Shawn’s Place: Small Tract Mgmt January 25th, 2013

Hey, it’s been forever and a season…well really a full season since I posted something so it’s time to catch up and review how things went.

As I posted back in September my food plots has suffered through the drought like just like everyone else and it only got worse. The crop beans all but dried up and produced such minimal forage to the point that I would not say it really attracted any deer. The buckwheat and sunflowers had done ok but both had long since been foraged upon by the time hunting season started.

What did do fine was the Whitetail Institute clover I replanted in September and the Buck Forage Oats. The WTI clover has a seed coating the absorbs moisture and I found the clover itself to be very drought tolerant. The Buck Forage Oats were non-existent until some late September rain came. For the short period of time it had to grow before freeze up it grew great and the deer were on it every night. What was bad about this situation is that I had no solid food plot on my property for a significant period of time. I was counting on the acorns to hold some deer during this gap but the drought had them all dropping in early August and were now gone for the most part. The result in my bad timing or bad luck whichever you want to call it meant that most of the does that would visit my property had moved on to neighboring farm where there were corn and beans available.

With that said, had it been a normal year I would have been really discouraged by what happened but as it turns out everything worked out just fine.

I honestly did not have a trail camera picture of any buck that excited me to bow hunt at my place heading into the WI opener other than a single sighting of a mature 10pt. I did have pictures of another 4yr old so my place was not a total void but the problem is that he topped out in the mid 130’s and was not a regular visitor at that. Most of what was around were 2-3yr olds. My guess is that was because there was not a large dominant buck chasing them away all the time. A few of these guys show real promise for the future including a mainframe 7×7 that may blow up into a giant if he makes it through this winter. Not having much around to get me excited is exactly why even though you may pour your heart and soul into your property, it’s always good to have back up plan C, D and E.

After living here for over a year now and getting to know the neighbors I’ve learned that while there can me some giants around and bucks with potential, most guys are shooting anything two years and older and some families will shoot just about anything that walks. What I have going for me is that I will let those guys walk and I have also have an 80 acre sanctuary across the road from me where no one deer hunts. While that is not a lot to add in with my 56, it can be just enough to allow one or two bucks to make it to maturity.

After analyzing my situation, I set realistic goals for my place and planned to hunt my backup locations heading into the season. The ultimate goal is to tag something 4yrs or older but I will shoot a 3yr old if he appears to be a basic 8pt frame or demonstrates some weaker characteristics and if I have nothing better is around to hunt. My kids are different though, my daughter had yet to tag a deer coming into the season so everything was fair game for her.

Not wanting to take a 3yr old with my bow, I focused on some public land hunting where I knew a couple good bucks were hanging out. Heading into the WI opener I was still on cloud 9 for taking my first DIY bear on public land the week before. I’ll save the story for another article but let’s just say it was a perfect night and I had my second public land animal within eight days.

Since it was not necessary to hunt my place, I was excited to see what would unfold without any hunting pressure. Because I could experiment a little I wanted to see if I could condition the deer to my non-hunting habits to where I could enter the back of my property without any negative effects. To do this I would drive my ATV up the valley around noon every few days to where I had my trail cameras in position on the food plots. All summer long I had 90% of the activity being nocturnal and early fall was no different. What did change was that I was now having up to five different buck a night come into the Buck Forage Oats and clover along with a few does. It would be just a matter of time once the pre-rut came around that my daughter could get a crack at one of these bucks moving during daylight hours.

During the pre-rut I took my daughter out and not long into the hunt she was impatiently waiting as a nubbin buck fed in right in front of us for what seemed to be a good hour. To her any deer would be a trophy and she would keep looking at me to give her the green light. As light faded, I conceded that is was now time and she put the arrow on the mark and the deer only made it 30yds before expiring.

Lucky for her this meant that she still had a tag for legal buck but unfortunately luck was not on our side the rest of early season. Within a two-day span there were two deer taken disturbing the area (one by the neighbors), cattle moved in on the north property and a cable contractor was ripping my entire block up to lay new fiber and power lines. Normally I would say this would not affect the deer but I have such a small block of woods that it really did. I had totally backed off my trail camera visits but it didn’t matter, the deer moved out due to all over the disturbance and the trail camera photos went from 4-5 bucks a night to one ever two days.

There was one two day blip where I had a couple nice bucks back chasing a doe but then all was quiet again. While heading off to Kansas, I left three trail camera to see what might return once the contractors had left so I would have an idea if it was worth it or not to gun hunt my property. Upon my return from Kansas I was a little let down to see that the activity was not great. I did have the 4yr old 10pt return as well as two of the 3yr olds 8pts that I would take so there was a glimmer of hope my land would hold one of them once the bullets started to fly.

The start to the WI gun season was less then thrilling as I had six guy bordering my woods essentially covering most of the entries to my place. When you have a small parcel, that is just something you have to contend with and I just had to hope that the bedding cover I created earlier in the year would be my golden ticket.

My place must have been where the deer wanted to go because all six people had fired their guns by 9am and I had yet to see a deer in the bedding area I was set up on. A little discouraged, I figured my last best shot would be to slip into my NW bedding area in hopes the buck I was after was in there. Normally you’d want to be downwind but I used my position upwind to my advantage. Since the bedding area was made from hinge cuts, it was thick and I did not want to jump him at close range because I would be more than likely to miss him in that scenario. So being I could see if he were to slip out of the cuttings from either side I let my scent drift into the bedding area with my gun ready. The buck did could not have followed the script any better, rather than run off he stood up from his bed and started to scent check the air. As soon as he moved broadside, I was given a clear shot and he was down within a few yards.

I think this year was about as tough as it can get. The weather was poor, my plots struggled and the deer were less tolerant than I expected to daily activities. I think my season shows that if you can step back and analyze the situation and do just enough on your property and leave it alone when needed you can still have some success as I did.

Here are a few of the characters I got to know this past season and then the one I was able to harvest.

In my next post I’m going to discuss some of the changes I’m going to implement based on what I learned this past season. Be sure to let us know how your property is coming along in our forum or on our facebook page.

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