May 19, 2014
I couldn't blame him for laughing at me. I was walking on the side of the road, slowly pushing a small human-powered rototiller towards my prospective food plot location, as several full size John Deere tractors rumbled along past me.
I didn't have a tractor. I didn't have an ATV. Heck, I didn't even have any land to my name, either. Still, I knew I could make some small improvements to the habitat I had permission to use and groom, which might just improve my odds of success. And that was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
You too can make a difference on the properties you hunt, even without big land, money or equipment. If you're looking to get started improving habitat for better hunting and better whitetails, try one of these quick and dirty projects. They're great for beginners, easy to do and can pay big dividends in the end.
Hand Saw Hinge Cuts
The first project I'd recommend is hinge cutting. Hinge cutting is one of the best bang-for-your-buck habitat projects worth your time, as it requires a minimal amount of equipment and can dramatically improve cover and food on a whitetail property.
If you have a bedding area you want to improve or create a brand new bedding area, all you need is an hour, a handsaw and a willingness to sweat.
Once you have your saw (I recommend a high quality one), head to your prospective bedding area and begin cutting. Any tree less than 6 inches in diameter is fair game, except for mast producing trees like white oaks, apple trees, etc. Only saw about 70 percent of the way through, then slowly push the tree over until the treetop falls to the ground.
If you do this correctly, the tree will stay connected to the root system and continue to produce new growth.
Buds on the branches will keep growing, and new sprouts will emerge from the stump as well. You'll notice that you've immediately created a significant amount of new deer-level cover with the treetop on the ground. And with the new buds and sprouts, you'll have excellent new browse for deer to feed on as well.
On top of that, by removing the treetop from the canopy, new sunlight will find its way to the floor and promote even more growth.
The end result of an hour worth of handsaw hinge cutting should be a thick patch of incredible deer bedding, with the bonus of new food in the form of natural browse.
Speaking of food, we can't discuss habitat improvements without at least touching on food plots. Although most people imagine big tractors and other farm equipment, you can certainly get a food plot in the ground by much humbler means.
All you're going to need to get started is a backpack sprayer, herbicide, a rake, seed, fertilizer and maybe a bag or two of lime. With these limited supplies — and a little time — you can produce a terrific little food plot that can be an ambush location for a mature buck.
Start by taking a soil sample and sending it in to your local co-op or county extension office for analysis. This test will tell you how much lime and fertilizer your plot will need, and can save you a lot of money in the long run. Fertilizer and lime can be expensive, so don't waste money buying more than you need.
That said, once you know your soil situation, clear your food plot area of any leaf cover with your rake, and then, using your backpack sprayer, spray any vegetation with an herbicide like Roundup. Finally, pour the necessary amount of lime on top of the dirt. Come back in about seven to 10 days. If there is still live vegetation, spray again.
Now it's time to wait until planting time. If you're not sure what to plant, grab a small bag of a commercial food plot seed blend that is intended for no-till planting. Whitetail Institute's No-Plow is a popular option that I've had success with.
Wait until late summer or early fall, and just before a rain is supposed to hit, rake all the debris, dead grass and other trash off the top of your plot area. Do your best to scratch up the dirt as well. Now use a hand held broadcaster to spread your seed and fertilizer at the recommended rate across your plot.
To finish things off, simply walk over or ride your ATV across the whole plot, pushing the seed firmly into the ground.
We've now talked about cover and food, but there's one more thing whitetails need to live happy healthy lives, and that's water.
You can help with this, too, and it's equally simple. While whitetails acquire much of their water from vegetation, they still find it hard to pass up a quick visit to a water hole if it's available.
It would serve you well to make sure that the most conveniently located water hole for your local deer is in front of your stand. All you need to make this happen is a kiddy pool or livestock water tank, a shovel and a way to transport some water.
Once you have your kiddy pool or water tank purchased, head back onto your property and find a secluded, well-shaded area near a stand location. Once there, grab your shovel and dig a hole big enough to get your container down to nearly ground level.
Once it's adequately buried, use an ATV to bring in a few tanks of water. Rain should keep your water hole wet, but the occasional manual refill might be needed.
During the season, try hunting near this water hole on exceptionally warm days or during the rut. Both circumstances seem to draw bucks to standing water for a quick refresh.
These quick and dirty projects can be completed by anyone, even with limitations such as a tight budget, small property or little time. With a little elbow grease and ingenuity you can start making a difference for your local habitat.
And in the end, when it comes to hunting whitetails, every bit helps.
First time shed hunter Amber found these impressive racks. Just goes to show that it doesn't matter if it's your first or tenth time, success is all about getting afield.
A Winter Shed Head
Ben Williams found this massive 173-inch gross, 3.5 mainframe set in New York. Nice find, Ben!
Central Illinois' Finest
Rain, snow, or shine, sheds are out there for you and Brian Gauge to find. Brian found this nice set in west central Illinois.
Shed Hunter in Training
Shed hunting is a great way to get your kids out in the field while providing an excellent opportunity to teach them a thing or two. Casey Charlton's 4-year-old son looks like he's going to be a full-time shed hunter before long.
Shed Hunting Like a Pro
Craig Bell shows off his impressive 10-pointer set.
A Shed Head
Shed Head's Craig Bell with yet another impressive set of sheds.
Ethan Bailey's Rack Room
Ethan Bailey certainly knows his whitetails.
The Great Anticipation
Jeff Schoeps with a great set he picked up. This buck carried match for eight days and had Jeff walking with great anticipation.
Collect Your Thoughts
Joe Kelly with the biggest set from his collection. Found on his private property, 214 1/8 in.
Jason Bethel: "First ones of the year here in Kansas, what a find! Match set." Awesome!
Start 'Em Young
Kelly Lynn starting out the little one right! Now that's parenting!
Matt Davis: "It's a shame when you find quality dead heads on your farm."
All Grins Here
A happy Ryan Dreher poses with his matching 7-point set.
Breaking the Ice
An 8-point set like this is enough to bring a smile to any shed hunter's face.
Know Where to Look
Often times bucks will bed just off the edges of food sources, such as corn, bean or other agricultural fields during the night while feeding and drop their antlers.
A Needle in a Haystack
Sometimes the best place to find sheds is near the bedding area of a buck. Look for thick cover, cedars and other conifers, or south facing hillsides. All of these types of areas can be popular bedding areas during the winter. This shed hunter obviously did his homework.
The Rack Room
It won't be tough finding room for a giant set like this. Very nice!
The Big Score
Finding matching sheds like this 20-point set is what shed hunting is all about.
Craig Bell shows that with persistence comes great results.
Regardless of the temperature, now is the perfect time to get afield and find those sheds!
The First Set is the Toughest
Nothing breaks the ice quicker than finding your first sheds of the year. For Shelby here, this rack looks to be the first of many in Kansas.
Take a Load Off
Is there anything better than laying down after a hard days work shed hunting? We didn't think so.
Hunting for All Ages
Tyler Treft: "My daughter natalee found this matching set today in Kansas. And found 7 all together." Wonderful to see kids out and about. Great set Natalee!
Fetch the Bone
Zachary Pearson and his lab doing some training with the shed she found last year.
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.