CRAWORD, Miss. -- No deer camp is perfect, and every deer camp can be improved upon in some way.
Jack Robertson is a professional forester and wildlife ecologist who lives in Lowndes County, Miss. He grew up in Columbiana, Ala., and hunted and fished all over the state throughout this youth and into college. He moved west to study at Mississippi State University and in 2004 along with his father bought the land that he derives his income from today, Burnt Oak Lodge (www.burntoaklodge.com) in Lowndes County, near Crawford, Miss.
Burnt Oak’s acres are teeming with quail, deer and turkey, thanks largely to Robertson’s stringent, smart and, most importantly, year-round management practices. Having talked with many hunters about their leases, Robertson has identified five areas that every hunting club can improve upon to increase their success each fall. These practices work for him at Burnt Oak Lodge and the hunter success rate — and 80 percent repeat business rate — are testament to their success.
Click image to see photos of Burnt Oak Lodge
“As the deer season draws to an end here in the South, and many other states have already completed their deer season, here is some food for thought,” he said. “Many of us are guilty of putting away our gear looking back on the success or lack thereof from the year’s hunt and think about what we can do next fall to make it better than this year.
“Here are a few ideas that have served us (Burnt Oak Lodge) well over the years. I fully understand there are limitations due to lease agreements, distance from hunting ground, available equipment, and most importantly finances, but you can incorporate some of these ideas with little increased cost and time.”Following is Robertson’s rundown:
1. Food plots
Many clubs plant wintertime food plots of wheat and rye grass then fertilize with 13-13-13 at a rate of 50 to 100 pounds per acre. I’ve found that a better plan is to plant wheat, oats, winter peas, clover, brassicas, turnips, radishes and the like and use a complete fertilizer that includes essential micro-nutrients.It is a good idea to pull a soil sample every 3 or 4 years to determine if you need to change your approach. If you need lime, use it or you are wasting fertilizer. Planting a mixture will provide a food source longer through the winter helping to bridge the gap till spring green-up.
Prescribed fire: use it. The benefits of burning are enormous: it removes litter and duff, provides a flush of new growth, increases nutrients and palatability of plants, create usable space for wildlife and hunters, and decreases chance of destructive wildfire.
However, there are rules and regulations that must be followed. The good news is that there is a vast amount of financial and manpower aid available through federal and state agencies. Check with your DNR.
3. Use of natural forage
Take time in the spring to spread a little fertilizer on what you’ve already got. Use 7-7-7 and spread 2-3 Solo cups around the drip line of your favorite group of oak trees around your stands. Remember to fertilize both red and white oak trees to account for differing acorn production.
There are several good articles about limitations of nonnative species like sawtooth oaks, and those guys who bought into these claims 20-plus years ago are now seeing the problems as these trees are dying out and loosing production.
Remember to plant only what is supposed to be there, i.e., vegetation that is native to your region. Also fertilize natural occurring forages like honeysuckle (although nonnative it is naturalized) and strawberry bush. Trust me, it works.
4. Mineral licks
Soil type greatly affects what minerals are available and lacking. The wildlife industry has produced hundreds of block-type products, some of which have a sweet smell or flavor to “attract” deer.
If you place minerals out, deer will find them and use them. Minerals are more essential during spring and summer than fall and winter. Spring and summer is when does are in gestation, lactation and raising fawns; bucks are adding body mass and growing antlers.
Spend your money wisely; red mineral blocks for cattle work great. Remember there will be a hole in the ground for years to come and some states classify minerals as attractants or baits. Follow the law.
5. Antler criteria harvest
Many states, clubs and landowners use these without understanding the full repercussions of their actions.If an 8-pointer and a 6-pointer step out on your food plot, you shoot the 8-pointer because the club says 8 points or better only. If both deer are 2 1/2 years old, you just made a poor management decision.Basing buck harvest on points alone often leads to the harvest of better young bucks while allowing the lesser quality young bucks to reach maturity before they reach harvest criteria. The lesser quality bucks are given more time to reproduce and pass along those genetics. See the problem?
Mississippi State University (Demarais and Strickland) has an excellent publication on aging deer on the hoof, get it and read it.
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