I am writing this column in late July, which means I have two months to get things in order for the upcoming season. On the other hand you are reading this column in September, which means that the deer season is here.
Some of you guys in southwest Louisiana will be hunting deer this month (Sept. 18). There is a lot of preparation to do prior to the start of a new deer season.
The big item that is generally done in September is the planting of fall and winter food plots. Those of you who bow hunt probably prepared a few sites for the early season, and planted some patches with late peas and beans. The grain patches that were planted with corn, sorghum or milo also provide a food source for hunting as well as cover for the deer.
If these patches are large enough, deer have probably been using them for feeding and cover. Cover patches are important for game birds as well as deer. Deer feel more protected when the grass is high, and cover patches mixed in with the grass and clover feeding sites may help your hunting in late winter.
Many will try to combine their fall plantings with the September dove season. It is an acceptable farming technique to broadcast wheat seed on top of the ground without covering it; however, there are standard application rates that must be adhered to when planting like this. The key to successful plantings is having good soil moisture, so planting plots for dove season may be hit or miss. You certainly do not want to have seed sitting on the ground for several weeks without rain for germination.
Generally I will get the bush hogging done in late August, and then wait for the announcement of rain before plowing up the ground or sowing the seed if using the no-till method. The key for no-till plantings is to clip close enough for the seed to come into contact with the soil and not have the seed sitting on top of vegetation.
There is a lot of good seed available on the market today. Trial and experimentation over time will generally be the best way to determine what works on your habitat and for your deer herd. Clubs and landowners must establish objectives for a food plot program so that time and money are not wasted.
Tracts of land should generally be large if the objective is to increase body size and antler mass.
For small tracts of land, simply attracting deer for hunting is usually the objective since plantings must be large for there to be significant gains in body and antler mass; plantings like this that grow really big deer are generally related to regular farming activities.
Plant species diversity is the key, in my opinion, for a successful planting program. Winter grasses mixed with clovers work very well for deer and will carry-over for the spring turkey season. Always think of other game and non-game species when doing management work. Add in a few more plant varieties such as arrowleaf clover, perhaps some chickory, and the planting program will surely attract deer for hunting and observation. Some of these grass and clover species will seed-out and can be regenerated the next year without spending money on new seed.
White and crimson clovers along with ryegrass and Timothy grass make up the bulk of my winter patches, with a little turnip and mustard seed added in not only for the deer but for our table too.
Deer stands either should have been already in place or they should be in place by the end of September. Hunter safety is the key when checking stands or putting up new stands. Clean out the cobwebs and wasp nests in the permanent stands so no one will be surprised.
Lock-on type bow stands should be in place for several weeks so there will be no disturbance issues. Sit in the stands and make sure the vegetation growth has not created problems for the shooter.
Ground blinds can be just as effective as the elevated stands, so keep this in mind when planning for new stands. Ground blinds set up in good cover and with prevailing wind direction in mind can become permanent and will prove to be effective in harvesting deer.
By all means, spend a few days shooting your firearms and making sure they are on target. If you are one of those who put the smoke pole up without bothering to fire it, you need to shoot it (if it will fire), clean it and get it ready to go. No doubt many have switched to the primitive cartridge rifles, and these too need to be shot and checked.
Those who hunt with bows should be ready by now; if not, you certainly need to step it up if you plan on hunting with your bow in October.
Crossbows are becoming more popular these days, and hunters need to check them also. There is nothing worse than going out opening day with a weapon that will not shoot accurately. A lot of time and energy is spent getting other things ready for the season, and if you have neglected the weapon that you are going to carry, all of this has been wasted.
Other matters to take care of prior to hitting the woods include purchasing all current and necessary licenses. Anyone who hunts on a wildlife management area between the ages of 18-59 has to have a WMA Hunting Permit ($15) in addition to the other licenses.
If most of your hunting is done on a WMA, and you have not been out there this year, you only have a few more weeks to do some important scouting before the hunting starts up. Hopefully all is in order and you won’t have to find another place to hunt on the WMA due to something new that has happened to the area you usually hunt.
Also be sure to read the hunting regulations for the 2010-11 season, and be sure you know when the seasons open and what the limits are.
It is generally best to focus hunting time during the rut. For example, if you hunt in the upper portion of Area 6 where the rut occurs late, using up your vacation time in November when the season opens is not a good idea. Bucks and does are most active during the first month of breeding, and the bucks are especially active during the second month.
On a final note, if you have just been sitting around watching the Outdoor Channel and staying out of the heat, it might be good to start walking in the mornings and get the old heart pumping and in shape for the upcoming season. While you want to add to the deer harvest statistics, you certainly don’t want to become a deer hunter statistic.
EDITOR’S NOTE: David Moreland served for three decades as a deer biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, eventually rising to be adminstrator of the Wildlife Division. He is now retired.