What Off-Season Strategies Do You Implement?
The off-season. It isn't limited to baseball and football. Hunters have an off-season, too. But those who take the initiative might not feel like they do.
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Those who work hard during the off-season oftentimes are more prepared for the following fall. Not to mention the benefits the whitetails will receive from your efforts.
Simply put, deer hunting doesn't end when the season closes. For many hunters, this lifestyle is a year-round endeavor. There are plenty of tasks to be done once the season closes.
Here are just a few of the things you can do to help the deer herd, extend your time in the field and improve your chances of hunting success next fall, too.
Don't miss out on the fun.
Help the deer.
Help the deer hunting.
Get to gettin'.
There are many habitat programs available to landowners. Many of these programs directly or indirectly benefit wildlife. And it's something Ralph Cianciarulo with the Archer's Choice truly takes into account and benefits from. If you have land and aren't doing this, don't tell that to Archer's Choice's Ralph Cianciarulo.
Land management never ends and it's times to check out what programs are available to you in your area, Cianciarulo said. Deadlines are quickly approaching but there are many tree management programs, CRP and other options for you to check into. Remember, many times you can get your property [considered] for tax breaks and this can give you the extra dollars to do more. Don't forget this is a great time to get the family in the woods.
Photo Credit: Ralph Cianciarulo
Just like anything, deer hunting on any level requires some maintenance work. Treestands. Trail cameras. Safety systems. Shooting lanes. All of these things and much more require attention from all hunters. At the very least, it's important to ensure your equipment is in safe, working order. Matt Bullins with Whitetail Fix encourages this.
After each hunting season, try to begin preparing for the next season then, Bullins said. Some of the best months for properly caring for your land, leases, etc. is January to April. It's a great time to clear shooting lanes, fence rows, bush-hog, cut timber, etc. This time of year allows for the most visible sight, as nothing has begun to bloom or turn green. It makes for easier removal and clean-up. There's nothing worse than fighting heat, briars, bugs (ticks, bees, etc.) while trying to do stand and land prep in the dog days of summer. Take advantage of the cooler weather and lack of foliage.
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Photo Credit: Matt Bullins
Coyotes and other predators have greatly impacted deer and turkey populations across the country. According to Buckventures' Daniel McVaycoyotes are inhabiting areas they've never been and affecting deer herds that have never had to deal with coyotes. Fawn recruitment rates (and even older age classes) are suffering for it, too.
Truly managing land for deer hunting takes a lot of work and dedication, McVay said. One huge aspect that tends to be undervalued is controlling your predator population. It is a major part of our off-season and takes time for sure ‚ but must be done. Not only do they kill fawns and sometimes adults, they put major stress on deer which can affect so many aspects of true management.
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Photo Credit: Ralph Cianciarulo
Mineral is important. Most deer (especially in mineral-lacking locations) need access to minerals. It's an essential part of their diet. Travis T-Bone Turner with Bone Collector understands that perfectly well.
Get those minerals and supplemental feed out just as soon as the season ends so the deer can put back on weight for the remainder of the winter, Turner said. Also, it'll help get them healthy so that when antler growing begins, all the nutrients can go toward antler growth and does raising healthy fawns. Prescribed burns are awesome and cheap management tools for land management. Hinge cutting, and of course perennial food plots are great, too.
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Photo Credit: Heartland Bowhunter
Food plots should never be the primary food source on a property. Deer benefit too much from good, quality natural browse to invest everything into food plots. That said, these are a very important piece of the puzzle ‚ especially when it comes to providing food during times of the year when food sources are lacking. This is something Backwoods Life's Michael Lee does to help hold deer.
Food plots are the key on our property, Lee said. We have a constant food source for our herd all year. With proper planting, mowing, and growing, our deer never have to leave our property to find food or water. We have several man-made ponds as well that help our herd during dry, hot summers ‚ even dry fall seasons."
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Photo Credit: Michael Lee
Creating bedding cover where there is none can be achieved if you have mature timber that can be converted. Paul Sawyer with Whitetail Properties does this on the properties he manages to add additional bedding cover for whitetails.
"Hinge cutting is beneficial for deer," Sawyer said. "I'll be doing two things. I'll be creating additional bedding. I'll also be creating a funnel. If you're hinge-cutting for bedding, cut trees about waist-high. The deer need to be able to lay under it. Don't cut too high or too low."
Photo Credit: Paul Sawyer
Realtree pro staffer Art Helin understands Timber Stand Improvement. Knowing which trees to remove and which ones to keep is an important skill.
As a land management consultant, I get a lot of questions on hinge cutting, Helin said. My answer is hinge cutting has a place and time. However, throughout the Midwest and areas with a lot of oaks (white, red and black), stump cutting or TSI (timber stand improvement) can be more beneficial for the habitat. Sump cutting an area (which is done during the dormant months of a tree) usually occurs from mid-December through April 1. You create new bedding and browse instantly in the spring during the new growing season. By cutting nonproductive trees (elm, basswood, ironwood, etc.) and stunted oaks within this area, you allow light onto the forest floor to create new undergrowth. This also gives more nutrients to the good producing trees ‚ letting them get bigger and stronger while producing more natural food sources for deer.
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Photo Credit: Art Helin
While there are many things you should do during the off-season, it's important to know your limits. It's also important to understand what activities could harm the deer herd and your hunting and management success, too. Keith Beasley with Canada in the Rough warns of this.
We all love to spend time outdoors ‚ food plots, burns, hinge cutting, assisting the deer in any way we can, Beasley said. But our greatest tip and one we attribute to much of our success, is that less is more. Do the basics, cover the important items that have to get done to better your property and deer. But then, get out and stay out. That may be one of the best secrets we have, leave that property alone and let the deer make it their sanctuary.
Photo Credit: Keith Beasley
Are you a deer hunter wanting to learn how to accomplish your goals? Check out our stories, videos and hard-hitting how-to's on deer hunting.