According to the most recent National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife Recreation, the average hunter spends about $2,484 a year on hunting related purchases. That's a good amount to spend on hunting gear, but what does all that spending get us? For the typical whitetail hunter, that cash is probably spent on new bows, guns, treestands and a whole host of deer hunting gizmos and gadgets.
But what if I told you there was a piece of equipment — one you probably already have — which could improve your chances of whitetail hunting success even more than these other expensive deer hunting items?
That piece of equipment is a chainsaw. With this single tool you can improve the habitat on the property you hunt to hold more whitetails, and improve your hunting set-ups to result in better chances of killing those whitetails.
Here are three ways that the chainsaw sitting in your shed right now can change your whitetail luck.
Benefit No. 1: Improving Cover
If you want to change your whitetail luck, a great way to start is to increase the likelihood of mature bucks wanting to spend time on your property. A surefire way to do this is to improve the available cover.
Deer, especially mature bucks, crave thick and nasty security cover to bed and to evade humans. If your property doesn't have much of this kind of habitat, you need to create some. Luckily, a project like this takes nothing more than some sweat equity and a chain saw.
There are several ways to improve cover using a chainsaw, but the most popular are clear-cutting, selective harvest and hinge cutting.
Clear-cutting, as most know, involves the indiscriminate cutting of every tree in an area. By doing this, you completely open the canopy, allowing 100 percent sunlight to hit the ground and bring a large number of tree trunks and tops to the ground.
This new sunlight encourages extreme amounts of new growth, which in addition to the downed trees become a mess of tangles that deer will flock to. A typical hunting property application might involve an acre or two clear-cut used to form a bedding area.
A similar but more moderate result can be produced by using the selective harvest method. This practice involves the cutting of only specific "low value" trees, those that don't produce food for whitetails, and then leaving high value trees such as oaks standing.
This allows more sunlight to reach the ground and to encourage new growth, while still maintaining the benefits of certain standing trees. Just like clear-cutting, this can be easily accomplished with a chainsaw. That said, take a little time before hand to learn how to properly identify the trees you'd like to cut versus those that should stay standing.
The final option is a practice called hinge cutting. Hinge cutting involves the cutting of small trees, usually smaller than 6 inches in diameter, just enough of the way through so that the tree top can be slowly bent down to the ground.
By not cutting all the way through, the tree can continue to survive and produce leaves and new growth from the trunk in the future. But now that the treetop is on the ground, you have a wealth of new cover at deer level. Again, just like the other two options mentioned, this also opens the canopy and sunlight induced new growth will burst forth.
Whether you clear cut, selective harvest or hinge cut, the goal is the same: You want to bring tree tops to the ground to create immediate new cover, and then open up the canopy to allow sun to nourish new growth in the future.
Whichever route you take, make sure you're strategic in your creation of new bedding areas. Consider how these bedding areas might change deer behavior, and how that might impact your ability to hunt the area and/or access it.
Benefit No. 2: Food Creation
The aforementioned tree cutting projects with a chainsaw aren't only valuable for their ability to create cover; on top of that, they also can help provide food for your whitetails.
This chainsaw-created food source comes in several forms. First, by cutting down or hinge cutting trees, you'll be bringing tree tops down to the ground. These tree tops will be quickly browsed by local deer, and in the case of hinge cutting these trees can continue to produce new shoots, buds and leaves for years.
In the longer term, by cutting these trees down and allowing more sun to hit the ground, new growth will emerge from the forest floor. I've already discussed the benefits this can bring in the form of cover, but these shrubs and grasses also provide tremendous amounts of food.
By removing competitive "low value" species of trees with selective harvest, you allow more sunlight to hit high value trees such as oaks or apple trees, which can in turn improve their mast (food) production for whitetails in the future.
Benefit No. 3: Funneling Deer Movement
Chainsaws don't just create habitat improvements for deer, they can also create hunting improvements for you.
When it comes to hunting mature bucks — and especially bowhunting — one of the greatest challenges can be getting a deer to close the final few yards into shooting range. With a chainsaw and some strategic cutting and moving of trees, you can help negate this challenge by manipulating how and where deer can move.
To illustrate this concept, let me share a few examples. If you're hunting a field edge and there are two main trails that lead out of the woods, use your saw to drop a few trees across the trail that's not within shooting range. This will naturally encourage more deer to use the trail within shooting distance.
If you're hunting a major travel corridor in the woods but face multiple trails that weave throughout, you can use your saw to cut trees down and lay them lengthwise along the trails. As they near your stand location, neck down the route and funnel them closer to your stand.
Maybe you're hunting a big woods environment of old growth trees with not much ground level cover. In this scenario, it may be difficult to pinpoint deer movement, so use your saw to give them some cover or structure to relate to.
By creating cuts of cover by chainsawing a strip of timber through the middle of the woods, deer will naturally gravitate towards it and travel along its edges. You've now got a great stand location.
The applications are endless, but the moral of the story is simple: The goal is to use your chainsaw to strategically drop trees and then use those felled trees to manipulate deer movement. It's amazing how much this can help.
All that said, chainsaws can be very dangerous tools if not used properly. I'd highly encourage you to properly review safety protocol for chainsaws before taking to the woods.
This year, when considering what hunting gear can help you kill the big one, don't forget about your chainsaw. It's probably already sitting in your garage, just waiting for some action.
So get it revved up this spring and improve the cover, food and hunting set-ups on your property. It's time to make your own luck.
3. Set up Trail Cameras
Successful hunters know that keeping track of deer movement is important, and summer is a great time for setting up cameras
to collect as many photos as possible. Doing so will give you a better idea of deer movement patterns in the area.
More importantly, you'll have an idea of which deer are utilizing your hunting area as part of their home range. You might be able to intercept a buck early in the season but, just as importantly, if you do your homework
you'll figure out the deer's home range and will be close by when the rut is in full swing in late autumn.
4. Check Your Gear
Many hunters completely forget about checking their gear
until the hunting season rolls around, and that can spell trouble. You're going to spend precious time and money at the sporting goods store replenishing supplies during the season if you neglect your field equipment in the summer. The summer months are the perfect time to address any issues, and chances are you'll find there's plenty of work to be done.
There's nothing worse than heading to the woods in the fall only to find out your stand is falling apart and a mouse has a made a nest of your safety harness. That's why it's never a bad idea to actually gear up and head out to your favorite hunting spot in August to check all of your equipment. You can even shoot a few targets from your stand to help improve field accuracy. Also, be sure that your rangefinder has new batteries, and that your hunting knife and broadheads are sharpened.
5. Clear Travel Paths
Overgrown plants create a major obstacle when you're trying to get to your stand quickly and quietly in the fall. Take some time during the summer to clear an access path to your hunting area, and be sure that you have multiple routes available depending upon the wind conditions.
Nothing ruins an early season hunt like tripping and stumbling to your stand as you cross fallen logs and navigate through forests of honeysuckle and multiflora rose. A clear path allows for a quiet approach.
10. Collect and Organize Data
The long summer days are perfect for scouting your hunting area, so spend plenty of time in the woods looking for deer signs. In addition, keep your intel organized so you're in the right spot come fall. I place all my photos from the summer in separate folders on my laptop so I can quickly see which deer are frequenting which cameras.
Keep detailed notes about feeding and movement patterns, and write down any info you glean from landowners. Having all this info in one spot makes it easier to develop a game plan and will up your odds of success in the fall.
9. Plant and Maintain Food Plots
One of the primary duties of land managers in the late spring and summer is establishing food plots
. There's much work to be done; soil testing, plowing, planting, fertilizing, mowing and spraying should all be completed in advance of the fall hunting season.
Additionally, it's always a good idea to monitor your food plots for any signs of deer activity. Maintaining your food plot during the summer ensures that your deer will have the nutrients they need to grow big antlers.
8. Get in Shape
Most deer hunting isn't particularly demanding, but it's important to be sure that you are in shape
for the upcoming season. Spend some time walking and working out so that you don't crumple under the strain of dragging a big buck out of a deep drainage later in the year.
If you are bowhunting
, be sure that you are physically capable of drawing and holding your bow. A week before the season starts is too late to make up for a lazy summer.
6. Pattern the Does
There's an old adage that if you want to find the bucks, follow the does. So don't ignore the lady deer as you scout during the summer months
Does are often more visible, and their travel patterns remain roughly the same throughout much of the year. If you know where the does are spending their time you'll be in position to intercept a buck when the rut hits later in the year.
1. Sight In Your Bow or Rifle
If you wait until the week before the season to sight in your gun or bow, you'll likely have to wait in line at the shooting range. But if you're serious about making a good, clean shot (and we should all be serious about that) then you need to spend plenty of time tuning your bow or rifle before then.
The long summer days are perfect for getting your weapon in working order, and you want to have plenty of practice time in when you hit the woods. Starting early gives you a chance to find the right load or broadhead/arrow combination, and the range will probably be less crowded.
7. Visit Landowners
Growing up on a farm, I can attest to the fact that most hunters show up only when they want permission to hunt or when the season has actually started. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. But if a landowner has given you permission to hunt, it's a good idea to stop by for a visit in the summer.
Perhaps you can offer to lend them a hand around their property. There's always work that needs to be done on large acreage, and showing up early to help out makes the landowner understand that you do appreciate the fact that they allow you to hunt on their property.
2. Talk to Farmers
Very few people have a better understanding of what's going on in your hunting area than local farmers. Since they spend much of the summer planting, spraying, and baling hay, farmers usually have a pretty good idea of what the deer are doing.
They may also know where the big bucks are feeding, which is invaluable intel. In addition, most farmers are bombarded by requests to hunt their land in the late summer and early fall. Getting out early and speaking with the local landowners may help you get a foot in the door.
Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.