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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.  

Thankful for Bowhunting Home, Time With Family

by Cody Altizer 30. November 2010 02:27
Cody Altizer

 If you have followed my blog throughout the 2010 hunting season, you certainly know how much I am enjoying my time in the upper Midwest.  Whether it be chasing these giant whitetails with bow in hand or behind the camera filming Justin Zarr and Todd Graf and their hunts, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every second I’ve spent in the deer woods of Wisconsin and Illinois so far this year.  However, this past week was by far the most enjoyable time I’ve spent hunting all year as I was able to fly back home and hunt my family owned property in Virginia the entire week of Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to harvest a deer back home, but the time spent in the tree with my brother, around the hunting camp with my dad and at the dinner table with my mom is what made the trip so enjoyable.

My second home, Rocking Chair Hunt Club.  It was a blast to be able to be able to go home and hunt the property I grew up on.  There is nothing better!

 When I flew in on the 19th I had high hopes of harvesting a Virginia whitetail the following week.  I knew it was going to be tough as Virginia was currently in its fourth week of gun season (two weeks of early Muzzleloading followed by two weeks of rifle season) but I was still optimistic.  My brother had been my eyes and ears all season long had been seeing some quality bucks and plenty of does so I was eager to get in the treestand.  However, extremely warm temperatures slowed deer movement early in the week and I didn’t even see a deer Monday or Tuesday. 
Wednesday morning my brother and I saw plenty of good deer activity, but as is often the case in the big woods mountains of Virginia; the deer just seemed to wander through the woods without any sense of direction and never made it by our stand.  Wednesday afternoon was much like Monday and Tuesday as I never saw a deer from stand.  I will admit though, that I took out my Traditions muzzleloader hoping to harvest a buck that way, but to no avail.  Thanksgiving morning my brother and I were back at and again saw several deer, just nothing within bow range.  We did, however, see well over 40 turkeys that morning and in my experience, deer just don’t tolerate the noise turkeys make scratching through the woods.  Then again, my brother and I got pretty fed up with seeing gang after gang of turkeys too!

It was nice to have a camera man film my hunts for a change.  A BIG thanks goes out to my brother, Damin, for giving up quality hunting time to film my hunts.  We probably ended up scaring away more deer than we actually saw because we were laughing so hard at each other in the treestand.  I wouldn't trade that time in the stand for anything!

I chose to sleep in on Friday to catch up on a little sleep to prepare myself for the last day and a half of hunting because I was really going to get after it hard.  Friday afternoon my brother and snuck as close as we could get to a bedding area without disturbing the deer with climbers on our back.  Prior to this hunt I wasn’t a big fan of climbing tree stands.  I trusted their safety and purpose, but honestly didn’t like the effort it took to get up a tree and would just assume carry a hang on and sticks with me in the woods.  However, my brother had just bought the Summit Viper and allowed me to try it out and all I can say is this: I WILL buy one this offseason.  It was an incredibly light treestand to carry into the woods, setup easily and I was able to safely ascend up the tree and get set up within no time.  I felt safe and stealthy the entire time and decided I needed one for myself. 

We intensely practice Quality Deer Management on hunting property in Bath County, Virginia.  If you have the time, land and resources to do, I encourage you to implement some sort of management plan on your hunting property.  Results won't be immediate, but the gratification you will receive from benefitting your herd and habitat is well worth the patience required.

Friday afternoon ended up turning out to be our most productive hunt of the entire week.  Around 4 pm we had a group of does make their way out of the bedding area we were set up so close to.  As soon as exited from the bedding area they began feeding on white oak acorns about 70 yards north of our stand.  I knew that the longer they fed on those acorns, the less our chances would be of being able to harvest one of these deer.  I’ve learned the longer you have deer around your stand that aren’t in bow range, the less chance you will have of shooting them.  We’d been given a steady dose of South, Southwest Winds that afternoon; however, after 45 minutes of those feeding on acorns the winds shifted out of the east and they busted us, just as they were begin to make their way past our climbers.  It was a tough break to catch, but it was an exciting encounter nonetheless.  Just a heart-pounding, close encounter was all I really needed to call my trip home a success in terms of hunting.  My brother and I hunted hard Saturday from the same location, but high winds only resulted in us seeing a couple spikes harassing a doe in the morning, and a solid 2 year old 8 pointer in the afternoon.  Just as quickly as my hunting trip back home started, it was over.

One of the several scrapes we found littered throughout our hunting property.  We knew the big bucks were there, we just couldn't pull it off!  Bowhunting during the second week of rifle season proved to be quite a challenge, but I have no regrets taking my bow hunting rather than my rifle.

A view of one our Imperial Whitetail Clover Food Plots.  We planted this plot in early August and despite a lack of consistent rainfall, the food plot has flourished.  I am really looking forward to how it goes back next spring!

I wasn’t able to harvest a deer on my home property in Bath County, Virginia, but I had an incredible time at home nonetheless.  We manage those 260 acres of paradise very intensely and our food plots were doing exceptionally well, the timber was littered with scrapes and rubs and throughout the course of the week between my dad, my brother and me, we all several young bucks that made it through the rifle season and will be shooters next year.  But, of course, the best part was spending time with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday and enjoying quality time together.  Christmas will be here before you know it and I am anxiously looking forward to returning home to the Virginia Mountains and hunting late season whitetails with my family!


Early Season Whitetails and Food Plots

by Cody Altizer 31. August 2010 08:49
Cody Altizer

As the Dog Days of summer begin to dwindle down to the early stages of fall, so my excitement and enthusiasm for the opening day of bow season rises.  As if it could rise any higher!  Opening day for some is just weeks away, but for most of us we still have to wait until October to ascend into our favorite early season tree.  Regardless, we will all be bowhunting for whitetails before we know it.
    The early season is one of my favorite times to bowhunt.  The anticipation and uncertainty of a new season, coupled with the beautiful transition into fall, make any trip to the woods in October a successful one.  In fact, chances are that in the first two weeks, often the first couple days of a new season, we are presented with the best opportunity of harvesting a mature buck.  This year is no different with my fall food plots planted and thriving.  Also, 2010 has proven to be a banner year for many of the hard and soft mast producing species on my property.  The white oaks have produced an excellent crop of acorns which is important to my hunting success, as 90% of the 260 acres I hunt is mature timber.  Soft mast species such as apple trees and autumn olive groves have also produced a bountiful yield which can be early season hot spots as well.

Success during the early season often boils down to finding a favored food source.  Be on the look out for soft mast species, such as autumn olives, as they can be little honey holes.

      This fall I have 7 different food plots planted and all are in excellent condition heading into the hunting season.  I have two small hunting plots planted in Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Clover.  These plots have been established for three years now.  Since their first planting in the spring of 2007, they’ve attracted and held many whitetails on my hunting property without having to be reseeded.  I do, however, frost seed them every late winter/early spring to increase the tonnage.  I also have an additional food plot, about one acre in size, planted in Whitetail Institute’s Extreme.  The soil in this particular plot is marginal at best, mostly composed of sand and clay, making it extremely difficult to grow my seed of choice, Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail CloverWhitetail Institute’s Extreme, however, has performed beautifully this spring and summer.  This chicory, clover, alfa-alfa, burnet blend established quickly in the spring and has grown tall, thick and lush all summer long, despite the poor soil conditions and record heat in Western Virginia.

Imperial Whitetail Clover has been my seed of choice when it comes to food plot planting since I began using it in 2007.  It's simply the best!

    Temperatures this summer in Virginia’s Mountain Valleys were scorching.  Daytime highs averaged over 90 degrees since late May, during which the mercury rose above 100 degrees 5 times, including three days consecutively!  This type of weather is abnormal for Western Virginia.  Still, my Whitetail Institute food plots not only survived but continued to grow and are strong and healthy heading into the hunting season.

Apples are another early season food source enjoyed by deer.  If you have apple trees, or any other fruit trees for that matter, they certainly warrant a hunt during the early season.

    My fall food plot planting is what has me the most excited.  In two separate locations, totaling almost to two acres, I sowed in some winter oats as part of a “dual plot.”  Fortunately, just days after I sowed the oats, we received steady rainfall and the oats germinated and took off quickly!  I then immediately sowed more Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Clover to grow alongside the oats.  This all took place over a week and half in mid August and both plants are growing quickly.  I cannot be thankful enough for the ample, steady rainfall we have received.  Ideally, the oats will serve as a hardy, nutritious, attractive food source throughout the hunting season.  When next spring rolls around, the clover will have an established root system and flourish.  The final two food plots, totaling about 1 ½ acres, are made of turnips and rape.  Both plants, like the oats, germinate quickly and are easy to establish.  Fortunately, these plots are coming along great as well!

A close up shot of the young oats.  This food plot, which is also seeded with clover, will provide a reliable food source for the deer all season long.

    The past two seasons have made for difficult hunting for me primarily because of a lack of food reliable, consistent food source.  This fall is shaping up to be much, much different.  While the principal purpose of the food plots is to attract and hold deer while providing first-rate nutrition, they have the potential to make for exciting hunting opportunities this fall.  The topographical layout of 5 of the 7 food plots allow me to hunt downwind of the food plots with undetectable entry and exit routes.  The early season relationship between whitetails and acorns is undeniable as well.

When it comes to early season whitetails, it's hard to beat white oak acorns.  This particular tree is loaded with them!

    Bow season begins for the majority of us in just over a month and I’m eager to get in a tree with a bow.  However, I am equally excited about my new job opportunity.  From mid September through mid January I’ll be helping Todd and Justin out at the office!  I’m excited about making the move to Northern Illinois.  Hopefully, I’ll make some new friends, enjoy a different culture, and help bring home some awesome footage of Todd and Justin throughout the season.  It’s going to be an exciting fall!




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