If you’re a serious hunter and have land to manage, you don’t take summers off. Not fully anyway.
Sadly, wearing flip flops and shorts at the lake doesn’t count as tackling your offseason hunting tasks.
It may be more pleasant to sip a beverage and wet a line or two, but next hunting season will come either way. The question is: In what ways did you increase your odds of harvesting a trophy animal? I guarantee making s’mores isn’t one of them.
Offseason Hunting Tasks
1. Planting trees
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, as the saying goes. But now is the next best time!
Focus on planting what you don’t already have. In other words, if you already have a dense conifer plantation, plant hard and soft mast trees that will provide food. It’s an investment of time and money, but will only require minimal maintenance in future years.
Plus, it will pay off for many years or even decades down the road.
Two critical things will help your trees greatly when you plant. You need to eliminate competition around the seedling either mechanically or chemically so that it can fully utilize nutrients and water to grow fast. You also need to protect them from browsing (using a tree tube or cage) until they are tall enough to escape the reach of hungry mouths.
Some good hard mast options include: oak (red and white varieties), chestnut, hazel, beech, hickory, and walnut. Soft mast options are many, including: apple, crabapple, pear, persimmon, plum, serviceberry, raspberries, blackberries, and even wild grapes.
2. Food plots
Following up on hunting task number one, planting food plots will help your deer herd by providing tons (literally) of easily-digestible forage. Again, focus on planting things that aren’t readily available on your property or surrounding properties (i.e., don’t plant corn when you’re surrounded by corn acres). There are dozens of quality food plot species you can use for different soil and sun exposure conditions.
If you’re planting a new plot, take time over the summer to properly prepare the area and give your seeds a fighting chance. Kill any existing vegetation by disking or using herbicide, burn or rake off the debris, and smooth out the seedbed a bit.
Some food plot seeds require a deeper planting with equipment, while some can be planted with minimal preparation. Do a soil test to ensure you use the correct amount of lime and fertilizer. Alternatively, consider products like Deer Gro PlotStart to eliminate the need for lime and help your plants better absorb the nutrients in the soil.
3. Wildlife openings
Another great option to provide additional browse and cover is to prepare wildlife openings. Simply drop a couple trees in a small area and gather the slash into piles. These small openings will respond with a flush of new growth because you’ve exposed the forest floor to the sun and eliminated competition.
Native browse species provide a much larger percentage of deer and other game animals’ diets than most people realize. So by managing the native species, you’ll greatly improve the conditions this summer and for the next couple years.
4. Shooting lanes and trails
Similar to the wildlife opening hunting task, slightly expanding your shooting lanes or trails on either side can open up the forest floor to produce more natural browse.
You can also combine ideas and plant your shooting lanes with species such as clover, which tend to do well in shadier conditions without much soil preparation.
Spring and summer are ideal times to set up new mineral sites or replenish old ones. Does are nursing fawns, and bucks are growing inches on top of their heads. Both require access to a quality source of dietary minerals.
Either set out a block/rock, or dump a bag of powdered minerals onto the ground. Better yet, dump them onto a rotting stump. The decomposing wood will absorb the minerals and catch them from leaching into the ground too quickly. Over time, you’ll notice deer will literally eat the soil, creating a depression that can then serve as a watering hole.
Now you have a game plan to make next year’s hunting season more successful. By all means, take time to enjoy your summer. But also put in the work now by addressing these hunting tasks to reap the benefits later.
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