July 23, 2012
By Doug Howlett
The mercury is soaring, but cooler deer hunting weather will be here in no time, which means now is when you need to get your land in order. Planting fall food plots is a start, but properly getting your land ready for the coming season goes well beyond seed in the ground. From identifying natural food sources and bedding areas to repositioning stands and clearing lanes, there is plenty you can do in the heat of late summer that will pay big dividends down the road.
Identify New Bedding Cover
The forest is a dynamic place, changing from year to year. Recently cut areas with abundant sunlight grow thick, while established woodlands or pine plantations open up as the perpetual shade suppresses the understory. Areas where deer bedded one year may not hold them the next. It's critical to identify these spots and understand their proximity to current food sources. Even if you've hunted a property for years, it pays to slip some boots on, spray down with insect repellant, and take a hike through the key areas you'll be hunting this fall.
On a fairly current aerial photo, mark areas where there are newly fallen trees, knocked down by storms and high summer winds, the tops of which will provide excellent bedding cover for big whitetails in otherwise open areas. Deer love to lie in these tops because they can remain hidden while watching for danger to approach from a distance.
Cutover areas that have enjoyed two to four years of growth will hold tons of deer in the fall. They will hold deer afterwards as well, but in that two- to four-year range the height of the growth is perfect for hunter and deer alike. The weeds and brush are tall enough to make deer feel secure when bedding and moving through it, yet hunters in elevated stands along the edges can still see — and shoot — deer as they move through the cover. Bucks will also work these edges during the rut, trying to intercept the scent of a receptive doe. Find a young cutover bordering ag fields or a food plot and you've found your money spot.
Likewise, stands of pines or young trees that are maturing and that once held bedded deer may have opened up so much that deer no longer use them. It can be pointless to keep a once productive stand in these areas when moving it near a new bedding area might serve you better.
Inspect the Mast
During your walk, keep an eye out for natural foods as well. One of the biggest factors that can determine whether deer will be actively feeding in open fields and plots early in the season, or remain hidden in the woods, is the state of the mast crop — particularly acorns. Oaks don't always produce. In fact, acorn production can be quite variable depending on a long list of factors. Even years when a number of trees seem to produce, not all of them will.
According to Whitetail Stewards Inc.'s Matt Tarr, the best time to conduct an acorn survey is between the second and last week of August. At that time, acorns have developed enough to be visible from the ground, while acorn predators, such as squirrels, will not have eaten too much of the crop. Using binoculars, inspect the tops of oaks for limbs laden with the sweet-tasting nuts. White oaks are preferred to red oaks, but both provide important nutrition. If oaks are abundant, plan on focusing early-season hunts in the woods, as big bucks prefer the safety of cover to feeding in the open. Likewise, if only a few scattered trees are thick with acorns, these trees will be some of the most serious deer magnets come this fall.
Find the Other Foods
Other top natural foods include muscadines, persimmons, dogwoods, honeysuckle, clover, berries, and old fruit trees. Deer also browse fresh green shoots of almost any type, so areas that have been burned over can provide a smorgasbord. Planted fields of soybean, alfalfa, corn, and wheat will draw deer better than most natural foods, but it's just as important to note what has been planted on adjoining properties as well as your own, as these can draw deer away from your property.
Create Buck Structure
Want to create a deer magnet in the middle of an otherwise unbroken forest? Get together with a few friends one weekend, grab your chainsaws, and go in and clear out an open area in the middle of the woods. It doesn't have to be big — 40 to 60 yards wide and maybe a little longer. By doing this, you will not only create an immediate bedding area with the felled trees, but whitetails will feed on the now accessible leaves. Sunlight will also reach the ground in this spot, spawning new growth each summer and providing natural browse in a mature stand of timber otherwise devoid of it. Naturally, if you don't own the land, be sure you get the landowner's permission because those trees could equal money to them.
This new cover provides a great spot for bucks to lie during the rut and keep tabs on does as they pass through the area. Hang a stand nearby, and you'll be set come this November.
Check, Hang Stands
Now is the time to rethink where you want to hang stands. Take in mind prevailing winds in each feeding and bedding area as well as the travel of the sun from east to west to ensure you won't be staring into the sun at the time of day you expect to be hunting the stand most often. Hang the stand where other limbs will provide some natural cover behind you, but don't forget to clear at least four to five shooting lanes in every direction around the stand.
For stands that were left hanging throughout the offseason, check straps for wear and bolts and steps for rust and tightness. Replace or fix anything that looks worn or loose so that the stand is safe for use. Fix squeaking ladders, platforms, and seats as nothing can ruin a hunt quicker than popping metal as you shift to take aim.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.