Saturday, January 31, 2009

Food Plots 101: Pre-Planting Preparation

With spring rapidly approaching Cody, Dad and I are currently preparing to plant our yearly food plots. While plowing, planting and watching the plots grow is extremely rewarding, an oft forgotten aspect of food plotting is the planning and pre-planting processes. Like a wise man once said, “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”

When one decides they want to plant a food plot, the first task is to select a location, and even this isn’t as fool proof as it would seem! Plot experts typically recommend that plots be planted in a north-south orientation in order to allow the plots maximum sunlight to maximize photosynthetic activity and plant growth. Also, it is extremely important to understand the soil and drainage characteristics of your selected area. For example, we have one plot that is extremely well drained as it is made up predominantly of sand. This plot, in the past, has given us trouble as we’ve ignored this. This year, however, we will be planting Imperial Whitetail Extreme which is specifically engineered for these “extreme” conditions where water may be limited and soil conditions not ideal.

Along with understanding the soil type it is of the utmost importance to conduct a pH test on the soil in the area. We collect soil and send it to the Whitetail Institute in Alabama. They analyze the soil and send us back a report with suggested amounts of lime and other nutrients that should be applied to create optimal growing conditions. The Whitetail Institute as well as Mossy Oak Biologic will both conduct these analysis for a minimal fee. And, let me tell you, this simple test can ultimately be the difference between success and failure in a food plot.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Final Harvest Picture

As Cody mentioned in a previous post, Dad was also fortunate enough to take a doe with the muzzleloader during the late season. We thought we'd take this quick opportunity to share a picture of his deer with you all.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Rollercoaster Season

If I were asked to describe this hunting season with one phrase, I would simply answer; a roller coaster ride. The 2008-2009 hunting season was certainly one of the most unpredictable seasons I’ve been apart of in my 13 years of hunting whitetails. It seemed like as soon as I got a break, things turned south, only to rise back up again and then quickly fall. Like I said, a roller coaster season.

A promising bow season quickly folded as we had very, very little natural mast on our property this year. In prime mast producing years it seems you would have to beat the deer off of our land with a stick, however, this year was simply not the case. Honestly, I think less than a dozen white oaks were dropping a consistent crop of acorns during the fall. Normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem due to the success of our food plots. Unfortunately though, we were hammered by drought throughout much of September and October and our food plots suffered, that made for some frustrating early season hunts that is for sure. In fact, in mid October, I went three straight afternoon sits without a single deer sighting. In the previous three seasons I did not once experience a deerless hunt. I have to take the blame for this, though. We had a great bow season during the 2007 season and I relied too heavily on our success and stand placement from the previous fall. In an attempt to be as low impact as possible during the summer and early fall, I thought the success we enjoyed in 07 would be duplicated in 08. Boy was I wrong. It just goes to show you that when you think you’ve got these whitetails figured out, they skunk you yet again. Still, I was blessed with the opportunity to harvest a doe with my crossbow in early October, not all was lost.

After a slow early season, the thought of the rut sure got my blood pumping. Sadly, however, we were still feeling the sour effects of a poor mast year. When there is no food on you property, that doesn’t give the deer much of a chance to utilize during daylight hours and this was definitely the case. We still saw plenty of rutting buck sign, and in fact, I saw more scrapes during a season than ever before (the sign of an improving buck/doe ration and more mature bucks). However, they were all in travel corridors indicating that bucks were simply passing through our property to get to and from bedding and feeding areas. I was still blessed with some exciting hunts, however. On November 19 I had an incredible experience with a super yearling buck, nicknamed Vegas. I saw young Vegas chasing a doe over a hundred years out and called him with in three steps, not once, not twice, not three times but four. It was an absolute blast to watch this tough guy run circles around the blind looking for a hot doe. I hope Vegas made because he has the potential to be the biggest buck to ever roam our property. I also had the quick run in with the Hulk as well. As I said before it was a bittersweet hunt because I felt a did an effective job scouting and getting on an old buck after we got him just days before on the trail camera, but I wasn’t quite good enough as he gave me the slip.

The late season gave us the best hunting as far as seeing deer. Seeing 10-15 deer a sit was not uncommon during our late season doe hunting, but yet again, I was bitten by the bad luck bug. The doe I missed will leave a lasting scar on my hunting career, literally and physically. When I missed that doe I gave some serious thought about just hanging it up for the season with only two days left and after enduring a frustrating season. While I felt sorry for myself I was reminded of how I ended the 2007 season, my best season to date. I was hunting a certain doe group the last week of the season hoping to tag an old matriarch. Well after being skunked every afternoon hunt the entire week, I ended the season on a sour note. Now I am not a suspicious man but I figured if I ended 2007 on a sour note my bad luck may have carried over to the 2008 season. Hoping to carry some momentum into the 2009 season I hit the woods and was blessed to take my second doe of the season.

Hunting provides so many different emotions and I think I experienced every one of them this past season. I did, however, learn a lot about myself as a hunter and sportsmen learned some hard lessons and I feel like this rough season will better me as a hunter and deer manager in the future. We have some big plans for this off season so keep reading the blog to follow us into the 2009 season!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Late Season Hunting: I Give It a 10

I recently read a questionnaire asking, "On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the highest possible score you would give an entire hunting season in which you did not take a deer?" When first reading this I thought to myself that one can learn a great deal and have a wonderful time in the woods even if a deer is not harvested and, with that thought, I figured the highest ranking I could possibly give would likely be an 8 or 9. Well, having just completed one of those seasons I have to say I stand corrected.

This hunting season, especially in the late season, Cody and I spent more hours in the woods than we had ever before. As Cody said, we experienced -25 degree wind chills, deerless days and late season rutting activity that got the adrenaline pumping just like a shot opportunity would. Personally, I learned more than ever before about deer behavior all the while becoming a more disciplined hunter. And, while I wasn't able to take a deer, the lessons learned, time spent with family and time spent in the woods all adds up to a season that easily scores a 10.

I spent the majority of my late season hunting time hunting with a bow as I felt it would be quite an accomplishment to take a late season whitetail with the bow. Unfortunately, as the days begin to dwindle and are doe harvest goals yet to be reached I turned to the TC Triumph for the final days. Over the last couple of days I did have several shot opportunities, however, there was uncertainty as to whether or not the deer in question was a button buck or a doe. Perhaps my best opportunity was my last on the season's final day and, while we were certain that it was a doe that had come into the field, visibility did not allow for an safe or ethical shot to be taken. Had she came out 5 minutes earlier it may have been a different story, but sometimes the ball just doesn't roll your way. Oh well, though, there is always next year and a lot was learned from the experience.

While I focus the majority of my time hunting whitetails, I did get to spend a little bit of time in the bear woods this winter with my grandfather Jack Schumaker; (known to me as PawPaw.) Known all across the states of Virginia and West Virginia as a magnificent hunter and an even better person, I feel I'm doing a great disservice to him in calling him a "Bear Hunting Legend." I was able to bear hunt two days this year and while no bears were taken or even scene I still had a wonderful time in the woods with PawPaw (even though I at 21 was unable to keep up with him at 78 walking straight up the mountain leading dogs, talk about a humbling experience!)

On the aforementioned walk up the mountain we stopped to listen for dogs and a fellow hunter said with respects to hunting, "If it were easy, everyone would do it." And, following this season as a whole I can say I concur whole heartedly. This season I never once drew my bow, clicked off the safety of the 7mm08 or cocked the hammer on the Triumph and nevertheless I still had an amazing hunting season. It is that there the descries exactly while hunting to both Cody and I is much more than a pursuit.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Go Gators

To break our trend of hunting posts, I’d just like to take a minute to do a little bragging on my Florida Gators. In case you didn’t see or hear, the Florida Gators won the 2009 BCS National Championship by beating the mighty Oklahoma Sooners 24-14 Thursday night.

Tim Tebow, perhaps the single most dominant player in college football, carried his team to victory with the help of fellow junior studs, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Despite a lethargic first half which saw Tebow intercepted twice and the Gators D (which I enjoy watching almost more than their offense) carved through like a Thanksgiving ham, the aforementioned Spikes and Tebow took over the locker room at halftime and the Gators owned the second half. Midway through the third quarter when Tebow took the option keeper for a first down, got up and gave the fans the Gator Chomp I looked over at dad and confidently said, “We’ve got our Tebow back.” Seeing Tebow return to his true from was a sigh of relief as I knew he wasn’t going to let the Gators lose and Spikes and the uber-athletic Gator D wasn’t going to let OU score. After true sophomore Ahmad Black intercepted Heisman winning QB Sam Bradford in the 4th quarter, Tebow and future NFL star Percy Harvin led an impressive Gator drive down the field that was capped by Tebow’s signature play, a jump pass completed to B-lister David Nelson to take a 24-14. Defensive MVP Carlos Dunlap, Spikes and the Gator D stopped the OU offense with three minutes left and the Gators were National Champions!

Having been a Gator since I was 6 years old I’ve developed a strong, passionate and emotional bond with not just a bunch of players but the program in general. As silly as it may sound, I cannot express how proud I am of this team. You may think I am some basement-dwelling nerd who has no life; I proudly call myself a diehard Gator. I keep a daily tab on the program following recruiting; staying active in Gator football forums and simply learning anything and everything I can about the Florida football program.

As I said before I’ve developed a strong emotional bond with this team. No, I am not going to break down and cry if they enter the NFL, nor do I go ballistic when they lose (which is rare). However, having followed them since they were in high school to hoping and praying they would commit to Florida to watching them work their way up the depth chart to watching them shut down and overwhelm the most prolific offense in history, I’ve got to admit, I was beaming with pride and joy Thursday night.

On a side note- Tim Tebow announced today that he will return for his senior season. More than a football player to me, being able to watch this man represent the Gator Nation for one more year is something that I am extremely excited about. He is an incredible role model, a man that I try, yet can only hope to be like and one of my few, but influential idols. His deep faith, respect for all men and women and energy for living life are all traits that I try to embody in everyday life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quick Late Season Recap

Welcome back everyone, we apologize for our lack of posting over the last month; we’ve been busy enjoying the holidays with family and of course spending every last minute in the woods as the season slowly, unfortunately came to a close. I thought I would take a quick minute to recap the last month of hunting season and give you guys a run down of how we closed the season.

The last month of the season found Damin and I focusing on does and this greatly affected our hunting strategy as we focused on known doe groups. However, on the morning of December 19th, with Damin and I in the same stand, attempting to record a doe harvest on film, we had an awesome encounter with a yearling buck. This little guy was overwhelmed by the sweet smelling estrous that permeated the woods, no doubt emitted by a late cycling doe. At first light he chased a doe by our stand at about 30 yards and then chased her out of sight. Three minutes later we see the little guy running circles to our east, and to this day, I’m not exactly sure what he was chasing as there were no other deer in the area. Just a prime example of what excitement the whitetail rut can bring to the deer woods. Realizing that there was an estrous doe somewhere in the vicinity, I hit the grunt tube several times simulating a buck tending a doe, and within seconds, we see the same little spark plug making a bee line right for the stand looking for a fight. It was a blood pumping experience to have called in a deer right under the stand, regardless of how big he was. I just can’t imagine how Damin or I would have acted had he been a shooter.

Damin and I hunted pretty consistently until Christmas day with no luck. We did, however, experience the coldest hunt of our lives on the morning of December 22nd when the temperature plummeted to 7 with the wind chill 25 below. Neither of us saw any deer on this hunt yet we came away extremely satisfied as we went toe to toe (whether we could feel them or not) with Mother Nature and withstood her fiercest punch as neither of us got cold!
After spending the Christmas holiday with family, we soon got back to the deer woods with the focus still on the does. I headed to the woods with camera in hand on December 29th with Dad in hopes of filming him harvest a doe, and for the only the second time in our amateur filming careers we actually did it! Dad and I had seen close to 15 does that morning when a 2 year old wandered by the stand with her fawn and ole Dad made a near perfect shot on her, and best yet, we caught the whole thing on film!

Feeling the pressure Damin and I knew we had to step up to the plate in order to compete with dad and on January 1st, I thought I was about to even the score. I was hunting a stand that I literally know like the back of my hand and I had a nice 4 year old doe wander out into one of our food plots. I was over confident the “easiness” of the shot and didn’t take advantage. I didn’t give my self a good enough rest as I thought the shot would be a piece of cake and I paid for it big time, in two ways. I squeezed off the trigger and knew the shot wasn’t good and was nearly positive I had missed. After watching the doe bound off unharmed, I felt a warm feeling of pity soothe down my face. That feeling was blood. I didn’t secure the barrel of my Pursuit II and she reminded me of it alright. Blood was pouring out of a two inch long gash right between my eyes; boy did I feel small then. Feeling dejected after missing the “gimme” shot an blooding my face badly, I nearly called it quits for the year with only two days remaining. However, knowing I couldn’t’ harvest a deer from the couch watching college bowl games, I headed to the same stand two days later, the last morning of the season, and was fortunate enough to make a near perfect shot on a fat 2 year old doe. I felt extremely blessed by the second chance the good Lord gave me and ended the season on a strong note. Persistence pays, my friend!

Unfortunately, Damin did not harvest a deer during the late season. Against my wishes as a deer manager, he hunted nearly 75% of the time with his bow, which is truly commendable given the conditions and how hard these deer are to hunt during the late season. Still, he stuck with it, and while he didn’t harvest a deer, he earned my respect as a fierce bow hunter and avid sportsmen. Again, we apologize for our lack of posting, but the blog is sure to be hopping now that the season is over. Stay tuned within the next couple weeks as Damin and I each give recaps and how we would grade our seasons from a personal stand point.