Soil sampling was completed on March 16th, with six samples taken in the main plots, the SW Native Grasses Field and the North Logging Trail.  Although it has been a couple of weeks since sampling, shipment was not completed until April 1st.  The lab should be receiving the shipment tomorrow at the latest.  Hopefully we get results by the end of this week.

Once we have the soil sample results, we can determine what amendments are needed for this spring.  The normal rotation for us has been lime application one year, fertilizer the next.  For '13 we added fertilizer, so my expectations are that the analysis results will require a little bit of lime.  That is fine by me this year, since the cost of lime application is much less than fertilizer.  What is definitely more difficult with lime application is the method historically used to complete.  My plots have limited access trails and the large lime spreaders from the local ag co-ops have difficulty reaching each plot.  In addition, I only have a little over 3 acres of tillable.  This isn't much for a co-op to mess with every other year.  As a result, I have usually purchased a dump truck load, shoveled the lime into my cone spreader, and spread it with my small tractor.  This is a lot of hard work, but has been successful.

The big change this year is the path I am taking with my plots.  Past years have included several different types of forages to provide the variety that is often deemed so critical.  For example, the '13 growing season included the following forages:  brassicas, clover, chickory, buck wheat, beans and alfalfa.  We also planted native grasses in the SW field to create additional depth of cover between the south edge of the property and the Main Plots.  This year, I'm going to keep it simple.  The Arrow Seed Full Potential (Alfalfa and Clover Mix) will be back this year and we simply over seeded to make sure we have full coverage.  Instead of planting brassicas again this year, we decided to frost seed clover and chickory in the Main Plot South Section.  We used the same to over seed the Main Plot North Section and the North Logging Road.  The logic this year is to provide the three that seem to produce the best results for us....#1 Clover, #2 Chickory, and #3 Alfalfa.  I've had the most luck with these three and they seem to required the least amount of maintenance (mowing and occasional herbicide application).

Beans are not an option for me given I don't have that many acres to handle the browsing pressure.  I've learned this the hard way and unless I have an electric fence around every square foot, there will not be a single plant in the field by October.  Brassicas don't seem to be a food of choice for my heard, even though I can grow huge turnips.  Buckwheat was browsed, but not as much as hoped.  It seems the only constant with the longest growing season is the combination of clover, chickory, and alfalfa.  Thus, this is what we are going with in '14.....keeping it simple!
 
 
All of us have to follow laws and regulations that are designed for the total good.  Sometimes we disagree with these laws and the direction that our elected officials take.  Over the past several days, I've been following a thread on the QDMA Forum that details the firestorm of controversy currently happening in Minnesota.  Thread link......http://www.qdma.com/forums/showthread.php?t=63423.  This state has extremely low deer populations that are resulting in deer density levels of 2-3 per square mile!  Image trying to keep interested in hunting when you are lucky to see a single deer over a 5 day period?  Next to impossible.

This debate has stirred up a series of questions and thoughts within me.  As a result, this blog entry may be long winded, which often happens from time-to-time.  Here is your warning and opportunity to stop reading now.  After a long week at work, I'm using this blog to clear my head and think about what I am doing to benefit the greater good.

Our focus is often on the respective state DNR in which we reside or own land.  What if you asked yourself.....how am I managing my personal DNR?  If you think about your own property, how would you grade yourself with running your department of natural resources?  I basically have a mini-DNR that operates and controls the natural resources on my property.  It is me...it is my trigger finger....it is my chainsaw....it is my fertilizer spreader......it is my tractor and all of the other attachments.....it is my own budget that determines what property improvements will be implemented in '14.

As I began to think about my property in this manner, I began to think about all of the resources I have and how I might be impacting not just my local eco-system, but my state, the country, and the world.  It is hard to think about the extent of our actions at times since we are but a small spec on this planet.  But with the emphasis on our weather and the ever changing environment we live in, it should be reflected upon.  Not just for the time we are here on earth, but also for all future generations.  It is easy to love your kids and grand children.  But what about 5-10 generations from now?  Hard to comprehend that the decisions made today impact that far into the future.  We must love those generations we will not know by managing the resources we have today!

For example.....one of the biggest tactics we implement on our property to improve the deer habitat is hinge cutting trees.  The fundamental question I am now asking myself is....does hinge cutting help the environment and the sequestration of Carbon Dioxide, or does it contribute to the continued rising levels of CO2?  There are two thought paths to consider:  1.) Cutting of lesser desired trees will release more desired trees and increase the stem count per acre.  The more trees and more density per acre will increase the natural absorption of CO2 and release more Oxygen over time.  Refer to this diagram on the Carbon Cycle.  2.) Cutting of larger trees is detrimental to the sequestration of Carbon Dioxide.  This raises the question if a more mature tree absorbs more CO2 than a the combined total of a large number of smaller trees located within the same square feet?  Or, is it in essence a wash?  Upon completing an internet search there were other scientific forums I read opinions on this.  One in particular stated the only way to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere is to reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed.  In other words, don't drive your car.  But is that entirely correct?

Although a biased stance, I believe that hinge cutting helps the environment in far too many ways to be detrimental in the overall scheme.  I believe the improved habitat and the additional cover will sustain the local eco system and wildlife numbers versus a park like scenario with nothing but large mature trees.  Although the canopy in a mature forest is developed, I believe the number of actual leaves growing and exchanging O2 for CO2 is much greater in a less mature woods.  Since we attempt to hinge cut the trees and keep the tree surviving, the tree isn't dead and continues to grow leaves.  This with the sunlight contacting the forest floor to grow more trees should drive up the carbon uptake.  This goes back to simple numbers and increased stem density. I'm sure others may disagree, but I also reviewed an Agricultural and Forest Meteorology study entitled '
Comparing net ecosystem exchange of carbon dioxide between an old-growth and mature forest in the upper Midwest, USA'.  This study concluded "a declining carbon uptake with stand age." (Desai, Bolstad, Cook, Davis, and Carey, 2004, p. 52).  In other words, as trees become too mature the carbon uptake decreases.

So how do we change the world?  Are there things we can do other than buying an electric car for transportation?  I love the fact I own the property and maintain it as a wooded property.  At minimum, this gives me a sense of relief and justifies why I drive 30 minutes to work each day.  Right or wrong, I think my woods off sets my overall carbon foot print.  Plus, I haven't seen a Tesla Dealer around West Central Indiana selling 4x4 trucks lately.  


Another aspect of conservation being practiced this year is no till.  My plots are being planted or actually re-seeded this year without any tillage being completed.  Top soil conservation is critical to keep the nutrients available.  Without soil, you can't have nutrients for the plants.  We just had several inches of rain this past week.  It was obvious walking the plots today, there was minimal soil erosion.

I also feel the habitat improvements on the property has increased the holding capacity of the local herd.  With the increased stem count and available forages, the deer will have the shelter needed.  This is especially important from a fawning cover perspective.  Maybe this strategy along with better state DNR laws to increase deer herd numbers can help some of these states with huge herd number declines.

So how do I grade myself as the Hayes Dept. of DNR?  I'd give myself a B- or B.  I believe I am managing the resources to improve all forms of wildlife on this small 63 acres.  I still have many improvements to make and would love to increase the departmental budget, but raising 4 kids and paying my taxes makes that difficult.  The best part about my personal DNR is that the only lobbyist I have to keep in check is the wife.  So far she is my best supporter.
 
 
This was the third day of spring and we finally have had enough warm weather to get back to normal activities on the property.  Soil samples were finally drawn last weekend and will soon be sent in after allowing some time to dry out.  Today we focused on some serious spring cleaning with buck beds.

Some people feel that going into the bedding areas puts unnecessary pressure on the bucks.  Based on what I have learned, spring cleaning is an absolute must.  We have had multiple trees or branches each year fall down directly into the beds rendering them useless.  In addition, fall and winter produces all kinds of debris that can fill up the beds.  This debris can detour bucks from bedding as they don't like to lay on large sticks.  

We used a chainsaw to cut the small trees that had broken down and fell across the beds.  A small hand saw is another option, but as illustrated in the video, the chainsaw makes quick work of removing the junk needed to clear the bed.  As per Jim Ward, the bucks prefer to have two means of egress from the bed if busted by us or predators.  I worked to create new beds, clean out old beds, and enhance the second means of egress from the beds.

I also used a hand tool called a "SOG".  This name brand of hatchet is awesome for leveling the buck beds (refer to video).  We want to size the beds to be 5' wide and 3' deep.  This tool enables me to dig up the earth, smooth it level, and compact it to make the best bed possible to draw the bucks in to stay the night.

I've also included photos of the beds worked on today.  I should have taken some before pictures, but failed to think about it until after the fact.  As a result, you will have to compare the photos with the video see just how much work is needed for cleaning up the beds.

Take a day or two this spring and clean out those buck beds.  You most likely have worked hard to create them and may have pulled bucks in for regular use.  It would be a shame to check later in the year and find that they cannot be used because some debris, limbs, or trees have fallen into them.  Spring cleaning isn't just for YOUR home....it is also necessary for your home range bucks.  Get out there and enjoy the warm weather as it has been a long winter.


 
 
This is one of the harshest winters on record in West Central Indiana, as it has been in other parts of the country.  I can't recall since my early childhood a winter with so much snow and cold.  Even with March 20th only a few days away, it was in the high 20's - low 30's today and required the kids and I to wear full gear battling the cold and wind while out at the property.  Needless to say, I'll be glad when this winter finally lets go.

Something else not letting go are the bucks on the property this year.  Only a hand full of bucks have lost their antlers.  I've always been told to wait until Feb. 14th to begin shed hunting.  That way you reduce the risk of pushing bucks off of the property causing them to drop sheds across the fence line.  Here it is the middle of March and I've got multiple pictures of bucks with both sides in tact.  So the question is, do I wait until St. Patrick's Day to begin my shed hunting?  Stands to reason since today is March 16th.

What causes this variance with bucks from different herds or regions?  I hear all of the time that guys are getting pictures that bucks have dropped both sides. These guys are not that far from me, so why do my bucks hold onto their sheds longer?  I've heard before that herd health and available browse plays a factor into this phenomenon.  I don't recall seeing any studies that support or disprove this theory, but there could be some out there. Send me a link to them if you have any for me to read.

I'd like to think there is truth to the above theory and that our property improvements are a significant contributing factor.  Habitat improvements such as hinge cutting, knocking the briars down to ground level, staging areas with annuals planted, and a few food plots equals healthy deer enabling bucks to keep racks well into March?  I believe this stuff works and I'm not letting go of that!  My dreams of finding more sheds on the property is still alive and well.  I just hope they drop them soon.
 
 
Introduction / The Group:

March 8th finally arrived, and with it a group of deer crazed, habitat manipulating individuals descended upon the property.  The group consisted of quite a cross section.  This included, but was not limited to, a doctor, insurance salesman, electrician, state election official, HR manager, software entrepreneur, safety manager, realtor, saw mill owner, and a few high school kids.  I didn't take an actual count today and my check in process wasn't at all solid.  However based on the photos taken, I'm estimating 25 individuals made it out today for the ATW Property Walk and Field Day.  See slide show at the bottom and the attach hand out provided during the day.

We had a group of guys from the Green Bay area make the trip, which was the furthest distance traveled.  In addition, one attendee drove up from Tennessee in the middle of the night and slept in his vehicle at our gate entrance.  Others made the trip from Michigan, Illinois and all over Indiana.  We have always felt what we have been doing the last few years was special, but I never thought others would drive those distances just to walk our 63 acres.  I am still amazed at that fact.  

Morning Walk / North Side:


After the introductions, we got down to business starting shortly after 9:10 am.  We visited the East Plots and discussed the importance of screening cover to obscure vision from the doe beds just to the NW of the plot.  The walk then proceeded past the watering hole and then onto the Center Rub.  Jim discussed the rub in detail explaining how this tree was hit by two different dominant bucks as evident by the way the tree was rubbed.

The Center Staging area was visited and we discussed the importance of getting sunlight to these types of areas and planting Chickory to draw the bucks to the plot.  Visible markers were highlighted with emphasis on man-made licking branches, scrapes, and rubs.  Jim elaborated on how bucks have to have licking branches at shoulder level and the fact that once introduced and maintained, they will develop the habit of hitting these annually.

The group navigated up and down hills, over small streams, and through thick cover as we illustrated what natural buck beds look like and how to enhance these to ensure continued use.  Bucks love to bed facing out over a topographical point on the military crest.  Jim explained how bucks prefer two escape routes from a bed and that these routes are usually at the same level of the bed.  The importance of Japanese Honeysuckle, although invasive, is a preferred forage and shelter for deer.  Jim discussed how to prune the honeysuckle and hinge cut trees containing honeysuckle to build the canopy that bucks desire.

From this point in the walk, we visited the North Trap created from '11.  Stand location, hunter access trails, and stimulating the natural forage to attract deer was highlighted.  After this, the group got to see the first man made buck beds during the walk.  Jim expressed how to set up the beds, using a log for the bucks to lay against.  He reinforced having two escape routes and how bed maintenance is critical.  Using a larger tree vs. saplings or smaller trees keeps beds in place longer and reduces the amount of maintenance required.  He also discussed that any sticks or debris must be cleaned from the beds.

Next we visited the mother of all rubs on our property.  The cedar tree rub.  This rub clearly got the attention of the group and highlighted that we were attracting mature bucks (included in the photos below).  I explained how this rub was discovered shortly after buying the property, then went dormant.  The '13 season the rub was freshened up, and most likely by multiple bucks.  This tree is awesome in that it can be shared by many bucks and doesn't show sign of going away or dying soon.

The north rub line was walked back towards the Main Plot.  Jim discussed the differences in rub height and how that is a buck signature.  I also highlighted how Basswood trees are a local favorite on my property.  This is primarily due to the softness of the wood and aromatics when rubbed.  We have many clusters of Basswood trees and I've decided to cut some out to enable bucks easier access and hopefully stimulate use and more defined rub lines.

Upon entering the Main Plot, the group was able to see the work completed to cut some of the edge brush and briars down to ground level.  The growth had reached a point making it difficult for deer to reach.  Cutting this down will provide much forage needed in early Spring to recover from the harsh winter.  The group then broke for a quick lunch and demonstration by my Dad flying the DJI drone, as previously highlighted on the blog.

Afternoon Walk / South Side:

As we began the afternoon portion of the walk, Jim noted fresh deer tracks through the ruts in the mud created by the vehicles coming in.  At some point, the deer had circled around us and ran right past the tent, camp fire, and apparently my father taking a nap.  Literally within 15 yards of the fire.  As we headed west along the south edge of the property, we saw the group of deer running north back onto the property.  Some would say we are pressuring the deer to the point they might permanently leave the property.  We believe the cover we have provided is what keeps the deer here.  They were simply circling us throughout the day as evident by the tracks and the only sighting of the day, which is what we wanted.  It is never positive to get too close to deer and jump them.

The group got to see the latest work on a new staging area in the SW corner of the property.  This by far the hardest area cut since we began working with Jim in '11.  The hinge cutting work cut off at least three heavily traveled deer trails and focused deer travel through the staging area.  Questions were fielded and Jim explained how the area could very well be the hottest hunting spot on the property.  Jim showed how the connecting trail from the beds led to the staging area.  This area provides several man-made licking branches and will be planted in Chickory after fertilizer and lime applications.  This area is already being visited, with visible tracks in the mud.  The leaves were also blown off of the ground to facilitate better seed to soil contact when planted.

The SW buck beds were visited and Jim showed the group the large Hickory tree dropped in the summer of '13 and numerous beds created.  Deer manure was everywhere in this area and evidence of foraging was present.  Jim discussed the method of tucking saplings to create canopy and provide forage at appropriate elevations.  He also showed a natural buck sneak trail just about 15 yards off of the small 1/4 acre field.  These trails are only a couple of feet wide and provide bucks a means of checking the fields without venturing out into the open.


We finished the walk on schedule just before 2:00 pm, looking at two more serious rubs along the most pronounced rub line on the property.  Then we answered several questions from the group and discussed some of our future plans to continue improvements.

Thanks To Everyone:

I want to thank everyone who helped put on this soiree and those making the trip to attend.  My wife and kids were a huge help and as always, I heard no complaints.  My dad provided the gas grill, tent, tables, and chairs for this event.  He even sacrificed a few chairs that fell off of the trailer during transport.  As Grandpa used to say...."helter skelter"!  Dad also flew the DJI drone during lunch to entertain the group.  I think he had more fun than I did.

Thanks to Jim Ward and his sister Jane who helped set up yesterday.  Jane works harder than most men in the woods.  In addition, Jim showcased his knowledge of Whitetails for the group and made others understand why I began using his services back in '11.  Cindy Rothrock also brought some free give away items for the attendees.  She and Tom are always supportive of any activities we have, whether it is this type of event, 4-H, or my company sponsored bow shoot.

The weather was a non factor today.  Feedback from everyone was positive.  In addition, I believe all had a good time and new friendships were definitely made.  Several requested that we hold this again next year so they could see the physical changes in the habitat.  If we did, I would hold it about the same time of year before the spring green up.  I believe this allowed the group to see more of the visible deer sign.  About next year.....we will see.....no promises.
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It's been a while since I've posted a blog.  Since February 9th to be exact.  I've been tied up with some personal things that have kept me busy and just haven't had time to focus on writing.  Nothing tragic has resulted.  My kids and wife are healthy, which is the most important. Just life has been happening, and sometimes life can be distracting from the routines we have established.  I'll work to get back in the groove.  Given the lag, this one is pretty long so I appreciate your patience.

It's been a while since I thanked all of you who take the time and follow this blog and the web site.  When I started doing this, it was to learn how to develop and manage a web site.  I had no idea it would evolve into a means of me documenting the property improvements and the constant quest to harvest mature whitetails.  Through the last couple of weeks I have learned this site has developed a following.  The reality is the following is small, but nonetheless a following.

A fifteen year old boy has made it clear to my oldest daughter and wife that my delay in writing a blog is not acceptable.  One of the local boys has been asking why I haven't written and when am I going to get back to work?  I guess I'm surprised that a teenage boy in this day and age of electronics and all activities kids perform would take the time to read what I have to say.  I know this kid well and he is very active in school and sports, running cross country and track with my daughter, and playing J.V. basketball.  This also points to the fact that deer hunting and the passion many of us have for it may have a future long term, especially if a 15 year old boy is trying to learn as much as possible to be a successful hunter by reading my site.  So thanks to everyone who reads this blog.  Thanks C.B. and GO ROX!

It's been a while since I talked about the field day scheduled for March 8th.  Plans are coming together and we have just over 30 people registered and planning on attending.  When I posted the initial invitation on the QDMA Forum, I had no idea we would have people wanting to travel long distances just to walk the property.  We have individuals signed up from Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and all over Indiana.  It should be a good time.  The weather doesn't look bad at this point, but that will depend on how much snow we get this weekend and Monday.  Hopefully no snow shoes are required.

It's been a while since I found a decent shed on the property.  In fact, the largest shed we have ever found was off a 2.5 year old.  Our bucks hold onto sheds very late each year.  I always hear this is a good sign of a healthy herd with adequate forage.  I'll take that, but as of Feb. 23rd the camera photos only had two 1.5 year old bucks with just one side missing.  As a result, the hunting we did last Sunday produced nothing.  Hopefully we find some this weekend, if indeed the bucks did drop a few.

It's been a while since the kids and I have spent a solid day at the property.  Last weekend, we spent 8 hours working and playing out there.  When you have kids ages 8 - 16 sometimes it is tough to keep them occupied and not fighting as siblings often do.  This past weekend was awesome.  The kids had fun, we cleaned up things in preparation for the property walk, and I was thrilled to simply enjoy spending time with them.  A couple of my girls also learned an important skill....how to pee in the woods.  See the photo below of the kids at the new staging area.
It's been a while since we made some major changes to the property.  Jim Ward spent February 18th at the property focusing on making a new staging area on the SW Corner of the property.  See the slide show below that shows how this came together.  I am thrilled with the results and believe deer will be using this next fall to socialize and possibly give me a shot at a booner.  The stumps you see are primarily because of the heavy snow on the ground prior to the melt, making it difficult to cut flush to the ground.  I took the series of photos standing in the middle of the staging area.  You can see that Jim made brush piles to help funnel the deer as necessary toward our bedding areas on top of the ridge illustrated in the 1st through 3rd photos.  The screen along the west side in the first photo will help make the deer feel secure in this area given there is an open field along the west edge of the property.  The idea behind this staging area is to have an "on and off ramp" for deer traveling through the long valley that runs south to north along the west side of our property.  We want to draw deer into this area.

In addition, Jim worked on the north side of the property enhancing some natural beds at some of the points and also creating some good screening cover.  The cover should improve the use of the connecting trails between the north staging area and the bedding.  I'm kicking myself now for not taking pictures as one of the beds is on a point and turned out fantastic.  He cut the trees making it secluded for the buck, but still providing enough vision for the buck to see down into the valley in front of the bed.  I believe this bed will produce well given the location, terrain features, and the amount of doe travel on the adjacent connecting trail.  We will be highlighting these areas during the property walk March 8th.
It's been a while since I've been to a deer expo.  Last weekend Luke and I went to the Indiana Deer & Turkey Expo in Indianapolis.  You can see in the photo below Luke standing next to the full mount of a large buck Jim Ward has taken.  We ran into several people we knew and had a chance to see Jim speak on "Setting The Trap For Mature Whitetails".  I always enjoy listening to Jim speak and learned a few things he had been keeping a secret from me.  Jim has developed a schedule over the next few months to working in various states.  If you are interested in scheduling consults or property work with Jim, click on the following link to see when he will be working in your state.  http://www.jimwardwhitetailacademy.com/jims-schedule.html
It's been a while since I have seen a 300" deer.  At the expo last weekend, the "Beck Buck" was proudly displayed on the Hoosier Hall of Fame.  As you can see in the picture below, this was a monster.  He scored 305 7/8 and is now the new shotgun world record, according to the posting.  I'm guessing there will be a run on hunting property in Huntington County, IN.  It's probably been a while since that has happened.
 
 
Most of us are probably sick of the snow right now, as this has been a winter to remember.  I'm sick of shoveling snow, plowing snow, spreading salt on sidewalks at work, kicking snow off of my boots, cleaning up snow tracked in, and the list goes on.  With that being said, I have used the snow to my advantage more so than ever this year at the property.

During our property walk a couple of weeks ago, it became extremely apparent how much the snow provided pieces of the puzzle on my deer herd.  I'm betting some of you are reading this and starting to think....."No kidding.  I knew that.  Tell me something I don't know."  Well, I learned a ton in that few hours we spent walking the property.

The snow showed where the deer were bedding, traveling, feeding, getting water, etc.  It was the first time I had really walked the property that much after a significant snow fall and could see such fresh sign.  My take, as outlined in a past blog, was that the deer were not using the food plots and may have possible left the property.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  What I learned is that the woody browse created from hinge cutting was the preferred choice for the herd versus digging through inches of snow to get a nibble of green clover underneath.  Take note....reduced use of plots doesn't necessarily equate to deer leaving the property.

This solidified my understanding of what Jim Ward talks to me constantly about....creating better habitat equals better and more diverse natural food sources.  This is true throughout the year, but is probably more important during a hard winter.  I was amazed at how much the deer were sticking to the woods to feed.  I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of tracks.  I still feel the deer herd numbers are down.  This just made me feel a little better about those numbers on my property.

What was also more evident, was the fresh beds in the snow.  You could see exactly how each deer was laying in the bed, what direction they were facing, and how they were feeding immediately in that area.  This simply reinforced for me that deer love to bed on natural points or what Jim calls the "Military Crest of a Hill".  As you can see in the photos below, these deer were bedded on a small point that enabled them to use the predominant wind to their advantage, be able to see down into the valley to spot incoming predators, and have multiple escape routes when needed.  We believe we actually pushed these deer off of the beds as we were making a lot of noise and talking loudly during the walk.  Some will say this pressure is too negative.  I get that any pressure at all is considered negative at some level.  I think sneaking up onto a deer and jumping them is far more negative than announcing your presence and enabling the deer to slip safely away.  Plus, I strong believe this makes them accustomed to my use of the land which is critical to maintain and improve the habitat for them.

So instead of thinking about cabin fever and how much snow we have had this winter, I'd suggest getting out there now on you property.  I'm sure walking through 12" or more makes it a little more difficult and less palatable, but I would do everything possible to see the tracks in the snow as they tell the story better than any time of year.   I continue to learn from the property and go into "sanctuaries".  I've come to believe that the only way to continue down this path is to actually walk down the paths.
 
 
Picture
I often read and have heard land owners should establish "as many acres for a sanctuary as possible and to stay out".  The concept sounds logical.  Stay out of a section of your property and mature bucks will take up residence due to the reduced pressure.  Then only go into this sanctuary to retrieve a deer and at night.  After my property walk yesterday with Jim Ward, I'd argue the complete opposite.  Go in and see what habitat improvements are needed and look for winter deer signs like rubs and beds.  In fact, Jim has argued this for several years.  I believed he was right, but the evidence I found yesterday made me a true believer.

We began the day walking along the connecting trail, through the staging area created this past summer, and then onto the north section of buck beds.  Along the way we found fresh beds in the snow at small points along the south edge of a large running ridge.  We looked at each other and both realized this area needed some enhancements with hinge cutting and additional screening cover.  But that wasn't the true evidence.

As we walked past the buck beds, we were on our way to the northwest corner of the property.  This section has the most pronounced topographical feature on the 63 acres.  Jim has always said that this point would be where the five and a half or six and a half year old would take up residence.  Exit routes are everywhere and there is no way of sneaking up on a buck bedded down on the point.  Before we even got to that ridge I remembered a large cedar tree along the way that had been used by large bucks as a rub.  However, the past 3-4 years no bucks had hit this tree so I had not thought much about it and never mentioned this tree to Jim.

To my surprise, this tree had been hit again.  And it was clear that this buck was not tiny.  Jim immediately asked why I had not mentioned this tree in the past?  He jokingly said I was withholding information from him and began to give me a hard time about it.  He also immediately explained that I had a mature buck on the property that I was not getting pictures of on the trail cameras.  Our excitement sky rocketed as it became clear that all of our hard work to improve the habitat to grow and hold mature bucks was definitely paying off.  Now we need pictures and physical sightings to support the evidence of the rubs.  We have set up three different camera surveys with corn piles in an effort to capture the photos.  Hopefully this happens before the bucks shed their antlers.

As we continued to walk the property, we found three more significant buck rubs.  These were not just three and a half year olds making these rubs.  The diameter of the trees was the evidence supporting that fact.  These were not your typical rubbed trees.  I've posted the pictures above and below of three larger diameter trees and a smaller typical rub.  The rub pictured at the top is the tallest significant rub I had ever seen.  Jim is standing next to it to give perspective.

Jim believes there are at least two mature bucks based on the way the various trees were rubbed.  Some of the trees were rubbed towards the bottom of the trunk, while others were much higher. Jim strongly stated to me that this is a sign of a mature large bodied buck.  One of the trees was clearly a community rub as the tree had been hit in past seasons and multiple times this year.  What he explained to me was this particular tree was marked by different bucks.  There was a main section of the tree that was hit lower and made up the largest portion of the rub, then the section at the top indicating a taller buck.

Why had I not known about these rubs?  Why had these bucks not walked past any of my cameras?  We talked about this throughout the walk yesterday.  Could it be transient bucks hitting the trees?  Jim believes these are bucks I have raised from fawns that are using the property as a core area.  These bucks know my every move, know the cameras and are now avoiding them.  This is difficult for me to comprehend as I do what I can to minimize my pressure on the property, including staying out of these areas after killing my buck on Nov. 12th.  What is interesting is that during tracking my buck, I walked within yards of the cedar tree.


But maybe that is the problem. These bucks know where my stands are.  These bucks know where the cameras are.  These bucks know where the does bed and can find them easily.  These bucks get enough food and forage with the natural forages we have created and the ag fields available to the immediate west side of their bedding areas.   They have access to water sources with the ponds and streams meandering through the property.   They know my in and out trails.  All of this could explain zero pictures or sightings.

Maybe this explains why the buck I harvested this year was never identified until the rut kicked into full gear?  I did get this buck on trail camera, but not until Nov. 6th.  This quickly made me believe that the buck was a transient buck.  Based on what I witnessed yesterday, I'm beginning to rethink that stance.  What is ironic is that Jim suggested that the buck I shot was a resident buck back in November.  He hinted that maybe I was educating my bucks more than I realized.  Maybe he is absolutely right.

Everyone always claims mature bucks of 5 and 6 years old are a completely different animal.  I'm  beginning to think I have educated these bucks to the point that I have to change my hunting strategy.  We talked about where to place stands for next season along the west side of the property in the woods and how to establish in and out trails.  We also discussed and actually began cutting more trees yesterday to help assist in holding these bucks.  I have stated in the past that I need to work harder at hunting between the beds and food plots, eliminating all stands along field edges.  This tells me I have to accomplish this or I will never harvest a buck bigger than 150".  So, let the games begin!

What all of this evidence (huge rubs, numerous beds in the snow, tracks everywhere) tells me is that our habitat work over the past three years is paying huge dividends.  We are holding deer and providing forage even in extreme cold and higher snow levels than normal.  It also tells me we need to press on with our plans, and that I need to be more strategic with camera and stand locations.  

Some large antlered mammal made these rubs.  We could be completely wrong about these being resident bucks that are ghosts on the property.  Time will tell, but we would not have found these serious rubs if we had stayed out treating these areas as a strict sanctuary.  Stay out of sanctuaries and fail to continue habitat improvements that hold large bucks that generate these huge rubs?  I think not!

 
 
I've heard that when you stop learning it is time to change hobbies.  Well, I definitely have not stopped learning as last weekend I found a cluster of trees full of small fruits.  Upon investigating a little further, these appeared to be persimmons.  Since I had no clue that these trees would hold fruit into January, I had my initial doubts.  I then proceeded to send a picture and confirmed with Jim Ward that indeed these are persimmons.

Today I visited the property to check cameras and drop off some limbs that came down in my back yard from the large snow storm.  Upon driving onto the property, I saw a doe run up from a small depression to look at my truck.  I didn't think about it until a few minutes later that this was next to the cluster of persimmon trees.  I drove over to the trees after making the rounds with the cameras.  When I stepped out of the truck I was amazed at how tore up the snow was all around the base of these trees.  The doe must have been bedded only a few yards away from the persimmons.

I've owned this property since November 2006.  I had always wanted to plant persimmon trees.  Until this past summer, I had no idea that we even had some on our property.  Was this because the trees finally reached a level of maturity to produce fruits?  I'm pretty confident this is the case as I can't believe I would have walked by both clusters of persimmon trees year after year and never notice fruit production.  Then I began to wonder if I had ever cut any down while hinge cutting an area due to my ignorance and inability to identify this species.

What amazes me more than anything is how late into the winter the trees I visited today still have fruit.  I'm not talk a few persimmons, but a ton of fruit.  If you review the pictures below, you will see what I am talking about.  What is odd is that the other clusters of persimmons originally found in August had dropped every single fruit by the start of October.  What is the difference?  Is there a different type of persimmon tree?  Clearly I've got some research to do in order to understand more about persimmons.

What is certain is that deer love persimmons.  Given the harsh West Central Indiana winter to date, this is proving to be a valuable source of food for my deer herd.  As I checked cameras today on the plots, I had fewer tracks in the snow compared to the stampede of deer that had visited the persimmons.  As I write this, I am kicking myself for not moving one of the cameras to catch this activity on camera.  There are still plenty of fruits for the deer to feed on over the next several days.


This also emphasizes the importance of having different types of forage for a deer herd.  Maybe this is more common than I realize.  But, who would have ever thought you could provide fruit to deer in the middle of January and it be home grown?
 
 
A few weeks ago, 60 minutes featured a piece on Amazon.  A segment of that story was about the future of delivery using a drone to drop off packages less than 5 pounds.  That story got me thinking about how I could use something like this to scout or see my property at a virtual bird's eye view.

I started doing research online immediately and found a ton of videos.  I shared this new infatuation with my father, who immediately caught the bug.  A couple of weeks ago, he purchased a small drone already outfitted with a camera.  He bought the DJI Phantom Vision, which we flew yesterday and took some video over the 63 acres.  Anyone, I mean anyone, can fly this thing.  I was amazed at how easy it was to fly.  In 5 minutes I was buzzing this thing all over the sky.  Quite fun......See the video link below of the test.

We finished the flight and took the micro SD card out and put it into my laptop.  After looking at the video, I felt it was a success.  Given there was snow on the ground, I felt like this provided good contrast between the trees, brush, and the ground.  I loved how I could see clearly the habitat work that had been completed.  Specific aspects visible were buck beds, the new watering hole, food plots, screening cover, streams, and trails in the snow.  I was amazed at the visible points where the deer had cleared snow on the food plots.  The Main Plot Clover, north section had some decent tracks and areas cleared, while the brassicas on the south side did not (first section of the field we flew over).  I think this helps get an understanding of the topography of a property.  If I was considering buying a new piece of property, I would definitely use this as a tool in addition to simply walking the land.

The video does have a "fish eye" effect.  I understand there is software out there that will take this effect away.  I'll have to work on that aspect of video editing, as I am clearly a novice.

Another aspect that I was disappointed was that it was difficult to pick out deer at 140'.  Maybe they were there and we just couldn't see them.  Maybe the height we flew the unit was part of the problem, but I though we would see deer moving or at least reacting to the sound of the unit.  I didn't really think it was that loud, especially at 140'.  To me, it sounded like a bunch of bees buzzing around a hive.  I'm sure the deer picked this out as an out of place sound, especially at this time of year.  However, I don't believe once it was in the air the deer ran completely off of the property.  My kids were with us and we didn't try to be quiet, but that usually doesn't push deer that far off of the property.  Again, I believe we could have flown it a little lower and may have been able to pick out more details.

In summary, I think we need to make some more flights.  I'd like to try it at different elevations and map out the property better.  We also have to rotate the unit slower in areas we are hovering.  The next time, we will start the flight at the edge of the property and quietly walk in.  Maybe we can see the deer better and pick them out.  We had a blast doing this yesterday and I believe I learned a lot.  If you have the means to try this, I would suggest looking at your property through this lens.