Last year, we discussed the need to created as much "depth of cover" as possible.  This concept is rather simple as described by Jeff Sturgis.  Simply ensure continuous cover from your main food source to as far as possible in a direction.  The direction should include enough cover to stack doe families near the food plot, but also allow bucks room to bed further back.  The deeper the depth of cover, the better odds of holding a mature buck on your property.  And also the better the odds of getting a shot at the buck as he leaves the bedding area and makes the journey to the plot using a connecting trail.

On our property, it was clear that we needed to extend our depth of cover in a SW direction to the corner of the 63 acres.  The only problem was the small food plot I had cleared back in '07 with a bull dozer.  Upon discussing with Jim Ward, we decided the best option would be to plant native warm season grasses in this small 1/4 acre plot.  Although that isn't much to speak of when compared to other properties that plant acre upon acre of warm season grasses, we decided this would be another piece of the puzzle.  As a result, I purchased the seed last year and planted as directed.  I used a blend of Cave-N-Rock and Big Blue Stem grasses.

Of course the first year didn't result in any growth, as it takes two seasons for native grasses to mature.  So that brings us to today.  I think these grasses are doing well as illustrated in the photos below.  I'll admit that I am not an expert by any stretch regarding warm season grasses.  As a result, these could be nothing but weeds and I wouldn't realize it at this point.  I do see some foxtail weeds among the growth, but the grasses planted appear to be doing well.  I took one picture of what I think is one of the plants fully headed out.  I'll look online when I get time to confirm, but I think this is what we were shooting for when planting last year.  Either way, I think this is going to be some thick stuff that will serve as cover for deer, and is especially good fawning cover right now.

If it turns out as planned, we will have successfully extended the depth of cover.  The trails completed by Jim Ward this late winter and early spring are exactly the ticket to connecting the SW staging area to the main clover plot.  Structure.....that is what we now have.  We have the staging area that is designed to pull deer off of the neighboring property that includes a bottom area and a small creek.  The neighboring property is a natural travel corridor from South to North.  The new staging area has connecting trails that lead to the native grasses and network of beds.  Then more connecting trails leading to the Main Clover Plot in the center of the property.

As I type this, I am becoming excited to think about what all of the improvements worked on this year will yield.  The work never ends, but it definitely seems to continue to get better and better.  Hopefully my luck will continue and I will get my forth mature buck in four straight years.

Thanks to my son, Luke, today for helping me walk the property.  We tied down some licking branches in the SW staging area, pulled camera cards, and even found time to shoot our bows after hanging a new bag target at the property.  Luke will by 9 in one month and seems to continue to grow in so many ways.  I think he is learning to love the property and is hanging more and more with me each day out there.  I love to just walk with him and listen to him talk as he observes nature and asks questions.  Precious times......I don't take these for granted!
The last couple of days have been extremely interesting and busy at the property.  Instead of writing a few different stories, I thought I'd string them all together as quickly as possible.  Hopefully this doesn't drag on too long for you.  I think you will like it.

Friday evening after work, I decided that it was time to mow the clover, alfalfa, and chickory plots.  The East Plots looked great.  We are starting to get some grasses and weeds growing again in spots so it might be time to spray in a couple of weeks.  I took some photos of the growth and also the trail camera captured the progress as I was mowing.  As you can see with the photos below, we have had great growth and the tonnage provided to the herd is evident.  

The utilization cage is clearly showing how much the deer are using the plots.  The trail camera card pulled today confirmed that we have deer in this field constantly.  I was amazed to see one particular plant at 32" tall within the cage.  When we have a normal height of about 18", it is plain to see that the deer are the main reason it is a consistent height across the field.  Unfortunately, I broke the wheel bracket on the back of the brush hog / mower.  I have a new one on order, but had to finish mowing at a taller height than I would have liked in the Main Plot Sections.

The Main Plots were full of rag weed.  I was surprised to see that much and the height of the rag weed.  This told me that I can't have 2-3 weeks between visits to the plots.  I have been busy and took some time off for a vacation.  Hopefully the mowing will help control the weeds and give the clover and chickory some opportunity to grow.  I guess I should have planted in the fall with winter wheat versus frost seeding.  I was mistaken to think I could plant and have all of the plots in good standing.  This shouldn't have been news to me.

Saturday included the goal of getting a new stand set in place.  My three youngest kids (Emily, Kara, and Luke) accompanied me to the property so we could work on the set for the SW Staging Area.  The chickory stand in that area cleared by only a leaf blower and some basic fertilizer has exceeded my expectations.  The deer are in this constantly just like the clover and alfalfa plots.

When I finally got the stand in the tree, I began to clear shooting lanes.  The kids were standing about 10 yards from the base of the tree.  All of the sudden, we heard something running and before we knew it a fawn came screaming right past the base of the tree and within 10' of the kids.  We were definitely being noisy so I'm not sure if this fawn was just feeling his or her oats or if it was being chased by a predator that gave up the chase before running past us.  Either way, I have never seen anything like this and laughed as one of my kids screamed out loud when the fawn streaked by in a flat out run.  After pulling the camera card, I believe this is a single fawn that visits the staging area off and on throughout each day.  You can bet the mother was close by and she simply avoided us because of the noise.  See the photo below.

Upon finishing the stand, we started working on the ground to clear the shooting lanes trying to find a balance between the lanes and preventing being sky-lined.  I noticed Basswood trees everywhere in this area, with some even rubbed in past years.  I was standing there with the Hooyman Saw in my hand and wondered if I could create a mock rub with this saw.  This may not be a new idea out there, but it was for me.  I was shocked as this wasn't difficult to do using the saw.  As shown in the video, simply grab the handle and the end of the saw blade and rake it up and down using the teeth of the blade.  I was thrilled how real this mock rub turned out.  Obviously this isn't the time of year for rubs, but I can see making these in September and October.  I am also planning on trying some of the Smokey's Preorbital Gland lure on the rubs to make it even more real to the bucks in the woods.  I'm going to create these completely around the stand where it will visually attract bucks passing through.  Given the topography, new staging area created, forage available, and the screening cover, I feel this area is going to be extremely hot this fall.

The countdown is on....only three months until opening day.  See the Indiana Deer Season countdown clock at the bottom of this page and the others for the website.  Also, we have started a Twitter account.  Please follow us on Twitter by clicking on the button at the top right corner of the site.
Some of you may have noticed the number of blogs has greatly diminished.  Well, I thought it might be time to let everyone in on the primary reason for the decrease.  I've had some health issues and have had to make some serious adjustments to my daily life.

Back in '10, I developed problem with heart not beating in the property rhythm.  I'm sure many of you have seen some commercials lately for drugs treating a condition known as AFIB, or Atrial Fibrillation.  That event in '10 resulted in a few days in the hospital and the stopping of my heart for a brief six seconds.  At the time, the cardiologist simply told me that my problems were not with plumbing, but electrical.  He went on to say that AFIB happens and that stress and caffeine are primary drivers.  As a result, I quit drinking soft drinks and worked on controlling stress.  In regards to heeding his advice, I didn't shine in the area of stress management.  No medication was prescribed and after a short stent, life seemed to be back to normal.

In '12, I developed another arrhythmia known as Ventricular Tachycardia.  This time I couldn't escape the medication and take a 25 mg pill each night before bed.  Again, things seemed to be back to normal.  Then in February of this year, another bought with AFIB.  This time, I spent 4 days in the hospital and frankly it scared the piss out of me.  Here I was, a 43 year old man having heart problems, weighing 198 lbs. with cholesterol levels not in the dangerous range, but borderline.

This time the cardiologist added another pill taken twice a day.  There is no generic form of this medication and the cost is like having another car payment.  My frustration was reaching an all time high and the only advice from the cardiologist was to make some major changes in my health and fitness.

I've always found it difficult to find time to exercise, but clearly this was no longer an option.  I couldn't afford it health wise or financially.  For those of you who don't know, a 4 day stent in the hospital costs slightly over $10,000.  After the health insurance through my job covered this, my bill was still over $4,000.

As a result, I joined the hospital fitness center ($30 / month).  Where better to work out than at the place that could take care of me if I collapsed on the treadmill?  I started in early March and have been working out at least 45 minutes 2-3 times a week.  I also won a "Fitbit" device that is the recent electronic craze for tracking your health and fitness.  I have to say I am impressed with this device that straps to your wrist and tracks every step, calorie burn, sleep, water intake, food intake, miles, and very active minutes.  It only costs around $100 and is well worth it.

Every year, my employer holds a health fair and a group comes in to evaluate our cholesterol and other blood related metrics (e.g., Triglycerides).  A week ago today, we had the '14 health fair and I had my blood drawn to determine the level of improvement over the last year.  I was shocked!  My numbers improved to a level I would have never dreamed.  My initial thought was that this must be from the medication.  Then I inquired and was informed by the health care professional at the fair that the medications I was taking were simply focused on controlling the arrhythmia's, not the other metrics.  As a result, the physical exercise was obviously the driving factor in the improved numbers detailed below.

My improvements were as follows:
  • Total Cholesterol:  195 down to 159 mg/dl
  • HDL Cholesterol (good cholesterol):  29 down to 28 (the only disappointing result)
  • LDL Cholesterol (bad cholesterol):  149 down to 117 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides:  87 down to 67
  • Systolic Blood Pressure:  122 down to 108 (this can be affected by meds)
  • Diastolic Blood Pressure:  82 down to 62
  • Body Mass Index:  27.5 down to 26.6 (needs to move down more)
  • Body Weight:  197 down to 191

Wow, and after only 3 full months.  What would the results be after a full 12 months?  I hope to share a follow-up blog that details even more improvement.  For the HDL Cholesterol, I've started taking 1200 mg of Fish Oil each morning.  I have also added walnuts to my diet and eat these sprinkler on my salad each night.

What does all of this have to do with Whitetails?  Well not much, except for the fact I now feel much healthier, have better cardio to hunt this fall, and may have extended the number of hunting seasons dramatically.  Bottom line.....I urge everyone to know thier numbers and make sure you are staying healthy and in shape to live the longest life possible.  You deserve it and so does your family and friends.  Not to mention, we need everyone who hunts living and sharing knowledge on how to manage my most precious game animal.

I will say it has been a struggle to fit this into my schedule, but I have no choice.  The alternative is much more difficult to face.  If you do not have a routine, you need to get one.  My numbers speak is working out!

Feel free to share similar stories or struggles you are having.  I hope this story helps you take a step towards a healthier life.  Also, get a fit bit and add me as a friend.  We should push each other to better fitness!

One other thing....I ran a mile in 8 min 40 seconds.  My oldest daughter bet me I could not run faster than an 8 min mile.  She has no idea who she is messing with....I will run faster.
Here it is, the last week of May and fawns should have dropped or if not, should be shortly.  I spent a day last weekend at the property to mow the food plots.  If you go outside right now, there are farmers raking hay they mowed within the last 24 hours.  In West Central Indiana, the weather has been awesome for cutting and baling hay.  The point I'm making is that farmers always target the three warm season national holidays to cut hay....Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day.  I target mowing at least a week earlier, and make my last cut in mid August to allow as much growth as possible going into the fall and winter.

As a result, I mowed the plots last week.  The East Plots are in excellent shape with the clover and alfalfa at an 18" height.  The browse pressure on these plots was greater than I ever remember in clover.  As illustrated in the photos and the video, you can see clear sign where the deer are feeding.  The tonnage these plots are providing is extensive for the small amount of tillage this involves, and I have yet to even fertilize this year due to a hectic schedule.  One failure was not placing an utilization cage prior to the green-up.  I would have loved to document the amount of growth within the cage compared to the height outside.  I have rectified this going forward and now have a cage in place.

The Main Plots are somewhat of a disappointment.  I frost seeded clover and chickory in the south section, which appears to be an epic failure.  The North section has some growth, but far less than the East Plots.  Hopefully by mowing, we release the seed that was frost seeded in March.  If not, we will consider turning and replanting the south section.  With what.....I have yet to decide.  Either way, I will plant something that will provide both fall and winter forage.

One significant sign of deer activity in the East Plots I should have documented with photos and/or video was the presence of deer beds in the tall clover and alfalfa.  There were deer beds everywhere indicating that the deer bed down while others are feeding.  Some of these could even be fawn beds.  Given I have not changed out camera cards the last three weeks, I have yet to get any fawns on video.  Hopefully we have a good group this year and the extensive habitat work / hinge cutting will yield the cover they need for protection against the predators.

I have also included in the video and photos a status update on our Dunstan Chestnut Trees.  All five planted have taken root and grown leaves.  I can even see vertical growth within the tubes.  I can't wait to see what these do as they become mature.  This is just another diverse food source that will hold deer on the property.

Stay tuned this summer.  I have a busy schedule and will do my best to continue updates on the blog as we prepare for the upcoming hunting season this fall.  
Now is a great time to look for buck beds on your property.  Whitetails are actively shedding hair and this is a clear indicator of bedding locations.  The leaves are not fully developed on the trees and the ground doesn't have a lot of green growth yet making navigating the woods easier.  In addition, sighting beds from further distances is easier.

This past weekend, Luke and I took some brush out to the property.  While there, he wanted to do a little mushroom hunting.  Conditions were extremely dry and we didn't find any at all.  We were basically three days early, given the text photos and emails received from others I know.  As normal, they shared photos, but not mushrooms.  However, I have been finding mushroom hunting more and more difficult each year.  Not because they have been scarce, but because I have a hard time not focusing on deer sign at all times when in the woods.

The other day was no different.  Deer sign was everywhere and I stumbled upon one of the largest natural buck beds I have yet to find on the property.  The photos below illustrate the buck bed, which has most of the characteristics typically found.  The bed was on somewhat flat ground, had two entry / exit points, good screening cover or canopy overhead.  In addition the bed is located right next to two main trails that are heavily traveled.

What was completely out of character for the bed found was the location in conjunction with the topography.  This bed wasn't located atop a point or on the military crest of a point.  It was just the opposite, being located at the base of a point.  This obviously has peaked my interest as to why the buck chose this particular spot.  Although there are exits and means of escape in just about every direction, it would be possible to approach this buck from the SE along the ridge.  However, this buck must consider this area secure, otherwise it would not look as worn and used as depicted in the photos.

The size of the bed indicates to me that this is a large buck, most likely older than 2 years old.  Normally the beds I have found are not as wide from side to side.  In addition, I found the depth of this bed from front to back to be abnormally large.  The leaves were smashed down significantly and there was extensive deer hair all around that had obviously been shed by the buck.  Furthermore, the buck had droppings in two spots along the east edge of the bed.  It appears that he was dropping before entering or upon exiting the bed.  The old saying of "don't crap in your own nest" was being practiced by this buck.

So, what do I do with this information?  Well, I've considered placing a camera over the bed, somewhat at a distance to prevent spooking the buck.  Hopefully this will help me understand this buck better and give me the information needed going into the fall season.  I am also hoping this is a resident buck that will be in this bed year around.

It also has occurred to me that some of the beds I have personally made may not be large enough to accommodate a larger buck.  As a result, my next steps are to build an addition onto the existing buck beds.  They must need a king size instead of a queen size bed.  If the bucks on my property like beds like the one in the pictures below, then I need to provide what they prefer.  I will try to post additional photos of the bed improvements made in the near future.

The deer sign continues to pile up on the property making me even more confident that the work we are doing is paying off.  The next seven months should prove to be extremely interesting as we track the herd's progress and hopefully another buck harvest.
Soil sampling was completed on March 16th, with six samples taken in the main plots, the SW Native Grasses Field and the North Logging Trail.  Although it has been a couple of weeks since sampling, shipment was not completed until April 1st.  The lab should be receiving the shipment tomorrow at the latest.  Hopefully we get results by the end of this week.

Once we have the soil sample results, we can determine what amendments are needed for this spring.  The normal rotation for us has been lime application one year, fertilizer the next.  For '13 we added fertilizer, so my expectations are that the analysis results will require a little bit of lime.  That is fine by me this year, since the cost of lime application is much less than fertilizer.  What is definitely more difficult with lime application is the method historically used to complete.  My plots have limited access trails and the large lime spreaders from the local ag co-ops have difficulty reaching each plot.  In addition, I only have a little over 3 acres of tillable.  This isn't much for a co-op to mess with every other year.  As a result, I have usually purchased a dump truck load, shoveled the lime into my cone spreader, and spread it with my small tractor.  This is a lot of hard work, but has been successful.

The big change this year is the path I am taking with my plots.  Past years have included several different types of forages to provide the variety that is often deemed so critical.  For example, the '13 growing season included the following forages:  brassicas, clover, chickory, buck wheat, beans and alfalfa.  We also planted native grasses in the SW field to create additional depth of cover between the south edge of the property and the Main Plots.  This year, I'm going to keep it simple.  The Arrow Seed Full Potential (Alfalfa and Clover Mix) will be back this year and we simply over seeded to make sure we have full coverage.  Instead of planting brassicas again this year, we decided to frost seed clover and chickory in the Main Plot South Section.  We used the same to over seed the Main Plot North Section and the North Logging Road.  The logic this year is to provide the three that seem to produce the best results for us....#1 Clover, #2 Chickory, and #3 Alfalfa.  I've had the most luck with these three and they seem to required the least amount of maintenance (mowing and occasional herbicide application).

Beans are not an option for me given I don't have that many acres to handle the browsing pressure.  I've learned this the hard way and unless I have an electric fence around every square foot, there will not be a single plant in the field by October.  Brassicas don't seem to be a food of choice for my heard, even though I can grow huge turnips.  Buckwheat was browsed, but not as much as hoped.  It seems the only constant with the longest growing season is the combination of clover, chickory, and alfalfa.  Thus, this is what we are going with in '14.....keeping it simple!
All of us have to follow laws and regulations that are designed for the total good.  Sometimes we disagree with these laws and the direction that our elected officials take.  Over the past several days, I've been following a thread on the QDMA Forum that details the firestorm of controversy currently happening in Minnesota.  Thread link......  This state has extremely low deer populations that are resulting in deer density levels of 2-3 per square mile!  Image trying to keep interested in hunting when you are lucky to see a single deer over a 5 day period?  Next to impossible.

This debate has stirred up a series of questions and thoughts within me.  As a result, this blog entry may be long winded, which often happens from time-to-time.  Here is your warning and opportunity to stop reading now.  After a long week at work, I'm using this blog to clear my head and think about what I am doing to benefit the greater good.

Our focus is often on the respective state DNR in which we reside or own land.  What if you asked am I managing my personal DNR?  If you think about your own property, how would you grade yourself with running your department of natural resources?  I basically have a mini-DNR that operates and controls the natural resources on my property.  It is is my trigger is my is my fertilizer is my tractor and all of the other is my own budget that determines what property improvements will be implemented in '14.

As I began to think about my property in this manner, I began to think about all of the resources I have and how I might be impacting not just my local eco-system, but my state, the country, and the world.  It is hard to think about the extent of our actions at times since we are but a small spec on this planet.  But with the emphasis on our weather and the ever changing environment we live in, it should be reflected upon.  Not just for the time we are here on earth, but also for all future generations.  It is easy to love your kids and grand children.  But what about 5-10 generations from now?  Hard to comprehend that the decisions made today impact that far into the future.  We must love those generations we will not know by managing the resources we have today!

For of the biggest tactics we implement on our property to improve the deer habitat is hinge cutting trees.  The fundamental question I am now asking myself is....does hinge cutting help the environment and the sequestration of Carbon Dioxide, or does it contribute to the continued rising levels of CO2?  There are two thought paths to consider:  1.) Cutting of lesser desired trees will release more desired trees and increase the stem count per acre.  The more trees and more density per acre will increase the natural absorption of CO2 and release more Oxygen over time.  Refer to this diagram on the Carbon Cycle.  2.) Cutting of larger trees is detrimental to the sequestration of Carbon Dioxide.  This raises the question if a more mature tree absorbs more CO2 than a the combined total of a large number of smaller trees located within the same square feet?  Or, is it in essence a wash?  Upon completing an internet search there were other scientific forums I read opinions on this.  One in particular stated the only way to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere is to reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed.  In other words, don't drive your car.  But is that entirely correct?

Although a biased stance, I believe that hinge cutting helps the environment in far too many ways to be detrimental in the overall scheme.  I believe the improved habitat and the additional cover will sustain the local eco system and wildlife numbers versus a park like scenario with nothing but large mature trees.  Although the canopy in a mature forest is developed, I believe the number of actual leaves growing and exchanging O2 for CO2 is much greater in a less mature woods.  Since we attempt to hinge cut the trees and keep the tree surviving, the tree isn't dead and continues to grow leaves.  This with the sunlight contacting the forest floor to grow more trees should drive up the carbon uptake.  This goes back to simple numbers and increased stem density. I'm sure others may disagree, but I also reviewed an Agricultural and Forest Meteorology study entitled '
Comparing net ecosystem exchange of carbon dioxide between an old-growth and mature forest in the upper Midwest, USA'.  This study concluded "a declining carbon uptake with stand age." (Desai, Bolstad, Cook, Davis, and Carey, 2004, p. 52).  In other words, as trees become too mature the carbon uptake decreases.

So how do we change the world?  Are there things we can do other than buying an electric car for transportation?  I love the fact I own the property and maintain it as a wooded property.  At minimum, this gives me a sense of relief and justifies why I drive 30 minutes to work each day.  Right or wrong, I think my woods off sets my overall carbon foot print.  Plus, I haven't seen a Tesla Dealer around West Central Indiana selling 4x4 trucks lately.  

Another aspect of conservation being practiced this year is no till.  My plots are being planted or actually re-seeded this year without any tillage being completed.  Top soil conservation is critical to keep the nutrients available.  Without soil, you can't have nutrients for the plants.  We just had several inches of rain this past week.  It was obvious walking the plots today, there was minimal soil erosion.

I also feel the habitat improvements on the property has increased the holding capacity of the local herd.  With the increased stem count and available forages, the deer will have the shelter needed.  This is especially important from a fawning cover perspective.  Maybe this strategy along with better state DNR laws to increase deer herd numbers can help some of these states with huge herd number declines.

So how do I grade myself as the Hayes Dept. of DNR?  I'd give myself a B- or B.  I believe I am managing the resources to improve all forms of wildlife on this small 63 acres.  I still have many improvements to make and would love to increase the departmental budget, but raising 4 kids and paying my taxes makes that difficult.  The best part about my personal DNR is that the only lobbyist I have to keep in check is the wife.  So far she is my best supporter.
This was the third day of spring and we finally have had enough warm weather to get back to normal activities on the property.  Soil samples were finally drawn last weekend and will soon be sent in after allowing some time to dry out.  Today we focused on some serious spring cleaning with buck beds.

Some people feel that going into the bedding areas puts unnecessary pressure on the bucks.  Based on what I have learned, spring cleaning is an absolute must.  We have had multiple trees or branches each year fall down directly into the beds rendering them useless.  In addition, fall and winter produces all kinds of debris that can fill up the beds.  This debris can detour bucks from bedding as they don't like to lay on large sticks.  

We used a chainsaw to cut the small trees that had broken down and fell across the beds.  A small hand saw is another option, but as illustrated in the video, the chainsaw makes quick work of removing the junk needed to clear the bed.  As per Jim Ward, the bucks prefer to have two means of egress from the bed if busted by us or predators.  I worked to create new beds, clean out old beds, and enhance the second means of egress from the beds.

I also used a hand tool called a "SOG".  This name brand of hatchet is awesome for leveling the buck beds (refer to video).  We want to size the beds to be 5' wide and 3' deep.  This tool enables me to dig up the earth, smooth it level, and compact it to make the best bed possible to draw the bucks in to stay the night.

I've also included photos of the beds worked on today.  I should have taken some before pictures, but failed to think about it until after the fact.  As a result, you will have to compare the photos with the video see just how much work is needed for cleaning up the beds.

Take a day or two this spring and clean out those buck beds.  You most likely have worked hard to create them and may have pulled bucks in for regular use.  It would be a shame to check later in the year and find that they cannot be used because some debris, limbs, or trees have fallen into them.  Spring cleaning isn't just for YOUR is also necessary for your home range bucks.  Get out there and enjoy the warm weather as it has been a long winter.

This is one of the harshest winters on record in West Central Indiana, as it has been in other parts of the country.  I can't recall since my early childhood a winter with so much snow and cold.  Even with March 20th only a few days away, it was in the high 20's - low 30's today and required the kids and I to wear full gear battling the cold and wind while out at the property.  Needless to say, I'll be glad when this winter finally lets go.

Something else not letting go are the bucks on the property this year.  Only a hand full of bucks have lost their antlers.  I've always been told to wait until Feb. 14th to begin shed hunting.  That way you reduce the risk of pushing bucks off of the property causing them to drop sheds across the fence line.  Here it is the middle of March and I've got multiple pictures of bucks with both sides in tact.  So the question is, do I wait until St. Patrick's Day to begin my shed hunting?  Stands to reason since today is March 16th.

What causes this variance with bucks from different herds or regions?  I hear all of the time that guys are getting pictures that bucks have dropped both sides. These guys are not that far from me, so why do my bucks hold onto their sheds longer?  I've heard before that herd health and available browse plays a factor into this phenomenon.  I don't recall seeing any studies that support or disprove this theory, but there could be some out there. Send me a link to them if you have any for me to read.

I'd like to think there is truth to the above theory and that our property improvements are a significant contributing factor.  Habitat improvements such as hinge cutting, knocking the briars down to ground level, staging areas with annuals planted, and a few food plots equals healthy deer enabling bucks to keep racks well into March?  I believe this stuff works and I'm not letting go of that!  My dreams of finding more sheds on the property is still alive and well.  I just hope they drop them soon.
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 promises.
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