This is late muzzleloader time in southern Iowa. My father drew a late muzzleloader buck tag for this year so I took him out to a spot that showed some promise where deer were digging in the snow for the remaining brassicas they could scrounge up. He only had two days to hunt and in just those two days we did see one shooter buck but it was too far away for a shot. I really think had the drought been not so severe he would have had a good chance even in those two days but the brassicas we have are barely noticeable any more…they just never grew good because of the low moisture levels. So, starting 12/24 my son Forest and I started on next years preparations.
The first thing we really were excited to get done was prepare another interior plot.
The “Broken Toe” interior plot before getting started. This plot is located on the top of a ridge that is about 80 yards wide. The plot will cover about half the top in width and is only about 1/5 an acre in size. The plot will be surrounded by thick cover right at the plot itself. This is good so that deer cannot see the hunter entering and exiting the stand.
We’ve been planning this spot for almost a year. And it really turned out In fact, when we were done it exceeded our hopes.
We remove the bigger trees with a chain saw and smaller ones we sometimes mow if we have access to our tractor and mower. There’s no need to remove stumps or pull out trees. We just cut them off. When working the ground inside the woods were these plots are we use a disc…this way the disc blades ride up over stumps and roots without breaking or plugging. Over time the stumps will rot and bust up.
Here’s Forest removing some debris from the plot. He likes to stack the brush in ways that funnel deer into and out of the plot where its most desirable.
This is the finished “Broken Toe”. I’m mowing with a brush mower but this isn’t necessary…I did it because the mower was handy. To the south is the access for entry and exit from an open cow pasture. To the west and east of the plot it drops off pretty drastically…our plan is to hunt with a west or east or north wind. In each case our scent will be taken either over the open pasture or stay above deer that are down wind as the terrain drops off. Time and cam pictures will tell us if this is better mornings or evenings but I’m gonna guess right now that this plot will be killer for either.
Just off the plot in all directions (except the pasture) is open shagbark hickory. This is actually good because it will promote deer to bed slightly away from the plot preventing us from bumping deer while entering and exiting. The security cover is just about 100 yards past the open hickory to the north and west.
The second order of business was to do some major habitat improvements. I call them major because I have always felt that habitat improvements far and away outperform any other means of improving your hunting results.
This timber is pretty open hickory. So what we did was cut two different 2 acre or so cuttings that will promote heavy security cover. The down trees are already providing browse and when the sun light is allowed to reach the forest floor new growth will explode making these areas awesome at holding deer and providing great habitat. We didn’t just cut these to cut them…they were cut in areas that we want deer to bed based on our overall plan on how to hunt this farm.
We plan these cuttings a lot in conjunction with our interior plots. If we can, we plan these manipulated bedding areas to be in close proximity to our interior plots and on the planned upwind side. If we want to hunt an interior plot for example with a west wind, we will put in (when appropriate) a cutting to the west of the plot thus promoting bedding of the deer on the upwind side of our interior food plot. This can be repeated over and over and for different wind directions.
Many of these hickory we made the decision to only partially cut through. When the tree falls, the remaining bark connecting the tree to the stump will actually allow the tops to grow next spring and summer. This will provide browse, cover, and protection for new growth of desirable trees like oak that start to sprout in the newly opened forest.
Not only do cuttings like these drastically improve the habitat, they also “release” trees we want like these oaks in this picture. There were bunches of red and white oaks in these hickory that will now be allowed to grow. You might here this called TSI or timber stand improvement.
These cuttings are all part of a master plan. By making these cutting where we want, we can manipulate where the deer bed. When we do this, it makes it easier for us to hunt them because we are planning our sets and interior plots as one big picture.
I will say this…we spent days and hours in the field planning on how to make this interior plot work for hunting and how to strategically plan this plot out with our cutting to make for the best hunting and habitat combo. This plot (in conjunction with our cuttings) will be successful not because of any secret seed blend or other hyped up product…but because of its location, proximity to cover, and because the hunter can get in and out without being detected. And while on stand it will almost be impossible for deer to get down wind and bust you. Those scenarios don’t always line up this good! I can’t wait to see the results next year.