May 10, 2016
Put the umbrella drink down. You'll still need the sunscreen, but the personal watercraft will have to sit idle for a couple of weekends.
You need to use some of your warm-season weekends to ready for the upcoming whitetail hunting season. And if you focus on these five whitetail management tasks you're sure to improve fall success.
Food plots can eat up most of your preseason time. You need to plan, till, plant, fertilize and manage these whitetail attention getters. Ryan Basinger serves as the wildlife consulting and hunting lease manager for Westervelt Wildlife Services. He lives and breathes whitetail management with food-plot planning a huge part of his responsibilities to landowner consultees. He realizes nutrition differs regionally across the country, but he does offer this important advice.
Fuel with Food
"Whatever you are planting you need to maximize the attraction and nutrition, and plant enough so that the plate is never cleaned off," Basinger stresses.
Depending on property size, some of you may have options to plant several food plots that provide different forage that matures throughout the growing season. Others may have to plant one plot that contains a variety of forage, again which matures sporadically so whitetails always have something to browse.
The current trend with many food plot companies is to create seed mixtures that allow one species to mature while another is browsed by deer for several months of use. One crop Basinger relies on for many properties are forage-style soybeans. This single species actually offers multi-season nutrition and holds up in most climates.
"They grow tall, viny and bushy, plus they produce tons of forage and produce lots of seed when not overgrazed," Basinger adds. "They provide quality forage from May until a hard frost and then beans are available on the vine into the winter months."
This next chore may only take a few hours to establish. Add mineral sites to your property and keep them in play year-round. Minerals aid winter-deprived deer in survival and boost antler growth in spring. Minerals also boost the health of lactating does. By keeping those flowing you ensure your deer have a pathway to optimum antler growth and recruitment potential for the herd.
As you shop look for products with calcium and phosphorous in a 2 to 1 ratio respectively. Both are essential for antler and bone growth. Hunter's Specialties Vita-Rack 26 Lick Site includes 26 vitamins and minerals that boosts a deer's immune system and maximizes genetic potential.
Next, break down your property. Depending on how much timber you have to cropland, you'll likely want mineral sites every 50 to 75 acres in secluded settings for optimum use. Your mineral site doesn't need to be anything fancy. Some managers use mineral dispensers, but dumping them on the soil allows deer to paw and lick for benefit. If you feel the deer are not using minerals simply add trace salt and the visitation will jump like kids at public swimming pool in summer.
Lastly, some states even allow you to hunt near your mineral and supplemental feed sites. That can also increase your hunting success later, but check for the legality before season.
To make deer feel at home in a safe environment you need to take a portion of your property and place it off limits. It's now officially a whitetail refuge and a member's-only retreat.
Again, how much brushy habitat you have available compared to open cropland drives how many acres should be set aside in refuge. Several of my whitetail management friends say "the more the better" and most have at least 50 percent of their land in sanctuary. In general you will need 100 acres or more to aggressively begin a refuge program. Any less than that and you will be limited to hunting the same small corner again, and again.
If you need help in adding more refuge habitat consider what whitetail consultant Art Helin advises. Helin hails from Wisconsin, but consults on land throughout the Midwest. In the summer months he suggests landowners strategically trim some shrubs and trees to open up more land for browse to grow. Cut limbs and tree trunks get put to use for escape cover by pushing them up into big piles near buck bedding cover. Several piles strategically stacked also create large barriers that wildlife can use for a windbreak and you can potentially use to veil your movement while hunting.
Basinger also plants whitetail security cover when he farms for food plots. In fact, some crops do double duty such as sorghum, which offers cover and nutrition. Landscaping vegetation such as varieties of reed grass also can add to refuge habitat and give wildlife a sense of security when timber, or brush is scarce.
Switchgrass is another refuge alternative, particularly on grassland properties. Regardless of the region where you manage whitetail property, consider adding refuge during your summer retreat.
You may question this next act of putting up stands during the sweaty season, but consider the benefit. First, your intrusion will likely be long forgotten by hunting season. Regardless of how quiet you think you are putting up a treestand, you still make a racket and putting up stands during hunting season may burn a spot for up to a week or more, especially when targeting a mature buck.
Next, you see the woods in full bloom. Any twig or branch with a hint of infringement into your shooting lanes will be visible in all its green glory for a quick trim. But don't take too much off. Remember the leaves will be dropping during season and you need some to veil your presence.
Lastly, networking stands before season gives you additional hunting time during the season. You can be quite accurate in determining travel patterns by considering the location of maturing crops, your food plots and of course, by taking your past hunting experiences into consideration. Basinger believes this history gives you plenty of evidence to set up stands before the season.
"What I like to do is to pattern bucks over multiple seasons and run trail cameras to capture as much information as I can on a particular buck," says Basinger. "I rely on past information where I saw bucks and where I got photos in years prior during a similar period of the deer season."
As Basinger noted, trail cameras offer a great advantage, but they have to be utilized in a smart manner. Begin their utilization in the warm season when you can begin to see identifiable antler features. Also, deer will soon be on an early fall feeding pattern that can be used for opening-day success in September.
Trail cameras should be networked and paired with stands, or trails leading to stands. They should also monitor food plots, water sources and your mineral sites. This combination gives you opportunities to catch bucks on camera that may be as aloof as Bigfoot.
As for smart use, Basinger stresses not to visit your cameras too often. Bucks may begin to pattern you more than you hope to pattern them. "Lots of hunters begin visiting their property just prior to hunting season. They may be planting fall food plots and more likely, placing, and repeatedly checking trail cams. This sudden influx of human activity and scent alerts deer and they quickly become wary."
He advises to limit your camera checks by investing in high-quality batteries and adding maximum memory to the units. Helin tells his clients to spread out their visits to at least every other week and on his own hunting property he has cameras set up so they can be checked right from an ATV to mimic the sound and commotion whitetails see daily in farm country. He pulls up to the camera, swaps cards and moves on to the next stop without even shutting the ATV off.
Summer shouldn't be all about work. You do need to hit the beach and enjoy an umbrella drink from time to time. Nevertheless, don't leave your whitetail chores until fall. A bit of sweat now could take the heat off in the fall when the hunting pressure is on.