I often read and have heard land owners should establish "as many acres for a sanctuary as possible and to stay out". The concept sounds logical. Stay out of a section of your property and mature bucks will take up residence due to the reduced pressure. Then only go into this sanctuary to retrieve a deer and at night. After my property walk yesterday with Jim Ward, I'd argue the complete opposite. Go in and see what habitat improvements are needed and look for winter deer signs like rubs and beds. In fact, Jim has argued this for several years. I believed he was right, but the evidence I found yesterday made me a true believer.
We began the day walking along the connecting trail, through the staging area created this past summer, and then onto the north section of buck beds. Along the way we found fresh beds in the snow at small points along the south edge of a large running ridge. We looked at each other and both realized this area needed some enhancements with hinge cutting and additional screening cover. But that wasn't the true evidence.
As we walked past the buck beds, we were on our way to the northwest corner of the property. This section has the most pronounced topographical feature on the 63 acres. Jim has always said that this point would be where the five and a half or six and a half year old would take up residence. Exit routes are everywhere and there is no way of sneaking up on a buck bedded down on the point. Before we even got to that ridge I remembered a large cedar tree along the way that had been used by large bucks as a rub. However, the past 3-4 years no bucks had hit this tree so I had not thought much about it and never mentioned this tree to Jim.
To my surprise, this tree had been hit again. And it was clear that this buck was not tiny. Jim immediately asked why I had not mentioned this tree in the past? He jokingly said I was withholding information from him and began to give me a hard time about it. He also immediately explained that I had a mature buck on the property that I was not getting pictures of on the trail cameras. Our excitement sky rocketed as it became clear that all of our hard work to improve the habitat to grow and hold mature bucks was definitely paying off. Now we need pictures and physical sightings to support the evidence of the rubs. We have set up three different camera surveys with corn piles in an effort to capture the photos. Hopefully this happens before the bucks shed their antlers.
As we continued to walk the property, we found three more significant buck rubs. These were not just three and a half year olds making these rubs. The diameter of the trees was the evidence supporting that fact. These were not your typical rubbed trees. I've posted the pictures above and below of three larger diameter trees and a smaller typical rub. The rub pictured at the top is the tallest significant rub I had ever seen. Jim is standing next to it to give perspective.
Jim believes there are at least two mature bucks based on the way the various trees were rubbed. Some of the trees were rubbed towards the bottom of the trunk, while others were much higher. Jim strongly stated to me that this is a sign of a mature large bodied buck. One of the trees was clearly a community rub as the tree had been hit in past seasons and multiple times this year. What he explained to me was this particular tree was marked by different bucks. There was a main section of the tree that was hit lower and made up the largest portion of the rub, then the section at the top indicating a taller buck.
Why had I not known about these rubs? Why had these bucks not walked past any of my cameras? We talked about this throughout the walk yesterday. Could it be transient bucks hitting the trees? Jim believes these are bucks I have raised from fawns that are using the property as a core area. These bucks know my every move, know the cameras and are now avoiding them. This is difficult for me to comprehend as I do what I can to minimize my pressure on the property, including staying out of these areas after killing my buck on Nov. 12th. What is interesting is that during tracking my buck, I walked within yards of the cedar tree.
But maybe that is the problem. These bucks know where my stands are. These bucks know where the cameras are. These bucks know where the does bed and can find them easily. These bucks get enough food and forage with the natural forages we have created and the ag fields available to the immediate west side of their bedding areas. They have access to water sources with the ponds and streams meandering through the property. They know my in and out trails. All of this could explain zero pictures or sightings.
Maybe this explains why the buck I harvested this year was never identified until the rut kicked into full gear? I did get this buck on trail camera, but not until Nov. 6th. This quickly made me believe that the buck was a transient buck. Based on what I witnessed yesterday, I'm beginning to rethink that stance. What is ironic is that Jim suggested that the buck I shot was a resident buck back in November. He hinted that maybe I was educating my bucks more than I realized. Maybe he is absolutely right.
Everyone always claims mature bucks of 5 and 6 years old are a completely different animal. I'm beginning to think I have educated these bucks to the point that I have to change my hunting strategy. We talked about where to place stands for next season along the west side of the property in the woods and how to establish in and out trails. We also discussed and actually began cutting more trees yesterday to help assist in holding these bucks. I have stated in the past that I need to work harder at hunting between the beds and food plots, eliminating all stands along field edges. This tells me I have to accomplish this or I will never harvest a buck bigger than 150". So, let the games begin!
What all of this evidence (huge rubs, numerous beds in the snow, tracks everywhere) tells me is that our habitat work over the past three years is paying huge dividends. We are holding deer and providing forage even in extreme cold and higher snow levels than normal. It also tells me we need to press on with our plans, and that I need to be more strategic with camera and stand locations.
Some large antlered mammal made these rubs. We could be completely wrong about these being resident bucks that are ghosts on the property. Time will tell, but we would not have found these serious rubs if we had stayed out treating these areas as a strict sanctuary. Stay out of sanctuaries and fail to continue habitat improvements that hold large bucks that generate these huge rubs? I think not!
I've heard that when you stop learning it is time to change hobbies. Well, I definitely have not stopped learning as last weekend I found a cluster of trees full of small fruits. Upon investigating a little further, these appeared to be persimmons. Since I had no clue that these trees would hold fruit into January, I had my initial doubts. I then proceeded to send a picture and confirmed with Jim Ward that indeed these are persimmons.
Today I visited the property to check cameras and drop off some limbs that came down in my back yard from the large snow storm. Upon driving onto the property, I saw a doe run up from a small depression to look at my truck. I didn't think about it until a few minutes later that this was next to the cluster of persimmon trees. I drove over to the trees after making the rounds with the cameras. When I stepped out of the truck I was amazed at how tore up the snow was all around the base of these trees. The doe must have been bedded only a few yards away from the persimmons.
I've owned this property since November 2006. I had always wanted to plant persimmon trees. Until this past summer, I had no idea that we even had some on our property. Was this because the trees finally reached a level of maturity to produce fruits? I'm pretty confident this is the case as I can't believe I would have walked by both clusters of persimmon trees year after year and never notice fruit production. Then I began to wonder if I had ever cut any down while hinge cutting an area due to my ignorance and inability to identify this species.
What amazes me more than anything is how late into the winter the trees I visited today still have fruit. I'm not talk a few persimmons, but a ton of fruit. If you review the pictures below, you will see what I am talking about. What is odd is that the other clusters of persimmons originally found in August had dropped every single fruit by the start of October. What is the difference? Is there a different type of persimmon tree? Clearly I've got some research to do in order to understand more about persimmons.
What is certain is that deer love persimmons. Given the harsh West Central Indiana winter to date, this is proving to be a valuable source of food for my deer herd. As I checked cameras today on the plots, I had fewer tracks in the snow compared to the stampede of deer that had visited the persimmons. As I write this, I am kicking myself for not moving one of the cameras to catch this activity on camera. There are still plenty of fruits for the deer to feed on over the next several days.
This also emphasizes the importance of having different types of forage for a deer herd. Maybe this is more common than I realize. But, who would have ever thought you could provide fruit to deer in the middle of January and it be home grown?
A few weeks ago, 60 minutes featured a piece on Amazon. A segment of that story was about the future of delivery using a drone to drop off packages less than 5 pounds. That story got me thinking about how I could use something like this to scout or see my property at a virtual bird's eye view.
I started doing research online immediately and found a ton of videos. I shared this new infatuation with my father, who immediately caught the bug. A couple of weeks ago, he purchased a small drone already outfitted with a camera. He bought the DJI Phantom Vision, which we flew yesterday and took some video over the 63 acres. Anyone, I mean anyone, can fly this thing. I was amazed at how easy it was to fly. In 5 minutes I was buzzing this thing all over the sky. Quite fun......See the video link below of the test.
We finished the flight and took the micro SD card out and put it into my laptop. After looking at the video, I felt it was a success. Given there was snow on the ground, I felt like this provided good contrast between the trees, brush, and the ground. I loved how I could see clearly the habitat work that had been completed. Specific aspects visible were buck beds, the new watering hole, food plots, screening cover, streams, and trails in the snow. I was amazed at the visible points where the deer had cleared snow on the food plots. The Main Plot Clover, north section had some decent tracks and areas cleared, while the brassicas on the south side did not (first section of the field we flew over). I think this helps get an understanding of the topography of a property. If I was considering buying a new piece of property, I would definitely use this as a tool in addition to simply walking the land.
The video does have a "fish eye" effect. I understand there is software out there that will take this effect away. I'll have to work on that aspect of video editing, as I am clearly a novice.
Another aspect that I was disappointed was that it was difficult to pick out deer at 140'. Maybe they were there and we just couldn't see them. Maybe the height we flew the unit was part of the problem, but I though we would see deer moving or at least reacting to the sound of the unit. I didn't really think it was that loud, especially at 140'. To me, it sounded like a bunch of bees buzzing around a hive. I'm sure the deer picked this out as an out of place sound, especially at this time of year. However, I don't believe once it was in the air the deer ran completely off of the property. My kids were with us and we didn't try to be quiet, but that usually doesn't push deer that far off of the property. Again, I believe we could have flown it a little lower and may have been able to pick out more details.
In summary, I think we need to make some more flights. I'd like to try it at different elevations and map out the property better. We also have to rotate the unit slower in areas we are hovering. The next time, we will start the flight at the edge of the property and quietly walk in. Maybe we can see the deer better and pick them out. We had a blast doing this yesterday and I believe I learned a lot. If you have the means to try this, I would suggest looking at your property through this lens.
Calling all Indiana Whitetail Hunters! Use the link below to give the Indiana DNR feedback on changes you think are needed. Obviously you can state your opinion on any aspect, but I'd like to see feedback on ways to improve the deer herd numbers. The feedback I provided is listed below in it's entirety.
The herd numbers are dropping drastically due to EHD outbreaks the last two years, over hunting of the herd, and predation. It is time the State shift it's thinking away from the constant goal of reducing all deer numbers. It is time to conserve this resource and allow the herd to recover. ACTION IS NEEDED NOW.....NOT IN 10 YEARS! I want the State to do the following:
1. Eliminate the Special Antlerless Season
2. Reduce the length of the firearms season.
3. Reduce the number of antlerless deer limits for each county. Maybe we should return to a one buck and one doe limit for certain counties? How many hunters harvest and register 9 antlerless deer in a season anyway (1 tag plus 8 bonus tags)? This never was a realistic number to begin with, regardless of how you derive the number as stated on your web site.
4. Adopt some of the QDMA Principles and Practices. We need a balanced herd with bucks of all ages. This will improve the overall herd health and make the rut more dynamic. This will required the State to do more than just look at the numbers. For example, the State should document approximate age of deer when registered. I realize this can be very subjective, but it isn't hard to tell a 1.5 year old buck from a 4.5 year old. Other States do this, Indiana should take some steps forward.
5. Open up a year around season on coyotes. This is by far the most damaging predator to whitetail fawns and their numbers continue to rise. Even if numbers fell in conjunction with the whitetail numbers, coyotes will make it more difficult for the whitetail herd to recover. This species will never go away as the only natural predator of the coyote is us.
I understand the pressure from the Insurance Industry to completely eliminate the deer, but I'm guessing the number of auto accidents caused by deer is a small fraction compared to other causes. I'd like to see the State evaluate these numbers and not just compare against number of miles driven. Where do deer-vehicle collisions stack up against alcohol related vehicle accidents? or weather, or distracted driving?
The whitetail hunting industry brings a lot of money to this state as it does others in the Midwest. Let's not return to the low whitetail numbers of the 1970's. Your job is to regulate and manage our Indiana Deer herd. It is time to practice wildlife conservation.....we need to conserve this species. For those of you in positions to make these changes, either start doing the work to make this better or get out of the way!
Concerned Taxpayer, Land Owner, QDMA Member, and Hunter,
David Andrew Hayes
Andy Hayes is a devoted husband and father of 4 kids living in West Central Indiana. Outside of his family, his passion is hunting whitetails. He does not claim to be a professional hunter, but simply wants to share what he learns during his quest to improve whitetail habitat and hunt mature bucks.