"Our deer season is twelve months long, but we just shoot 'em in the Fall." I wish I had a new Millennium lock-on for every time I've said that to someone asking me why I'm doing what I'm doing in March or June. To me, deer season, land management and QDMA practices are year-around activities.
I'm writing this as someone who doesn't have a show on the Outdoor Channel or a DVD series for sale at Bass Pro. And no, I don't have thousands of acres in Iowa or Kansas. My wife, three boys and I own and hunt 134 acres in northeast Louisiana. OK...it's in some of the best part of northeast Louisiana as far as whitetail quality and herd size go, but it's still just 134 acres. Some of the things I mention in the rest of this article were also done on the piney woods lease I belonged to a couple years ago, too. The point is that for someone who loves to deer hunt, the activities associated with its enjoyment and enhancement can be done all year long.
My wife, Elizabeth, bow hunts exclusively. Prior to last season, I just bow hunted the first couple weeks then switched to a rifle for the rest of the year. Last year - our first season on our new 134 acres - I decided to stay with my compound all season. We started October 1st and hunted all the way through to the last few days of January. We got this property in June so there was not a lot of time to work on it. We did, however, have a combination of ground blinds, climbers and ladder stands to give us 9 bow sets and 3 planted food plots around the tract. We are on a pretty strict buck management program, so we never came to full draw on a buck. We both let bucks walk that we would have never passed on in the lease we hunted just last year. We shot 5 does...including 1 we couldn't recover.
The first week of February, I had my bow in the shop for new cables and string. I started shooting it the day I picked it up a week or so later. I try to shoot a few arrows 2-3 days a week. I did add a new sight recently, but I've had the same bow for 4 years now. Still, it never made sense to me to have a season come down to one shot that you prepared for by picking up your bow for the first time in September. So, we all try to shoot all year long. Not only does it hone your skill but it helps keep the anticipation level up.
By the end of February, my oldest son and had planted about 70 saw tooth oak tree seedlings along the edges of one existing food plot and two other areas that will be made into food plots. These seedlings were ordered from our state Forestry service for less than $50. The saw tooth oak grows rapidly and can be producing early season acorns in five to seven years. Next February, we'll plant a few more and fertilize the ones we planted this year. I simply marked each seedling with colored flagging so I wouldn't cut them down when I was bush-hogging. So far, 66 of the 70 are living and growing according to green leaves on them.
We also spent a good deal of time walking our property right after bow season ended. The impenetrable thickets were easier to walk though in the dead of winter so we were able to see things we hadn't seen before. Seeing new trails, hookings and bedding areas is not only cool, but it gives great perspective on how the deer actually moved during the season. February and March are great times to see the nooks and crannies of a property. You don't want to do this during the season, of course, and the cool weather and dead foliage make it perfect for walking and looking.
Can I just tell you that for someone who didn't have the privilege of owning land growing up...being able to walk around on your own property and look for - and find! - lots of sheds in late February and March is just plain awesome! I found a huge pile of bones this year. I enjoy shed hunting just about as much as hunting them on the hoof. And prior to this year, my shed hunting had always been with friends on their property or just finding them on the land we looked at in our business. My boys were able to find a few, too. We have them in various piles at our camp. I kept game cameras out through March just to monitor how long the bucks were keeping their antlers. We saw them until about mid-March.
Staying in a deer hunting mind-set and walking the property in March and April allowed me to take a look at possible locations for new bow sets. Seeing a tract in the lush summer foliage and then seeing it when everything is dead and brown is like night and day. I was able to decide that I needed to move a couple stands and put up a couple more in different areas to take advantage of what I'd learned from hunting hard for four months then seeing the playing field after the game.
Our property has the benefit of being loaded with quality vegetation for the deer as well as being located in the heart of a nutrient rich agricultural area. Our deer have plenty of spring and summer forage and browse. The didn't really need my Spring food plots but I planted two anyway in late April. Part of the reason was so I could get this ground in a little better shape for my Fall/Winter plots. I plan to have five or six food plots this Fall. Our plots are relatively small...an acre is the biggest. I prefer small food plots anyway...with lots of edge...and just bow hunting makes this seem like the right way to do it for us. We have several mineral licks that I have created at old stumps that we keep freshened up all Spring and Summer, too.
As the property dried out after a wet Spring, I was able to smooth out our roads, move fallen trees and limbs and bush-hog the roads and trails in May and June. We also started putting out the game cameras in June to catch the bucks growing antlers. It's mid-July at the writing of this article and there are four cameras out now. We've seen some good bucks already so I know the cameras will be worth checking.
We've put up two new bow sets so far and I've cleared limbs on a tree where I will hang another lock-on this week. I have already scouted a couple new places for ground blinds near two new food plots I'll plant this Fall. My twelve year old son will start bow hunting this year and those ground blinds are a great way for him to start learning. His mom and I have killed deer from the ground blinds so I know they are effective if they're brushed in well to help break up the outline. We have a lot of deer - and black bear - on our property so he'll definitely enjoy the show at ground level this Fall.
Looking for fawns and picking and eating dewberries is just something everybody ought to do if they can. My seven year old son is a pro at both. We ride and look...or walk and look. Sometimes we're just out there checking the mineral licks or just making up a reason to be out there. Having the BB gun or .22 with us is just part of it. Though my wife and I are the serious bow hunters - and the oldest son will start this Fall - we are all out there all year long just looking and learning and trying to be grateful for what we have.
I'll try to have all our bow sets in place and ready by the first part of August...all the trees stands...not the ground blinds. We have four box stands that are for rifle hunting for some guests that we'll have out there a few times during the year. We'll get these cleaned out as needed. I just want to get it all done so I can focus on the food plots in September. I'll get two or three ground blinds in place and brushed in when I get the food plots done. A long four month bow season will require that I have to "freshen up" the brushing on those blinds but having them in place when deer start using the food plots seems to help them get used to them.
This Fall's food plots will include one pure clover stand and the rest an oat/cowpea/clover mix. Having the clover in place for the late Winter/early Spring is important to help the bucks recover their body weight lost during our late season rut. I'm not a biologist but I do know that three ingredients for maximizing antler growth are age, genetics and nutrition. We can control the age factor by letting them walk until they are 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 years old. We have terrific genetics in this region of the Mississippi Alluvial Basin. We can supplement the nutrition by having high protein clovers on the ground for them once the season is over. My Fall / Winter food plots are not only harvest plots for hunting season but nutrition plots for that period of time between the end of the season and the time when the browse and forage have "greened up."
Once deer season starts we try to have as little impact on the tract as we can. We park our truck at a common area gate about a mile away and ride a Polaris to the property line. We try to walk in to our various stands as quietly as possible. We've spent a lot of time and effort to get ready for this time of the year.
We're fortunate in that we can spend a large number of days in a bow stand. We homeschool the boys. And while my work running a couple of real estate companies is demanding, a lot of it can be managed from an Iphone and Ipad. We hunt hard from October 1 to the end of January. We will see lots of deer...see some bucks we can't believe we're passing on, hopefully get a shot or two at some does...and if that shooter gets in range...!!! Anyway, we hunt to shoot 'em in Fall but our season runs for twelve months. It's the sheds in March, hanging from a lineman's rope to put up a lock-on in July and watching the oats pop through the ground in September that really make deer hunting what it is for us. If killing one in October was all I had to look forward to, I think I'd find something else to do.
Whether you own or lease; whether it's a big place or a forty; whether it's in Buffalo county Wisconsin or Caldwell parish, Louisiana...make the most of your deer "season" by lengthening it to include year-around elements for success, enjoyment and strengthening the existing herd.
- Pat Porter, RecLand ProStaff Founder...but you won't see him on TV!