It’s that time of year when people start acting on their New Year’s resolutions, and outdoorsmen and women are no exceptions. Typically these resolutions are to lose weight, join a gym, pay off bills, or keep their office cleaner. Okay, that last one is something my wife suggested for me.
I have to admit that I’ve always thought of New Year’s resolutions as absurd. Why wait until the first of the year to start something? If you’re going to do it and resolve to do it, then do it, right? Well, like many of you, I didn’t have a great deer season. It just didn’t come together even though I did everything I could. So I’m making my resolution right here and now that I’m going to have a good 2014 deer season.
It’s winter, right?
So here it is, winter. Hunting season is past and you’ve put away the hunting gear. Well get it back out, you big goof. Yeah, you may not be able to carry your rifle or bow into the woods to chase a big buck around, but you should still practice. Yes, practice shooting more. There’s resolution number one. Get to the shooting range more, and there’s no time like the present. Many rifle ranges have covered shooting benches, and if you have your own land, well, the range never closes.
You don’t have to shoot off all that expensive ammo either. You can always shoot a .22—if you’ve got ammo. I have heard reports that stores are getting good supplies of .22 LR back in stock. Santa was nice enough to bring me 650 rounds! Another option is an air rifle. There are a ton of really nice air rifles on the market these days and trigger time is trigger time. You still train those muscles to work the same way and it’s a lot of fun. There are some really cool suppressed air rifles available today too that cut down the noise, for those of us with nosey neighbors.
Shooting your bow should be a year-round thing for any archer. If you can, shoot inside your basement or garage when it’s cold and snowy out. If you do venture outside in the snow and cold, keep your target inside. I say this because targets can and do freeze up and then you’re shooting into a block of ice—not to mention that snow and ice can ruin a target. I have several BLOCK targets and they go inside when not in use. Those things cost way too much to leave out and get ruined.
Scout and plan
One thing that I really like doing during the winter is scouting for deer. For those of you with no snow, well, I’m sorry, but snow is a great way to tell if you’ve got good deer movement on your land. Following deer tracks in the snow can lead you to their bedding areas, food sources, and winter yard range. I am not a big fan of supplemental feeding in the winter, even when there is a ton of snow. I see people putting hay bales out and it actually does more harm than good, as deer use more energy to digest hay than they get from eating it. I may even take the Husqvarna 455 Rancher out and selectively remove a few trees that still have browse on them. Learn what the deer are eating and, if you must, help them with a natural food source. If you feed them with corn, carrots, or other sources, you have to keep it up all winter long.
Winter scouting can lead you to some new areas you hadn’t planned on before. It also can help you get a solid understanding of the population your area carries. And let us not forget sheds!
Plotting to plot
One of the more common things I hear hunters say during winter months revolves around adding food plots the following year. This is a great thing to add to your land, but will you really do it and make the commitment? It’s not as hard as it may seem.
The best time to start a food plot is in the winter. What? Is this guy drunk? Yeah, I said it. Start your food plots in the winter. First, identify some of the travel corridors that the deer are using. It is easier to do in the snow. Winter is also a great time of year to remove branches and even trees that block the sun to the area you’re going to plant. During winter months, the trees are dormant. If you trim back branches now, it causes no injury to the tree. Remember that in the spring, when it warms up, that cut opens the door for disease to the tree. If you have a susceptible tree species and a disease going around, it can be bad. Check with your local forester.
If you live in an area that doesn’t have snow cover during the winter months, now also is a great time to clear the spot you’re going to plant with a mower and the follow up with a course or two of Round-Up or other weed killer. Once you have your land cleared, start the fertilizer build up and then tilling.
Also look at what you’re going to plant. I found some great deals on seed and stuff after the deer season ended. Some seed should always be fresh, to get the best germination. Others can be a year old or more, depending on what it is and where you’re at. Again, do your research. Check with the seed manufacturer to see what is best for your area.
I like to put in food plots as soon as the ground is ready to go in the spring. The nutrition you get into the deer early on turns into a healthy deer herd over the whole year, not to mention that thing called antler growth. Go with high-protein plants and don’t be afraid to mow it down during the course of the season.
Plan for what you want to do and get ready as much as you can during the winter months. This preparation will not only pay off in the spring, when you want to get things going, but it’ll help keep you motivated to do it. I think the number-one problem people see with food plots and being a year-round deer hunter is motivation. Finding things like planning and scouting during the winter will help. If you’re going to make the resolution to have a better deer season, this is how you get started. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get to cleaning my office.
Images courtesy Derrek Sigler