Editor’s Note: This week Justin Eakins, one of Mossy Oak Deer Thugs, tells us how he manages and hunts deer on 30,000 acres at the end of the season on his land at his Canadian River Hilton Hunting Lodge in Crawford, Oklahoma, and how he grows a crop of bucks that he doesn’t plan to harvest for 4 years. Eakins has been deer hunter for over 30 years.
After the season, we plant some milo in May and June to give the deer and turkeys an early summer and through-the-summer crop on which they can feed. But our main planting occurs in September when we plant our winter wheat. We also start getting our stand sites ready for the early season and the late season, just after we get our wheat in the ground. We hunt out of ladder stands, lock-on stands and ground blinds. The site that we decide to hunt from determines what type of stand we’ll set up in certain areas. We have a lot of open country, and we don’t always have a tree that’s suitable for a tree stand. On those type sites, we’ll put in a ground blind. We’ll brush it up and give the deer plenty of time to get accustomed to the ground blind being there. If we have a tree big enough for a ladder stand, I’ll put a ladder stand on the tree. But if a smaller tree is our best option, we’ll use a lock-on stand. We prefer to put our hunters in tree stands if at all possible. However, if we feel the best spots for them to take mature bucks can’t support tree stands, we’ll put the hunters in ground blinds. We try to place our stands anticipating the type weather we may have. In Oklahoma where we hunt, we can have any type weather under the sun. You may be hunting in 50 - 60 degree weather in the afternoon. The next year on that same date, the temperature may not rise above zero degrees all day long. But this month so far, we've been averaging afternoon hunts that are in the 45 -50 degree range, and we've had 25- to 30-degree frosty morning hunts. Hunting is important to our clients, but we believe that having a great group of friends to hunt with, seeing bucks each time they go to a stand, whether it’s a morning stand or an afternoon stand, and having the opportunity to take a buck that will score 135 or better is what makes a hunt special for all our guests.
I'm often asked, “What’s one of your favorite hunts?” I have a hard time rating one hunt over one group or another. I just really enjoy listening to our hunters when they come in after the morning and afternoon hunts. I like to listen to them talk about the number of deer they’ve seen, the shot opportunities they’ve had, and the bucks they’ve harvested. The bucks our hunters are seeing and harvesting this year are bucks that were born 4-1/2-years ago. You continuously can have older-age-class bucks to hunt throughout the season, whether it’s early season or late season hunting. If you own property or lease property, I strongly encourage you to have a 4-year plan, if you want to take older-age-class bucks. If you have a 4-year deer management plan, you have to realize that the bucks that are born this spring won’t be in the harvest for 4 years, which may be a downside for some people. However, remember, during those 4 years before those bucks are harvested, you'll be able to see those bucks continue to put on body weights and more antler mass. For many people seeing a lot of bucks represents a great hunt. In many areas of the country, hunters may never see a 4-1/2-year-old buck, because the bucks are harvested during their first or second hunting seasons. So, we’re trying to provide a different type hunt for people who want to take mature bucks. This year we didn’t take does to produce more bucks 4-1/2 years from now. And, you can’t harvest all your bucks every year, if you want to have older-age-class deer to hunt.
Many of my clients will ask, “Are you going to have any doe hunts next year?” I explain to them that I can’t honestly say until I see what kind of weather we have in the spring, what kind of fawn crop we have, and what our buck crop looks like before the season next year. If the number of bucks on the ground has increased, and the number of does has increased to a point where we have too many does, then, we’ll harvest does the next year. But if our land hasn’t produced enough deer this spring, we may not have a doe hunt next year. I usually don’t decide if we’ll harvest does or the number of does we’ll take in August and September until I have all the information I can gather about the size of our fawn crop during the spring of 2015. I’ll also know whether we’ve had any disease problems or droughts. Until I have all the facts required to make that decision, I don’t try to determine how I’ll manage my deer herd for deer season. On our property, this means waiting until August or September when we've done camera surveys and know better what our deer herd looks like for the upcoming season.
Although we hunt free-range deer, not those behind fences, I'm still a deer farmer making decisions on the size of our herd and the number of both bucks and does we’re taking each year, based on the best information I can collect to manage the deer herd. So, we can produce the most and the biggest bucks we can for the people who want to come out here and take them.
To contact Justin Eakins, call his cell phone at 580-497-7500, and leave a message. His home phone is 580-983-2500, the website is www.canadianriverhilton.com, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.