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 home....it 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 see.....no promises.
It's been a while since I've posted a blog. Since February 9th to be exact. I've been tied up with some personal things that have kept me busy and just haven't had time to focus on writing. Nothing tragic has resulted. My kids and wife are healthy, which is the most important. Just life has been happening, and sometimes life can be distracting from the routines we have established. I'll work to get back in the groove. Given the lag, this one is pretty long so I appreciate your patience.
It's been a while since I thanked all of you who take the time and follow this blog and the web site. When I started doing this, it was to learn how to develop and manage a web site. I had no idea it would evolve into a means of me documenting the property improvements and the constant quest to harvest mature whitetails. Through the last couple of weeks I have learned this site has developed a following. The reality is the following is small, but nonetheless a following.
A fifteen year old boy has made it clear to my oldest daughter and wife that my delay in writing a blog is not acceptable. One of the local boys has been asking why I haven't written and when am I going to get back to work? I guess I'm surprised that a teenage boy in this day and age of electronics and all activities kids perform would take the time to read what I have to say. I know this kid well and he is very active in school and sports, running cross country and track with my daughter, and playing J.V. basketball. This also points to the fact that deer hunting and the passion many of us have for it may have a future long term, especially if a 15 year old boy is trying to learn as much as possible to be a successful hunter by reading my site. So thanks to everyone who reads this blog. Thanks C.B. and GO ROX!
It's been a while since I talked about the field day scheduled for March 8th. Plans are coming together and we have just over 30 people registered and planning on attending. When I posted the initial invitation on the QDMA Forum, I had no idea we would have people wanting to travel long distances just to walk the property. We have individuals signed up from Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and all over Indiana. It should be a good time. The weather doesn't look bad at this point, but that will depend on how much snow we get this weekend and Monday. Hopefully no snow shoes are required.
It's been a while since I found a decent shed on the property. In fact, the largest shed we have ever found was off a 2.5 year old. Our bucks hold onto sheds very late each year. I always hear this is a good sign of a healthy herd with adequate forage. I'll take that, but as of Feb. 23rd the camera photos only had two 1.5 year old bucks with just one side missing. As a result, the hunting we did last Sunday produced nothing. Hopefully we find some this weekend, if indeed the bucks did drop a few.
It's been a while since the kids and I have spent a solid day at the property. Last weekend, we spent 8 hours working and playing out there. When you have kids ages 8 - 16 sometimes it is tough to keep them occupied and not fighting as siblings often do. This past weekend was awesome. The kids had fun, we cleaned up things in preparation for the property walk, and I was thrilled to simply enjoy spending time with them. A couple of my girls also learned an important skill....how to pee in the woods. See the photo below of the kids at the new staging area.
It's been a while since we made some major changes to the property. Jim Ward spent February 18th at the property focusing on making a new staging area on the SW Corner of the property. See the slide show below that shows how this came together. I am thrilled with the results and believe deer will be using this next fall to socialize and possibly give me a shot at a booner. The stumps you see are primarily because of the heavy snow on the ground prior to the melt, making it difficult to cut flush to the ground. I took the series of photos standing in the middle of the staging area. You can see that Jim made brush piles to help funnel the deer as necessary toward our bedding areas on top of the ridge illustrated in the 1st through 3rd photos. The screen along the west side in the first photo will help make the deer feel secure in this area given there is an open field along the west edge of the property. The idea behind this staging area is to have an "on and off ramp" for deer traveling through the long valley that runs south to north along the west side of our property. We want to draw deer into this area.
In addition, Jim worked on the north side of the property enhancing some natural beds at some of the points and also creating some good screening cover. The cover should improve the use of the connecting trails between the north staging area and the bedding. I'm kicking myself now for not taking pictures as one of the beds is on a point and turned out fantastic. He cut the trees making it secluded for the buck, but still providing enough vision for the buck to see down into the valley in front of the bed. I believe this bed will produce well given the location, terrain features, and the amount of doe travel on the adjacent connecting trail. We will be highlighting these areas during the property walk March 8th.
It's been a while since I've been to a deer expo. Last weekend Luke and I went to the Indiana Deer & Turkey Expo in Indianapolis. You can see in the photo below Luke standing next to the full mount of a large buck Jim Ward has taken. We ran into several people we knew and had a chance to see Jim speak on "Setting The Trap For Mature Whitetails". I always enjoy listening to Jim speak and learned a few things he had been keeping a secret from me. Jim has developed a schedule over the next few months to working in various states. If you are interested in scheduling consults or property work with Jim, click on the following link to see when he will be working in your state. http://www.jimwardwhitetailacademy.com/jims-schedule.html
It's been a while since I have seen a 300" deer. At the expo last weekend, the "Beck Buck" was proudly displayed on the Hoosier Hall of Fame. As you can see in the picture below, this was a monster. He scored 305 7/8 and is now the new shotgun world record, according to the posting. I'm guessing there will be a run on hunting property in Huntington County, IN. It's probably been a while since that has happened.
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.