The Design, Maintenance and End Result of a Hunting Plot Plan
By Marlene Odahlen-Hinz
As soon as the snow melts each spring my husband Jerry, and I, walk our property and do our usual property maintenance and of course scout for big buck sign. Here in the north when the snow melts it seems all of the sign made last fall and through the winter is frozen in time for you to find. We’ve practice Quality Deer Management for several years on our 80 acres located in northern Wisconsin, and have seen huge returns. We hold many more deer on the property than were here when we first purchased it and we’re now consistently producing mature bucks.
During the first two years we completed major projects like having a portion of the land logged and then putting in a larger feeding food plot. Since then we’ve enhanced it further by planting apple trees, digging out low spots to provide additional water sources and by setting aside a small section as a sanctuary where the deer can enter and know they will not be disturbed.
As farmers who work the fields near our property change and rotate their crops, so does the deer movement change through our land as well. In hoping to catch the deer heading to these fields earlier in the afternoon we began looking for spots to establish smaller “hunting” food plots. We wanted the plots to be further in so as to catch deer entering our land from an adjacent property that was undeveloped for wildlife. They also needed to be a spot that would get adequate sun for the crops we would eventually decide upon.
We ultimately selected two small patches. One near the sanctuary we’d created a few years earlier and another one at the top of an oak ridge where we knew deer traveled frequently. Below this ridge was a swamp with a small stream next to it where the deer often bedded. This spot seemed to have everything a whitetail could want; water, shelter and a great crop of acorns in the fall. The best part was it would be close to one of my treestands and I should be able to catch any deer coming to the plot.
Since we don’t have any heavy duty farm equipment we used our garden tools. With leaf rakes we tried to clean off some of the dried and rotting leaves to allow more direct contact to the exposed weeds. Then we applied Round-Up using a backpack sprayer. The following week we returned and once again raked the dead vegetation from the plot. We weren’t satisfied with the results so we applied another application of Round-Up. We knew this second application would put us behind in our planting schedule, but we felt it was worth the extra effort.
Satisfied with the outcome we brought in our garden tiller to work up the soil. At this point we found that we needed to rake off the dead weeds to prevent the tiller from frequently clogging up. With that part of the process complete we were now ready to put down our seed.
We decided to sow one plot with Clover Plus because of the clover and chicory in the blend. The other plot we planted in Sudden Impact because it does well in hot, dry weather which was exactly how the past two summers had been--hot with very little rain. We also have a resident flock of turkeys and we knew they would also benefit from these blends.
Rain came within a day of our planting which helped to bury the seed the appropriate depth and give the seeds adequate moisture for germination. Moisture is so critical with any crop so when we returned a week later to find the seed had already sprouted and we did a happy dance.
As a final part of our plan we put out BioRocks near each plot and a camera to capture exactly which deer were using each plot and when they were using it. BioRocks have a highly concentrated mix of over 50 trace minerals which helps to deliver any missing key nutrients to their diet. We refresh each rock as needed during our periodic checks of each spot. I believe strongly that these “Rocks” add inches to their antlers.
Once the crop was established we mowed each plot as needed. The deer gravitate toward the new tender growth and we’ve found that once mowed we noticed evidence of more deer feeding shortly after. In addition, we sprayed each plot with Volunteer, which is a grass herbicide with the active ingredient “clethodim.” Finally, we fertilized each plot in August with straight potash (0-0-60) to promote a strong root system and cold hardiness. In the spring we also fertilize with a 0-20-20, but in the late summer we like to give a boost of potassium to the plants. It’s best to fertilize according to the results of a soil test done from each plot.
Now let’s fast forward to the beginning of the rut and more specifically to the morning of October 22. I’m “Mossy Oak” from head to toe, thoroughly sprayed with Scent Killer, and in my tree long before legal shooting time. I have a stand near a trail which threads through a natural bottleneck. The trail leads to the new plot we’d seeded with the Clover Plus. In early season I enjoy seeing the woods wake up as each species of bird begins their distinct dawn song. As the sun creeps toward the horizon more sounds are added to mix, such as those of the squirrels rustling through dry leaves searching for acorns or the flutter of a partridge’s wings as it flies from its evening roost.
There was movement along the trail as does and fawns approached and then passed through the narrow corridor. This pinch point is always a good spot to sit mornings or afternoons which is why we’ve set up stands on both sides of the trail to accommodate the wind no matter from what direction it comes. Later that morning a saw a doe approach and behind her I could see a respectable set of antlers in tow.
Earlier that week my husband had identified a “shooter” that he would tag should the opportunity present itself. From my husband’s description I felt this was probably the one. Naturally I let the doe pass and as soon as the buck was in range I let my arrow loose. He turned and bolted in the direction he came from and then disappeared.
His death run took him only about 70 yards and I later radioed my husband Jerry as I thought I’d shot “his buck.” However, when we approached the downed trophy he assured me it wasn’t the one he has seen so I felt a sense of relief. It was time to do another “happy dance.”
Before we began managing our property for wildlife we often felt we were seeing many of the same deer. After only a few years of land enhancement we are now seeing more bucks with better antler quality than ever before. We seem to be attracting and holding more does as well. As well as these hunting plots worked, the plan is to now add several more smaller hunting plots throughout the property.