Plotting your strategy
Leaving the gym, the sky was clouded and misty. The day could have easily been mistaken for the perfect bowhunting afternoon in mid-November, but it is July. While my upcoming elk hunt has my efforts focused in the gym much of the time, my mind also is thinking about the coming deer season here at home. Like many of you, I want to see deer, have close encounters and tag quality animals, which provide plenty of fresh food for the family freezer.
Food plots are such a widely discussed topic I find some people become overwhelmed by the ideas and the requirements. Yes, much can be done to create the best food available for your deer. As a consumer of outdoor media much like you, I wonder more and more about how some folks can produce the great-looking food plots. But I remember, most of New York, with the exception of the Lake Ontario flood plains, is mountainous and acidic in soil quality. I hunt the high hills, ridges and hollows like many. And I’ll be darned if I can work into a chance at a good racked buck right around the ears in some of these areas; well, I know better than to have unrealistic expectations. But don’t get disappointed you don’t have wide open fields with the perfect pH to achieve your goals. Inner-woods kill plots can have equal if not more impact on your season if you play your cards right. Here are the aspects I am taking into consideration for my planting weekends in August.
• Timing: Friend and owner of Rack Stacker products, Steve Elmy, has told me when it comes to planting kill plots (plots you plan to hunt over), looking at the calendar is everything. Elmy tells me he plans his kill plots 70 days in advance from the time he plans on hunting over them. In 70 days his kill plots have the chance to reach a luscious peak, perfect for hunting over. For me, I plan to take the last week of bow season off, which is the 7-14th of November. Working the clock backward, I need to plant my kill seed in the ground the last weekend of August.
• Poor Soils: Like I said, I hunt tough areas like many, with poor soil conditions and high elevation. But don’t get too disappointed; this is where research is handy. Comparing soil samples to recommended pH levels on the bags of seed is a great way to start. From personal experience, oats grow well in poor soils and have produced many successful deer hunts for our camp. Winter rye grass also is a longtime favorite for poor soils. In simple terms, rye grass chokes out weeds in its root system, which expand rapidly. The quickly expanding root system is one reason it can grow quickly in the late summer and fall and in poor soils. While rye is low in nutritional value and has a bad rap because of it, if you are trying to save money looking into rye might be a good choice as it is known for its attractant power and has been known to be the downfall of many deer.
• Picking Your Mouse Trap: Since this is all about boosting your shot percentage, personally I am looking for smaller open areas with good surrounding cover to make the deer feel more comfortable. Since this is a new source of food, deer may be slightly wary when feeding, but more relaxed with good cover to slip in and out of. Elmy recommends tlooking for spots an eighth or a quarter of an acre in size while taking the prevailing winds into account. For me, since I am hunting mountainous terrain, I must also take into consideration thermals while thinking about connecting ridges.
• Making It Happen: Pack a good rake or leaf blower to rid the covered area of leaves if your spots are heavily wooded. Older hunters have advised me in the past to not turn the soils over until I am ready to plant. This is in order to keep weeds from taking hold of your inner-woods spot too early. Break up the soils either with a till or a hand rake like you would in the family garden and use the appropriate amount of seed for the size of the area you are cultivating. Most seed packages should help point you in the right direction. If you are experiencing dry weather, an old timer once advised me to sprinkle a bit of paper-based cat litter amongst the seedlings to help absorb moisture and lock it into the new plot.
Sometimes this seems like rocket science; other times it seems downright simple. I guess there is no hurt in trying. Experience is the best teacher and you will never know what works and what doesn't on your property if you don't start somewhere. Consider what is best for your property, make a plan and grab your work gloves.