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No Off Season: The Dynamics of Life and Land Management

Integrating your children into the land management process allows you to engage with your family and pass on the lifestyle to the next generation.

No Off Season: The Dynamics of Life and Land Management

Some of my most early and fond memories are of me sitting in a 1969 John Deere 4020 next to my Grandpa and Great-Grandpa Stone. Each time, I was “assisting” in the tillage or planting on the family farm in Northeastern Missouri. Those days were filled with joy, naps in the corner of the tractor cab and the establishment of roots that would grow much deeper than that of the corn being planted.

I now think back to those days and clearly understand that my grandpas were doing much more than entertaining me or my desire to emulate their actions. They were not only fulfilling their sense of duty to pass along their passion for the land and love for all the beings that benefitted from it, but just as important, they were providing examples of work ethic, dedication, love of family and investment in legacy.

Fast forward 30 years, I see the same glow in the eyes of my three boys that I expect my grandfathers saw looking into my young eyes. A sense of duty to make sure that I fuel that glow of inspiration every time the four of us step into a food plot, plant a new tree or head for a deer stand. Which was my motivation for engaging them more in the process of land management this growing season.

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Though our schedule at North American Whitetail is very busy, I might be able to argue that the schedule of my three boys is busier.

Stone, Jordan (my wife) and I’s oldest, was fully engaged this summer in local town league baseball team, a traveling 10U basketball team, church youth group, a laundry list of other community activities and plenty of family activities. Wilder, our 8-year-old, has a schedule that mirrors Stone’s. Then there is our 4-year-old, Zee. He is the official spectator and number one fan of everything that the big boys do, but he was prepping for his first flag football season that started in August. This busy schedule presented the predicament that most young land managers like myself face in trying to manage a family schedule, which is most important, while finding time to dedicate sufficient energy to a land management plan.

This is where the inspiration for our new NAW digital series, No Off Season, was spawned. We wanted to document the process of further engaging each of the boys into the land management strategy of one of our family properties, while working it in around our busy-busy family schedule. My hope was that I could engage with my boys in the field in an educational and entertaining way, while sharing the responsibility that leads to overall improved habitat for our wildlife.

Adding to the excitement of this project, our advertising partner Oregon Tool heard about the project and decided that the wanted to sponsor bringing this content to our audience. Why? Well, the narrative of “no off season” and generational legacies was a great pairing to help market their 75th anniversary. Oregon, and its subsidiaries like Woods Equipment, didn’t reach such a corporate milestone without an astute understanding of the responsibilities required to hand down a legacy.

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Watch episodes of "No Off Season"

Personally, I couldn’t think of a better way to execute this project than alongside a company whose products have been an integral part of the habitat management on our farm for decades! Many of Oregon saw chains have graced the woods and brush of our Stone family farm, and the Woods implements were no stranger to our region either.

As a benefit of the Oregon Tool family supporting this project, they were providing us access to suite of their newest high-quality products from both the Oregon and Woods brands. An invite to send a wish list to the Product Team was a bit intimidating such a large catalog but their intuitive Oregon UFOUNDIT and Woods Match My Tractor platforms, finding accessories and implements to match our tools and tractors was a breeze. With a little bit of information (Brand & Model#) both platforms will guide you right into the correct products, and options when available, to get you in the field and working.

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To provide the framework of this docu-series, my boys and I laid out an eight-part plan that we would work together, in different mixes of a team, to execute each step. With the help of Oregon tools and Woods implements, I would work with the boys to complete as much of the projects that their schedule would allow. The eight different tasks (list provided below) varied across the calendar, but they provided more than enough for us to accomplish from May to September, each falling into one of three categories of forage, habitat or maintenance.

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The Force Plan

  1. Soil Prep
  2. Plots - Warm & Cool Season
  3. Timber Management
  4. Planting Fruit Trees
  5. Plot Maintenance
  6. Stand Maintenance
  7. Blind Maintenance
  8. Property Maintenance
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Forage

Soil Prep: The initial move for most deer hunters stepping into a land management plan is planting a food plot. Four decades of management research and development at North American Whitetail have shown that there is much more that we should aspire to do, but it is a great start to providing positive supplemental forage for your deer herd and establishing roots to become a more intensive manager. Before you can plant, you must prep your location and soil, which will include needing to identify the type & purpose of the forage you’re providing (warm vs. cool season), the equipment needed to cultivate and process for creating a proper seed bed, the foundation of good seed-to-soil contact and germination.

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In most cases, land managers will face either reconditioning an old plot or establishing a new plot. In the case of the Force boys, we were reconditioning an old plot where we had managed the weeds in the off season via application of herbicides. Another productive weed management method is keeping your plot area mowed with a rotary cutter (like the BrushBull 72.60). With our weeds properly managed, we took 3 soil samples for each plot area (a gallon zip-loc bag full), took them to our local seed co-op for analysis, top-dressed their recommended mix rate to each plot (based on the needs of the crop being planted) and we were ready for tillage.

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Turning dirt or conducting the tillage process, is done to establish the proper seed bed to promote good seed-to-soil contact. The goal is to turn the soil over, break up compaction, mix fertilizer into the soil and blend organic matter to create a powdery seed bed. This can be done with discs and plows, but when conditions are right, one of the most efficient tools is a PTO driven roto-tiller. We were lucky enough to gain access to one of the Woods RT72.40 forward tine tillers, which we powered with a JD 5065E. We cut the soil three to four inches deep with ease, churned it into a swell mix of well-fertilized soil set to provide the perfect blend for germination.

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Plots - Warm & Cool Season: In my six years of conversation with our deer hunters, land managers and audience at NAW, I’ve realized that our industry (myself included) could do a better job of communicating why we cultivate supplemental forage. The common misconception and purpose seem to be “to attract and kill big bucks,” when instead we should have the purpose of providing year-round nutrition for the whole herd that will promote better, healthier growth. Probably no surprise, but this tends to satisfy the surface level of attracting and providing opportunity to harvest mature bucks.

So, I focused on trying to make sure that this was a solid takeaway of our No Off Season project for Stone and Wilder specifically, but Zee as well. This called for me to share the differing nutritional benefits of Warm & Cool Season plots.

Warm Season plots are focused on providing nutritional value during the summer months when both does and bucks are experiencing a lot of physical change, which is also the first of their two annual high-stress periods. Does are under the stress of recovering from birth and need the nutrition to nurse their fawns, while bucks are rapidly growing antler and preparing their bodies for the physical battle that will come in the rut. With our warm season plots, we want to satisfy and supplement the need for a high requirement of protein in their diet.

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To do so, we focused our efforts around using the Woods FPS84 Seeder to plant soybeans (40%+ crude protein), Dr. Deer Peas (iron clay or cow at 25-30% crude protein), Buck Forage Clover (ladino white clover at 30%+ crude protein) and Buck Forage Chicory (20%+ crude protein). All these plants provide enough protein to satisfy the 16% general requirement of most white-tailed deer, but also provide protein at differing times from late spring to early fall, keeping protein readily available through the entirety of the season. Dually important when thinking about back to making more of our limited time, the dual hopper construction of the FPS84 allowed for the boys and I to be much more efficient, since we could one-pass plant two different seeds simultaneously. Not only did we cut our planting time in half, it allowed for us to easily co-plant complimentary forages.

Cool Season Plots, however, are often planted in the late summer and are focused more on providing supplement during the second stress period of early winter. During this stress period, both does and bucks are recovering from the physical demands of the breeding season while preparing to face the potential harsh elements of late winter. We need our plots to provide digestible energy to help rebuild their reserves and phosphorus to complement calcium intake, which deer will take in from remaining warm season plots like clover. Cereal grains, like the Buck Forage Oats that we planted (again with the FPS84), are a great source of digestible energy and phosphorus. While we did already have clover planted as a result of our warm season efforts, we supplemented our oat plots where needed.

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Planting Trees: Leaning again on the critical lesson of year-round nutrition for our deer herd, a highly overlooked category of forage is mast and fruit trees. I am sure that today’s instant gratification environment is no help to the appeal of planting trees, especially considering the turnaround for bearing forage, but doing so can be one of the most beneficial methods of providing high tonnage and long-time return on investment. This was the major force behind the four of us planting a mix of Kiefer and Bartlett Pear trees this summer. We targeted the south end of a soft edge that we planted several years ago to provide safe passage between bedding and a destination food plot. The new addition of these pears will provide one more form of forage in the buffet of nutrition to our local herd, further supporting the “one-stop shop” methodology.

This was hands down the most enjoyed part of our No Off Season plan for all three boys, but the dirt covering every part of Wilder’s body proved that he enjoyed it the most. Our planting holes were dug swiftly by the Woods PD-95.50 Post Digger about 12 inches deep and round enough to take the root wad of our fully-rooted planters. After scoring the roots in three different vertical cuts with my pocket knife, we placed the planters into the hole to a depth that kept the root ball two inches above ground level, filled the open space with dirt removed from the hole and watered the trees very well.

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We added a little root stimulator to the equation, but we will wait until next spring to fertilize. Planting these trees in the late summer called for continued attention in the form continued watering at the rate of two gallons per week through the dry part of the summer. We also placed a tree guard around each tree before mid-August, to prevent local bucks from using them as a rubbing post when shedding velvet.

Aside from providing preferred digestible energy from a Dr. Deer Pear or desirable carbohydrates from a Swamp White Oak acorn, a philosophical benefit of planting trees with family members is the tangible tie to a long-lasting legacy of land management. The thought of my three boys sharing the story of planting one of our Kiefer Pears or White Oaks with their grandchildren makes me tear up as I type this article, as it’s the same story that was shared with me and that I cherish today. My hope is that memory will not only serve as a reminder but that they will someday appreciate at the same level that I was taught to.

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Habitat

Timber Management: I was able to teach the Force boys that planting trees isn’t the only way to improve forage tonnage or to improve your deer’s habitat. When done correctly, management of existing timber stands can achieve both. Warm up the Oregon saw chains and accessories! As part of our plan, we set out to use the new Oregon Speed Cut Nano system (chain and bar) on my Husqvarna 550XP saw to thin a stand of timber surrounding an old river oxbow.

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This area of the farm once provided great winter thermal cover for the deer in the area. The thick understory and immature timber provided good security close to our cool season plots and protection from the cold, winter winds. Yet, in a matter of less than 10 years a crop of immature shagbark hickories shot upward to close out the canopy, depriving the understory of sun and nutrients. The lack of native browse and extinct thermal cover paired with the fact that hickory nuts aren’t a preferred mast forage, created a need for thinning of the hickory crop. Additionally, this allowed us to reduce competition for the preferred trees like swamp white oaks, allowing them to thrive and be better mast producers in the future. A win-win all around.

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I used the Missouri Department of Conservation Tree Species book to teach the boys tree and bark identification of a few tree species. With a good understanding of a few leaf and bark identities, we set Zee on a course to mark all hickories for harvest with his sticker book, and I followed with Oregon Versacut setup. I was able to demonstrate proper protection equipment, tree-falling safety and proper chainsaw tactics to the boys. The Control Cut saw chain, which is designed to provide consistent cutting power to prevent kickback at all speeds, made the cutting smooth and effortless. This allowed me to concentrate on the job at hand and safety. Aside from the invaluable safety knowledge, understanding leaf and bark identification will not only help the boys in management settings, but it is also a great skill set to help identify good hunting locations for the future.

Maintenance

I’ve learned over the years that the strengths and weaknesses of my family members vary largely with age and experiences. Some of those we take on involuntarily, while others we attempt to embrace and employ on our own. This applies to the good and the not so good. One particular strength that both of my grandpas value is maintenance, or the act of preserving and taking care of their investments. On the contrary, myself and many of the middle-aged members of my family are still working on this one. Ultimately, this was a principle that I hoped to communicate and strengthen with the boys through our project. I hope to also convey that maintenance comes in many different forms, such as the following.

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Plot Maintenance: One common miss that I see in land management plans is the maintenance of the manager’s forage investments, specifically cultivated. I had to learn this lesson the hard way myself. While it would be nice to simply plant in May or August and return ready to hunt the food source in October, it’s not reality.

With my sons, I focused on the method of high-mowing a warm-season plot of clover and chicory. The soil bed in our river and creek bottoms here in northeast Missouri carry a very prolific native or volunteer seed bed, with a lot of undesirable species. Even when you perform preventative weed control measures before planting, you will still face the competition of those weeds and your desired forage plants, which was exactly the case here. Due to the danger of a herbicide treatment damaging our chicory, we instead employed the help of the BrushBull 72.60. We set the height of the rotary mower to cut just above the height of our chicory in the plot. Our intention was to mow the weeds below their seeding level and to a height that clover and chicory could then choke them out. For warm-season green plots, this is a tactic that can be used 2-3 times a summer and not cause harm to your preferred forages.

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Stand & Blind Maintenance: It never fails, about September 10th of every fall (Missouri opener being September 15th) I will remember that I haven’t yet hung a stand, placed a couple of blinds, trimmed shooting lanes or prepped the setups. With our increase of responsibilities in 2022, I made it a goal to plan ahead and do my best get ahead of such a scenario for the year. It worked.

Stone and Wilder worked to help me prep our stand locations, while Zee helped me clean up a new blind location overlooking one of our new warm season plots.

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One targeted stand location was in a red oak nestled in a staging area along a soft edge, which produced my first buck ever taken for North American Whitetail TV. Without having a stand in this tree for a few years, new branches had sprouted off the trunk and new limbs had grown into our shooting lanes. We attacked the branches with Oregon’s SpeedCut Nano setup on a Husqvarna cordless battery saw.

For this task safety was at the forefront, but due to the fact that limbing happens from the ground, there is a need for an increased level concentration, protection equipment and a safety harness. Notably, awareness to the proximity of that harnesse’s elements and manageable saw control is paramount! Having the small, controllable cut and maneuverable system provided by the SpeedCut Nano allowed for me to securely manage my cutting paths and safely perform the task at hand.

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The 14-foot reach of the PS750 made the clearing of our shooting lanes effortless, and it made it easy to focus on communicating the reasoning of why we maintain clean shooting lanes to the boys. So much of what we do as land managers is driven by our love for the whitetail deer, helping to construct a better ecosystem for them to live in and forming a greater level of respect for our interactions with them. Clean shooting lanes that are strategically placed and offer ethical shot opportunities are a vital part of displaying our love and respect for this dynamic relationship. So, it was important to convey to the boys that an obstruction of an arrow or bullet, or poor shot placement caused by our laziness, was not acceptable.

In carrying out this process, we saw first-hand the importance of proper protection equipment, safe proximity as a bystander and a good exit plan while participating in sawing. When using the Oregon PS750 Pole Saw, a trimmed limb caught another while falling, and it kickbacked in my direction. Though it fell short of my location, it tested our consciousness, strategy and exercise. A great and safe lesson!

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Property Maintenance: Another lesson I learned from my grandpas was their dedication to keeping our family farm well-maintained. Nature was meant to be wild, and even though we may own or lease access to a farm, we will infinitely be nothing more than a renter to Mother Nature. Her wild ways will always influence through invasive species, erosion, high winds, tornadoes and even floods. These acts often leave us with damage and destruction to our man-made improvements like fences, water crossings, field roads and entrances.

Becoming a landowner or land manager comes with the responsibility of conducting the needed maintenance to contradict the ways of Mother Nature. As we got closer to the end of our No Off Season project, keeping the attention of my boys with conducting monotonous maintenance projects was a chore. But knocking the projects out in segmented efforts made it more enjoyable.

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Luckily, Mother Nature was easy enough on us this year that these responsibilities were limited to some preventive fence maintenance and field road clean up. We enlisted the BrushBull 72.60 to trim vegetation along our fences and to trim the field roads. Where we had invasive weed or shrub species in places too small for the BrushBull 72.60, we deployed our weed trimmer with the stout cutting Oregon Magnum Gatorline Square Trimmer Line. I was amazed by the strength of this line and its ability to handle the larger stocked plants growing along the fence. Where we encountered shrubs too big for the Magnum Gatorline, I used the versatile SpeedCut Nano setup that we used when limbing. With the boys’ help in piling up the remaining brush, I completed these tasks faster than ever before and with more enjoyment.

Closing

While I was a generation too late to continue the family farming operation, the duty of our familial desire to be more to our ecosystem than a beneficiary didn’t skip me. I just had to awaken it. This hereditary lust found stake and was resurrected in my soul as my passion for bowhunting took hold in my late teens. What started as an effort to establish supplemental forage sources in the form of food plots sprouted legacy-driven roots with each fist full of turned soil that ran through my fingers. I am thankful for this feeling, and through the increased time that I spent with Stone, Wilder and Zee in the field this year, I can see it naturally exists in them as well.

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Inspiration, duty and love … as a father, it won’t escape you. What can escape you, though, is time. The duties of simply being a present parent are a lot, and they consume a lot of time. Every second is invaluable to the future of your children. Now, try to pair that with the year-round demands of land management on even the smallest of tracts; and your available time quickly evaporates and you find yourself filled with regret for improper time management. The reality of the duty of leaving more than a few dollar bills with your children, like the existence of a legacy, gets heavy.

The older that I get, the more I realize that my aspirations of leaving my mark on the world is far less important than leaving a positive impression on my children. It takes time that most of us don’t think we have, and dedication that most of us younger land managers are learning to build.

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I liken it back to the corporate culture that Oregon Tool, our partner on this project, likely had to overcome to make the 75-year mark. I imagine it took a dedicated effort to step back away from the temptations, to focus on real purpose for their direction and employees. You can see this with their development and involvement in programs like their T.R.E.E. Initiative, where they are actively participating in their community, education and environment to promote a better future. In a motto presented in their 75th Anniversary media, Oregon Tool states: “Getting up early and doing a good day of work is a way of life for you, and it's our way of life, too.” A simple but strong commitment.

For us young land managers, our parallel would be removing ourselves from the nonsensical social media culture on the screens surrounding us, dedicating time to our wildlife, their habitat and integrating our families into the process. Embrace the opportunity that is presented by engaging ourselves and our children into land management. In the same way that their demanding schedules present No Off Season, land management offers No Off Season in the opportunity to engage with your family. Remember that beyond the obvious benefits of hunting opportunity, your investments in land management can be rewarded in much more valuable ways that will last years beyond us being here.

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