Life is full of firsts.  Deer hunting is no different, which is why we all remember our first deer (#FirstDeer).  The importance of this cannot be overlooked or minimized.  I can tell you exactly where I was and every other detail about the hunt even 27 years after the event.  I can even tell you that I was shooting a Browning X-Cellerator Plus bow with laminated wood and that my arrows were fluted aluminum to maximize flight.  For those of you too young to know the old compounds, I can clearly tell you that 50% let off sucked.

The last couple of months, QDMA has highlighted photos of First Deer in their bimonthly magazine and also on Twitter (#FirstDeer).  The importance of a first deer is huge to us hunters.  For most of us, it stoked the internal fire that keeps us hunting to this day.  That thrill of a First Deer and the associated adrenaline rush is a good addiction.  I would even argue that this rush is the foundation to the lasting future of deer hunting, which I will elaborate on in a minute.

Here is the photo of my #FirstDeer.  My parents recently moved and my mother finally dug this out of a moving box.  As you can see this was a 1.5 year old buck, which is typical of many of the First Deer photos I've seen posted lately.  What I most definitely remember about this buck is that the antler size didn't matter.  What mattered was that I shot this deer with a bow and couldn't have been more proud of it.  What a personal accomplishment evident by the smile.

My 9 year old son studied this photo extensively, down to the point of asking why a KC hat dad?  He later commented during his youth hunt last weekend that he wanted to shoot a buck like my #FirstDeer. can analyze this comment in multiple ways, most obviously that Luke wants to be like his father.  Hopefully that is a good thing.  However, I would say a #FirstDeer sets in motion many other firsts.

My love for deer hunting let me have a front row seat to my daughter Bailey's #First Deer pictured below.  She shot a half rack buck that was a 1.5 year old.  This was taken with a 20 ga. single shot.  Now she is striving to get her first deer with a bow!  It would be great for her to achieve this first.  My son didn't get a shot last Saturday and Sunday, hopefully he can get his first when gun season arrives in November.  Imagine if they accomplish this first how it could perpetuate other firsts?  Imagine their children wanting to repeat their accomplishments and get a First Deer?  Imagine my first grand child shooting a deer on our 63 acres?  This has to happen in order for deer hunting to survive!

Think of some other firsts.  I shot my first deer back in '87.  I then became busy with college, getting married, starting a family, developing my career.  All necessary firsts.  Then moving back to Indiana in October 2000, I wanted to get back into hunting.  This led to shooting my first 9 pointer and eventually buying 63 acres.....a huge first in 2006.  This led to other firsts including: planting food plots, building a box blind, joining QDMA, learning about hinge cutting and buck beds from Jim Ward, shooting my first wall hanger, planting trees, shooting a 4.5 year old buck, shooting a 5.5 year old buck just last year.  I can't imagine all of these firsts happening without the First Deer in 1987.

The above firsts are setting the stage for the future.  Here are my lists of prioritized firsts to be accomplished:
  1. Getting Luke his first deer.
  2. Bailey getting her first deer with a bow.
  3. Shooting a 150" class deer.
  4. Shooting a booner.
  5. Tagging a mature deer on public land.
  6. Harvesting a 200" deer.

Clearly for me the most important firsts are at the top of the above list.  But, we all have to have firsts to push us to the next level.  Hopefully all of you have memorable firsts this deer season.  When that happens, send me a short note.  Good luck!

We talk a lot on here about hunting safety.  That is primarily because of my profession as a Environmental Health & Safety Manager.  I think hunting related incidents are extremely tragic and all can be prevented.  In fact, a man from my county was found a couple of weeks ago in the woods 24 hours after falling from a tree stand he was checking.  He suffered a broken back and it is uncertain if he will ever walk again.  No one knew how to find him once it was determined he was missing.

The hunting season has started in some states and now we will begin to hear about other falls and even fatalities.  I've preached before about wearing fall protection, but that isn't where I am going this time (you can click on the search categories in the right column to look up the previous blog to watch the video on fall protection).  What kind of hunting plan do you leave each day you go to the woods?  Your family deserves to know where you are going to be.  In the event of an incident, they have to be able to find you and get help.  This is especially important if you hunt alone like I often do.

Your plan could be a simple as posting a map of your property on the refrigerator and marking your planned hunting spot with a magnet.  This can be effective, unless the conditions change when you arrive to the property (e.g., the wind direction isn't as listed on the weather channel).  Now what?  Do you stay in a stand with the wrong wind because you don't want to change your hunting plan?  There is a better answer.

With the advancement of technology, there is an easy solution to all of this where you can notify your family or friends in real time your location.  Text them a waypoint from Google Maps with your exact location.  This is an awesome way to directly communicate what stand you are going to hunt.  This also allows you the flexibility of switching stand locations in the middle of the day and being able to update where you are in real time.

The reason I am writing about this is that I thought this was a more common practice by hunters.  My son just finished a hunter education course today.  During the first session Thursday night, I made the comment to the class that I use Google Maps to text stand locations to my wife.  The response by others in the class was surprising to me.  I had multiple people approaching me during the break asking how to use this feature.  Even the instructors had not considered this as an option.

Someone reading this may be thinking.....if I fall and die all this does is allow rescuers to find the body.  What if you don't die?  What if you break your back and have to lay on the ground for 24 hours while mosquitoes suck you dry?  What if you only break your leg?  This is pretty simple.  Take two seconds once at the stand, go to Google Maps on your phone, click on the waypoint and select "Share".  Your phone should give you the option of sending a text with a link to you location.  Test this feature out with your family and friends and verify they can pull up your location.  This may be the difference between life and death if you have an unfortunate incident.  Plan to hunt safe, but also plan for help if you need it.
This is the time of year that all of us really look forward to the hunting season.  Just spend 5 minutes on Twitter and you can easily see that fact with all of the photos and comments being made about the approaching season.  We look outside and can't see any of the physical signs that Fall is around the corner, but we begin to count the days and know it will come quickly.  August is almost over and September will fly by.  With this in mind, I begin to develop an inner panic that I am not ready for the hunting season.

I've been working tirelessly at the 63 acres the last few weekends and even took a couple of well earned vacation days.  The main goal has been to get the Fall plots planted to provide that diversity that we strive so hard to give to the deer herd.  We also make the final adjustments to buck beds, connecting trails, staging areas, and set tree stands.  The sum of all of these activities helps us reduce pressure on the herd, especially the bucks that are as we speak beginning to turn from velvet to hard horn.

Here are some of the detailed activities undertaken the last few weeks to avert panic and settle in to the early hunting season just around the corner:
  • Buck Bed Maintenance:  Luke and I spent a couple of days finalizing and clearing the extended growth that had taken over a couple of buck beds.  The video below shows the work completed along the Southwest section of the property.  Much work over the last couple of years has gone into establishing this area with a network of beds on the ridges and establishing staging areas and connecting trails to tie everything together.
  • Connecting Trails Maintenance:  A storm had knocked down a large tree across one of our main connecting trails from the SW staging area up to the network of beds on the SW ridge.  We spent some time clearing this tree, but also cut a lot of vegetation that made the trail almost impassable over the summer.  The hinge cutting in the late winter and early spring settled cutting off a few sections of the trail.  This is normal when hinge cutting and trees are knocked over in various directions.  Sometimes they shift and have to be cleaned up as needed.  In addition, we seeded cereal rye grain and winter wheat along these trails to compliment the outstanding Chickory as illustrated below.  What a green carpet through the woods.  I truly believe these trails will become a major travel corridor for the deer during the hunting season, especially during the rut.
  • Staging Area Maintenance:  Both major staging areas (SW and North) have had exceptional growth of the forage seed planted in the spring.  With a few weeds and the forage growth, it was necessary to mow these areas in preparation for planting fall annuals.  We have chickory and clovers in these areas, both getting hit regularly through the day and night as illustrated in trail camera photos.  The chickory will be a major draw to the herd in late September and through most of October.  These areas were also seeded last week with cereal rye grain, winter wheat, winter peas, and soybeans.  Again....diversity of forages for the deer.
  • Water Hole Maintenance:  The watering hole we prepared last season delivered huge results and was the location we identified the 5.5 year old I shot on Nov. 12th.  This summer it dried up quickly.  I believe it was due to the amount of deep hoof prints into the clay that provided a means of the water draining through the soil.  As a result, we spread 100 lbs. of Bentonite over the water hole after we used a gas powered compactor to smooth out the surface.  We received a good rain this week so I can't wait to see how it looks this weekend.  Hopefully we are full again.  I would hate to have to truck in water, but will if needed.
  • Food Plot Planting:  Last year we attempted to plant ag soybeans in an area without tillage.  The attempt failed drastically.  This was primarily due to timing as we didn't plant before a rainfall and the August was somewhat dry in '13.  This was a field trial, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.  This year, I wanted to ensure we had some beans for the deer to forage on during the early season.  

    The concept is to provide forage prior to the pre-rut and rut phases.  This is the only forage we plant in this manner on the SE entrance area since the first cold frost will kill the beans. Given they will not mature enough to produce pods, the deer will switch to other food sources on the property.  This will prevent deer from being in this area when accessing the property in the heart of the hunting season.  The photos below show the area tilled.  It should be noted there was a pile of bricks and stones removed from this field and I had to disk it very slowly to not tear up the blades.  This area was specifically reclaimed by DNR back in the late 90's as the entire property has underground coal mines that were in operation in the early 1900's.  Thus the reason for the bricks and large rocks.

    All of the plots were fertilized with DAP and Potash last weekend.  Refer to the photo below illustrating the fertilizer spreader cart obtained from my local co-op.  I realize this is very late in the growing season to fertilizer.  The up side is that we will see a huge improvement right before the hunting season and this should set us up for success next spring with our focus on pH adjustments pending soil sample analysis.  The plots grew extremely well even before fertilizing, with a lot of tonnage produced throughout the Spring and Summer.

    The Main Plot South Section was planted last week.  I am extremely excited about this field going into this Fall.  We planted a wide variety of forages in only a 3/4 acre plot.  First we planted the blend of Eagle Seed Broadside (soybeans, radishes, winter wheat, and turnips).  Since a bag only plants 1/4 acre, we broadcast this along the north edge of the field in a nice strip.  The remainder of the field was heavily seeded with cereal rye grain, winter wheat, winter peas, and ag soybeans.  All of the seed was soaked in a bucket of water for roughly 1 hour.  The idea behind this method is to swell up the seed with water to imitate what happens to seed when it rains.  By swelling the seed, we get a good jump on sprouting.  The amount of water the seed soaks up is impressive.  You can physically watch the water level drop in the bucket in just a couple of minutes.  The other benefit of swollen seeds is that it is a buffer in the event we do not get an immediate rain....which we didn't.  It did finally rain about 4 days later so I am very excited about what this plot will look like in October.  I think our variety of food plot forages going into this year will be one of the best in the 8 years of owning the property.
Tree Stand Maintenance:  We have 11 stands placed throughout the 63 acres.  This gives us many options to control the hunting pressure and enable hunting the wind as much as possible.  I like to have each stand in great shape before the season starts.  Straps have to be inspected if the stand was left out all year long.  I pull as many stands as possible, but time doesn't typically allow for all to be pulled. Therefore, I try to rotate to keep the stands fresh.  In addition, we have to inspect the fall protection lines.  Finally, all shooting lanes and brush have to be cleared or touched up as the amount of growth over the year is extensive.
While conducting tree stand maintenance, I found this tree frog making a home out of the strap buckle 30' up in the tree. Awesome camo...nature has it figured out.
Archery / Shooting Practice:  One of the most enjoyable parts of preparing for the fall hunting season is practicing archery.  This is even more fun when your 8 year old son (now 9) is shooting with you.  We spent at least three different days shooting out at the property.  As you can see, Luke is starting to grow and have fun learning the sport.  He as thrilled in this photo as this illustrates his best arrow grouping.  I can't wait until he actually hunts this Sept. during the youth season.  Sept. 13th is the Hunter Education Course he is signed up for and we have a 44 Mag. rifle on order for him as a birthday gift.  Shooting practice will begin in Sept. with the rifle.
As you can see, we have been very busy preparing for the archery season here in Indiana.  I am excited about what the bucks will look like when they shed their velvet.  I have averted panic with hard work.  Now I just need to do so when that mature buck steps out at 20 yards so I can make the shot!  Good luck this season and stay safe.
This was the fourth national convention I have attended since becoming a member of QDMA.  The first one I attended was in '09 in Louisville.  I also attended in '10 and '11.  The last couple of years I have not made the trip and regretted it each time.  Although Athens, GA was quite a trek to make from Indiana, I am glad I made the commitment to go.  It was a great time and I learned a lot.

Before getting on with the review, I wanted to outline a couple of items.  I was unable to attend on Thursday due to commitments with my full time job.  As a result, there were some sessions I missed.  I wanted to also point out that I spent a good bit of time talking with Lindsay Thomas, Jr. (@LindsayThomasJr) of QDMA.  As some of you know, Lindsay is the Editor of Quality Whitetails Magazine and is the Director of Communications.  If my memory is correct, I have talked with Lindsay at each convention and he is one of the most approachable guys I have met.  Probably a good trait for a Director of Communications.  My talk with Lindsay yesterday was around the positive aspects of the convention, but I also shared some recommended changes from a member's perspective.  He shed some light on my questions I presented and the future convention in '15.

So, on with the review.  I will outline the positives first detailing as much as needed under each bullet point.  Links were also added for convenience.

'14 Convention Positives:
  • QDMA Headquarters:  Having the convention at the headquarters was a great experience for me as a member.  This was kind of a mecca for me and I was glad to make the trip.
  • Univ. of Georgia Deer Lab:  This by far was the best aspect of the convention.  I attended Saturday morning and was amazed at the efforts being placed on deer study.  You can read about deer study facilities and the studies themselves, but you cannot get the full picture until visiting and having someone like David Osborn walk you through the operation in so much detail.  His descriptions and excitement around this facility was off of the charts.  I could have stayed their all day long.  Great presentations were given by students.  I would have loved for these students to present full lectures in a classroom setting (suggestion for QDMA next year).  I have listed links to four of the projects in particular and who is leading them.
  1. Effects of Baiting on Deer Movements and Harvest Susceptibility - David B. Stone
  2. Brain Abscesses in White-tailed Deer - Dr. Bradley Cohen & Emily Belser
  3. Field Evaluation of a Novel Fencing Design to Prevent DVCs - Jim Stickles
  4. Effect of Coyotes on White-tailed Deer Fawn Recruitment - William Gulsby
  • Field Modules at Headquarters:  The field demonstrations were excellent.  I believe there is nothing better than a class room in the woods.  In fact, that is typically how most of us have learned about deer by getting boots on the ground in the woods.  I will review the two field sessions I attended separately.
  • Athens, Georgia:  As the home of the University of Georgia, this college town has a great atmosphere.  The downtown area was buzzing even though school is out.  I rolled in at 1:00 am Friday morning and people were everywhere!  The southern hospitality was displayed in full force with everyone being polite.  I though the city did a great job in keeping the downtown area clean with crews out working early Saturday morning.
  • NDA Meeting with Voting Buttons:  The session led by Kip Adams on the state of QDMA and the future in conjunction with National Deer Alliance was very informative.  I guess I should have spent more time in advance reading the QDMA 2014 Whitetail Report.  The fact some states, Indiana being one, having only one resource spending more than 50% of their time on deer was astounding to me.  I thought Kip was polished and organized in his presentation.  The use of the real time voting buttons was great!  The crowd voted on a number of questions and we could see the collective results in seconds.  I loved that and hope this type of approach is used with NDA on how to represent all of us.
    • Hinge Cutting Field Module with Jim, Jake, and Dan:  The field module demonstrating the importance of hinge cutting to create habitat and structure for deer was outstanding.  Dr. Jim Brauker, Jake Ehlinger, and Dan Timmons work together very well.  Jim runs Extreme Deer Habitat and Jake operates Habitat Solutions.  Attendees got to see examples of deer beds and were able to understand why it is important to plan out placement of doe vs. buck bedding areas, and how tree stand placement must be factored into the equation.  I attended the convention with Jim Ward, of Jim Ward's Whitetail Academy.  These guys naturally gravitated towards each other and I was fortunate to be a part of that setting.  We all went to dinner and it was fascinating to hear all of them sharing ideas and beliefs around QDM through hinge cutting.  I truly feel this is an aspect of QDM that is untapped by many land managers.  It would behoove QDMA to try to set up a discussion panel with all of them to allow a larger group to ask questions at the '15 convention.  If you are not practicing hinge cutting, it is time to get on the band wagon.   
  • Advanced Stand Placement & Safety with Justin Thayer:  As a practicing Certified Safety Professional I went into this one with extreme reservation and skepticism.  Justin was outstanding with his presentation and demonstrations.  I was his toughest critic given what I do, and I felt he did awesome.  He covered step-by-step using a lifeline on a tree and a full body harness.  If those attending didn't walk away wanting to wear a full body harness, there is no hope for them.  I failed to get his contact information.  If anyone reading this can email his information to me, that would be great.  I'll include the link again to the video I put together last year on the same topic.....I know...that is shameful self-promotion.  Fall Protection....100% From The Ground Up
Justin Thayer explains the importance of tree stand safety and the use of fall protection devices as a complete system from the moment your feet leave the ground.
  • Outdoorsman's Challenge / Hunter Games:  This was on the schedule for Saturday and looked like a blast. This was a huge attraction to the kids that attended and their families.  I have brought my family in past years.  You can bet they would have been all about these games.  I thought it was laid out nicely and with plenty of space.  Excellent idea!
  • QDMA Shed:  The Shed is always well organized and allows attendees to quickly shop and pick up items they may not have ordered online.  I always make a stop and spend money.
  • QDMA Staff:  Every time I have a question or need assistance a member of the staff helps out.  If they do not know the answer, they go and find someone who does and get me the information I need.  Everyone is friendly and helpful!
  • Use of Twitter:  I loved the use use of Twitter (#QDMANC14) which allowed others to tag what they thought of various sessions and post pictures.  Social media is here to stay.
  • Mention of All Things Whitetail:  Thanks to Lindsay for mentioning the website during the Thursday General Session.  I was included with a hand full of sites that help promote QDMA and QDM efforts.  Too bad I wasn't there to actually hear it.  Jim sent me a text right away and I initially thought he was pulling my leg.

Convention Suggested Improvements:
  • Schedule Communications:  Multiple attendees expressed to me frustrations on what, where, and when.  The hand out included a page on "Education Schedule" and then on the back of the booklet was the "Schedule of Events".  I would suggest a single set up that includes all activities with a description of what, when, and exactly where.  It was difficult to find where sessions were held unless you were along for the ride on the bus to the Deer Lab or the headquarters.  I also heard complaints about the time buses left and the closing of registration early Wednesday evening.  Several missed the Deer Lab bus on Friday because it was full and took off early.  Therefore, several of us got there an hour in advance on Saturday to make sure we didn't miss it.  Maybe use Twitter to attach the complete schedule and send out what is next 15-20 minutes prior to the start and where it is located.
  • Time of Year:  I know a couple of rabid QDMer's that do not get an opportunity to attend each year due to the fact it is always scheduled in July or August.  I think they are fixing this next year.  Lindsay did say it would be in May for '15. have no excuse next year for missing. is close enough again to make the trip.  Holding it earlier in the year gives attendees options to make adjustments based on what is learned by attending.  For example, I can change something with food plots prior to the spring planting.  In addition, I can make habitat adjustments that have almost three more months of impact prior to the season (e.g., hinge cutting).
  • More Sessions:  Lindsay explained to me that QDMA has made a fundamental path change with the conventions to focus on education.  I love that; however, in order to accomplish this I would suggest more sessions.  There was a two hour gap following the Friday lunch and the presentation by Grant Woods at 4:45 pm.  Insert UGA Deer Lab student presentations here.....  I drove 9 hours to get to the convention.  I want to pack every single hour I can with sessions to learn as much possible.
  • Location:  This one can be debated until the cows come home.  I think attendee numbers were probably down due to it being held in the southeast.  I realize that no matter where it is held, members will have to make a decision to travel.  My only suggestion would be to consider the largest concentration of branches when deciding locations.  This may already be factored in, but the boys in Michigan deserve to have a short trip at some point, like in Michigan.
  • Education vs. Expo:  I inquired about the number of vendors available.  Lindsay explained that they are focusing on education and not simply a large Expo.  As a result, vendors were placed in the hallways outside of the class areas to enable attendees to interact between sessions.  Also, they focused on a smaller number of vendors.  Lindsay did say organizing a larger expo has detracted from the overall convention in the past and requires huge resources.  I don't disagree with this stance; however, I somehow missed the communication on this paradigm shift in the approach.  Again, if this is stance more sessions would help eliminate attendees focusing on why there isn't a large expo.  

    Hosting the convention in Louisville next year is going to test this stance.  Given the convention was held in Athens this year and last, there will not be access to the deer lab requiring a serious change on the educational courses offered.  Any field sessions would require a close by set-up.  Hopefully there are outdoor options as in Athens and Nashville.  I have loved these options and participated every time.  If you have land close to Louisville, it might be a good idea to contact QDMA about establishing some field sessions on your property.
  • Too Many Auctions:  I understand the need to raise funding.  However, the emphasis on auctions seemed to be overwhelming and I didn't even attend the Grand Banquet & Auction Saturday night.  There were silent auctions throughout, which I don't mind.  However, the lunch auction on Friday was a bit overbearing and had little attendance.  There were some steals on guided hunts.  If I had $1,000 of mad money, I would have owned the bow hunt that went for $800.
  • Registration Options:  I still struggle with the menu of options for attending the convention.  The staff worked very well to guide me through this issue, but some of us may only want to attend the educational sessions and not have to spend money on the dinners.

In Summary:
I feel fortunate to be able to attend a convention that focuses on the hobby I love so much.  I look forward to this each year and hope it continues.  I do not regret the 9 hour drive, but look forward to only a 3 hour drive to Louisville next year.  

Hopefully you have gotten the sense that the positives far out weighed the improvement opportunities.  My goal was to share with you my experiences this weekend.  I met so many good people at the convention and have new friends that I feel I can call and talk to at any time about QDM.  The impact on QDMA with the creation of NDA remains to be seen.  I heard comments on both sides with some concerned it will hurt QDMA.  Hopefully it will only draw more people to the benefits of QDM and make future conventions even better.
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!