7 Off-Season Turkey and Deer Management To-Dos
In the final days of February and on through the month of March, cabin fever can really start to set in and one one may start to wonder, “Will this winter ever end?” There are food plots to be planted, sheds to be found, and spring turkey hunting right around the corner, and just when it seems like Mr. Winter might finally be on his last leg, he finds a few more inches of snow to keep us just on the verge of insanity. Fear not! Winter does have an end and it is very near. Just beyond these last few cold, cloudy days await blood red sunsets and songbird mornings. But before they arrive, here are 7 deer management and turkey management to-dos to yield prosperous 2016 deer hunting and turkey hunting seasons!
One of most detrimental shortages a property can experience is a lack of cover. Not that the land it self is suffering, but the wildlife residing there surely is! Don’t think cover is necessary where you hunt? Here is how it works…No cover = No deer. No deer…Poor you. So, the lack of cover is a land management issue that must be addressed to ensure quality whitetail habitat and enjoyable hunting for years to come, and what better time to tackle the job than the stagnate months between deer season and turkey season?! TSI stands for timber stand improvement, and it may be the single most effective land management practice you can implement on the property you hunt. All you will need is a chainsaw and a general knowledge of tree species in your area. The latter may be more difficult to come by, so consult your local forester before taking to the saw with a chainsaw like a madman…or woman. The idea is to cut down the non-desirable trees to accomplish a number of management objectives. First, by bringing some of the forest canopy to the ground, you are providing the wildlife both food and cover.
The amount of food provided by your TSI efforts may be dependent on your decision to implement hinge cutting. This method involves cutting smaller diameter trees most, but not all, of the way through, allowing some of the outermost layers of the tree to remain. This will keep the tree alive and your wildlife fed longer than simply cutting the tree down. In addition to providing food and cover, TSI will allow sunlight to hit the forest floor and spur new growth that is advantageous to all wildlife.
There may still be an inch or two of snow on the ground, but that’s no reason not to get started on your deer and turkey food plots! Frost seeding is a method of planting that utilizes the natural freeze/thaw cycles that occur during this time of the year to achieve great seed-to-soil contact without the use of equipment. Typically, this method works best with perennials, especially those with small seeds and shallow planting depths. Most common amongst food plotters are, clover, chicory, and other similar food plot blends. When it comes to deer food plots, learning how to frost seed clover is your first step toward better food plots and better deer hunting.
Unfortunately, you can’t frost seed everything. But don’t let that stop you from starting to plan out your 2016 food plot strategy. The perennials you can get out and frost seed are important and have proven to be deadly during the hunting season, but they are a small part of a much larger food plot strategy that requires just as much thought as it does work. Food plots require time, money, and a bit of trial and error before any result is yielded. One of the deer hunting tips we can give you in regards to food plots is this…Start small. There is no sense blowing your savings on the best food plot equipment or on food plot blends that don’t match your management goals. Some of the best food plots don’t even require the use of equipment! Put the time in BEFORE YOU BREAK GROUND to plan out your food plot strategy and how it coincides with your hunting strategy. If your goal is to hold deer year round, consider planting food plots that will get your deer through, February and March, the two toughest months of the year for a whitetail. Fall annuals are your best bet for filling this gap and are easy to plant successfully. The combination of perennials, annuals, and potentially some grain crops over time will lead to better deer nutrition and better hunting, so start planning now!
Today’s trail cameras can really take a beating, but pulling them at least once every year can really make them last. In addition to pulling the card and replacing the batteries in your trail cameras, check for any rust on the battery springs that may have formed over the year. There are cheap rust-away treatments you can use to prevent this from getting any worse. If the springs look good, wipe down the inside of the camera with a damp rag to get rid of any dust or dirt that may have worked it’s way inside your camera. Your trail camera is a machine, and any machines worst enemy is dirt. By cleaning them at least once a year, your trail cameras will last longer and perform better. Bushnell’s the new Trophy Cam™ HD takes the harsh outdoor elements and provides a tough reliable camera that shuts out such elements.
As far as trail camera strategy this time of year, it really just depends on what you’re looking for… Are you still waiting for that buck to shed his antlers and trying to monitor his food source so you know exactly where and when to start shed hunting? Or maybe you’re already scouting out birds for spring turkey season. In which case, strut zones near roost trees or food plots may be your best option for where to hang trail cameras. One of the best spring turkey hunting tips we can give your prior to the season is to keep your trail cameras running on food plots and large fields to get a better idea of how the birds use those locations. This will give you a big advantage going into opening day. The difference in where to hang trail cameras in winter and spring is pretty self-explanatory. Once you have all the whitetail pictures you were hoping for this season, pull them, clean them, and start thinking turkey trail camera strategy.
One thing that is easy to forget about this time of year is supplying your deer herd with the essential minerals they need to thrive on your hunting property. Most hunters wait till mid summer to get mineral out as a means of getting some cool velvet pictures, but the reality is deer crave those minerals as early as February or March. Does need it to supplement their diet for healthy fawning and lactation thereafter, and bucks to supplement new antler growth almost as soon as their old set drops. Make sure the mineral you put out is made up primarily of Calcium, Phosphorous, Magnesium, and Sodium, as these are the key nutrients whitetail deer need this time of year. The CUBE, by Big & J Attractants provides these minerals and much more in terms of protein with its supplemental feeding and long range attractant products.
Try to keep mineral stations in one spot. As they break down, minerals leech into the soil and make that area attractive to deer even after the mineral block has dissolved. Moving it to multiple locations will give the deer too many options and you will have a more difficult time getting trail camera pictures over your most recent location. Get your minerals for deer out early this year and your whitetail will benefit for the rest of the year!
Another management practice that is perfect for this time of year is burning. Prescribed fire has tremendous effects on early successional habitat and has proven to be one of the fastest ways of increasing soil ph. The dead plant and grass matter in conjunction with still moist soils beneath make this time of year one of the best times to use prescribed fire to improve your hunting property. Whether you are burning off switch grass, successional habitat, or plant matter on a new or existing food plot, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions before hand. Fire, while it can be extremely useful, can be very dangerous. Use caution, plan ahead, and use the seasons advantageous burning conditions to do some good for the wildlife where your hunt!
Hopefully somewhere amidst all the work that needs done, you’ll find some time to shed hunt this spring. Shed hunting is a great way to see the whole property, potentially build some history with the deer you’ve hunted all season, and observe first hand the benefits of your habitat management for deer and turkey. There are several techniques to improve shed hunting success, but sometimes the best way to answer the questions “When do deer shed antlers?” and “Where to find deer sheds?” is to put boots on the ground and get to walking. Work some time into your busy schedule this month to get out with friends and family and search for some sheds!
So much to do, so little time! Sometimes it seems like the work never ends, but on the other side better is quality deer and turkey habitat and a lifetime of better hunting. Don’t try and do it all at once. Each of these projects takes time and deserves your full attention, and some more time than others. Consider where the biggest needs are for your property and use one or more of these management practices to potentially remedy that need. Decide which ones you want to take on this year and get going!