-By Randy Cooper
Hunting deer and turkeys for over 40 years has been like going to school. Every time I sit in class (the woods) I learn something new. By sitting in class I evolved as a hunter. In the beginning I did all the traditional things like focusing on the rut. I knew that bucks would be moving and more visible at that time more than any other. I hunted the ridge tops, bottoms, funnels and transition zones. Don’t get me wrong, I STILL hunt all these places. However, I have changed the WAY I hunt altogether.
Years ago I belonged to an archery only club that taught me a lot. We hunted the traditional places using the age old traditional tactics with limited success. At the time we thought that the piece of land we leased was the reason, and that we had to accept what we had and be happy with it. We just didn’t know any better.
Through information gleaned from great magazines, books and videos, we as a club began to realize that what we had was a property with potential. That with some work we could MAKE it into the kind of property that would be productive, have a healthier deer herd and increase the overall health of all the game animals that lived and thrived there. We started concentrating on ALL parts of the season, not just the hunting season. We asked a lot of questions to the Ag department on what crops would do well during different times of the year. I talked to successful farmers who also planted for wildlife on their farms. They, after all, had the hard-earned, long-term experience that we needed to know. We learned a lot about soil preparation, clearing, herbicides, lime, fertilizer, year round mineral stations, supplemental feeding through broadcast feeders and most importantly, food plots.
As a group and as individuals, we completely changed our mindset and approach as to how we looked at the property we had then and every piece of ground we’ve hunted since. It took time and a lot of work, but the end result was that we went from HOPING we would see something to KNOWING we were going to; and letting it walk if it wasn’t mature enough. We started spreading the news about what we were doing and showed the proof in the animals we were harvesting. People began to take notice and these techniques began to spread.
Slowly, people around us began letting smaller deer walk and planting for wildlife. We didn’t realize it at the time but we were planting the seeds of a CO-OP with the properties around us. A lot of those properties were gun hunters and once our ideas caught on, it didn’t sound like a war zone anymore with hunters shooting anything that came by. The attitude of “If it’s brown it’s down” went away and was replaced by “Maybe next year little fella.”
I don’t look at things the same as I once did. Now it’s a more tactical, scientific approach that involves year-round work and management. It has made me more mature and responsible. I truly feel like a STEWARD of the land doing my part to help produce bigger bucks and other wildlife.
Probably the most important thing I do differently now is using a strategic approach to planting my food plots. I categorize them into two groups. First is the MAIN PLOT. This is where deer ultimately go after dark or when a cold front is approaching and they want to pick up plenty of groceries before it hits. This can be from a half acre to several acres and in different shapes. I like the boomerang shape and the racetrack. Both will be completely surrounded by woods. The middle of the boomerang is a good place to put a stand because you can see down either of the sides. The racetrack is circular or oval in shape and has woods in the middle like an infield. The opportunities for stand placement here are endless. In the Main plot, I’ll plant corn, brassicas, turnips, chufa and millet for turkeys. Just plant the groceries and they will come.
I view these as the ultimate destination for deer. Everyone knows that deer move near dark, still within good shooting light, on the way to the food source they are moving toward. I use the Main Plot to my advantage. Through scouting, I determine which trails are getting the most use coming into the Main Plot. Then I back track as much as a couple of hundred yards to find just the right location to make a STAGING PLOT. We have all found clusters of rubs in a small area before. These are staging areas that a buck has used waiting for darkness to fall before exposing himself in a big opening to feed or check out does. During the pre-rut and rut, bucks will vent their frustration by horning every little sapling around where they are staging.
I take advantage of this tendency and try to find a place that has a natural opening, or even a place between pine plantation rows. Somewhere that will allow plenty of light to the ground. Right here I’ll make a small food plot back in the woods away from the Main Plot. In short order, this will become a common place for deer to stage, waiting for dark while giving them something to snack on. It doesn’t have to be big in size, maybe 20 feet wide and about as long. I use a variety of plants on these out of the way plots. I’ll always use something different in each one to see what gets the most use. Some of the seeds I use are corn, clover, chicory, soybeans and peas.
Carefully placing your stand at the STAGING PLOTS will give you a great place to take the bigger bucks that don’t like to show up in an open place during shooting light. It will also work well during the post rut when bucks are trying to recover. They don’t want to wander far from their bedding area to find food so this could be your ticket.
It seems like a lifetime ago that I just grabbed my weapon and went hunting hoping I would see something. I have evolved as a wildlife manager, steward of the land and matured as a hunter. I’ll never look at anything the same way again. I’ve learned to look at the whole picture and come up with a strategy that will work for both me and the wildlife on my property. By using the great seed products that are available, we now have the tools to make a good place a fantastic place to hunt and have a quality experience. Everyone is getting on the bandwagon of Quality Deer Management. Try looking at your place from a different perspective and give some of these techniques a try. You and the wildlife you take care of will be glad you did.