Dbltrees Getting started threads.

Lost Arrow

Note: I do not take credit for any of this information. Dbltree is the creator of these threads and I am simply putting them here to preserve them and share his knowledge. All information in these threads comes from Dbltree and Outreach Outdoors (http://www.outreachoutdoors.com/). All of this information comes from Dbltree's getting started thread at Outreach Outdoors. I have not made any changes to the information other than putting it in order into one thread.

Getting Started

This thread covers nearly every aspect of getting started with you habitat and hunting improvements on your farm but detailed information on each subject is available in Dbltree's Corner at this link:

Dbltree's Corner

New landowners have many questions when they purchase property and wonder what to do first and how best to do it? Some forethought and planning are helpful and this thread will offer some basic guidance in getting started.

New properties may range from being entirely wooded to open agricultural lands, most however will fall somewhere in between and we’ll proceed based on the premise that your new property has some mix of timber and open lands. Detailed information can be found in the individual informational threads in Dbltree’s Corner so the following is general guidelines to get you started.

Priorities should be established in regards to major habitat improvements and one of the first steps in establishing them is to look at the neighboring properties with aerial maps. Look for the strengths and weaknesses of adjoining properties (do they have awesome cover and no feed or tons of feed but little cover for instance) and then prioritize your habitat enhancements to take advantage of the strengths of your property and improve the areas most lacking.

Cover, feed and water are all extremely important and if any one of these is lacking on your property...whitetails are more likely to inhabit a neighbors habitat that may provide everything they need. Look for the limiting factors on your land and start working on those first!

Use these links to look at your own and surrounding properties

Google Earth is perhaps the best source of high quality aerial views of your property, simply download it to your computer, zoom into to your property and then click on the "email" at the top to send yourself a picture of that view. Open a gmail account, log in and send that picture to a different email account, open the picture and "save as"

Google Earth

Web Soil Survey This site has multiple uses but allows to "save as" an aerial pic of your property as well as determine soil types and Crop Suitability Ratings (CSR)

Google Maps

Terra Server

Iowa Geographic Map Server

USGS Topo Maps

Order topo maps

If you have Photoshop or some such you can "draw" on your aerial views but I simply upload them to Photobucket and then enlarge the picture, click on edit, see more, decorate (move the "pencil" (+/-)to the left to draw rather then paint, choose a color and mark away. Then "save a copy" without messing up the original, this allows you share the picture in forums or you can save a copy of the pic in PB to your puter and email it.


PB is free unless you exceed a certain amount of pictures or bandwidth used...

Property Layout

These are examples of property layouts...the colors indicate various habitat types and hunting options. Note the wide array of habitat improvements, the entire border is screened by shrub/conifer plantings (screens). The open land is planted to Native Warm Season Grass (NWSG), odd areas are planted to hybrid oaks (Oaks), the food plots (FP) are centrally located in the inner most hidden and secure area of the property. Apple orchards are also located in the center while bedding areas have been created by a combination of Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) and Hinging of cull trees (Bedding) The lines leading from neighboring properties are general runways but note the key Funnel areas at the ends.

It is crucial to stay away from and out of sanctuary areas so funnels away from bedding but leading to them that can be easily accessed are crucial to intercept traveling bucks during the rut.

This is a second farm, very different in natural topography but notice the centralized food sources, surrounded by NWSG and bedding areas. Note also key runways closed off by hinged funnels and edge feathering to bottleneck deer thru a couple key areas where they are easily taken with archery equipment.

This is a large parcel again showing centrally located food sources with suggested pinch points

This is an example of how one might deal with a solid patch of timber, clear out a central food source area, clear a narrow access lane around the exterior, funnel deer through a few key points leading to other areas of timber or ag fields.

The following is a more open farm and how one might lay it out. The sanctuary are I would attempt to block off to the neighboring property (green lines) and force deer back towards natural funnels. The food source is in a hidden area that would tend to travel towards a corner area and offer stand opportunities without getting to close the bedding area. It's very different then the previous example but still holds great promise if laid out properly.

These are just a few ideas to think about before you decide where to create a food source, bedding areas on other priorities.
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Whitetails have some basic needs and they include food and cover, both of which can come from a combination of natural and planted sources. Our timber then becomes one of our most valuable although oft overlooked resources as it not only provides a place of secure bedding and cover but browse as well. Whitetails, unlike livestock must have browse in addition to other food sources so our plans should start with improving our natural cover and browse.

An aerial photo is necessary to begin planning followed by a walk with your forester who can help you identify tree species and write a Forest Stewardship plan with your timber and wildlife goals in mind.

Timber Stand Improvement

Once that is done, you can identify the area or areas that will be designated sanctuaries. These will be for the most part, left alone and undisturbed except for late winter timber management. Those areas may need to be screened with conifers, edge feathered to block runways and create new browse and weed trees hinge cut to increase cover for bedding and browse. Timber Stand improvement will be necessary to enhance timber quality and increase mast production and some areas may require tree plantings and open timber will need to be converted to thick brushy environments where whitetails feel safe.



Use aerial maps to locate natural topography that may bottleneck deer and then enhance those locations utilizing hinge cut trees. Always take advantage of natural draws, ridges, fingers, saddles, creek and fence crossings as you think about hunting strategies and how you can fine tune deer movement. Read the information at the following link for more details on this subject:

Hinging for bedding, bottlenecks and browse

Tree and shrub plantings can screen your property All about Tree Planting

Conifers provide the ultimate screening

Hybrid oaks can provide highly attractive sweet, low tannin acorns in 3-8 years

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Food Sources

Much of a whitetails food requirements can be met with natural browse and mast production carrying capacity and the attractiveness of your property can be vastly increased with both perennial and annual crops. They may be in the form of agricultural crops where ground is cash rented or in the form of food plots planted by the landowner or a combination of both.

Agricultural crops such as corn, soybeans and alfalfa have advantages for inexperienced or absentee landowner because land can be rented to a local farmer providing both cash flow and time and equipment to handle planting crops. Freshly harvested crops can be huge draws in the fall with the only disadvantage being, deer have a large area to feed on rather than a small concentrated area.

If the landowner has the time and equipment to plant crops then they almost always find doing so as enjoyable as hunting itself. Where to plant the plots, what are the first steps and then what to plant in them are crucial questions that need to be answered.

Even very small plots can be effective if done correctly, this strip plot containing clover, brassicas and rye is no bigger then a large garden yet yields a 100 pictures a night of feeding deer.

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A tractor, rear tine tiller and cultipacker will allow you to plant literally any crop and a used tractor can range from $4000-8000, a new tiller $1600-2000 and a cultipacker $100-800. Those prices are not much more them a new ATV and the small equipment that goes with it.

An ATV with pull type disc, drags and cultipacker will also work for small plots and many crops will do well with minimum or no tillage at all.

ATV equipment however is not a bargain and most of them cost way more than small used farm equipment so be sure to compare prices and options before choosing your equipment.

A back pack sprayer, chainsaw and bag seeder area also imperative items that every land owner must have to get started and significant improvements and plantings can be made using those items alone.

Plot Location

The location of plots in relation to bedding areas is extremely important although location of open field areas may dictate where food sources are planted. Where possible it is usually best to plant food sources in the center of the property in a hidden area where deer will feel safe and feed in daylight hours.

A centralized feeding area allows the landowner to create or enhance narrow bottlenecks leading from bedding to feed not unlike the spokes of a wheel. Having plots scattered all over a farm usually tends to serve no useful purpose and makes patterning and hunting deer frustrating at best.

Where possible it is advantageous to convert crop land to Conservation Reserve Program land and plant native warm season grasses that then add more cover and reduce the actual feeding area.

The following is an aerial view of part of my own farm showing the location of food plots, centrally located in a hidden hollow, surrounded by bedding areas. The cropland is being converted to NWSG through the CRP program and you can see the advantage of having one centralized feeding area.

Plot Crops

Now you have picked a somewhat central location for you plots, what crops should you plant? A key element that you need to consider is that you need to provide year around food sources and do that all in one plot, or in each plot.

There are many possible to choose from but for the beginning plotter there are three plant groups that planted separately in strips within any plot or field can attract and hold whitetails year around.

White clover, Brassicas (rape, turnips and forage radish) and cereal grain combination's (winter rye, oats, forage peas and forage radish) are easy to plant and grow food sources requiring minimal equipment and resources.

White clover will provide feed from early spring to late fall, Brassicas from early August until mid winter and winter rye from early fall to the following spring.

This is a small plot with winter rye in the foreground, Brassicas in the middle and white clover in the back third of the plot.

The strips may not be equal in size because often white clover can easily out grow what deer can consume an in this example we see alternating strips of rye and Brassicas with clover at the far corner.

Within that field however there are multiple food sources that can easily be rotated to solve disease and pest problems that come with repeatedly planting the same crops year after year. Rotating crops helps build productive healthy soils and allows us to utilize nitrogen from decomposing legumes such as when we till under clover.

In short the annuals like Brassicas and winter rye can be rotated each year (plant Brassicas where there was rye and rye where there was Brassicas) and allow the white clover to stand for 3-5 years.

There are other crop possibilities that include crops like corn and soybeans but these crops can be expensive to plant and usually require electric fencing to keep crops from being decimated by deer long before season. As you become more knowledgeable about farming practices and habitat management you can experiment by converting some strips to a different crop such as soybeans.
What do I need to do before planting?

One of the first steps is to do a soil test and determine what nutrient deficiencies exists and if lime needs to be added to correct soil PH. You can submit soil samples to your local extension agent or agricultural co-op for testing, usually for a small fee of $8-15 a sample. Take many samples per test (up to 12 per plot) randomly across the plot area and be sure to include areas of poor, average and good soils to 6" deep and your local extension agent may have soil probes available to make sampling easier and accurate. Mix the samples well in a bucket and then send one sample in for testing per field or plot.

The NRCS Web Soil Survey can help you determine soil types Web Soil Survey The site can be a little confusing at first so don't be afraid to ask your extension agent or NRCS technician for help and they have soil maps in the office as well. Soil type is necessary for accurate soil test recommendations and you may have several within any given plot or field.

The soil survey will show soil types such as shown here and by saving a copy of the map you'll have the info for future reference

If the land is currently not being farmed, it most likely is in some form of sod grass such as brome or fescue and those grasses must be killed before you can successfully plant crops.

41% glyphosate (Roundup) should be applied when the grasses are green and growing at 1 -2 quarts per acre and AMS (ammonium sulfate) and Crop Oil may be added to increase the effectiveness of the herbicide. Generally it is best to mow the sod, allow it to start to re-grow and then spray when the grass is 4-6” high.

In some cases a second spraying may be required but generally you can till soils within a week after spraying. Specific planting details are spelled out in the individual threads in Dbltree’s Corner for each plant species but the following is a brief rundown on planting requirements.

Three common plantings that will attract and hold whitetails year around while also improving soils and lowering fertilizer and herbicide inputs.

Perennial clover plantings

Detailed information on planting and growing clover at this link: Growing clover for whitetails

Typically white clovers stands can last 3-5 years while red clover 1-3 years, with whites being easier to manage as a food source.

Plant white clover at 4-6#'s per acre, red clover at 8-12#'s per acre

Early spring, late summer or frost seed in late winter with late August seedings being the most trouble free.

Add cereal grains for a nurse crop to hold down weeds and attract whitetails at the same time.

Fertilize and lime per soil test (200-300#'s of 6-28-28 will work in a bind)disc/till soil once, lightly till or drill in oats or rye 1/2" to 1 1/2" deep, cultipack to firm soil, broadcast clover seed, re-cultipack to cover 1/8-1/4" deep.

Clip off spring planted oats in mid summer or fall planted rye in late May, if grasses become a problem use 6-8 ounces of clethodim (Select/Arrow) with one quart of crop oil per acre. Clipping will control most broadleaves but BUTYRAC® 200 (2-4DB) can be used if needed.

When the clover strip starts to thin, rotate the clover to a high nitrogen user like Brassicas or corn.

Alice white clover Seed Source

Mixed red and white clover


Detailed information on planting brassicas at this link: Growing brassicas for whitetails

Dwarf Essex Rape Seed 2#
Purple Top Turnips 3#
GroundHog Forage Radish 5#

Plant in mid to late July in most Midwest states
Till ground, cultipack or firm soil, broadcast 5#'s per acre of brassica seed and re-cultipack.
Do NOT mix other crops with brassicas!
Use 60-90#'s of actual nitrogen (150-200#'s of urea per acre)

Follow the brassicas by frost seeding red clover in March or tilling in the spring and planting annual clovers like Berseem or Crimson or chickling vetch and till these under for a fall cereal grain planting of winter rye, forage peas and forage radish.

Mixed brassica planting

Deer utilize the tops in October and November and the turnip roots in December and January

Fall cereal grains

Detailed information on growing cereal grains at this link: Cereal Grains and Cover Crops

The following mix is one of the most productive and easy to grow combination's that a landowner can plant! It works perfectly to rotate with brassicas and the combination with few exceptions virtually assures success.

Winter rye 50-80#'s per acre (56#'s = a bushel)
Spring oats 80-120#'s per acre (32#'s = a bushel)
Austrian Winter Peas 20-80#'s per acre (4010 or 6040 forage peas will work fine for 1/2 the price)
Red Clover 8-12#'s per acre
Groundhog Forage Radish 5#'s per acre

Plant seeds roughly 1-2" deep, and then cultipack to cover, broadcast clover seed and re-cultipack

Plant fall grains no earlier then the last week of August through mid September, earlier is better when adding peas and clover

In the spring, clip off the winter rye when it is 12-15” high and allow the red clover to grow until mid July when it can be tilled under to plant brassicas.

Because fall is the best time to establish clover, perennial white clovers can be substituted for red clovers where needed. When the white clover plots wear thin then rotate to brassicas.

Forage peas growing with rye

Forage radish with rye...deer LOVE forage radish and will eventually eat the tops and root to the ground!

Deer cannot resist this combination that by including clover will feed deer literally year around

Strip plots

All of these plantings can be done in any size plot or field by planting in strips or blocks that allow the planting of all of these crops separately rather then mixing incompatible crops. This method also allows us to have year around food sources and lower the odds of a complete failure or rejection if deer refuse to feed on one food source.

Deer move from strip to strip and adapt to feeding in the plots year around

Strip plots allow for easy crop rotation with brassicas and winter rye plantings easily flip flopped year to year yet always having all the crop types within the same field. Corn, soybeans and alfalfa can be utilized in the same manner on a larger scale operation.

Year 1 B ---> M ----C
Year 2 M ---> B ----C
Year 3 B ---> M ----C
Year 4 M ---> B ----C (plant white clover with the rye mix "M")
Year 5 M---> B ---> C ---> (the previous year clover planting becomes the new -C-)

This is kind of a good explanation of a crop rotation between white clover (C), brassicas (B) and the winter rye/oats/forage peas/forage radish/ red or white clover mix (M)

Each year the brassicas and mix are rotated while the perennial white clover remains as is but when the white clover starts to thin and needs to be rotated we rotate ALL the strips.

To prepare we start our white clover with rye the fall preceding the complete rotation, then in year 5 we turn under the old clover strips and plant brassicas. We move the rye mix to the brassicas and of course the previous rye strips are now perennial white clover.

A 5 year rotation is shown but it could be a 3 or 4 year rotation if for some reason the clover thinned earlier. ALL of the strips or blocks would have some type of clover in them during the summer months (brassicas tilled under and planted to annual clovers and red or white clovers planted with the rye)

Under this rotation our soils are NEVER bare an unproductive expect for a few days while seeds germinate. Deer are NEVER without feed...year around! We always have all of our favorite crops/plants in any plots and yet disease and pests will not be a problem.

Weeds are far less likely to be a problem either because these crops either suffocate weeds or prevent them from growing.

Planting your seeds

Almost all seed can be easily sown using a simple bag seeder or 3 pt broadcast spreader although in larger operations a grain drill may be a better choice. Almost all landowners plant 1-5 acres can get by with a broadcaster however but it's imperative to know how many seeds per pound and how many pounds per acre to determine where to set you broadcaster.

Species Number Seeds Per Pound Seeds Per Square Foot @ 1 Pound Per Acre
Alfalfa 200,000 4.6
Alsike clover 700,000 16.1
Birdsfoot trefoil 375,000 8.6
Cicer milkvetch 130,000 3.0
Crownvetch 109,000 2.5
Hairyvetch 20,000 0.50
Crimson clover 149,700 3.4
Ladino clover 871,650 20.0
Red Clover 275,000 6.3
Strawberry clover 300,000 6.9
Sweetclover 260,000 6.0
White clover 800,000 18.4

Brassicas 167,200 3.83

Cereal Grain
Barley 14,000 0.32
Oats 13,000 0.30
Rye 18,000 0.41
Wheat 15,000 0.34

Milo 16,000 .36
Soybeans 2,500 (varies widely) .057
Corn 1,450 .033
Sunflowers 6,000 .137
Planting rates are shown in each of the information threads in pounds per acre and there is 43,560 square feet per acre, so when using a broadcaster, lay down a tarp or use a large cement surface. Mark out a one foot square, set the broadcaster gate so that the seeds can just barely pass through it by placing a few seeds in and adjusting the gate.

A large 3 pt spreader can be adjusted in the same manner

Walk or drive over the marked area at a speed you expect to travel in the field and then count the seeds in the square. An example would be white clover which as 800,000 seeds per pound and if we sow 6#'s per acre we would apply 4,800,000 seeds per acre divided by 43,560 square foot per acre we should have 108 seeds per square foot.

Obviously the # of seeds applied will vary with a broadcaster so you usually shoot for a slightly higher amount so in this case perhaps one would adjust the gate on the seeder to apply 100-130 seeds per square foot. When using a drill there is usually a manual that will direct you in adjusting settings but lacking that simply run the drill or planter a few feet on a hard surface such as a driveway and count the seeds as mentioned above.

Some basic rules regarding planting...larger seeds such as rye, oats, wheat, corn, soybeans and milo should be planted at least 1/2" to 1" deep. Corn and beans generally 1 to 2" deep which is easily adjusted when using a drill or planter, when broadcasting however simply use a tiller, drag or disc to lightly incorporate the seeds (adjust the depth by raising the tillage equipment to just cover seeds not bury them) then use a cultipacker to firm the seed bed. Lacking a cultipacker one can drive back and forth with an ATV and use the tires to firm the soil but do not use a truck or heavy lawn roller because it can compact soils rather then firm them.

Cultipackers have -V- shaped packing wheels that gently firm the soil around the seeds rather then packing the soil surface flat.

When planting tiny clover or brassica seeds we must firm the soil first, broadcast seeds and then simply re-firm the soil with a second pass with the cultipacker to cover the seeds. When planting rye and clover for instance we must broadcast the rye, lightly till it in, cultipack, spread the clover seed and re-cultipack to clover the clover. For this reason do NOT attempt to mix all your seeds together and avoid buying premixed seed mixtures.

Fertilizers and lime

This subject is too in depth to cover fully here in this thread but this link contains a wealth of information in the subject:

Soil Fertility

Start by taking a soil test (multiple samples from your field or plot) and drop off the sample at your local extension office or ag co-op and then apply the needed lime and fertilizer to correct soil nutrient deficiencies. Many small plotters may find they need to use pellet lime rather then commercial ag lime simply because plots my be inaccessible or too small to get lime commercially applied.

Soil Testing sources...

ISU Soil Lab

Biologic Soil Testing

100#'s of pel lime will increase soil PH by one tenth of a point so an example is "400#'s of pel lime would raise PH from 6.0 to 6.4" Pel lime does not last for year like ag lime however and must be applied frequently, it is however available in 50# bags and easily spread with a bag seeder or broadcast spreader.

Fertilizer must be applied at planting for annual crops and perennial crops like clover and alfalfa may need annual or bi-annual applications as well.

Three key elements that you need to know and understand are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K), plants use all three but legumes (alfalfa, clovers, peas and soybeans to name a few) are able to fix or manufacture their own nitrogen.

Plants such as corn, sorghum, brassicas and cereal grains (rye, oats and wheat) require the addition of heavy applications of nitrogen for then to thrive....more for corn, less for cereals and the individual threads in Dbltree's Corner cover that in more detail. Briefly...corn will usually require 100-200#'s of actual nitrogen per acre, brassicas 60-100 and cereals 40-60. Nitrogen cannot be stored in the soil so must be applied yearly and is generally not noted on a soil test report. Legumes release nitrogen when they are killed so it's important to use them in a crop rotation that allows you to feed deer and the next crop as well. An Example is to till under a clover strip to plant brassicas or corn and the decomposing clover can provide 50-100% of the next crops N needs.

All plants require Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) and your soil test will indicate exactly how much and varies by soil type. Most crops will utilize 50-80#'s of P&K every year even after soil nutrients have been brought up to proper levels so one can easily apply 300-400#'s of readily available pre-mixed fertilizers high in P&K per year.

Some common fertilizer mixes are 6-24-24, 6-28-28, 8-36-36 so each 100#'s of 6-24-24 contains 6#'s of nitrogen, 24#'s of P and 24#'s of K so if we apply 400#'s per acre we are effectively applying 24#'s of N, and 96#'s each of P&K. Normal crop maintenance for most crops then allows us to plan on applying P&K each year to all crops and Nitrogen is imperative when planting non-legumes such as corn and brassicas.

Broadcast fertilizer and till it in before planting whenever possible and this is especially important when applying nitrogen.


The subject of herbicides is to varied and complex to cover here so i would urge you to read through my thread on herbicides where each herbicide is covered in detail.

All about herbicides

the most common question is "how much product do I put in my sprayer??" but that question is impossible to answer without first calibrating your sprayer, regardless if it is a backpack sprayer, ATV mounted sprayer or tractor mounted sprayer.

Nozzle tips, ground speed, pressure and other factors all affect the amount of water applied per acre so you must determine this first and that requires some calibration steps that are noted in the herbicide thread in links below the herbicide descriptions. Read those first and foremost before even touching the actual herbicide and ask us questions if your not sure of any aspect of applying herbicides.

Habitat Improvements

The following are additional habitat improvements every landowner will want to consider to enhance your new property

Oak Savannah’s – Open grown oaks with NWSG as under story
Hinge cutting – Creates bedding, browse and bottlenecks and oak regeneration
Native Warm Season Grass – Summer/Fall bedding and screening
Oak and Chestnut tree plantings – Select for low tannin, sweet mast production
Conifer and Shrub plantings – for bedding, screening and travel corridors
Apple and Pear trees - soft mast production

There are many seed sources but Welter Seed carries nearly all possible seed types if you cannot find it at your local co-op

Welter Seed 800- 728- 8450 Welter Seed Seed source

This thread is meant to help get you started with only general things to think about both in planning out options for your property and in actually getting started with your first plantings. Refer to the other threads in Dbltree's Corner for specifics on any habitat project you might have.

Owning your own land is a wonderful blessing but also brings certain responsibilities to be good stewards of our land and wildlife. Please feel free to ask questions or post your own experiences that may help others on their journey to turn their property into both a haven for wildlife and...the land owner....
Conservation Cost Share Programs

There are many great federal and state cost share programs that can be very helpful in establishing new/better habitat and conservation practices.

Many if not most programs can be accessed through your local NRCS office but state foresters and private lands biologists can help get you started as well and keep in mind that many of these programs will pay for TSI, Tree Planting, Weed Tree Removal and much more.


The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program for people who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat primarily on private land. Through WHIP USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service provides both technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat. WHIP agreements between NRCS and the participant generally last from 5 to 10 years from the date the agreement is signed.


The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary conservation program. It supports production agriculture and environmental quality as compatible goals. Through EQIP, farmers may receive financial and technical help with structural and management conservation practices on agricultural land.

2009 EQUIP Practice List

This list changes from year to year and is different by county and state

TSI and Brush Management are just a couple examples of cost share programs available at 50% cost share.

Conservation Reserve Program


The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program for agricultural landowners. Through CRP, you can receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland. There occasional general CRP signups in which the landowner must bid the crop land in but there is also Continuous CRP that allows for some limited areas to be signed up at any time.

Guide to Continuous CRP Practices

Continuous CRP Practices

Continuous CRP: A Soil Saving Bargain for Corn-Soybean Growers


CP8A-Grass Waterways
CP21-Filter Strip
CP22-Riparian Buffer
CP29-Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffer
CP30-Marginal Pastureland Wetland Buffer


CP9-Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife
CP23-Wetland Restoration
CP23A-Wetland Restoration, Non-Floodplain
CP27-Farmable Wetlands;
CP28-Farmable Wetland Buffer


CP3-Tree Planting*
CP3A-Hardwood Tree Planting*
CP5A-Field Windbreak Establishment
CP16A-Shelterbelt Establishment
CP17A-Living Snow Fences
CP31-Bottomland Timber Establishment on Wetlands


CP1-Establishment of Permanent Introduced Grasses & Legumes*
CP2-Establishment of Permanent Native Grasses*
CP-4B Permanent Wildlife Habitat (Corridors)*
CP4D-Permanent Wildlife Habitat*
CP10-Vegetative Cover-Grass-Already Established*
CP15A-Establishment of Permanent Vegetative Cover (Contour Grass Strips)
CP15B-Establishment of Permanent Vegetative Cover (Contour Grass Strips), on Terraces
CP33-Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds

* These practices are eligible if within 2000 feet of a protected wellhead.


Conservation Security Program (CSP) The CSP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to producers who advance the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes on Tribal and private working lands. Such lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pasture, and range land, as well as forested land and other non-cropped areas that are an incidental part of the agriculture operation.


Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Wetlands were restored or enhanced on 4,447 acres in Iowa during FY2007 with assistance from the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). These restored wetlands provide important flood reduction as well as wildlife habitat and other environmental benefits. More than 137,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or are in the process of being restored under wetland easement programs in Iowa since 1992.

A Guide to Conservation Programs for Iowa Landowners

This guide is a list of all programs that may offer cost share assistance providing funding is available.

FSA Conservation Program Information

If you register through USDA you can apply for some programs online as well.

The Iowa DNR can offer assistance with many programs as well, some of which may be funded through REAP.

Cost-Share Programs Available for Private Landowners in Iowa

Programs are available to provide cost-share reimbursement to private landowners who are engaged in wildlife habitat related conservation work. Practices such as seeding native grasses and forbs, wetland restoration, woody invasion removal, prescribed fire, early successional habitat creation, and habitat improvements for species of greatest conservation need may be eligible for cost-sharing on private lands.

That link will also provide a link to Private Lands Biologist's in your area who will be happy to help assist you.

***NOTE*** some PLB have their own equipment and will want to do the work for you which is fine. You will need to pay the difference if there is 50 or 75% costs share. In many cases such as planting trees, prairie grass seedings or timber stand improvement you may be able to do the work yourself and pay yourself and save some money....keep that in mind...

Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP)

Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) and Tree Planting are two cost share practices that may be funded through REAP

SAFE CRP (may not be available at this time...do a search first)

Up to 27,700 acres of land can be enrolled in a continuous CRP called SAFE, which stands for State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement.

Programs like SAFE are limited and many have already exhausted quotas but they do pop up and we need to be aware and ready to apply should we have land or situations that will qualify.

Iowa DNR Districts and District Foresters

Our district foresters are an excellent place to start when considering projects like tree planting or timber stand improvement. They will walk your property and timber with you and explore possible improvements. They most likely will not understand when you talk about "knocking over" some "junk trees" for bedding areas however....

Private Lands Management Assistance

This link has sample plans to help you with improving your timber with TSI for which cost share is available as well. TSI can be hired out in which case you will pay the difference or with some help from you forester and some friendly advice right here on OO, you can do it yourself and pay yourself.

Some tax incentives include:

Iowa's Forest Reserve Law

I encourage you to read the law carefully but most timber not being pastured will qualify.

Native Prairie, Wetland, and Wildlife Habitat Tax Exemption

I also urge you to explore and read through allof the links for other possibles such as conservation easements, low interest loans for building ponds and fish for stocking them. No one is going to lead you to these things..you need to do some home work and find out what is available.

Private organizations are also good sources to keep in mind for free or low cost seed, planning and planting prairie and tree plantings depending on where you live in the state.

Pheasants Forever (PF)is one well worth joining and being aware of all that they have to offer.

It varies by county and it may require checking with either NRCS or your local County Conservation Board. Some counties offer "grants" to cover the costs of seed, fertilizer and herbicide to establish food plots while others may offer free or low costs seeds such as corn, milo, sunflowers ad sometimes even NWSG seed.
Habitat Forever, LLC (PF) can help get things done if you don't have equipment and/or time.

Quail Forever (QF) offers most of the same services as a sister organization to PF

National Wild Turkey Federation also offers low cost or free seed and seedlings and also offer $600 grants to establish trees and green food plots (such as clover) and in Iowa applications are available through your IDNR
Private Lands Biologists. They also often have free seed available.

Dave Whittlesey
Regional NWTF Wildlife Biologist
3158 Pacific
Woodburn, IA 50275

Phone: (641) 342-2500
Fax: (641) 324-3535
E-Mail: dwhittlesey@nwtf.net or dwhittle@iowatelecom.net
Dave will be promoting wildlife habitat development on both existing and new CRP. He will be writing planting plans for anyone that has an interest in practices beneficial to wildlife, such as tree plantings, food plots, etc. so give Dave a call even if you have an older existing CRP plan.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

At the heart of the Service's mission are the conservation and management of the Federal Trust Species: migratory birds; threatened and endangered species; inter-jurisdictional fish; certain marine mammals; and species of international concern
Please see the post below because many species qualify and even more benefit.

Federal FWS Grants

I'm sure I am missing something or someone so please help me add to this list and remind me when a new program becomes available.

Restoring Oak Savanna's

Iowa Burr oak Savanna Restoration


Gregg Pattison
USFWS - Iowa Private Lands Office
Science and Math Room 123
1 University Place
Lamoni, Iowa 50140
Office: (641) 784-5356
Cell: (515) 979-5768
Fax: (641) 784-5054

Low interest loans ate available through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) for help in installing ponds, terraces and a variety of other conservation projects.

Iowa Water Quality Loan Fund

Cost share certainly helps us all improve our wildlife habitat not only for whitetails but all wildlife


Quality Whitetails magazine published by the Quality Whitetail Management Association is the best magazine covering both habitat and hunting...bar none! Simply join QDMA to receive this great magazine and the wealth of information it contains.

QDMA Membership

Mapping Trophy Bucks

Hunting Trophy Whitetails in the Real World

QDMA Book list
Hunting Strategies

As landowners we have very different options when it comes to hunting whitetails then do those who hunting lands of another. We have the advantage of manipulating deer movements and choosing where they can travel rather then be forced to adapt to the land and runways at hand.

There are those that would have you think that hunting is complicated and requires many many rules to be successful but on our land hunting strategies can be amazingly simple. The following are some brief but simple things to consider when laying out your property and hunting it.


Hunting the wind is crucial so it is extremely important to have multiple stands that allow you to hunt during all winds. East and west stands on north/south runways and north and south stands for east/west winds. Remember that rising thermals in the morning tend to carry scent up and away but the opposite can be true in the evening.

Scent control

There is no such thing as "scent proof" anything! Do not be misled by advertisements of such and think you can get away with hunting a poor wind option because you have the best "scent control". It is important to use scentless soap and shampoo and to keep clothes away from any odors, storing them in bags or cedar closets if possible. Hang clothes outside as much as possible and at ALL times wear rubber boots when hunting!

Stand approach

We have detailed information on creating funnels to bring deer within 25 yards of your stand in narrow travel corridors and it is important to have an approach that does not take you though a bedding or feeding area. If we can hunt a narrow natural bottleneck then often we can approach through a field but if the area is solid timber then we need to have an approach through open timber where deer are unlikely to travel or bed.

Details on this subject will be come clearer by reading the thread on hinging trees. Hunt difficult to approach areas in the timber by going in under cover of darkness in the morning when deer area away and catch them coming back through to bedding areas. Avoid hunting field edge/food plot areas unless you have a way to leave undetected after dark (see the thread on Egyptian Wheat for screening) Egyptian Wheat for screening

Stand Location

In the beginning of this thread we covered land layouts that should give you and idea where to place stands. Always choose the narrowest areas that naturally funnel deer through a narrow area and then pinch it down farther by hinging trees. Mature bucks are very unlikely to enter field or open areas before dark so stands should be located in funnels within narrow areas of timber.

The goal when hunting mature bucks during the rut is to intercept traveling bucks as they move between bedding and feeding areas during the time they are most likely to move during daylight hours. Hunting field edges is often exciting but most likely to be unproductive when hunting mature animals. Bucks will be on their feet and moving in the timbered or cover areas long before dark but often hold back from open areas during daylight so consider these things when planning your layout and stand locations.

Stand use

The best time to kill a mature buck is the first time you hunt a stand and each time you travel in and out increases the likelihood of a buck sensing you have been there. Have enough stands in place that you can hunt different winds and not over hunt any one of them if you have a week of the same wind. This is more difficult on a small farm then a larger one but an important aspect of hunting that cannot be overlooked!

Funnel spots (work in progress)

The following are some natural places to look for runways that we might pinch down even more and hunt these spots (assuming you can get in and out without molesting deer)

Spiderwebs (several ridges coming from one point)

This is a couple examples of funnels we can create using the already naturally narrow travel corridors on our land. The one on the left is an example of how we might hinge trees to create a blocking effect that funnels deer through an even narrower area.

The one on the right is an example of a fence crossing where we might lower the fence or use edge feathering along the timber edge to cause deer to travel through one opening.

This example on the left shows an inside corner were deer may swing wide or cut cross country and the right shows how we can hinge some trees to pinch deer down to a narrow runway by our stand.

Saddles are natural areas crossing a ridge usually that funnel deer through a small area and they can be easily closed up with some hinging to narrow the gap further.

Trail Cams

Trail cams are an essential tool to monitor you whitetail herd in general, both quantity and quality. Using them for a trail cam census helps us understand how many does we have and set goals for controlling our herd numbers. Cams also help us keep a history on bucks using our property so we can determine age of these bucks and truly understand when they are mature.

Once we have created funnels and blocked off multiple runways then we can accurately monitor which are being used by which animals and the times of travel. They also help us understand what/how many bucks are traveling through our property from neighboring property.

IR cams seem to be less likely to bother bucks traveling runways but even then a "box" on the side of a tree can cause them to shy away. This is rarely the case over food sources, scrapes etc. but a deer walking down a runway is often uncomfortable with anything out of place.

Swivel mounts allow us to mount a cam higher up on a tree out of a deer's line of site and easily down by carrying a couple climbing sticks for instance. This mount fits all Scoutguard, Covert and Bushnell cams and can be mount to a tree or limb with screws or straps and then tilted and turned on almost any angle.

Mounting the cam higher decreases the triggering range slightly but also decreases the likelihood it might be stolen or damaged by trespassers. Select cams with long battery life so they can be placed in funnels and left alone for extended periods of time and where legal monitor mineral/salt sites or feeders between seasons.

I use a small ultra light aluminum step ladder to mount cams up high but a climbing stick will work as well.

These are pics from the elevated cam...deer are clueless and the cams are less likely to be stolen!

Here's a link to the cam mounts I use but there are of course a multitude of options for both cams and mounts

Angle Tree Mount / Bracket For Bushnell Trophy Cam

Whitetail Management

Managing whitetails means that the landowner should strive for a balanced herd and attempt to keep the ratio of does to bucks at a reasonable level. Usually another goal is to work towards the harvest of older more mature bucks as our habitat becomes increasingly better as well. These things take time, especially in small properties and more so in highly pressured areas so be patient and don't be frustrated that results are not over night.

Whitetail bucks are generally considered mature at 5 1/2 years old but only 2% of all whitetails on average survive to this age. Two deer out of 100 is not very many so be realistic in your expectations because on small farms it is easy to see how this can be problematic.

Identifying mature deer is even trickier so trail cams allow us to have history on deer living on our property and learning to age deer on the hoof by judging their body rather then antler size is also important.

This thread can help you with some comparisons and comments on the subject

Aging Deer

Owning land and hunting whitetails should be fun and rewarding so don't allow yourself to be caught up in competition with others or TV celebrities with large tracts of land. Enjoy building your habitat and mature as a hunter while you do, graduate from taking yearlings to 2 1/2 year old's and then on to 3 1/2 and so on. Waiting forever for a 5 year old buck is not realistic for most landowners with under 150 acres until you have built a premium habitat program.

Ideally we should have a 1:1 buck doe ratio but that is not only unlikely but unrealistic for most of us. We should however attempt to keep doe numbers balanced while allowing younger bucks to grow and mature. Do your best to harvest does in areas or at times least likely to molest bucks, early October for instance when bucks are nocturnal. Use extreme caution in late winter to avoid killing shed bucks by observing with binoculars and watching for a doe with fawns in tow.

Have fun and enjoy hunting! Harvest does to fill the freezer and set reasonable goals that may just be taking a buck that is your personal best rather then some "point" measure that others may use....
Mineral Licks

I try to get trace mineral salt and sheep mineral put out right after season ends here in Iowa, primarily for trail cam surveys and deer flock to them almost overnight.

Deer will not touch mineral itself and are only after the salt, so only when it is mixed will they eat it, the same being true for livestock and for that matter...people. There is the common misconception that feeding mineral to whitetails will help promote antler growth but there is no factual evidence to support this theory. If we could "feed" livestock or people and make them turn into giants we would of course take advantage of that but giants like Shaquille O'Neal for instance cannot be "fed" into existence but instead are genetic freaks of nature so to speak.

Giant whitetails are rare just as are people like Shaq and the size of any whitetail bucks antlers is dependent primarily on genetics and age and giant deer have often never been exposed to a food plot nor supplementary minerals. All this is just matter of fact and not meant to discourage the use of minerals for deer but rather to keep usage in perspective .

There are a number of mineral mixes one can put together themselves


Ingredients: Makes 250 lbs

1 part Di-calcium phosphate, this is a dairy feed additive bought at feed stores.
Comes in 50lb Bags, you need one bag.

2 parts Trace mineral salt, the red and loose kind without the medications.
Look for the highest amounts of calcium and phosphorus on the label.
Comes in 50lb Bags, you need two bags.

2 parts Stock salt, ice cream salt.
Comes in 50lb Bags, you need two bags.


50 lbs. di-calcium phosphate
50 lbs. trace mineral salt
50 lbs. stock salt
50 lbs. Green Fescue Mineral (a dairy cattle supplement with Di-Cal and other trace minerals)

I simply spread out a bag of Trace Mineral salt and a common mineral mix used for sheep.

Sheep-ett Mineral label

Free ranging whitetails get a more then ample supply of vitamins and minerals from the forage and browse they eat but certainly no harm can come from offering them a good quality mineral along with what they really crave most...salt!

I prefer to locate licks in low areas with soft moist dirt because they will eat the dirt along with the salt but when placed on high ground...

I mix the mix with dirt

While we think of drinking fresh water or providing it for livestock, whitetails seem to prefer drinking from seemingly "muddy" still pools of water often no doubt for the minerals or salt and I have noticed that while there is salt and mineral laying on top of the soil....deer seem to prefer to drink the water in the mineral lick...

Licks help adapt deer to using runways and feeding areas so be certain to place them adjacent to both funneled runways and normal feed sources.

These deer have every thing they need in a safe place and show up here daily, year around.

Licks are great ways to determine what bucks are living on or around your property...even before they appear as bucks at first glance

There is no "miracle-gro" for deer, we can only provide the best quality food sources and free choice minerals adjacent to safe sanctuaries and at least do our best to allow them to grow to maturity. If minerals were the answer there would be in fact...no "cull" bucks but in truth, those are genetically inferior bucks and nothing will ever change that.

Include salt and minerals as part of your habitat program but don't be misled by hype, into thinking it will dramatically change the quality of the deer you shoot...if you don't have genetically big deer living there now...chances are you never will, so be realistic in your expectations when you fill your mineral lick this spring....

*** Be sure to check your state game laws before putting out salt and cover or fence them before hunting season....***
A friend of mine needed to increase the size of his food plot area which fortunately is already centrally located amidst a large area of cover. I suggested he have the dozer operator push the trees up into a screening/blocking formation rather then burying or burning it and he did just exactly that!

Screens are one of the most important yet often overlooked elements of our whitetail habitat program so we should never miss any opportunity to create one!

The effects of the dozer are not unlike the effects of timber edge feathering and immediately allow deer to feel safe and hidden in bedding areas beyond.

These same screens, done properly also allow us to block off multiple runways and force deer to use only those openings we permit and thus increasing the effectiveness of trail cam surveys along with more successful harvest opportunities.

This summer the area along the edge will explode with forbs and shrubs that will increase edge browse and further enhance the screening effect. in this case...well done!

Regardless if you use a dozer, a chainsaw, a tree planter, a tiller or...all of the above...make or plant screens around your property , bedding and feeding areas and you will not only increase the odds of a mature buck living on your property but harvesting him as well....
When landowners get started they are usually dealing with sod that must be broken up for a food plot. On sandy soils it's less of a problem but on clay soils the root systems hold water far longer. In most cases it's best to kill the sod 1-2 months ahead of time to allow it to die and begin to decompose, not always possible or practical but best when time permits.

Decaying sod also uses a great deal of nitrogen as it decays in the beginning stages of decomposition and that can take valuable nutrients away from seedlings, so be sure to add plenty of nitrogen when planting non-legumes in killed sod.

Here's an example of sod we killed about a month prior to establish a new Egyptian Wheat screen, the sod still holds water like a sponge which is a problem in years with heavy rainfall such as this year in SE Iowa. You can clearly see the compaction from the tractor tire...

Note the clods despite having been tilled numerous times over several hours and eventually cultipacked...a less then ideal planting situation.

Only 2 feet away however is last years EW screen, no sod root systems so the soil dried out in minutes and made an ideal planting environment.

Berseem clover germinated and popped up in only days in this situation despite subsequent heavy rainfall.

It's extremely important to understand the soil types on your property when getting started, those with dry sandy soils will face different challenges then those with heavy clay soils. Stop by your local NRCS office and a tech there can help you by looking over soil maps and discussing your soils with you.

if you already have an understanding of soil types then the Web Soil Survey will answer many questions about the kind and capabilities of your soils.

Web Soil Survey

In all cases adding organic matter through proper crop rotations will help improve ALL soils and there are great crops that can help attract and hold whitetails and tons of biomass to your soils at the same time. Winter rye, forage radish and almost any kind of clover be it annuals like berseem or crimson or perennials like white and red clover.

More information on how to incorporate those and other crops into you management program are available at this link:

Dbltree's Corner - Land Management for Whitetails

Get started right and then treat your soils right and you will reap the rewards with abundant crops that are more attractive to whitetails for years to come....
I read an article recently in which the author talked about "spring plots and fall plots"....really?? You really want deer to go to one field in the spring and a different field in the fall??

I want them to come to the same centralized feeding area YEAR AROUND and I want them to do that for generations until they are so adapted to doing so they ignore all other food sources around them. To do that one has to provide a myriad of food sources in that one field to keep deer fed all year long and that place should be as hidden as possible.

This is on my own farm...central, hidden, all runways funneled to one major runway, the timber has had TSI and radical hinging done to promote bedding close by...

It's a little difficult to see all that is involved here without further explanation, so this view shows the wide variety of food sources that do indeed keep deer fed year around and thereby keep them coming to this place, every day without fail....

Beyond the soybeans is a field of corn, only yards away but hidden by the finger of trees and several more small strip plots are also just out of site. There are hybrid oaks and chestnuts growing also within this hidden valley so quite literally ALL of their needs are provided within this relatively small area.

in order to feed a lot of deer year around i manage for high yielding crops and don't spare the horses when it comes to fertilizer and lime and the white clover component feeds dozens of deer every month of the year from garden sized strips of clover.

To squeeze the most out of every square foot, the soybeans will be overseeded with 100-150#'s of winter rye and 5-8#'s of forage radish in late August as the beans start to yellow and I will add 100-200#'s of urea just before a rain to spur lush growth just before season. When the beans are gone the rye and radish will remain and the rye will continue attracting and feeding deer until the following spring.

It's amazing how much feed can be produced within even a very small yet carefully managed area! Every square inch produces quality food sources at minimal cost, white clover is there all year long, brassicas July thru March, rye/oats/peas/radish and red clover combine to also provide a year around source of food....and deer know they can count on it!

The strip plotting concept by the way also fits nicely with the fact that deer are creatures of the edge and will follow the edge of two different food sources until they have a beaten path!

While this picture may seem a bit amusing, it is a fact that deer adapt to coming to these year around feeding places almost from birth...does lead them there and they lead their fawns there...

and bucks know where the feed and the girls are!

The entire wooded edge has been edge feathered and all other runways blocked by hinged or felled trees and an old farm lane and a single runway bisecting this central feeding area make for a death trap for whitetails in November.

My latest article in Quality Whitetails is called "Bottling Bucks" and shows this same area from an aerial perspective as well as sharing other bottlenecks I have created to funnel deer. Incorporating funneling into and out of year around food sources is deadly effective...take a look at your aerial maps and give some thought on how you can make strip plotting and bottlenecks work for you....

When I get where I'm going....don't cry for me down here...

Joshua 24:15 "...as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Dbltree Habitat Enhancement - Paul & Jesse Knox Birmingham, Iowa
dbltree2000@yahoo.com jknox0623@gmail.com


Posts: 8710
Joined: Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:11 pm
Location: Birmingham, Iowa
Contact dbltree
Re: Getting Started
Postby dbltree » Wed Jul 13, 2011 10:17 pm

This is another example of using strip plotting to manipulate deer movement in relationship to a stand. The plot is surrounded by either switchgrass or timber and hidden well and the landowner uses this area to harvest does. Knowing that deer will follow the edge of two crop types and take advantage of Egyptian Wheat screening we decided to combine them and then use a contouring/sweeping of the strips so that they will naturally funnel deer near the stand.

We will be able to incorporate the clover/brassica/rye rotation and have the field divided into 6 total strips, rye/clover, brassicas, EW, rye/clover, brassicas/EW.

The landowner is looking forward to hunting this stand this fall and lowering the deer population a bit...
You can't help but become a bit of a weather "nut" once you start planting crops for whitetails and watching the radar becomes a habit as we hope it rains or doesn't depending on the time of year.

The National Weather Service has some great information to keep you abreast of latest weather news...

National Weather Service

use the looping image to watch storm paths on the radar....the NWS is the most detailed of any I have found.

This link helps you to understand what the various colors mean in terms of rain or winds

Weather Radar in a nutshell

You can look up the long term forecast discussions at this link (just change to your state)

Forecast Discussion

This map will help you determine rainfall amounts even if your farm is 100's of miles away...just insert your zip and zoom to your area.

Precip Map

Everyone has favorite weather sites but I have found the NWS to be the most accurate and detailed and a great place to check the status of hurricanes which even 1500 miles inland can bring flooding rains as they lumber across the country.


We are powerless to change the weather but dependent on it nonetheless so it's always nice to know what's in store....
Antler growth

What are antlers made up of and what effects the growth of antlers?

The answers to many questions concerning antler growth can be found in articles at this link:

Deer biology articles

These are some highlights from the above link...

Antlers vs. horns

Deer grow antlers; they do not grow horns. Horns differ from antlers in that horns are composed of a continuously growing bony core which is surrounded by an outer keratinous sheath. By comparison, antlers are solid bone and they are shed and re-grown each year. Horns are similar to antlers only in that they grow from the forehead.

What is used to create the "bone" or antler?

Mineral requirements for antler growth

Mineral requirements for antler growth exceed those of normal skeletal growth and maintenance (studies have shown that deer are constantly undergoing skeleton rebuilding). In some species, antler requirements for minerals may be 3 times as high as that required to maintain the skeleton. Mineral demand for antler growth is satisfied from both the diet and from bone resorption.
Where do deer get the calcium and phosphorus needed for growing antlers?

Diet provides the greatest proportion of calcium and phosphorus for antler growth and mineralization. However, antler growth will never exceed genetic potential, even if a deer consumes these elements above optimum levels. During times of peak antler growth, antler demand for minerals forces the thyroid gland to release calcitonin; this hormone allows the deer to "steal" minerals from its internal bone structure. This process is known as "physiological" or "temporary" osteoporosis. Bones such as the ribs and shoulder blades contribute the most to this temporary mineral deficiency, and they may lose as much as 40% of their calcium content while antlers are hardening. However, by September, deer can fully replace the minerals borrowed from their skeleton.

What effects antler growth?

Factors influencing antler growth

The three factors influencing antler growth are animal age, nutrition and genetics.

In most of a whitetail bucks range across the nation, proper nutrition is almost always available through natural forbs and browse. Forbs contain the highest crude protein and total digestible nutrients while browse may be significantly lower depending on the species and time of year.

What factors affect antler size?

Factors that Determine Antler Size (listed in order of importance)

Age - age is the primary factor that determines exactly how big antlers will grow. Antler mass and length increases with age until bucks reach 6 to 7 years of age. In bucks 7 years old and older, antlers mass often increases, while overall length of the main beam and tines declining with each consecutive set of antlers.

Diet - nutritional requirements, particularly those for protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A & D, must also be met in order for deer to achieve maximum antler growth. Adequate nutrition in the months of February and March is especially important, because deer need to replace body fat and muscle lost during winter before antler growth can reach its potential. Dietary protein and energy restrictions will decrease antler volume, beam diameter, main beam length, and total number of antler points grown. Maximum antler development can occur when dietary calcium and phosphorus concentrations are at least 0.45% and 0.30% (dry matter basis), respectively.

Health (general physical condition, body weight, injury etc.) - body growth and maintenance takes precedence over antler growth. This means that only bucks in good physical condition will reach their full potential of antler growth.

Injury or damage to the pedicle or velvet may result in the injured antler becoming deformed. An injury to the body can also influence antler growth because energy is used to grow or repair muscle or tissue before it is used to grow antler. Sometimes, a severe injury to the body may result in stunted growth or deformity of the antler opposite side of the body that sustained the injury due to a phenomenon known as bilateral or geo-physical asymmetry.

What about protein? What do deer need and when do they need it?

Seasonal protein availability

The time of year a forage becomes nutritious and palatable determines how important it will be to deer, and how much protein it will provide. For example:

Forages that are most nutritious and palatable in the SPRING are important for:

helping all deer recover from winter stress
providing pregnant does with nutrition needed to support developing fetuses through the third trimester and to begin producing milk
providing bucks with nutrients needed to begin growing antlers

Forages that are most nutritious and palatable in the SUMMER are important for:

providing does with nutrients needed for producing milk
providing nutrients needed by growing fawns
supporting further antler development in bucks

Forages that are most nutritious and palatable in the FALL/WINTER are important for:

providing nutrition for weaned fawns that are still growing
providing energy deer need to prepare for winter
replacing energy lost during the rut

How much protein is required? Is more better?

How much protein is enough?

Deer nutritionists generally agree that a diet containing 16-20% crude protein is more than adequate to support deer protein requirements.Human nature leads us to believe that more is better than less. However, this is not the case when it comes to protein consumption by deer. After deer meet their minimal protein requirements any additional protein consumed does not lead to larger antlers or bigger bodies. It can, however, equate to higher costs to the hunter and deer manager who is feeding or improving habitat for deer. Thus, to reduce costs and efficiently meet the requirements of all age classes of deer it is best to purchase and provide forage with a minimum of 16% crude protein. Investing in forage that provides much greater than 20% protein will not vastly improve the herds' health and should probably be considered a waste of money.

Purina invests untold amounts of money in their R&D to determine the best rations for captive deer, where breeders rely on optimum nutrition to achieve maximum body and antler growth. Purina Deer Chow products contain 16% protein and they offer 20% for weaning fawn/calf feed. As noted above if "more is better" was the answer then certainly breeders would demand it and Purina would offer it, but such is not the case.

In our own management programs then we should endeavor to provide a diverse array of natural forbs and browse along with year around food sources whenever possible. White clover can be used a as cornerstone to provide 20-25% CP from early spring until late fall with an assortment of other crops being used to complete the need for year around feed.

As noted...mid winter is a critical and crucial time of year when bucks are stressed, yet this is the most overlooked time period when it comes to providing nutrition for our deer herds. Grain crops can be helpful because they are high in fat and energy, root crops and winter cereal grains also help round out a year around program. Combined with proper timber stand management we can easily not only meet but exceed the needs of our deer herds.

Almost all crops will provide in excess of the 16% protein requirement and most land managers will find those seeds readily available at their local seed supply or ag co-op.....
Evaluating Your Habitat

Habitat isn't just about planting food plots, it's about everything a whitetail requires to live and deer spend a huge amount of time bedding and loafing in areas that provide them cover. Those areas may be timber or NWSG but they should be the cornerstone of our habitat program where we create abundant natural browse and both hard and soft mast, along with dense thick safe bedding cover. Timber Stand Improvement and hinging cull trees can dramatically improve your habitat often for little more then sweat equity and chain saw gas and quite literally provide 100% of a whitetail's needs.

From there we need to provide roughly one feeding area per 80-120 acres that is well hidden, adjacent to bedding via funneled travel corridors and screened from outside activity. The more remote and protected the more comfortable whitetails will be in feeding there in day light hours and within a few years they will adapt to feeding there. Those feeding areas should include fast growing sources of hard mast, usually native hybrid white oak species along with hybrid chestnut trees and fruit tree orchards that provide fruit from July through December. The combination of trees is our insurance during disastrous growing seasons when planted crops may fail due to weather conditions, a diversified tree planting can be our ace in the hole!

That brings us to our planted crops...I list them last despite the fact that most landowners place them at the top of the list in importance which usually means they then discount the importance of their natural cover and the need to provide hard and soft mast in and around the feeding area.

Too often people succumb to the hype in adds or articles that leas them to believe that some crop or variety of crop will not only draw deer like magnets but cause them to grow larger racks to boot, neither of which is true.

In SE Iowa we suffered through May and June with relentless rains of 5-6" at a time, flooding fields and drowning crops and then got hit with a severe drought during July and August that left many landowners with empty, barren fields of...dirt. At one time or another almost every landowner will experience these difficult situations that can be devastating if we have not provided great natural food and cover AND multiple crops within our single source feeding area.

Only in extreme cases would every crop fail and of course in places like Texas where the drought is so severe and long running that even native trees are dying, this exact thing has happened. Like any investor already knows, we want to hedge our bets and not place all of our eggs in one basket...tip that basket over and all the eggs are gone! Most landowners can easily incorporate multiple crops like white clover, brassicas and cereal grains so that deer always have food sources in that single feeding area even if one fails. Larger operations may choose corn, soybeans and alfalfa or some combination of all of these but never ever only 1-2 food sources and never plant brassicas in one field and clover in another...always incorporate them all into one field.

This is an example of strip plots with alternating strips of brassicas and soybeans with white clover in the corners, fruit tree orchards and hybrid oaks around the perimeter.... Even with the disastrous weather conditions the combination of food sources insures the landowner will not be disappointed this fall and whitetails will never have a reason to go elsewhere.

Now that we have accomplished all of the above, you may still be wondering it one crop or another is more attractive, do deer like rape better then turnips? Do they like one soybean better then another or one clover versus another?

Exclusion cages are the best bet to provide answers when you wonder if deer are eating your clover or going to the neighbors to feed? Regardless of what crop you plant, grazing will be obvious and evident by using an exclusion cage.

Observation while hunting is important but unfortunately very inaccurate because you have no idea what is going on at night, the prime feeding time. As fall turns into winter deer can graze one food source to the ground and suddenly switch to another so depending on what day the observer is there, different feed activity may be observed.

Trail cams take all the guess work out and new models have field scan modes that reveal what deer are feeding on at different times of the day and season

Deer will not exert energy to go seek out some clover that supposedly tastes slightly better the another, they will instead adapt to feeding in one area where they can safely travel a short distance from bedding to feed and safely feed on the food sources available to them. It's a myth that any food source will draw deer from miles around, the exception being acorns and high energy food sources like corn and soybeans but even then, eventually deer will not bother even looking for those food sources if they know that every single day of the year they can go to your one feeding area and find plenty of food. Plant a combination of food sources in one place, utilize natural food sources in addition to planted feeds and they will not bother looking elsewhere and you can avoid paying high prices for highly advertised seeds.

This buck has lived on my little farm for 5 1/2 years now and he has never eaten anything but commonly available seeds/crops, none of which came in a fancy bag or had a name that included "Buck", "Antler", "Monster" or any other such nonsense. He simply has no reason to go elsewhere with ALL of his needs being provided every single day of the year.

Examine your habitat and plug the missing holes by providing a combination of food sources that will hold whitetails year around and eventually your only problem will be like mine...keeping them from eating you out of house and home....