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Food Plot Strategies and Food Plot Maintenance

by Cody Altizer 29. May 2011 10:31
Cody Altizer

In Episode 4 of Bowhunt or Die last fall, Justin Zarr made a bold prediction concerning the success of the remainder of his hunting season.  He said, with confidence and certainty, that he was going to kill a mature buck off his hunting property in Lake County, Illinois.  His trust in his skills and strategy was admirable and I immediately knew that he was going to put his tag on a mature buck.

With summer just weeks away, and my mind slowly, but comfortingly, thinking of cool fall days spent in the tree stand, I am going to make a fearless forecast myself.  I WILL shoot a mature whitetail on October 1st, the opening day of the Virginia archery season.  I haven’t felt this confident in an opening day set up ever, and I am sure I can put the pieces together this offseason to accomplish my goal.  Here’s how.

My Imperial Whitetail Clover food plot measure 17 inches before I cut it with the bush hog.  It was a beautiful sight and I felt good knowing that I had supplied a constant, nutritious food source for the deer. 

This quest for an opening day whitetail actually began last August, when I planted a clover and oat food plot.  The oats were planted for fall attraction, and they performed extremely well last hunting season.  However, I was more excited about how the clover would take off this spring and it did not disappoint.  A little spot seeding in late March proved to be beneficial because by mid-May, my food plot had turned into a lush green carpet of delicious, nutritious deer food.  Couple that with the steady rainfall we have been receiving in Virginia and the clover had grown to be 17 inches tall!  This was turning out to be the most successful food plot I had ever planted.

It was bittersweet mowing my clover food plot, but it had to be done.  This simple step will ensure the health and attractiveness of this food plot throughout the summer and into fall.

In order to ensure that deer continue feeding in my food plot throughout the summer months and into the hunting season, an important task must be completed regularly, mowing.  Mowing a food plot is a step that can drastically increase the overall health of the food plot while making it more attractive to deer at the same time.  As a food plot matures and continues to grow, it will actually lose its nutritional value and attractiveness when it gets to a certain age, or more appropriately, length.  I must admit, it was a bittersweet experience mowing my food plot.  The white blooms were so prevalent that it looked as if a mid-May snowfall had blanketed the food plot and walking in clover 17 inches tall made me feel like I was doing something right.   Nevertheless, the mowing had to be done.  

This shot illustrates just how well the clover was doing.  I used the lens hood off my 24-105mm Wide Angle lens for a size reference.  

This cutting will likely be the first of 4-5 cuttings I will make this summer, depending on rainfall.  Mowing the clover will help make sure the protein level remains, not peaks, at 20-25% throughout the summer, which is needed for the antler growing bucks, lactating does and young fawns on my property.  Keeping the clover young and tender not only keeps it at its most nutritional and digestible state, but also helps with weed control as well.  Cutting back the weeds will allow the quickly regenerating clover to choke out the weeds and unwanted grasses that do their best to take over my food plot.  I do not substitute mowing for regular spraying, however.  

After I finished mowing the clover, I took a quick minute to hang my CamTrakker so I could monitor what deer are utilizing my food plot right now.  I honestly do not expect a whole of activity right away.  Spring green up is in full swing in Virginia so there is plenty of tender, nutritious natural browse available for the deer in the woods.  In fact, I will actually be thrilled if the deer aren’t feeding heavily on the clover right now, because that tells me that I’ve done a good job in recent years controlling the doe population and supplementing natural browse.   

A strategically placed CamTrakker will let me know what caliber deer are feeding in my food plot and when.  

So there you have it, a hunting prediction made in late May.  You’re probably thinking, “He must be crazy, he can’t honestly believe he can make a guarantee that leaves so much to chance like hunting does!”  Well you’re right; I am crazy, but also confident.   If the conditions are right in Virginia on October 1st, then I should harvest a whitetail in the morning on its way to bed after feeding in the clover, or on its way for dinner in the afternoon.  A crazy prediction it is, but I bet you’ll be checking back in October to see if I was right.  

Habitat Management: Using a Chainsaw to Create Bedding Cover for Your Deer

by Cody Altizer 3. March 2011 08:10
Cody Altizer

  During an afternoon hunt this past fall in Western Virginia, I was thinking about my offseason plans for the 2011 season.  Obviously, my mind sifted through the thoughts of food plotting, shed hunting, a little late season scouting and my favorite offseason activity, habitat management.  This includes planting and maintaining fruit trees, transplanting juvenile cedar trees to areas of more sunlight, and my favorite: using a chainsaw to manipulate the habitat to increase the appeal of my hunting property to deer and better my hunting for this fall.  This year, this meant creating a man made funnel to force deer by my stand before entering a food plot and adding some much needed bedding cover.

A chainsaw can be a bowhunter's best friend this time of year!

Last summer, I planted about an acre of Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Clover and was excited to see how the deer would respond to it during the hunting season.  While I wasn’t able to hunt the food plot or surrounding areas last year, my brother had several productive hunts sitting about 30 yards inside the timber off the food plot.  Every afternoon he hunted that location, anywhere between 15 and 20 deer would make their way into the food plot to feed on the lush clover.  There was only one problem; the deer were entering the food plot wherever they felt like.  Since there were no natural funnels or pinch points surrounding the food plot, the deer weren’t forced to go anywhere.  While my brother did see several deer, he never once had one in bow range, a very frustrating feeling.

A couple weeks ago I remedied this problem by taking my chainsaw and felling several undesirable trees.   By piling them together in a strategic location I was able to make a funnel that will force deer by my stand before entering the food plot.  This may sound like cheating and I have heard several hunters mention this technique in the same breath as baiting; however, there are still several factors that must come into play before I am even presented with a shot opportunity.  First, I need a West or Northwest wind to prevent the deer from smelling me.  Also, there is no guarantee the deer will even succumb to the barrier that is my funnel.  What if they simply walk on the other side of my all my hard work and effort?  Ah, such is deer hunting!

On this white pine, I simply delimbed the tree about 6 feet up to help create my funnel without cutting down the entire tree.

Since I had the chainsaw with me I decided to improve the bedding on my property as well.   Again, by cutting trees that serve little benefit to wildlife, I was able to thicken up the understory and provide some great bedding cover; something my property really lacks.  This also opened up the timber to allow for more sunlight to penetrate the canopy that will result in fresh undergrowth.  This new growth provides a tender, nutritious food source that also creates added bedding cover as well.   

Several benefits can be attained when using a chainsaw on your hunting property.  For one, you can manipulate deer movement to better your chances of a shot.  Secondly, you can fell undesireable trees and let them lay to increase bedding cover.  Last but not least, carrying around a powerful chainsaw simply makes you look like a tough guy, wouldn't you agree?

Some knowledge of dendrology is helpful when cutting trees to better the habitat and hunting on your property.  It’s critical to only fell trees that offer little benefit to wildlife.  On my property, I cut yellow-poplars, black locusts, red maples, and Virginia pines.  Removing these trees eliminates competition for sunlight and nutrients which allows for healthier and fuller crowns of white, red, and black oaks and other important mast bearing trees.  Yellow-poplars and red maples are also prolific “stump-sprouters,” meaning that even when I cut the tree in late winter, several young saplings will sprout from the stump providing an attractive and nutritious spring food source.

A chainsaw can be a bowhunter’s best friend this time of year when it comes to preparing for another hunting season.  Manipulating deer movement and increasing bedding area are just a couple ways one can better their hunting for an upcoming season.  So, if you are worn out from shed hunting, but it’s still too cold to begin work on your food plots, then grab a chainsaw and better your chances of harvesting a mature buck this season today. 


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