Land And Deer Management — Part I

How long does it take to turn a so-so parcel of land into a hunter’s dream? If your property is in an area of primarily forest land, with little to no agriculture nearby and you alone have been able to create several productive food plots within the deep woods, in one year you should have a monopoly of the deer movement on your land, unless there is excessive baiting.

All you have to do now, is stay off your land for a minimum of two weeks prior to opening day and hope your neighbors are building blinds, creating shooting lanes, scouting for deer just before opening day, they are helping your deer viewing success. Even if your neighbors are putting out bait the day before the opener for the first time, it will help more than hurt.

Starting around mid-September, the presence of human scent within the deer’s core area is a major cause of increased deer alertness. I have been involved in the business of farming all my life and during the planting and growing seasons as long as I’m in my tractor with the engine running the deer pay little attention to me. It is important to understand that there is a natural increased alertness right after the bucks have shed their antler velvet. In addition the properties surrounding yours normally have a serious impact on your deer action.

Going to the other side of the fence where competition for deer is obvious it can take five or more years. If your neighbor is one who believes and practices, timber stand improvement this can be serious competition. Example: your land and your neighbors have many mature oaks. This dense canopy leads to much open area within. You make an attempt to remove a few skimpy oaks but leave all other mature oaks, which leaves approximately 12 or more mature oaks per acre. This is still too dense and will create a park effect with very little ground cover. Your neighbor selects the better acorn producers and leaves no more than six mature oak trees per acre. He removes most of the remaining scrub trees to encourage ground cover growth. He may go the distance and prep a few of the open areas for the seeding of switch grass. He may go even further by clearing an area near a prime mature oak, (future bow blind) and within the seeded switch grass plants three apple and three pear trees. Have you ever seen deer feeling so secure that they chomp on acorns and fruit from morning until evening?

If your neighbor created the above, he has the edge. The key is dense ground cover. There is no such thing as not being able to compete in farmland country. Here, one will need to create an environment that deer cannot resist. The key is a mantra expressed by Tony LaPratt many times, “Controlling deer movement starts in early September by having bucks living on your land during daylight.” No matter what the competition, if the bucks are already on your land during daylight you get first crack at them in the morning or afternoon.

This article is about the beginning of land and deer management of a 350 acre parcel in mid-Michigan. For obvious reasons the name of the property owners and location will not be disclosed. I met the property owners at one of Tony LaPratt’s Boot Camps. I noted the sincere interest husband and wife, Adam and Eve, had in improving their recently acquired property and applying Tony’s many creative ideas of manipulating the landscape in order to insure that bucks and does are living on the land and during daylight.

These landscaping changes included creating tree hinge cuttings that are effective as large or small doe family bedding areas, buck only bedding areas, buck and doe bedding areas and controlling deer travel corridors. There are many wrong ways of hinge cutting and then there is Tony’s proven method. Once the trees are cut and down they cannot be corrected. All hinge cutting improves the habitat, but the best that these incorrect hinge cuts end may be prime rabbit and bird sanctuaries. Adam and Eve were sold when viewing Tony’s hinge cutting ideas, other buck bedding methods, dozens of different site layouts, food plots, kill plots, deer travel lanes sneak lanes, ambush sites, staging areas, scrap lanes, the value of creating much edge and how the different parts are connected so that you might see the same buck twice the same evening but an hour or so apart as he is freshening his scraps in your controlling scrap lane.

This may seem out of the picture, but it isn’t. Once you understand and apply Tony’s ‘Time Management’ you will be in control. Example: the above secure beds are connected to a secure deer corridor that may change into a sneak trail that passes an ambush site but certainly will join other deer corridors and sneak trails. These multiple secure deer trails enter a small, 1/10 acre and secure staging area that borders your blind. This staging area could be tall grass within scattered brush with 3-4 each of apple and pear trees, (pears are preferred by deer) or just plain switch grass with the fruit trees and perhaps a little forage planted within.

This staging area borders your attractant kill plot, but it is the staging area that is your primary kill zone. You will note how the deer want to enter the attractant kill plot but are hesitant, yet they have no problem being in the secure tall grass or brushy staging area and taking a bite of your clover, apples or pears. Staging areas that have deer trails entering may need some tree removal to get the right secure effect. The secure cover within the staging area absolutely needs to be tall and dense for maximum action. These staging areas should be narrow, 60-90 feet max and can be quite long, up to 60 or more yards. You should have secure connecting deer travel lanes between your created bedding areas. You also should have secure connecting travel lanes between staging areas. Deer need to find out the story about other deer within their area and will by using the above connecting lanes. Your site layout should be designed to use up the deer’s evening’s daylight, also known as ‘Time Management’ and you just might see that buck twice as he makes his evening circuit scrape trip.

Adam and Eve were sold. They booked two land management four day visits for Tony’s Associates Chris Pearson and Sal to create the above deer controlling landscaping on their land. Their property consisted of close to 100 acres of open grass land with many lanes and openings throughout the wooded area. I asked them what they had in mind for the grassy open areas in the woods and the large meandering open grass land. They hope to make their entire landscape managed deer country.

That’s big and I asked what did they have farm equipment? They had some farm equipment and a source that had experience but not food plotting or open range seeding designed for deer. Well, these are my kind of people and I offered my help by advising their source in making the better moves in site layouts, food plotting plus that open and challenging grassy field into a destination field, doe fawning areas, travel lanes and food plots. Adam and Eve accepted my offer and here is the first year of the five year plan. We can discuss my end of the land management plan, but obviously not what Chris and Sal are doing for that is proprietary information created by Tony LaPratt. See our web site for booth camp or personal land management information.

Adam and Eve’s newly purchased property has been in a long time deer hunting camp for over 35 years. The land is primarily wooded with the last timber stand cutting around 18 years ago. Some wooded areas are very dense with second growth, there are endless oaks, decent aspen thickets and much flat seasonal flooding taking place. There is a major drain including several nice ponds across the entire length. The water table stays within 4-5 feet of the surface in mid-summer. The landscape changes from forever damp lowland areas to very light soil and areas of not too bad stuff that just may grow corn. The high water table should forgive the sins of light soil. There needs to be a major application of lime and fertilizer along with increasing organic matter to build up the soil.

It didn’t take me long to find out that Adam and Eve are serious about their new land. They picked up all the existing firearm blinds, repaired them and painted them with Eve’s own decorative camo design. Evidently they listened to Tony when he described the right mock scrape set up. They went one better. Normally a mock scrape is made in August to early September to time it with the bucks’ increased activity. Well, it is mid-spring and I’m told that they made 60 scrapes and within two days half were hit.

It’s important that an area of soil right under the hanging licking branch be exposed. Normally you spray a contact herbicide, wait 3-4 weeks and rake until the soil is exposed. They didn’t have time to spray and wait for the vegetation to die, Adam and Eve took their rototiller and worked that soil into a fine tilled area. I found out many years ago that freshly tilled soil gives a look and scent that deer cannot resist. Perhaps many of you have had that same experience after you prepped your food plot with tillage. You do not need any deer attractant scent, the soil by itself does wonders, and the more you work that soil the more is the attraction.

Deer will not scrape the soil prior to mid-September, but they will mangle and leave their scent on the overhanging branch year round. When deer start to paw the soil area they also urinate within the scrape. By early November the smell can straighten you out. You cannot make too many mock scrapes and make a few of the tilled mock scrapes large, (3-4 feet in diameter) and note the action.

This is the first year and the emphasis will be on soil correction plus the elimination of weeds and cool season grasses. There will be food plots, but more so to find out what grows, how well and where. One primary goal is to have mature bucks living on your land starting in early September. This is a five year program, you can expect a few mature bucks choosing your land early in the program, which means you took them off another’s property. That can and will happen but expect the bulk of the mature bucks living on your land during the hunting seasons choosing your place as yearling bucks, (1-1/2 year old). You will need to have a balanced adult buck to doe sex ratio of around 1:2. I preach a closer sex ratio, 1:1.3 because that is all most areas need for reproduction success. Until that is the sex ratio in your surrounding area you may need a higher number of does to hold and pull in other mature bucks. With time, if land and deer management is done right you will hold the protected yearling bucks to become your future mature bucks. It will help big time if you and your neighbors create a deer management co-op.

The 100 acres of open grass land had a few trees and my guess was that this open area has been that way for some time and probably used as livestock pasture prior to the group that used the property for 35 years as their hunting camp. Deer do not like to travel in open areas during daylight especially during the hunting seasons. It’s the open area during daylight, (especially the southern side of hills) that they seek to absorb the suns heat during winter. Everyone has seen deer all day long alongside the roadside during the spring green up and of course it is not unusual to observe deer in those alfalfa fields during the growing season. Adam and Eve and I devised a plan, which is to create 70 acres of the open area into a tall combination cover and forage area to be used as deer bedding, forage and doe fawning areas. In late June of 2012 it will be seeded with 7-1/2 lbs. of a blend that includes two lbs. of a variety of switch grasses, 4-1/2 lbs. of a variety of perennials and one lb. of cover with cool season grasses. This is designed to last for decades, with minimum maintenance. The remaining 30 acres is planned to be a 15 acre destination field, and 10 acres of kill food plots. The 15 acres destination field will be seeded this year, and described in next year’s article.

There will be 5 aces of travel lanes using the cover and forage blend or corn. We hope to create several 3-5 acre doe fawning areas within the 70 acre cover and forage blend. Doe fawning areas are prepped and seeded the same as the rest of the 70 acre field, but the maintenance is different. There should be some fertilization, timed spraying every three years and perhaps an occasionally light tillage in the maintenance of doe fawning areas. It is not heavy stuff but necessary. The object is to have both tall cover and forage for the fawns and does from fawn birthing through late summer. We see a significant improvement in fawn survival to one year of age.

In the wooded areas no trees were removed, we used the many wide two tracks and open areas as is. Throughout the entire 100 acre open area, the open areas in the woods and where we wanted to create food plots or deer travel lanes in the two tracks we checked the soil, added recommended lime and fertilizer to achieve a Ph of 6.5, Phosphorous at 40 parts per million, PPM, potash and magnesium at 200 PPM. We then sprayed two quarts of Round up, RR 1-1/2 pint of 2-4-D Ester and one quart of sprayable granulated ammonium sulfate, AMS per acre around mid-May. Two weeks later we tilled four inches deep twice. We tilled again in the first week of July, (the bracken and sweet fern was giving us a fight). We sprayed again the entire area at one quart of RR and one quart of AMS per acre on August 5th. The next few days we seeded the entire area.

This first year is preliminary for we are looking for answers to make the right decision before we firm up the plan. From what we have found out from the growth of forage, the movement of deer and just plain observation there will be many changes in 2012.

Adam and Eve put out 12 cameras and saw quite of few yearling bucks and five different older bucks but they and their hunting companions took no bucks and only one doe during the hunting seasons. They did have some interesting experiences during the bow season. One evening, Adam had six yearling bucks in front of him with two mature bucks in the distance while Eve had four bucks playing with her mind in mid-October, 12 bucks in one evening shows future promise. For some reason the buck movement slowed big time starting five days before the firearm opener. As we noted above, this is a five year program. See you next year.

Ed Spinazzola, Associate, Tony LaPratt’s Ultimate Land Management. For more info see our web site or or call 586-784-8090.