others understand why I began using his services back in '11. Cindy Rothrock also brought some free give away items for the attendees. She and Tom are always supportive of any activities we have, whether it is this type of event, 4-H, or my company sponsored bow shoot.
The weather was a non factor today. Feedback from everyone was positive. In addition, I believe all had a good time and new friendships were definitely made. Several requested that we hold this again next year so they could see the physical changes in the habitat. If we did, I would hold it about the same time of year before the spring green up. I believe this allowed the group to see more of the visible deer sign. About next year.....we will see.....no promises.
Andy Hayes is a devoted husband and father of 4 kids living in West Central Indiana. Outside of his family, his passion is hunting whitetails. He does not claim to be a professional hunter, but simply wants to share what he learns during his quest to improve whitetail habitat and hunt mature bucks.