2015 Year in Review
At the end of each hunting season, I review how the year went. What worked? What didn’t? What ideas paid off? What things new did I learn this year? It’s a critical self-assessment any good hunter should make so that you can get better and learn from your experiences, successes, and mistakes. This is not about talking yourself into justifying all the things you did this past year! If you tried somethings new…did they work?
I know of many hunters who make a short assessment each season but it’s not about them or what they’ve done. Instead, they focus on the neighbors, the department of natural resources, or hunting partners. I can tell you unequivocally—if you are not successful barring some very rare issue it is probably something you are doing wrong. Even if you do have a neighbor problem for example; you are the one making the choice to hunt where you are.
2015 was a good year. Not a great year, but good. Out of 3 hunters, two shot very good bucks. The late muzzleloading season went without a shot fired. Most of what was done on the farm worked, but I learned an awful lot too. Let’s go…
- The Year of the Acorn-I know that acorns are a major draw for whitetail. But 2015 was a year like no other I have ever seen in over 30 years of hunting. The acorn crop was so large that it was well into December before the nuts took a back burner to my soybeans. In some areas, acorns are still a primary food source. This overabundance of acorns kept deer in the timber longer this fall and kept them in cover throughout the season.
Never before in my life have I seen deer avoiding soybeans and other food sources outside of the timber into November. The protein enriched acorn literally stole the show this year. In fact, I believe, there was so much protein available this fall that deer preferred green plots over almost everything else all year. I bring this up because I learned that adding more green food plots might have helped this year…although I think it would be a mistake to plan each year for a 30 year phenomenon!
- Fence Crossings Work-I have always liked fence crossings. Fence jumps and gate openings have always been a favorite of mine when making a great stand location even better. 2015 proved again that they work. For quite some time my son Forest and I had tried to figure out how to plan a set for a timbered funnel we call the salmon run for a westerly wind. Around this same area was an older pasture fence. We simply created an easier spot for the deer to cross on this fence row by cutting and removing some of the brush that grew up along the line, and the deer started using the area immediately. The fence jump got even better when we incorporated a very small green food plot along with one mock scrape.
This stand from season opener until well into November had the most concentrated buck activity of any stand location on the farm. Lesson learned…part of the fence was weak and wobbly so some deer crossed out of range of the stand. This part of the fence will be fixed this spring making the “North Fence Jump” even better for next year. Fence jumps and crossings are so effective that if you don’t have one to hunt I strongly suggest making your own. (Details on making your own fence crossings in the March 2016 article of Hunt 365.)
- Interior Food Plots…still working!-If you’ve talked to me ever in person about hunting, or read any of my stuff here on this site, you know I use interior food plots as one of my most successful ways to lure good bucks into areas within bow range. This year was a great example of that. An early October hunt and a late November hunt both proved that mature bucks will travel in and around interior plots during daylight hours. These hunts resulted in a missed opportunity on a great buck and a hunter tagging a mature brute. I was a little concerned that the cameras on these plots weren’t showing huge amounts of activity, but once again they still proved effective. If you have never planted interior plots adjacent to thick cover, you don’t know what you’re missing.
- Plan for Goofy Winds-This late muzzleloader season found my hunter with back to back to back never ending SE winds. Not what you expect in December and January. The SE winds brought along warm temperatures and rain…again not what you expect this time of year. I could shrug this off but I’m not going to. I had one ground blind set up for southerly winds but with so many days I think the stand got burned out with consecutive sits. This was not the hunter’s fault. I need to look at a way to make sure I am ready for another late season with that many southerly winds. I don’t know what the answer is right now, but I need to plan for these goofy winds so what happened this late muzzy season doesn’t happen again. That being said, I truly think the weather itself had more to do with an unsuccessful late muzzleloader season. Many deer were seen and a lot of bucks…but the mature brutes just weren’t coming out until after dark. A mild fall, excessive acorns, a warm late season, very little snow=tough late season hunting to be sure.
- Camera Placement-I made one potentially costly mistake this year. On December 11th I set several cameras up on plot scan mode taking pictures each evening on intervals. The cameras were placed on 3 different food plots of corn and soybeans. Two of the three cameras were facing southerly. Each evening, as the cameras were taking pictures on plot cam mode, the sun setting in the south west made most of the pictures too dark to look at. The setting sun whited out the tops of the pictures and the plot was too dark to see. I never got burned by this before, and it won’t happen again but I had to learn the hard way…face plot cameras north!
- Soybean Categories Make a Big Difference-The category of a soybean is the maturity class of the soybean. It determines how long the beans will grow, how long they will put on beans, and when they will quit putting on beans and start to dry down. I have had some issues with my Ag beans drying down too early in the fall and then shattering. This year, with the help of Dairyland Seeds they hooked me up with some later maturing soybeans that are still Ag beans meant for yield. (To be clear, I am not endorsing Dairyland and had to pay for these beans) The beans they recommended solved my shattering issues completely. I plant soybeans for the green plant but also primarily for the bean itself. Thus, forage beans are not my choice at all. So, what I had been doing was going with Ag beans that the farmers plant in my area—the problem was by leaving these beans in the field by December they would start to shatter. Dairyland told me to push to a later category. So, by going with a later category I still got good Ag yield (actually yields were great), still got beans, and there was no shatter. My suggestion is to push to the highest category you can for your area. This year, in southern Iowa I went with late category III’s and early category IV’s.
Overall-It was a good year. I learned some things and have a few more ideas and plans for next year…a couple new sets I want to prepare…and a couple small changes to existing areas on the farm. All-in-all things panned out mostly as planned, I think? I sure would like a bigger tractor, maybe one with a loader!