by Gerald Almy
You know how to get yourself prepared for the earliest deer season: Glass the fields from afar. Check the trail cams. Hang the stands. Take time off work. But if you manage your own land, the habitat needs some preparation, too. Here’s a list of quick, easy projects you can do before the opener and even as the season gets under way to help your ground attract and hold more bucks.
Clear an access trail through thick cover to make it easy for deer to reach a cluster of apple trees, a small oak flat, or another food source. But here’s the trick: Make sure to swing the route just upwind of a good stand location.
Use a leaf blower to clear newly planted plots in the woods; too many leaves can smother the seedlings. While you’re at it, overseed areas where a plot is too thin, preferably just before a rain shower. Rough the freshly seeded area up a bit with a rake for good soil contact.
Reactivate mineral licks (where legal). Keeping them maintained and available year-round helps keep bucks on your property. Break up the ground with a shovel, then mix in 10 to 20 pounds of fresh minerals 6 to 12 inches deep.
Add an extra shot of fertilizer to food plots to boost their production and appeal. Fertilize established wheat, oats, and brassicas with pure nitrogen. For clover and alfalfa, use 5-10-10 or similar fertilizer with just a bit of nitrogen. Add a few bags of lime, too, as it’s almost impossible to get the alkalinity too high.
Hinge-cut some low-value trees to provide additional browse and cover along travel routes and staging areas. This simple chore can provide the extra sense of security an evening buck needs to step under your staging-area stand while there’s still good shooting light.
Spray established clover and alfalfa plots with selective herbicides such as Poast or Arrest to reduce grass and weed competition several weeks before the season. Then, closer to the opener, mow them down to between 3 and 5 inches high to create fresh growth, which is higher in protein and more palatable to deer. Stagger the cuts in different fields or strips so they offer varied stages of regrowth.
Disc or till strips in fallow fields or old pastures. You’ll kill or reduce fescue and other unwanted grasses, and before long beneficial forbs and wildflowers will sprout to attract hungry deer.
Create a water hole or small pond. Dig a hole in the ground to fit a farm stock tank or kid’s swimming pool. Then backfill and wait for it to fill up with rain. Or simply pile some rocks and logs to dam up a stream that would normally go dry. (Just be certain that it’s legal to do so.) If it’s the only or best water source around, it will start drawing bucks in a matter of days.