August 25, 2023
I'm no different than most whitetail geeks; I often dream about the magical month of November. I love the biting north winds, the falling leaves and the sound of a John Deere crashing through dried corn stalks.
Still, one of my favorite times to climb a tree is opening day. Sure, there's the tradition of not missing an opening day, but there's more. Opening day is an excellent time to get a crack at a hitlist buck if you do your summer work and finish with some hardcore August prep.
I live in the arid plains of southeast Colorado. Our dirt is powdery sand that doesn't hold moisture, which makes growing food for the local ungulates difficult. I combat not having excellent food plots by putting in ponds.
Like food, water is all about the destination. The closer you can put water to known bedding, the better. Deer love rising from their beds, stretching and grabbing a midday drink. When the refreshment stand is only a few hundred yards from their favorite napping grounds, that refreshment stands becomes ultra-attractive.
Some reading this may think a pond won't work because their hunting property has natural water sources or is in an area with ample rain. I would disagree. The Arkansas River and two canal systems slice through the heart of my whitetail dirt and deer hammer my ponds.
The reason for this is the location of my ponds and the fact that the deer can drink and still hear exceptionally well. Running water creates noise. There are plenty of ways to put in a pond. The process is not complicated. Over the years, I have used pond liners from Home Depot, Rubbermaid tanks, etc. My favorite method, and the method the deer like, is a pond liner laid into a hole.
I dig a long, slender hole that opens to a mouth at both ends. You'll have to guesstimate, but I like my pond to hold about 100 gallons of water. I open each side to a wider mouth and slope the edge down into the pond. I make the other banks steep. I have learned that the deer will use the sloped sides, and I situate my stand so the sloped ends will put the deer broadside or slightly quartering away from me.
Once I dig the hole, I lay the pond liner and push in the overhanging material with my shovel to seat the liner. Lastly, I cover the overhanging material, and you'll want some overhang so the weight of the water doesn't drag the edges of the fabric inside with the excess dirt. Now, I use my truck or ATV and a WanLian Large Capacity Collapsible Water Container to haul 87 gallons (max capacity) at a time and fill my pond.
You'll be shocked at how well water works at attracting game. Place a cellular or digital camera over your newly created pond, and watch a pattern develop.
If I could choose one, it would be a toss-up whether I went with ponds or mowed paths. Each August, I trade a day of labor with a farmer friend to use his tractor and mower. Before that arrangement, I rented a tractor and mower from a local rental company for a day. You can borrow or rent equipment as needed.
After looking over my property on Hunt Stand, I note all my stand locations, ponds and food plots. Next, I mow trails that connect known deer bedding areas with these sites. I create travel corridors that offer the path of least resistance, and my efforts have shown the deer love these mowed paths. Also, during years when rain has been abnormally plentiful resulting in tall vegetation, I cut smaller in/out exit trails for myself.
Map out a plan, and then go in and cut your trails. It's super simple and super effective.
Go Late With Food
As I mentioned, food and my location don't jive. I have wasted lots of time and money trying to establish perennial food sources over the years, but weeks of 100-plus degrees heat, poor soil quality and limited moisture don't allow it.
I don't waste money on Roundup or get too serious about food. Instead, I select the best dirt in the area, make sure the plot is next to a pond close to known bedding areas and put in a fall kill plot.
Typically, I till the ground and then use a hand-style seed spreader to put ryegrass and a mixture of brassicas into the dirt. Next, I drive over it with my ATV a few times and call it good.
Of course, I pray for rain, but if the plot doesn't take off, I'm not out much time and money.
Posts & Scrapes
This final August prep tip is more of a rut tip, but you might as well get it done while you're out doing work.
I add a rubbing post and a mock scrape at my stand locations. I’ve discovered bucks can't stand a lone aromatic cedar post that has an overhanging branch. You can buy or cut your cedar or pine post. Make sure the post is circular and not square, and bury it no less than three feet in the ground. Big bucks love these posts and go to town on them.
Once the post is in the ground, use a 1-inch drill bit and send a hole most of the way through. Next, add a licking branch. Take this branch from a tree species deer in the area tend to use as a licking branch. Add the limb to the hole, create a mock scrape underneath and you've made a sign post within easy shooting distance of your treestand.
While the post starts taking abuse during mid-October, add Wildlife Research Center's Trail's End #307 to the scrape and chances are good you'll get some early-season buck/doe activity at the scrape.
Once the work is done, keep a low human footprint and pay attention to your cameras. Keep a journal and organize trail cam photos to help you stay on top of evolving patterns. If you do the work now, opening day may be a banger. Get after it.