Based on spending many hours in the woods every fall hunting public land, I have heard my fair share of grunting and rattling from other hunters. More than I probably should have, to be completely honest.
Usually the rattling starts about mid-morning and the grunts are not far behind. In my experience, most hunters on public land use these tactics as a last resort if that morning they didn’t see the movement they had hoped for. It is at times quite comical to hear the various sequences echoing through the woods.
Late season deer hunting across the midwest focuses on one thing, corn. Because of this many hunter’s plant food plots of corn to be left standing for the late season. But corn is a finicky plant. It can be a great food source to plant for deer, but often times it can be hard to grow because of its dependence on nitrogen. To help you understand a little better how to grow a corn food plot successfully we will talk a little bit about corn and nitrogen.
To produce a stand of corn that is beneficial to the deer on your property, the corn is going to have to be a heavy user of nitrogen. Because of this heavy use of nitrogen and the amount you will need to apply, there may be an added expense when you plant a corn food plot.
How Nitrogen Works
Nitrogen is in natural in the air around the corn plant, but they can’t utilize it for growth and production unless it is fixed by nitrogen fixing bacteria or other plants. This is usually accomplished through legumes and a crop rotation. This is why you see farmers use a rotation of corn and soybeans. This crop rotation can be another option other than adding fertilizer. Clover is another plant other than soybeans that can be used in the rotation, but clover is a perennial and will come up year after year, making it hard to use in a rotation.
How Is Nitrogen Lost
The main way that nitrogen is lost is when soil bacteria uses up nitrogen through denitrification. Which is when bacteria in the soil use oxygen from nitrate in the soil as a way to replace oxygen from the air that they are not getting do to saturated soils. It can also be lost through leaching. Which is when negatively charged ions are not held tightly and are leached away from the roots when it rains. It can also be used up by the plants.
The nitrogen in the soil might change fairly regularly, but a simple soil test can help you determine what management actions to take. Most people will probably apply fertilizer to help with a nitrogen deficiency problem, but be careful not to over apply. Over applying will not help your yields and you can only add up to a certain amount of it before you start wasting the fertilizer. You can also waste fertilizer if you let it sit in the soil. You will need to add the fertilizer when the plants are there to use it and benefit from it. One alternative to adding sometimes expensive fertilizer is to add inorganic fertilizer. It is a simpler and cheaper method other than adding nitrogen fertilizer.
Planting corn is a very common food plot plant, but it can be hard to grow. To get the most out of your corn food plots you need to focus on nitrogen. You can do this by adding fertilizer or through a crop rotation of soybeans or other legumes. Corn may be a difficult plant to grow, but if you do a few simple things it can become a great late season hunting location.
Whether it’s called rifle season or gun season or they use shotguns or rifles, that time of year strikes fear into most bowhunters. If you don’t tag out before this time of year, you probably feel like your chances of killing a mature buck have greatly diminished. If you hunt private land you have a little better control over the pressure gun season can have on your hunting, but on public land the gun season can change how the deer use the property. To help you understand hunting after gun season, here is our approach to hunting public land after gun season.
The Initial Approach
This is the obvious answer, but you need to “find” the deer back. Get a feel for what the deer are doing and get a few sits under your belt. The first thing we do when we return to hunting public land after gun season is to hang trail cameras or do a few observation sits. The patterns of deer may have changed with the increased hunting pressure and hanging a trail camera and checking it fairly soon will give a quick idea about whether the deer are still using the area you are hunting. If you feel like the spot you are hunting before the gun season isn’t working anymore and observation sit is a way to gain some more information on where and how the deer are using the property. This will not only help you after gun season, but it may also help you gain information that can help you throughout the whole season. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have found the “right” spot to begin with things may not have changed much if at all. If you have found a spot on public land where people aren’t hunting and where big bucks like to bed, things may not have change and you may even be seeing more deer because you are hunting in a location the deer feel is secure.
Hunting after gun season, especially if you are in a “secure” location, means that you have to be careful. The deer are already on edge and you don’t want to do a total rescouting mission to find the deer again. Mature bucks won’t give you much leeway during the early part of the season and they may not give you anything after the gun season. Because of this you need to make sure that your stands are fool proof, that margin for error is much smaller.
Where Are The Deer?
If you are going to stick to hunting the same spot, it may take a while for the deer to return to that area. The deer may be shifting patterns due to the hunting pressure or even changing food sources during that time of year and this might create a few sits where you don’t see any deer. If you are looking for a new spot, look for thick cover and areas where people haven’t been. Stay away from fields and field edges because those are areas that people have most definitely over hunted. Do to the increased hunting pressure, there is going to be less daylight movement. This means that you are going to have to get closer to bedding areas. As we have mentioned a little bit before, you need to get away from other hunters. If you know where they are, get away from them because that is where the deer felt unsafe during gun season.
The approach to hunting after the gun season is similar to hitting the reset button. In some sense you are starting over with the season. If you found the right spot you may not have to change your approach at all. But if you need a new approach try hanging trail cameras or using observation sits. If you are hanging trail cameras, you want to approach it like you would in the beginning of the season. Put them in locations you can get to easily. As far as stand location go, make sure your stands are fool proof and you hunt them with the proper wind. Hunting after the gun season can be complicated, but if you put in a bit of hard work early on you can have success on public land even after the gun season closes.
A lot has happened over the last month, but the picture for this deer season is only a little but clearer. As we talked about in the last Update From The Field, we were going to move trail cameras to a new location because we had hardly any buck sightings where we previously had the cameras placed on our “South” public land unit. So, we moved one camera to the field gap that we sat most of last year. This field is the same field where we saw our two target bucks in December of last year. This year the field is in corn. This field gap sets up well because the deer are bedding in the corn to the east and eating in an alfalfa/soybean field in the evening. They are using this gap in the trees to go back and forth between the two. After checking this camera a few days ago we were excited by the bucks we have on camera. All moving during daylight hours.
This looks like the only early season set we have on this property. The other areas that we have scouted and decided to put tree stands in are inaccessible because of a higher than average river and flooding. We can’t access these areas in any other way without spooking deer, so we will just have to wait to check the memory cards and hang tree stands in these locations. These locations are about as far away from hunting pressure as you can get on this property and should only get better as we head into October and especially November.
At this point in the year we have done as much scouting as we can on this property. As we have struggled to pinpoint where the mature bucks are hanging out on this property we will have to let time and our new stand locations help us put together the remaining pieces of the puzzle on this property.
We will also be hunting public land whitetails in eastern Nebraska. We scouted a piece of public land last spring, but didn’t get to the part of the property we really wanted to scout because we needed waders to cross the creek. We will be scouting this property in the next few days. This property sets up for a great early season and rut location.
We have also located a newly opened piece of Walk In Access land that is adjacent to a piece of land we hunted last year. This new piece looks to set up better than the piece adjacent to it and has a large amount of food sources located on it. We will also be scouting this piece of land in the next few days. Check our Facebook and Instagram pages for updates on our scouting efforts.
At this point a lot of how our season will go is undetermined. We still have lots of pieces to put together, but the next few weeks will go a long ways to helping us put those pieces together.
As a whitetail hunter, most of the time we spend in the stand is by ourselves. But, almost all of us share our passion and experiences with a close group of friends or surrounding land owners. With the increasing interest in managing your property for whitetails, the idea of a hunting cooperative is even more common. A hunting cooperative is when you work with surrounding landowners to manage your properties using QDM. To help you understand how to make the most of a hunting cooperative, here is our approach to using a hunting cooperative to make your hunting better.
Building A Plan
The first thing that you need to do is work with everyone in your cooperative and building an overall plan. There are three things that you want to be a part of that plan. They are limiting yearling buck harvest, limiting pressure, and keep doe populations within carrying capacity. These are things anyone can do on a property by themselves, but if you do it together in a cooperative you can impact a larger area.
One benefit of creating an overall plan is that it helps you create a like minded philosophy about the hunting that will take place on the property. This is important because you will be “sharing” deer. You are all working together so that you can have better hunting, not just so you can have better hunting. Also, use trail camera photos to establish the “target” bucks and identify what kids or first time hunters can harvest. Having these conversations now, will help eliminate any problems during the season. Once the plan is set make sure to follow the terms that you have set.
As far as habitat management is concerned, not everyone can plant the food plots. Someone needs to focus on bedding and if it is me, I would volunteer to create the bedding. If you have the bedding areas, that means that the deer are bedding on your property. With food sources, deer can use any number of them at different times. But if you can create quality bedding, especially buck bedding, you can have deer on your property pretty consistently. To create that bedding you can do things like planting native grasses or timber management.
Even though you may want to focus on bedding, you still need food to provide quality nutrition for the deer. The important thing to do with food sources is to offer a variety of different things. Having different food sources and will help create movement across the property and provides a year round food plot program for your property.
Hunting cooperatives are a great way to manage more land and create better hunting opportunites, but it needs to be done right. You can create a hunting cooperative, but if you don’t create a proper management and hunting plan, the cooperative may not work. You need to focus on the goals you create as a group, create a habitat management plan that has a proper balance of food to bedding, and also create a year round food plot program.
For more information listen to episode 017 of the Whitetail Instinct Podcast.
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