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Persistence Pays - Big Buck Down in Virginia

by Cody Altizer 5. December 2011 17:24
Cody Altizer

Disclaimer: Okay, let me preface this blog by stating that, like my previous blog, this blog is dedicated to another gun kill.  Yes, obviously this is a bowhunting website, but I (and many of our other staff members as well) equally enjoy taking to the woods every fall with rifle and/or muzzleloader.  After all, we are all hunters and we must support one another, regardless of choice of weapon.  Disclaimer over, read on for the actual blog!

Quite frankly, this has been one of the slowest, most frustrating hunting seasons I have ever been a part of.  I went into this season more prepared and more excited than I had ever gone into a previous season.  Food plots were prepped and planted in the spring and maintained throughout the summer.  Stands were hung during the dog days of summer, and my Mathews was shooting darts.  I was ready to rock n’ roll! 

Here is one of literally hundreds of photos I got of High n' Tight after the season last year.  He certainly wasn't shy as a 2 year old, but it's funny how a whitetail wises up between their second and third birthday.  During the spring, summer and fall, he became a ghost.

I had trail camera photos of two different bucks I was going to be on the lookout for.  The first was a 4 year old buck we had decided to call Clyde.  He was a mainframe 10, and the best we could tell from trail camera photos he would score close to 150 inches.  The second buck, and quite honestly, the buck I thought I would have the best chance at shooting, was a buck nicknamed High n’ Tight.  High n’ Tight was a frequent visitor to our food plots last winter as a 2 year old, and I was excited about hunting him this season as a 3 year old.  His brow tines were high and tight (hence the nickname) and we had over 100 photos of him feeding in our food plots.  He was so visible in our food plots and on trails to and from bedding areas, that I was sure I would get a crack at him early this season.

High n' Tight on his way back to bed in early February.  I searched for hours on end for his sheds, but to no avail.

Unfortunately, as you may have read here, my season got off to a rocky start immediately.  I regrouped after my opening day misfortune, and hunted relatively hard the entire month of October.  As you may have read in my previous blog, I hunted mostly afternoons near food sources as to not pressure a certain buck I had my eyes on.  As the month of October neared its end and November quickly approaching, I was excited about the thought of hunting rutting whitetails.   I had plenty of food available on the property; the deer I would be hunting hadn’t been pressured, and rubs and scrapes and were popping up over night on trails leading to and from bedding areas.  My goal this season was to hunt exclusively with my bow.  I knew it would be tempting to swap the bow for my muzzleloader or rifle once their respective seasons came in, but I wanted, no, needed, to harvest a buck with my this year.  It would be fantastic to harvest a 3 year old buck with my bow in the mountains I hunt, and I was going to be relentless in my pursuit of that goal.

By the time November rolled around, I was a lot like the bucks that were maxed out on testosterone at the same time, it was go time!  Clyde had been captured several times on trail camera, but High n’ Tight was nowhere to be found.  He was so visible during the winter, I simply couldn’t believe he just up and vanished.  Was he poached during the summer?  Did he establish a new home range?  Had Clyde scared him completely out of the state of Virginia?  I was pretty disappointed that the buck I thought I had the best chance of shooting had completely disappeared.

High n' Tight with his older brother, Clyde in January of this year.  I actually didn't know it was Clyde until my brother shot him in early November.  A small cut in his left ear let me know that it was in fact him in this photo.

Nevertheless, on November 1st I checked my Stealth Cam that was overlooking one of my mock scrapes on a field edge, and it revealed Clyde had visited just two days prior.  The next day I took down my Lone Wolf Assault and sticks, packed it on my back and moved it a half mile east to the location of the mock scrape.  The next morning I was 15 yards from that mock scrape and ready to arrow Clyde at 15 yards.  That morning was an exciting morning to be on stand to say the least.  I didn’t see Clyde, but I did see a handful of does and had a close encounter with another one of my target bucks, a tall racked 8 pointer I call Mr. Two Bits.  I have quite a bit of history with Mr. Two Bits, including still photos and video footage of him in velvet in July, and a handful of trail camera photos of him throughout September and October.  He walked out past me at 60 yards, but he busted me as I was trying to get my camera situated and get some footage of him.  So close!  I got down that morning optimistic about what the rest of the month would hold, but I was oblivious to the tough hunting I was about to endure.

In the following weeks I got served a huge dose of bowhunting reality.  The weather for bowhunting the rut was simply terrible.  The following weather pattern repeated itself for almost the entire month: three days of rain, a day of high winds, and then warming temperatures until the next storm system blew in bringing more rain.  It was incredibly frustrating, but I kept hunting hard.  In fact, I was hunting harder than ever.  My Lone Wolf Sit and Climb and I got to be exceptionally close, and I took down and moved my Lone Wolf Assault at least 6 times during a span of 10 days when I thought the bucks would be rutting the hardest.  My efforts were futile.  The terrible weather partnered with a full moon in mid-November and forced me to go deer less on more hunts that I would care to admit.  My brother shot Clyde on November the 12th with his muzzleloader, but that was the only buck activity we experienced the first couple weeks of November.  Exhausted, I took a handful of days off from hunting to get a change of scenery, recharge my batteries and get re-focused for the second half of the month.

My Mathews Z7 Xtreme and Lone Wolf Assault and Sticks at the ready.  I logged a lot of stand time with this combo during October and November.

My first hunt after my vacation from hunting was a lot like the first two weeks of November.  Dumping rains kept me in bed the morning of November 17th, and I elected to get in my stand around noon to see if I could catch any bucks up on their feet before the high winds moved.  At 12:45 I heard a deer running behind me to the east and quickly threw up my Leupold Acadia’s to see what causing the commotion.  Shooter buck!  I counted 10 points, good tine length and estimated the buck to score around 130 inches.  Unfortunately, he was downwind of me and a little jittery with the blustery winds.  I wanted so badly to throw him a couple of contact grunts to gauge his interest and aggressiveness, but thought better of it.  Being downwind, he would pick me off in a heartbeat.  Helpless, I spent the better part of 5 minutes glassing him out through my binoculars.  I saw a good right main beam, and 4 tall tines shooting into the air.  He was a great buck, but I had to watch him turn around and trot off in the direction from which he came.  I’m not sure if he winded me, or was more interested in some does.  Nevertheless, I settled back in and enjoyed another deerless afternoon. 

I checked a trail camera on the way out that afternoon and was excited to find a lot of good deer, including a couple shooters moving through the area.  I keep a running file of all the bucks I have gotten on trail camera over the years, and as I copied the new entries into the “Bucks” file, I couldn’t help but notice High n’ Tight.  I had honestly forgotten about him because Clyde and Mr. Two Bits had stolen my attention the majority of the season.  As I sifted through the 50 photos that I kept of him, I couldn’t help but smile.  He was quite the clueless little two year old, who seemed to enjoy having his picture taken.  He was never far from the camera and offered several good looks of his rack, almost as if to say, “Look at me, Cody!  Just think of how big I will be next year!”  I laughed to myself and shut off the computer.

This photo was snapped after I hung my Lone Wolf in some of the nastiest cover on our property.  Warm temperatures and a full moon forced me to get right in the deer's bedroom.

My luck over the next week never improved.  One hunt, I forgot my binoculars.  The next, my safety harness.  Yes, my safety harness.  Don’t worry, I dropped my gear and made the long walk back to camp and put it on before returning to my stand.  I simply couldn’t catch a break.  The bad weather ensued, but I kept pushing on.  I continued to move my stands trying to get closer to the bucks I was chasing.  That plan, like my others, failed me.  There were many instances where I would move my stand from location “a’ to location “b” only to have deer walking right by the tree where my stand was hung at location “a.”  It got quite comical at times, but I couldn’t convince myself that I wasn’t going to catch a break sooner or later.  Fortunately, it proved to be sooner.

The morning of November 26th found me perched in one of my favorite stands.  In fact, it was in this stand that I shot my first deer ever when I was 6 years old.  It was creatively called, “Cody’s Stand” and is a great stand to not only see deer from, but watch the woods wake up as the sun rises.  About 8:00 the sun is high enough in the sky to just barely peak over the mountain to the South of me, and you can literally watch the sun rays shoot through the tall pines in front of the stand.  The frost dances in the forest openings, and I have never seen a deer look so pretty in the sun when they cross a trail 60 yards in front of my stand.  It's poetic.

Like always, I was in my stand over an hour before first light.  With plenty of time to spare, I tightened up my safety harness (I remembered it this time) and took a nice nap.  Getting up at 4:15 in the morning got harder and harder to do with each passing day during November, and these naps weren’t uncommon.  I have an incredible internal clock, and wanted to sleep not a minute past 6:30.  Sure enough, I woke up, checked my watch and it read 6:28.  I was alive, refreshed and ready to hunt!

Sweet November had finally arrived!  Unfortunately, the bucks didn't get the memo until later in the month.

It was a beautiful morning.  It was cold, calm and clear.  The sun had yet to rise, but there was enough light to make out my surroundings.  I was situated halfway between 1 acre of clover, 1 acre of turnips and a known buck bedding area.  The wind was out of the South.  I was expecting to see deer working their way in front of me walking East to West (left to right) back to bed after feeding in the food plots the previous night.  Right at 7:00 am I saw a flicker of movement about 100 yards to my south east.  There is a painfully annoying autumn olive bush at that exact location that always looks like a deer moving with the breeze blows, so I assumed that was what caused my heart to skip a beat.  Wait a minute, why is that autumn olive bush walking?  Bam, it’s a deer.  Up go my Leupold’s and I see a good buck coming my way.  He stops and I have just a couple seconds to determine he has a great rack but wasn’t a big bodied deer.  Just like that, he had disappeared into the timber and I lost him.  He was coming from my turnip food plot, and I was confident he would walk the trail 60 yards right in front of my stand, but I had a decision to make.  Is he a shooter?  He had a beautiful set of antlers, but wasn’t a big bodied deer.  I had to make up my mind.  I decided, “If he takes this trail right in front of my stand, I am taking this deer!”

There was only one problem; I still couldn’t find him in the thick timber!  I was looking frantically with my binoculars, but just couldn’t find him.  Finally, I wised up and let my ears find him for me.  I heard consistent footsteps and my eyes trusted my ears and I spotted him walking on the trail that would take him right in front of my stand.  He was in a hurry to get back to his bed, so I quickly grabbed my rifle, waited for him to walk into my shooting lane and stopped him with a soft grunt.  He threw his head up in my direction, and I settled the crosshairs right behind his shoulder.  My rifle rang out, and I saw him buckle up hard before racing straight down below my stand.  I knew he was hit, and hit hard, so I obviously started talking to myself, “That buck is hit hard, that buck is hit hard!”  I had just lost sight of him when I thought I had heard and saw him fall, but I just couldn’t tell.  I welcomed the shakes and adrenaline rush, removed my lucky orange beanie, stuffed it in my pocket, and took a deep breath.  

I texted my brother and dad saying, “Just took a shot on a good buck.  Think I made a good hit, didn’t see him go down.”  My brother responded, “Can I come up?!”  I replied, “Yes, but take your time.  I held right on the heart and he buckled up pretty good, just didn’t see him go down.”  I sent that text at 7:21, no more than 20 minutes later my brother was underneath my stand.  He was just as excited as I was.   

Persistence pays! I was finally able to catch up with High n' Tight the morning of November 25th.

I knew exactly where he was standing, so my brother and I went to recover my blood.  There was blood all over the place at the point of impact.  I’m surprised I didn’t break my brother’s hand when I gave him a fist pound and blurted, “That’s what I am talking about!”  He now calls me Stan Potts, go figure. 

I saw High n' Tight's right main beam a little over a week prior to me taking him.  Having history with a buck you eventually end up harvesting is a sweet feeling!

We took our time following the trail, and as I peaked up over the small hill where I last saw him, there he lay.  I saw a gorgeous right main beam with 4 tall tines, the same buck that slipped past me just a week before!  I walked up to him, lifted his head, looked him over in admiration and was surprised yet again, it was High n’ Tight!  The tall, sharp brow tines gave him away.  I immediately looked up at my brother, who was filming the recovery, and just stared at him blankly.  The buck that I thought I had the best chance at shooting this year, had evaded all 6 of my trail cameras, managed to hide from me all season despite my best efforts and nearly snuck by me again.  

Meet High n' Tight, my biggest buck to date, and the deer I am most proud of!

My dad got down out of his stand early, met my brother and in the frosty timber where High n’ Tight fell, and we celebrated like only a father/son hunting team can.  My brother graciously took a couple hundred photos of me and High n’ Tight, and we taped him out at 126 7/8”, my biggest buck to date, and quite frankly the buck I am most proud of.  I hunt harder than the majority of the guys I know.  The amount of time and effort I spend in preparation, hanging stands, trimming lanes, moving stands, mock scraping, food plotting, etc. is mind boggling, and it would have been easy for me to give in after the rough start to the season I endured and chalk it up to bad luck, but I stayed persistent, kept my nose to the grind stone just waiting for something good to happen, and it did.  I’m still amazed at the irony with High n’ Tight.  I had ran 6 trail cameras all summer and fall, hunted countless stands, moved those stands and moved them again trying to find this guy.  All the while, he was feeding in the same food plot the night before I shot him that he was so visible in from January to March.  

After countless hours of preparation, scouting and time in the stand, giving Thanks is the most appropriate way to honor and give respect to the animal.

This buck, and this hunting season really, also means a lot to me on an emotion level.  My brother, and hunting partner, Damin, will be getting married next spring, and while we’ll still get hunt with each other, our brotherly relationship will take a back seat to him starting a family, as it should.  My brother was right alongside me the majority of this hunting season, which to us began back in January, the day the 2010 season went out.  We shed hunted together, planted the food plots together, hung and moved stands together and, like the previous 20 years of our lives, we were inseparable.  It made for a special season that we each got to be in the woods when the other shot the biggest buck of his life.  To add to the irony, High n’ Tight and Clyde actually grouped up and ran together after the 2010 season.  Where there was one, there was the other.  In the food plots, traveling on trails, they trusted each other. They were, ironically, inseparable.  Just like my brother and I.  Who would have thought that two lucky brothers would be so fortunate to harvest such awesome whitetails that were, in a very real sense, brothers as well?

Hunting Food Plots: Experiences and Lessons Learned

by Cody Altizer 15. October 2011 11:38
Cody Altizer

If you have followed my blog with any regularity over the last several months, you are surely aware of the time, effort and enthusiasm I have poured into my food plots preparing them for the upcoming deer season.  I have planted food plots regularly since 2007 and achieved good results, but this hunting season was going to be the first season I would spend considerable time actually hunting the plots.  Whether it is hunting directly over the plot, hunting a man made funnel designed to push the deer past my stand on their way to feed for the afternoon, or hunting trails and runways hundreds of yards off the food plots trying to intercept the deer returning to their beds in the morning, I was excited.  Well, after three hunts hunting the situations above, I am here to share my experiences and the lessons learned from each hunt.   

Preparing a food plot for hunting purposes is a process that began way back in February when my brother, dad and I made a man made funnel to push the deer by my stand on their way to the food plot.  The following month I frost seeded my clover food plots to give it a head start when spring’s warmth would kickoff the growing the season.  It continued into the summer months with regular mowing to keep the weeds controlled and to ensure that the plot stays healthy and attractive to deer.  Finally, as summer burned away into fall, I plated an additional strip of turnips and oats along the timber line of my food plots to provide some variety and increase shot opportunities should I decide to hunt directly over the plot.  The day prior to opening day two weeks ago, I sat in my hunting camp a couple hundred yards off my favorite plot and observed for two hours over 20 deer feed feverishly on the green clover.  I was excited and ready to hunt!  

By hunting smart and analyzing the situation from a distance, I was better able to determine when was the best time to sneak in for the kill.  Now, if I could only figure out the "kill" part...

Opening morning I elected to go to one of my better stands located some 300 yards east of my clover and turnip food plots.  With a West-Northwest wind, I would be downwind of the food plots and would hopefully catch the deer returning to their bed after feeding in the food plots during the night.  My planned worked to perfection, as I had a perfect shot opportunity on a doe at 15 yards, but I made a poor shot on her and never recovered her.  Despite my poor shooting, I believe that shot opportunity is a direct result of the food plots.  Having a food source, in this case located in the center of my property, is extremely advantageous because it increases traffic of both bucks and does on my entire property.  Equally important in this case is how my property is structured regarding the planting locations of the two food plots.   There are known bedding areas around the food plots and there is great edge cover surrounding the food plots allowing the deer to quickly find refuge should danger approach.  I’m also able to enter and exit my stands downwind without being detected.  Being centrally located pulls deer off neighboring properties and keeps them on my property longer.  However, if there weren’t adequate cover around the food plot or bedding areas nearby, the deer wouldn’t feel as secure using my food plots. When planting food plots for hunting purposes, consider your property layout and how the surrounding terrain and prevailing wind direction can impact your hunts.

I spent the entire afternoon on opening day looking for the doe I shot that morning, so I wasn’t able to hunt that afternoon.  The following Monday, however, I climbed into my Lone Wolf stand with a good feeling about the afternoon hunt.  Temperatures were in the low 50s with a stiff breeze out of the West, perfect for this particular location.  I was tucked back in the timber off my clover plot 40 yards sitting right at the pinch I had worked so hard on during the winter.  I snuck into my stand around 2:30 knowing the deer would be moving earlier in the day with the cold front blowing through.  Every 10 minutes or so I would check the wind direction to make sure it stayed true out of the West.  It was beautifully constant.  A little after 5 o’clock I went ahead and stood up to prepare myself for primetime movement and ready myself for a shot.  The deer I was hunting hadn’t been pressured and had been using the trail I was set up over every afternoon routinely. 

Just like any hunting situation, playing close attention to the wind is critically important.  When hunting food plots, this is no different.

 Just as I had stood up I felt a cooling sensation on my face, the same cooling sensation that relaxes and eases the stress of all hunters while on stand; a nice cool breeze.  There was only one problem, that breeze was out of the East, my stomach sank.  Almost immediately I heard deer blowing in all directions west of my location.  I was busted.  The winds shifted and my hunt was ruined.  I heard deer stomping and blowing like crazy no more than 60 yards from my stand.  After I knew they were gone for good, I immediately got down out of the stand with an hour and half of daylight left.  There was no sense is stinking up the spot.  I exited the area and headed back to camp frustrated.  Another seemingly “perfect” opportunity missed.  

The lesson learned here is simple; food plot hunting isn’t immune to swirling winds.  It’s misconceived that when you hunt food plots, the deer aimlessly walk out into your food plot and you shoot them.  Sometimes if you are lucky, you might shoot two.  That’s how it goes on the television shows after all, right?  I needed a West wind to hunt that pinch and I got it.  Unfortunately, 10 minutes of swirling winds blew that hunt for me.  Fortunately, my confidence was restored as I watched from afar 6 does and a handful of yearling bucks feed in that food plot during the last hour of daylight.  Getting down before I did any further damage proved to be the right move.  

The day after my wind swirling fiasco, I took down my Lone Wolf and tucked it into a red maple on an inside corner right on the edge of the clover where deer enter and exit the field.  I wasn’t completely confident with the cover I had back in the timber, and since the deer had busted me, I wanted to keep them guessing.  I had initially considered hanging the stand in the maple during the summer, but decided to go deeper in the timber next to my funnel.  Having a “back-up” tree picked out before the season starts can prove to be a wise decision if you get busted from your first stand choice.  I had taken down, moved my stand 100 yards east and had it hung all in less than 30 minutes.  That simply would not have been possible without my Lone Wolf Alpha and Sticks, and it allowed me plenty of time to cool off before the afternoon sit.  I was happy with my new stand choice as it provided me with ample cover and two shooting lanes at 15 yards.  It would be impossible for the deer to see me until it’s too late, or at least that’s the plan.

The temperatures had warmed to the mid 70s by this point but I was confident I would see deer activity before dark.  In fact, I watched with frustration and a feeling of “can’t I catch a break?” as deer fed on my turnips to the south of me out of range. They weren’t supposed to touch those until the first frost!  Ah, the joys of high deer densities, I guess. Nevertheless, I knew deer would feed in the clover before too long.  At 6:00, just like clockwork, 7 does came running out of the timber to feed on the clover.  Literally, they were running.  I think they were actually more invested in an afternoon of tag and chase than they were feeding because for 10 minutes they chased each other back and forth in the clover.  It was fun to watch, and reassuring because these were likely the same deer that had busted me just days prior.  They still felt completely safe feeding during the daytime, which made me feel good.  

My Lone Wolf Alpha and Sticks allow me to stay mobile, keep the deer guessing and keep my best areas fresh.

At one point one of the larger does got irritated and came within 20 yards of my stand, but a branch prevented a shot.  The younger does kept chasing each other back and forth, in and out of the timber, back into the plot and back out again for another 10 minutes or so until a yearling buck decided that the game his sisters was playing looked like fun.  There must have been a “no boys allowed” clause in the rule, because the does quickly became agitated with the young buck and fled the food plot entirely.  I got down with about 10 minutes of light left when there were no longer any deer in the field and snuck back to camp.  I came close again, but wasn’t able to harvest a deer and it was an enjoyable hunt nonetheless.  

That hunt reinforced a strategy that I don’t think enough hunters employ, being mobile.  Just days before that hunt nearly every deer in the area knew they were being hunted due to the swirling winds.  However, by staying flexible, and having a back up tree in mind, I was able to buy myself another hunt on that plot within just a couple of days by keeping the deer guessing.  Deer are very instinctive animals, but I am convinced they aren’t good problem solvers.  If you get lazy and educate the deer to your location, you’re opportunities will be limited.  However if you can keep them guessing by staying mobile, keeping areas fresh and hunting the wind correctly, the deer will continue to feel comfortable feeding in your food plot during daytime hours.

I had three hunts game planned around my food plots during the first week of the season, but wasn’t able to harvest a deer.  I haven’t hunted since last Thursday and likely won’t hunt again until next Wednesday, so I am anxious to get back in stand with the cooler temperature and better moon phases.  I wish I could have called this blog: “How To:  Successful Food Plot Hunting Strategies” but that simply wouldn’t be the case, because I haven’t been successful yet.  The season is still young, and the cooler temperatures will hopefully drive the deer to the carbohydrate rich food plots.  Stay tuned to my blog throughout the season to see if my food plots will pay dividends as the season progresses!

 

Bowhunting Your Food Sources at the Right Time

by John Mueller 12. October 2011 11:45
John Mueller

Bowhunting over a food source for Whitetail Deer sounds like the easiest way to kill one there is, after all they have to eat. Well, I’m here to tell you it can work, but it’s not always that easy. You can have the best looking food plots in the county and it doesn’t guarantee you will kill deer there. There is a lot that goes into picking the right food source to hunt over. The time of year, the availability of food on the neighbors, the maturity of your crops, the weather, how long the food source has been there, and I believe the deer’s mood also plays a role in what they eat.

I typically plant 5 acres of food plots on my property in IL. During the bow season I usually have a variety of crops growing to attract the deer to my property. I feel it is necessary to have this variety because no one food source will attract the deer throughout the entire bow season as it runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15 in IL. I try to have some clover growing all year, weather permitting. Deer love the tender shoots of fresh clover as long as it stays green. But clover will go dormant in the heat of the summer and the cold of winter.

Hunt the clover when it's green and growing.

For early bow season it’s hard to beat green soy beans. I plant some of them later to ensure some are still green and growing for the first few weeks of the season. The soy beans leaves are a really hot draw for the deer during the summer months and early fall before the corn ripens and the acorns start to fall. But once they start to turn yellow the deer all but abandon them for a while. However they will return to the beans in the late season once the weather turns nasty. Especially if there is snow on the ground and they can get to the beans in those pods without having to dig through the snow. A standing bean field is hard to beat on those last few sits of the year when there is a blanket of snow covering the ground.

Soy Beans are best early and late season.

Corn is another great choice to sit over. The deer will eat the corn from the time it sprouts until all of the kernels are gone. If the deer leave any for the season I like to hunt around it any time it has ripened. The deer seem to like corn all season partly because it also offers them a good deal of cover as they feed. If you’re lucky enough to be hunting the day the corn is harvested head for your stand in the corner of the field. I have seen more deer in a newly picked corn field than in almost anyplace else on one farm I hunt.

Corn is great all season while wheat shines early. Notice how much taller the wheat inside the cage is from browsing outside the cage.

Winter Wheat is one of my favorite early bow season hot spots. I try to plant it about a month before the season opens so it has a chance to put some growth on before the season begins. The deer love the tender new green shoots of the wheat at this time of the year as most plants are dying or turning brown about now. I have seen deer walk right by corn and acorns to get to the end of the field my wheat is growing in.

Turnips are another crop planted in the late summer which matures during the colder months. Deer usually don’t prefer turnips until after they have been hit by a few frosts. But I have seen them nibble on them any time they are growing. The best time to hunt over turnips however is during cold weather when there isn’t a lot of snow on the ground. The deer eat both the leaves and the bulbs of the turnips, favoring the leaves early and the bulbs when the weather turns really cold and nasty.

Turnips are favored after a few hard frosts.

So far I’ve covered planted crops, now I’ll dig into the natural deer food growing in our woods. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen deer walk right through my food plots to eat “weeds” growing alongside the manicured food plots. Deer require a certain percentage of natural browse in order to keep their stomachs working properly. After all deer were around and surviving just fine before we started planting food plots for them.

What I consider to be the deer’s most preferred food when they are available is the almighty acorn. When the acorns start dropping the deer will abandon other food sources to feast on the new morsels falling from the trees. That is why we see the deer in the fields during the weeks leading up to bow season and then once the season opens the deer aren’t visiting the crop fields any longer. The added bonus to this is the acorns are one of the best foods for the whitetails. Very high in protein and fat which they will need to survive the rut and the brutally cold winter ahead. If you can locate the first few trees to drop their prized nuts, you have a honey hole until the other tree start to drop their fruits.

Locate that first tree to drop acorns and watch the deer pile in.

I’m lucky enough to have a persimmon grove on my property. These sweet morsels are favored by almost every animal in the woods. They don’t last long after they hit the ground. Keep a close eye on your persimmon trees; they don’t all drop at the same times. Mine typically drop around the end of October, but I have seen others hang on well into November. For a few short weeks you will find me sitting near my persimmon trees. The deer will head there first to see how many the squirrels and raccoons have knocked to the ground. By the way, if you decide to try a persimmon to see how they taste, make sure it is soft and mushy. The hard ones will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Persimmons are a Hot but short lived food source.

Apple trees, whether wild or planted definitely deserve a few sits during the season also. Like many other food sources, the best time to hunt over them is when the first ones start to drop. The new food source seems to draw the deer in to check it out. Apple trees vary greatly when they drop their fruits. Some will be completely gone by the start of bow season while other trees hang on to theirs until they freeze and fall off. So know the trees you hunt and plan your sits accordingly.

Know when your apple trees drop and plan accordingly.

You might be hearing a common theme here. It’s best to hunt many of the food sources when they are new and just start producing or dropping their fruits. Another rule I like to follow for hunting crop fields is, hunt the green foods early and during milder weather and the grains late and during really nasty cold weather. I hope I cleared up a few things about hunting over food sources, either man made or natural. Good hunting everyone.

Final Food Plot Preparations and Whitetail Photography

by Cody Altizer 25. August 2011 11:06
Cody Altizer

I hate this time of year.  Late August and early September to me is like Christmas Eve to a 5 year old youngster ready to jump on mom and dad’s bed the minute they wake up on Christmas morning.  So close, yet so far away.  What I enjoy most in my simplistically complex world is about to begin so, so soon: college football, the fall season, but more importantly the start of another bowhunting season.  This last stretch is brutal, because I can see myself sitting in an opening day stand, but it’s all a little blurry still.  However, the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler and I’ve just spent the final month prepping my final food plots and getting a gauge on the caliber of deer in my area.  It won’t be long folks, it won’t be long…

I am counting on these oats to provide a consistent and reliable food source this fall.

My food plot season has been very erratic this year so far.  If you are a follower of my blogs, you read back in May how exceptionally well my clover was doing.  With spring rains and warm nights, it had grown to lush 17 inches in height and the deer couldn’t eat it down if they tried.  Fast forward to mid-August, and my clover was on the brink of exhaustion.  As deer farmers across the country are well aware, this summer has been brutally hot and dry, and West Central Virginia was no exception.  From July 4th to August 15th, we went without a drop of rain.  And when I say not a drop of rain, I don’t mean a trace here or there, I mean zero drops of water touched my food plots.  Still, there was a respectable amount of Imperial Clover in the plot, but it was hurting badly.

Quality fertilizer will give your food plots an added boost!

I still had to get my fall food plots planted, though.  So, with on August 14th my dad and I got the tractor, seeder and spreader ready to plant our fall plots.  There was rain in the forecast so we going to take advantage of a sunny Sunday and trust the weatherman.  We had a lot of success last year broadcasting oats, turnips and rape so I stuck with that combination again this year.  I manned the hand seeder and dad hopped on the ATV with the spreader and we got our seeds in the ground in no time, although we were both a bit dusty.  The next step was to throw down some fertilizer to give the crops a boost once they germinated and hopefully taste a little bit sweeter to the deer this fall.  The final step, a step that is critical for all food plotters and one I feel they often neglect, pray for rain.   And rain it did!  That night and into the morning we got a slow steady soaking rain, the perfect rain to get those seeds germinated and growing in no time!  The following afternoon we received another good soaking and I, along with the wildlife in West Central Virginia all took a deep breath and gave Thanks.

What's bare earth now will hopefully be loaded with turnips, rape and oats here soon!

The moisture we received from those rains should be enough to shock my clover plots back to life, and get my fall plots off and running.  Provided we get average rainfall (and I type this with my fingers cross, pretty talented, eh?) my plots should be alive and well come October 1st.  I have never had a consistent, reliable food source on my property during the hunting season, but I am confident I will this season.  Despite the harsh weather this summer, I stand by my prediction that I will shoot a whitetail opening day.  While a specific stand hasn’t been decided on (why can’t the wind blow from the North West all the time?) I will either shoot a buck or doe going back to bed after a nightly feeding in my food plots during a morning hunt, or arrow one on their way to snack during the afternoon.  It will happen.

I was also able to get out and snap some photos on the deer on my property as well.  I’ve had my worst summer ever running trail cameras, but I had a little bit more luck with my Canon 7D.  I was able to get some decent photos of a couple does and a young 8 pointer making his way to feed in a hay field one afternoon.  If outdoor photography is something that interests you, let me recommend Cambell Cameras to you.  They have everything the aspiring outdoor photographer and videographer could want or need.  Enjoy the photos!

This doe already has it figured out and the season is still over a month away!

I intercepted this buck on his way to a freshly cut hay field for an afternoon snack.  I still haven't made up my mind if I would shoot this buck or not?

Over the years my family and I have done a good job of keeping doe numbers in check, but each year brings new opportunities to harvest does.  Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity at one opening day!

As close as I am to sitting in a tree stand, I still have over a month to wait.  That’s a harsh reality that I, and many of you out there, must accept.  True, it will be here be we know it, but that doesn’t make that time go by any quicker.  Think of it this way, after reading this blog, you are that much closer to your opening day.  

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 bowhunting.com 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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