I could feel it. Without a doubt it was there. Riding the breeze and floating through the leaves. Something had changed. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but something had definitely changed. Was it just my anticipation, my wanting so hard for the best three months of the year? There is no way to explain the way a whitetail hunter feels when October finally rolls around. May is nice and June is just fine, but when you are finally able to flip the calendar to October, hope begins to build and big buck dreams await. The problem is getting to October. Whitetails consume our minds. We analyze over every detail. Did we put our tree stand in the right spot? Are the deer still feeding in the same field? Have we done everything we need to do? Every year is more special than the last. High hopes met more often than not with just more disappointment. Despite all the heartbreaks and missed shots, opening day couldn’t be farther away. The wait almost unbearable, as it seems to get longer and longer each passing year.
There was nothing different about the day. It was only slightly colder and the wind had actually slowed. But yet I could feel it in the air. I’m sure I could smell it. It’s only early March but I can definitely feel it. The first day in months I felt like if I closed my eyes maybe, just maybe, when I opened them it would be deer season. But I didn’t dare close my eyes. Because I knew darn well it wasn’t deer season. It would only make the next months even more unbearable than they already would be. Who was I kidding? There was a chill in the March air, but not like November. The sunset was perfect, but not like the partly cloudy orange, red sunset of October.
I guess I am obsessed. You would have to be to think March felt like November. But whitetails have a way of doing that to a person. The constant planning and thought. The worry when a buck suddenly disappears from trail camera photos. The long nights trying to sleep, but all you can think about is the “what if”. What if it actually all comes together? Isn’t that what we do this for? The one time it all falls into place.
So, how do we get through the off-season? An off-season that has only just begun. Here are a few reasons to get off the couch this spring and get in touch with deer season once again.
The early part of the off-season between February and March is a great time to get out in the woods and to either look at a new property or scout your old property again. When scouting a new property it helps to look at aerial maps first, to help you pinpoint a small area to scout on foot once you get there. This helps you to be more efficient when scouting and saves you time. Some of the main signs to look for are rubs and deer travel routes. Rub lines are easy to find this time of the year and are a great indicator of where bucks were traveling last year during the rut. You can bet that bucks will be traveling the same routes again this year. Also look for where deer are traveling on your property. Travel routes, like rubs are easy to see this time of the year and can help you by letting you know how deer are using your property and what direction of travel the deer are using. This will let you know where to hang stands and where to plant food plots. Early spring is a great time to get out in the woods and scout. I often find that after a good scouting session, I can’t wait for deer season because I have learned so much information that I can’t wait to use. The bonus shed antler is always great too.
Another great early spring activity is hinge cutting. This is a great way to make your property more attractive to deer. Hinge cutting involves cutting partially through a small diameter tree, then pushing the tree over so that part of the tree is still connected to the base. This allows the tree to survive for a limited amount of time, while providing food and cover. You can use hinge cuts in many ways. The first is for screens. If you have access routes that require you to walk near where deer may see you, you can use hinge cuts to create a visual block for the deer. You can also create screens along the outside of your food plots. This makes deer feel more secure while eating in your field and may entice them to enter the field earlier in the evening. You can also hinge cut trees to create more bedding cover. Hinge cut trees at about the height of a little higher than your waist to create quality bedding cover. You can do this to enhance current bedding areas or to create new bedding areas that make you a more efficient hunter, by making deer bed where you want them to. Also, while you have your chain saw you can selectively cut a few old, or nonproductive trees to allow more light to the forest floor. This will then create a rush of new growth in late spring that makes great browse and increases fawning cover.
Now is the time to start planning and planting those food plots. Take another look at your aerial maps and start to plan what crops are going to go where. Also, take a look at what worked well last year and what didn’t and adjust your plan. Make note of how the deer were using your property last hunting season. Where can you plant a food plot that will increase the deer movement through your property? Once you have found that spot, if it is an open area, what do you need to do to prepare for planting? Do you need to disk, spray herbicide, control burn or a little of all three? If this area is located in an area with trees, do you need to remove any trees or is it open enough already? If trees need removed, now is a great time to do that.
As you know it’s an addiction. I don’t have to tell you that. You can feel it too. Whitetails have a power over us we will never be able to shake. Bucks will eventually shed their velvet and the leaves will change color. The temperature change will no longer be only in our imagination. The off-season can’t last forever. It will eventually yield to fall. Get ready, because whitetail season will be here before you know it.