Dbltrees Getting started threads.

Trail Cams

Trail cams are an essential tool in helping landowners properly manage both their habitat and the whitetails that inhabit it and properly used they can yield answers that will making owning and hunting your land more enjoyable. That said, trail cams may not be financially feasible for landowners struggling to make a farm payment, so use caution to put your family first and prioritize your habitat management expenditures and add cams when possible.

Too often habitat management and hunting decisions are based solely on our personal observations yet we can not possibly "observe" 24-7 like trail cams can so when possible it is imperative to use them and to use them wisely. There are a multitude of cams to choose from and forums such asChasingame can help you decide which is best for you and your needs. I use Bushnell Trophy cams because they are economical and very functional with outstanding battery life and a 2 year warranty. These cams are IR but not black flash so where possible I mount them above the deer's line of sight and tilt them downward...easy to do with a 1/4-20 eye bolt and eye screw with a 1/4-20 bolt and sheet metal washers. I carry a feather lite step ladder to mount and check cams...

They can be mounted to blinds or to a step in electric fence post for field scan pics

Whitetails often feed after dark and mature bucks are notoriously nocturnal and often difficult to pattern and on top of this, younger bucks will often run does out of feeding and even bedding ares during the rut making "observations" a very poor indicator of what is using your habitat. Trail cams provide answers and help us make necessary improvements and changes to our habitat programs and hunting methods and help us determine age structure and population densities.

To often landowners lament that deer are not using their plot or one food source or another when in reality they may have few if any deer even using their property. Natural forage and mast and/or plentiful ag crops can have a dramatic effect on how or if whitetails use your property. Food of course is only part of the equation and it must be surrounded by safe screening and secure bedding and if any or all of those factors are missing...the whitetails will be too.

Without cams no one can be certain of what is going on and that leads to false assumptions and misconceptions about a perceived lack of deer or mature bucks using the property. Our immediate focus should always be on building a secure bedding sanctuary yet everyone incorrectly believes that a food plot is the missing link. The following are some real live examples of habitat and the deer using them along with trail cam placement and the answers they yield in hopes they will give you ideas for your own property. In particular pay attention to the lives of a couple mature bucks that are almost 100% nocturnal...leaving no trace or evidence of their existence if we relied solely on "observations"....

In this example on my own farm the cams there are 6 cams located within a very small area and the are marked as dark maroon color and 3 stands/blinds. The edge is blocked by edge feathering leaving only one main crossing and the farm lane and small trail that they use to go to the pond for water. Nearly 50 acres of NWSG combined with thick red cedar and hinged tree bedding areas provide the cover and the centrally located feeding area is the focus of every whitetail's movement regardless of where they bed.

Note above that the light green is white clover strips along the edges, the dark green is edge feathering blocking off multiple runways, strip plots are individual strips of white clover, brassicas and the winter rye/oat/pea/radish/red clover combination. These combined with standing soybeans and a larger plot of winter rye combination provide food sources YEAR AROUND in ONE SINGLE feeding area that adapts deer to always feeding there.

This mature 5 1/2 year old buck only showed himself once last year during daylight hours and he almost never enters the timber for more then a few yards into the interior, living instead in the surrounding NWSG fields.

If not for cams i would never know this buck existed and believe, mistakenly that no mature animals lived on my property and then I would begin to question my habitat. This buck appears almost daily, goes in and out the exact same way and comes from the CRP/NWSG fields beyond.

He is very predictable yet as elusive as a ghost making him a challenging quarry

He enters and exits by the same routes..yet always, always in the dark

He is of course not the only buck visiting the feeding area and checking does and regardless if I can ever harvest this animal it is very rewarding to know one has mature animals spending their lives in the habitat I have worked hard to create. I know every doe group and I know how many I should harvest long before I sit in a stand in this area. I know the best possible funnels in which the odds are highest of harvesting this mature buck and i know that he prefers NWSG to timber...all the more reason diversity is an extremely important consideration when building habitat for whitetails.

In the next scenario the landowner has graciously given me permission to share his set up because while mine is nearly 15 years in the making, his is brand new and he is in the process of learning about his habitat and whitetails. What kind of deer live there? Are there mature bucks? Where do the bed and travel too? As I mentioned in the beginning, he is blessed to have a new farm but must add trail cams as his budget can afford them so to make the optimum use of what he has, he started by blocking off multiple runways. He opened up one that had a usable stand tree near the narrowest pinch point and used brush and old fence to make the existing fence line difficult to get thru and deer quickly adapted to using the new opening.

He planted a winter rye/oat/pea/radish/clover plot to establish white clover as a staging area for deer that would likely travel thru there on their way to crop fields. Because the area is hidden by trees in the fence line and immediately adjacent to secure bedding area, mature whitetails will feel comfortable there in the last minutes of shooting light where they are also likely to visit a scrape there.

In this case he is able to find out the most information possible with only one trail cam and first notices that deer come from bedding and feed on the rye mix before moving on to ag crops. Each passing within 25 yards of his stand in this funnel...

Thousands of deer pictures later...he is able to learn that mature 4 and 5 year old whitetail bucks do indeed live there

the direction of travel

Time of day

all provide information that give him the knowledge and confidence needed to manage his deer and habitat

and hunt knowing without the slightest doubt that he is in a productive spot

Last year...with no funnel and no staging area hunting was frustrating and unproductive but with a $400 investment in a trail cam, seed, fertilizer and a lot of good old fashioned hard work he has changed all that. Timber Stand Improvement, tree planting and hinging trees will be the focus of his habitat improvements in the years to come.

There are trail cams for every budget almost and I help landowners who have Reconyx cams and Buckeye cams that run 4-500 and $1000 up and while out of my price range all have advantages such as black flash or the ability to send pictures directly to your computer.

In the next situation we have a landowner who is trying to learn as much as he can about his habitat and whitetails and then leave no stone unturned in reaching his goals of holding mature whitetail bucks on his property and then being able to harvest those animals. As noted on my own farm...mature bucks often do the unexpected and giants may sometimes be found well away from the typical areas that we feel have the best bedding and feed.

In this case a secluded area of the farm that consists of primarily NWSG (native warm season grass) stands and timber lined creek with one small white clover plot seems at first to be a mediocre spot at best.

The small clover plot however is a busy place

and by night the largest mature whitetail on the farm appears! He lives in this small area and since spring he has not left this area. What he does during the rut remains to be seen but the point is that without trail cams we would have no idea this giant even lived there nor how effective a simple white clover plot could be.

A single cam overlooking that clover only solidifies the importance of both clover and native warm season grass along with the value of seclusion in holding mature bucks.

The Buckeye cams of course have the advantage of allowing you to know what's going on at that scrape...without invading the area!

and you'll know if they like your winter rye/oat/pea/radish/clover combo...without leaving the house!

On this farm Bushnell cams on every major runway will reveal the best stands to be in during next years rut and give us knowledge about the need for more funnels, edge feathering, hinging for bedding doe populations and a host of other information.

To learn more about your whitetail habitat, invest in trail cams as your budget allows and then use them wisely to gain insight on what changes you need to make.

Ebay is a great place to purchase brand new cams at discount prices with free shipping to boot!

How much land do I need in food plots?

I have seen people give "across the board advice" on this subject when in reality this is a question no one can answer for any landowner. There are hundreds of variables that make each property different and the amount of feed necessary is a complete unknown and can only answered through trial and error and then require constant adjusting as the landowners habitat and whitetail population change.

Unfortunately many of the people giving advice have no agricultural background and that is a most important, but over looked element that must be combined with an intimate knowledge of whitetails and habitat in general and all of these things must be considered by every landowner.

Some of the dynamics to consider...

1) Soils There is probably not a landowner out there who ever considered the soil type and yield capabilities of their soils when considering how much land is needed to feed their whitetails, yet this is one of the most important factors. Poor, droughty, sandy soils low in organic matter will in turn produce very small yields and require far more acreage then rich, deep black loam soils high in organic matter. Soil type can be determined along with the CSR (Corn Suitability Rating) before you start to give you some ideas on how productive the soils will be and they can vary widely on any given piece of property. In the beginning of this thread there are links to the Web Soil Survey and to NRCS for help with this subject.

2) Climate the area of the country that your property is located will significantly impact your ability to grow crops, while the mid west and eastern Atlantic states may have ideal growing conditions, other states may not. Those in the far north may be limited by the length of the growing season and mid summer frosts can kill some crops while those in arid lower plains and SW states may have to deal with excessive heat and little rainfall, again affecting their ability to grow anything let alone enough feed on a certain number of acres.

3) Crop Type In Illinois a landowner may be able to grow 200 bushel corn, 60 bushel soybeans and 4 ton of alfalfa per acre, meaning their land is extremely productive and they may need very little land set aside for food sources. In areas of Texas however, less productive soils and low rainfall may mean they will struggle to produce half of those yields which then may require twice as much land.

4) Deer Density The number of deer in any area can vary widely and is of course affected by many factors too numerous to discuss here but deer numbers may be vastly different even within a 2 mile radius let alone across any given state. Trail cam surveys can help you determine and approximate number of deer using your property and some clue on what to expect. CAUTION...the number of deer using your property WILLchange and is likely to increase rapidly as you enhance your habitat, so be prepared to increase acres and/or yields to feed a growing population. Be also cognizant of the need to control the size of the herd using your property by harvesting does as necessary or things can quickly get out of hand.

5) Crop Type The type of crops grown will also significantly affect the number of acres or area of land needed to produce feed for your deer herd. White clover on reasonably healthy productive soils can feed an amazing number of deer yet it may not grow at all on sandy dry soils. The type of clover grown also makes a huge difference because many clovers commonly advertised in hunting magazines are NOT drought resistant and cannot tolerate heavy grazing. Even something as simple as the choice of clover you plant then, can have a huge affect on the acres needed. Our goals should be NOT to just provide feed during hunting season but to provide feed YEAR AROUND so that requires a combination of crops, all grown in the same field. Most beginning landowners can easily grow clover, brassicas and a cereal grain mix and accomplish this feat quite easily and each of those is covered in detail in the appropriate threads in Dbltree's Corner

6) Plot Location A crop planted in a hidden, safe feeding area next to great cover will be used significantly more then one that is place out next to a busy highway, house, dogs etc. and this of course affects the amount needed to feed deer under that particular situation. Strive always to have ONE single feeding area for roughly 80-120 acres and position that area whenever possible in a somewhat central area that is well hidden and secure where they will feel safe feeding during daylight hours. That single feeding area will eventually be heavily grazed and the size may need to be expanded as time goes by.

7) Surrounding Cover I have put in plots on a 40 of which 23 acres was in CRP and the "timber" wide open and in little fingers or draws that were barely used simply because few deer lived there. I have put in plots literally across the road where there were hundreds of acres of timber and NWSG and I needed 3 times as many acres to feed the deer living there. If the surrounding cover is thick, brushy bedding cover versus open timber or open fields the plots will be heavily used so consider this when contemplating how much you will need.

8) Fertilizer affects Yields Many people attempt to grow crops with little or no fertilizer and they don't use crop rotations and cover crops to build up soil organic matter which in turn results in poor yields or worse...crop failure. One is almost always far better off to plant a smaller area and build up soil nutrients with proper soil testing and a willingness to add fertilizer and lime as needed. Remember that nitrogen is usually not on the average soil test and since it is not "storable" it must be added to non legume crops every year (examples corn and brassicas) Using a combination of crops planted in strips or blocks will allow you to easily rotate crops to take advantage of nitrogen from legumes such as clover and soybeans and by turning under crops such as winter rye and red clover you can significantly affect soil organic matter in a positive way.

I have two farms in different counties with similar yet different habitat and it takes far more acres on one farm then the other. Deer are adapted to feeding in these plots (another important reason for providing food year around) so they don't go to the neighbors, knowing they are safe in my feeding areas and knowing there is always food there. I am limited by CRP contracts to how many acres I can have in food plots so that requires I get maximum yields from crops that can withstand heavy grazing.

White clover is the key in both areas because even a 1/4 acre can feed a tremendous amount of deer.
White clover is the key in both areas because even a 1/4 acre can feed a tremendous amount of deer.

Even though these plots are very small...they are divided into strips, one containing white clover, once containing a brassica mix of turnips, rape and forage radish and one containing a mix of winter rye, oats, forage peas, forage radish and red clover.

This crop combination planted in one central feeding area also significantly affects the amount of land needed because the clovers grown produce a tremendous amount of very high quality feed in a very small area. The brassica strips will be tilled under in the spring and oats and berseem clover will be planted while the rye strips will contain red clover...so ALL three strips will contain protein rich, high yielding clovers from early spring until early winter. Even though small, deer have never been able to out graze this combination...

This combination also insures that deer will NEVER...not for a single day...be without feed in this plot!! The adapt to this, they come here every day, day after day, year after year and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the advantages of this during hunting season.

In July the red clover is turned under to plant the brassicas but the white clover and oat/berseem clover continues to provide feed and in late August the berseem clover is turned under to plant the rye combination and by that time the white clover and brassicas are keeping them well fed. By the approach of the rut bucks are making nightly trips to this small central feeding area knowing the does are always there.

How much land is needed to feed your deer? Neither I nor anyone else can answer that question and in the end the amount required will be dependent largely on your willingness to employ good farming practices along with good habitat and deer management.

No landowner should ever depend on crops alone to provide feed for their deer, copious amounts of browse and mast through good timber stand management and the use of tree orchards that include oaks, chestnuts and fruit trees all planted in and around the single feeding area also dramatically affect the size of the feeding area needed.

Whenever possible start by establishing white clover in the fall with winter rye (see the clover and cereal grain threads in Dbltree's Corner) and use it for the cornerstone of you feeding program. In time divide the plot and begin a rotation between brassicas and cereal grains that leave 10-20% of your plot in white clover and the rest divided between the other two.

Push for higher yields thru proper fertilization using soil testing and build soils through use of the above mentioned crops in rotations and monitor your plots to see that feed is always there and they do not decimate them forcing them to go elsewhere.

Clovers feed from spring into winter, brassicas mid summer thru mid winter, rye fall to spring...use them correctly and wisely and you can keep more of your property in cover and less of it in food sources....
What are your goals?

If we took a survey the results no doubt would be varied but for many if not most whitetail enthusiasts would say their goal is to consistently harvest a mature buck from their own land. Others of course might say they want to harvest any buck at all and others simply to spend time with family enjoying the land God has blessed them with.

My goals then may be far different from yours which does not mean one or the other is wrong, simply different. A friend of mine who is both passionate and successful at harvesting mature whitetails once offered a friend advice, telling him "you need to tell your Dad to quit walking down that lane everyday, mature bucks will never live there until he stops". The friend quietly replied that he loved his Dad far more then a truck load of 200" whitetails and that his Dad could walk down that lane until he could no longer take another step.

Consistently harvesting mature whitetails then can require some sacrifice's, some of which the cost may be to high and on an individual basis each landowner must weigh out what is really important to them and then be realistic about the results. The problem arises when goals conflict and Don Higgins recalled situations where he was called in to consult where the owners goal appeared to be harvesting mature bucks. When Don advised the owner to stop running ATV's up and down the field next to the bedding area the owner was conflicted...and had to choose between his family and killing a big deer.

My son traps and his eyes light up when he sees the coons and bobcats on my trail cam pictures so while I might be more successful if he wasn't tramping the fields and ditches checking traps....I too love my son more then any whitetail buck ever to walk this earth.

In general the habitat improvements I teach are centered around a goal of holding and harvesting mature whitetails and with that in mind I have a list of do's and don'ts that can dramatically affect every landowners degree of success. One common mistake is planting multiple plots on small farms rather then adapting deer to feeding in one central destination plot and a second is hunting the food plots themselves rather then connecting runways.

Too much food and too little cover is another problem and all of this is cause for concern when the landowners goal is to allow family members to enjoy hunting their farm. Family is of course far more important and the habitat improvements I speak of must be taken into context with your goals. The odds of killing a mature buck are far less in or around a food plot then in the interior of the timber itself but people are inclined to set on field edges because it is fun to watch deer. There is of course nothing wrong with this as long as one doesn't complain because they don't see or harvest mature bucks.

The following is an example of a property with way to many food plots and a possible example of how I might change that. The area marked out is roughly 160 acres so two 3-6 acre plots (depending on deer density) is enough. The green area is the FP and all other areas i would plant to NWSG to increase cover. A goal of 90-95% cover is best because cover, not feed is the limiting factor....

If everyone must sit on food plots then multiple food plots are required with sacrifice dually noted but with one destination plot many stand sights can be utilized if family members are willing to sit in the timber. The possibles are limitless but these are just some possible "rut runways" and stand possibles

We should all always endeavor to put family first and involve and encourage hunters young and old and a great way to do this is with a heated blind in the late season overlooking a food plot filled with a combination of food sources that every deer in the area is adapted to coming too. Few things are more exciting then a large number of deer filling up a food plot in late December and with one destination plot, you can be confident every deer is going to end up there before night falls.

Hunting and harvesting mature whitetails is difficult and challenging for one hunter but often nearly impossible when a family is involved yet that should never interfere with involving your family. They are far more important but realize that you may need to lower your expectations, the more people, the more commotion, the more scent the lower the odds of success.

Establish your goals, ones that allow you to sleep at night and then manage your farm and habitat with reasonable expectations regarding the outcome. Planting multiple food sources within each plot can be done on every plot regardless if you have one or a 100, creating thick bedding cover and screening plots is helpful regardless if your goal is to see plenty of deer or harvest a giant buck. Read my habitat threads with the knowledge that they are geared towards a goal of holding and harvesting mature bucks and if your goals are different utilize the things that you can and give your family a quality outdoor experience.
What is a whitetail's home range?

That question is extremely important when we are planning our own habitat improvements and of course depending on the area of the country can vary widely. A yearling buck can travel over a 1200 acre area while a mature whitetail buck may have a home range of 200-400 acres, making excursions out of that area during the rut of course. A whitetail doe group's home range is very small and they seldom leave it and it ranges from 60-250 acres, again depending on the type of habitat they are adapted to living in. Those are facts anyone can search and read about and are pretty accurate thanks to GPS tracking collars and extensive studies across the nation.

Why is this important?

Because many if not most landowners know little about whitetail behavior and they are often under the illusion that they can attract whitetails from miles around by planting some incredibly attractive food source. Doe groups determine bedding areas by dominance, the most dominate doe will take over the prime bedding area closest to a food source and then subsequent groups will bed further and further away depending on social status and bedding cover. The better the bedding area the more doe groups it can hold because thick areas are like a building with "rooms" versus a wide open building with no privacy.

Premium bedding cover is then the most important factor versus feed, good bedding will by it's very nature have plenty of browse and natural food sources versus wide open timber with neither cover nor browse. A common mistake that landowners make is putting all their effort into planting every available open space to food sources and completely ignoring and neglecting the need for premium cover. When possible our property should be 90% cover and 10% food sources and one way to accomplish this in agricultural areas is to convert crop fields to CRP and plant Native Warm Season Grasses (switchgrass, Big Bluestem and Indiangrass)

This is a multifaceted subject because knowing whitetails are unlikely (in all but rare situations) to be attracted from great distances, it is a myth that any food source can accomplish this. I have witnessed doe groups that daily fed on fescue pasture rather then leave their home range for lush crops or food plots a 1/2 mile away. I observe whitetails daily and in general a 1/2 mile is roughly how far they (doe groups) are willing to travel (exception is rutting bucks) This being known I have found that one centralized feeding area per 80-120 acres can easily attract doe groups like a magnet and in time adapt them to always feeding there.

Here is an example of my home farm and surrounding area...note that I doubled my total bedding cover area by converting my crop acres to CRP/NWSG. I have one central feeding area that causes deer from all directions to come to ONE place as noted by the red lines indicating runways or travel corridors.

Note on neighboring farms where the fields are all ag crops and no edge feathering is done, whitetails come out helter skelter everywhere and are adapting to traveling to anywhere and everywhere to eke out a living since food is not available year around.

Because I have created thick bedding areas via hinging and natural red cedar growth I have a high deer density and I have edge feathered the critical areas to force deer to travel in and out via only two entrance exit's. That allows me to conduct very accurate trail cam surveys of both doe groups and resident bucks. Note the distance they travel is roughly less then a 1/2 mile with few exceptions and some doe groups will travel to neighboring crop fields even after they are stripped clean and tilled under. They are adapted to going there and simply refuse to "explore" anything different.

On one farm I manage we have some white deer and those are easily identifiable, some are nearly pure white while others are less so. These deer live on a little more then 300 acres and feed almost entirely in the same feeding area even though they are only a few hundred yards (in some cases) apart. The actual are on the farm that they live in is less then 80 acres because all of their needs are met there year around and the same thing is repeated on each area of the farm.

The feeding areas are one 3-5 acre area per 80 acres, the farm has very high deer density, we have had crop failures due to flooding, droughts etc. (it's only a few miles from my own farm) yet we ALWAYS have year around food sources in each feeding area, giving deer no reason to leave. Other then the rut, both does and bucks bed and feed within a very small area and nothing will cause them to leave including a severe problem with roving dogs who chase them frequently.

Whitetails have a small home range, they adapt to that home range and refuse to leave it if they have all the requirements necessary. It is neither necessary nor even possible to plant some "special or magical" food source that will attract new deer, it simply doesn't work that way. Creating better/more cover will however not only encourage more deer to live on your property but allow doe groups to get along socially without traveling great distances to bed.

More then one landowner has contacted me to say "I plant this crop or that crop and was disappointed....the same deer still fed there"...I hope this post and illustration help you see why. Whitetails (with exception in the northern Great Lakes Areas) don't "migrate" they don't travel cross country (except rutting bucks) and rarely travel more then a 1/2 mile radius from their core bedding area their entire lives.

If you want to see more deer...enhance your bedding areas by utilizing the following management options.

Timber Stand Management

Hinging trees for bedding, browse & bottlenecks

Increase the amount of cover on your property by converting ag/open fields to CRP/NWSG (if possible) or planting to trees, more cover is the ONLY thing that will = more deer.

Native Warm Season Grass


Tree Planting

Learn how to grow the best high yielding crops in a smaller area by using a combination of crops that in combination, will feed deer year around by reading these links.

Growing white clover for whitetails

Growing brassicas for whitetails

Growing cereal grains for whitetails

Those links will also help you understand how you can lower seed, fertilizer and herbicide costs while improving your soil and feeding large numbers of deer at the same time.

A common mistake is the mindset that "hey...I have an open area...I'll plant it to food and more deer will come"...in truth that merely dilutes the number of deer using your feeding areas and instead of 30 deer coming to one, we have 3-4 coming to 10 plots.

Some landowners have unique situations that may make it impossible to use only one feeding area per 80-120 acres but that is the exception rather then the rule. 3-5 acres of medium quality soil, planted to a combination of food sources that feed deer year around and fertilized to promote high yields can and will feed a tremendous amount of deer.

20-60 deer per square mile are average deer densities across the country but of course can vary from 10-100. I manage the habitat on over 1800 acres on farms scattered across several counties, all of which have high deer densities. All have been subject to floods, droughts, hail, high winds...you name it, yet in no case where I have been able to establish the three way crop combination of white clover, brassicas and the winter rye combination have I been unable to feed ALL the deer using that 80-120 acres, ALL year.

The mindset that we need to plant different crops in different fields because of weather problems or deer numbers then is false and counter productive if your goal is harvesting mature bucks. That goal is far more attainable if all the deer are coming to one area to feed year around rather then being forced to find new feed sources every month or two.

If you are happy with your current situation then of course there is no reason to change a thing, if however you are still searching for answers to help you achieve your goals of consistently harvesting mature bucks and seeing more whitetails using your feeding area...consider the changes mentioned.

1) One feeding area per 80-120 acres, that area should be roughly 10% of the total area.

2) Plant a combination of crops in ONE feeding area, the combination of which will feed deer year around. This does NOT mean throwing everything together....plant brassicas in half and the rye combination in the other half with 10-20% in pure white clover

Here is an example of a feeding area that a landowner and I have been working on for about 4 years now. Any landowner could do well to copy this example to a T!! There is never a day out of the year that deer cannot find food sources in this field and just as with all the other farms I work with we have endured droughts and floods that at time cause some crop to fail but NEVER ALL of them!!

Roughly 6 acres for 120 acres divided only by a small draw, yet deer from one field rarely go to the other, yet ALL the deer gravitate to this area. Copy the principle, adapt what you can to your situation and in time you'll be far happier with the results...
Hunting Strategies

The best habitat in the world isn't worth a hoot if you don't know how to hunt it properly and unfortunately many people are frustrated simply because they don't use the most effective means of hunting mature rutting bucks. If you hunt solely with a firearm in late seasons then hunting over feed can be easy and productive but by and large most of the people I endeavor to help, hunt in the archery season during the rut.

The most common mistake that most hunters make is hunting field edges rather then connecting runways during the rut. While it is true that a mature buck can be killed almost anywhere, anytime during the rut we are focusing here on the odds...and the odds of a 4 to 6 yr old buck appearing in the open before dark ANYTIME of year are poor at best. There are unique situations where edge hunting can be effective of course and my friend Rich Baugh has just such a farm. The timber is infested with invasive bush honeysuckle that is so thick one can barely crawl thru it, great bedding habitat of course but a rutting buck intent on checking the next bedding area finds it faster to go around the edge then thru the thick undergrowth. Rich successfully harvested a giant buck this fall as he passed an outside corner where his trail cams had revealed regular use, but most landowners are unlikely to encounter this type of scenario.

Usually the the timber is relatively open and even with hinging, clear cut runways will be apparent in the interior of the timber and that is where mature bucks will be most likely to appear before dark, but where in the timber??

This is an example of multiple feeding runways and how hunters often set up stands without realizing they are diluting the odds of intercepting a mature buck in daylight hours.

Hunting field edges is fun, lot's of deer are seen and it seems like it's the natural place to be! Immature bucks will often travel the field edge using scrapes and chasing does but mature animals rarely do either in daylight hours in an open field. So how do we increase the odds of a successful encounter with a mature buck?

Hunt connecting "rut runways" that lead between bedding areas or bedding to feed within the interior of the timber where mature animals feel safe traveling in daylight hours. The following is an example of the same farm where stands might be placed and given the size some sample feeding area ideas.

Note the red lines are connecting arteries so instead of diluting the odds by setting on one minor runway leading to a field, the hunter can intercept a greater number of traveling bucks on that main "freeway". Many people are under the misconception that mature bucks use their eyes to "see" does but they use their NOSE and I cannot emphasize that enough!!

A mature whitetail buck is efficient and doesn't expend unnecessary energy "looking" for does...he travels main arteries using his nose to pick up the scent of does coming into estrous and at that point will follow her up a lessor runway and attempt to push her back away from other deer. This is the point at which they can be easy to kill if you have funneled runways that force them by your stand and exactly the scenario in which I killed 165" 5 1/2 yr old buck in the 2011 season.

In the aerial there are runways that "connect" via the open field and by utilizing edge feathering and white clover along the field edge we can both funnel deer and "lead" them by stands such as the pinch point where the timber comes closest together. We need multiple stands for different winds including one that is easy to get to for an evening sit along the edge but for the highest odds, go in to the interior of the timber under cover of darkness in the morning and plan on an all day sit if possible. Look for the runways that are like I-80 or I-75 that connect the greatest amount of territory. If your timber is flat and featureless then use hinging to create the obstacles and freeway so to speak and force rutting bucks to travel thru a 30 yard area.

This example shows how one can create a "cross hairs" affect, possible stand sites for different winds and a single cam that monitors the runways.

Areas like these are usually best hunted in the morning when deer are out feeding and rising thermals carry scent away. Create thick areas within the hinged areas that are literally to thick for deer to invade to keep them from getting downwind if the enter the hinged areas. Traveling mature bucks during the rut are very unlikely to bed down however and they will come blasting down rut runway's in search of and will take the easiest route.

Every property is different and unique and it will require some trial and error to learn to hunt yours. If your hunting tactics and methods are consistently allowing you to successfully harvest mature bucks, I certain;y wouldn't change what you are doing. If however the opposite is true then consider the basics pointed out in this post and remember that cams can yield the information you need by being there 24/7. In most cases you may not be able to check the cam until after the rut but over a period f years, cams posted on rut runways will yield data that will give you confidence to hunt there or provide evidence that you need to re-evaluate your choice of runway/stand sites.....
What do deer really like??

There seems to be no greater way to start an argument then over the subject of what may be a whitetails favored food source and quite possibly no subject where there are more myths and false beliefs about the truth. Whitetail deer are survivors, browsers and creatures of the edge that take advantage of nearly any food source they can digest. They have been known to even eat baby birds or rabbits as odd as that may seem but the point is they will browse and graze nearly any non toxic plants that they come into contact with.

As noted earlier in this thread, whitetails have a very small home range and seldom travel more then a 1/2 mile other then during the rut or immature bucks seeking a new home range. In agriculture areas whitetails are adapted to taking advantage of crop fields that commonly include alfalfa, wheat, corn, soybeans, milo and field peas just to name a few and because fields are open and obvious not to mention usually unmolested, they are full of whitetails eager to take advantage of the free and easy to get food supply. This does not mean however that they prefer any one of those over another, yet the sight of those deer leads every hunter passing by to wistfully sigh..."if I only had that crop...I'd haveall the deer!!"

The average hunter/landowner spends most of their day in an office or perhaps an assembly line and have only a limited knowledge of real whitetail behavior based on their drive home from work or a few hours at their hunting property. I am blessed to spend my days working in the fields and timber and my drive home from work is through some of the finest whitetail habitat on earth which gives me a unique opportunity to observe whitetails and their habits. Because of this I know that what "deer like best" is whatever they can safely take advantage of!

With the "1/2 mile range" in mind we soon get a feel for how far deer will travel to take advantage of a food source and one case in point are some deer I see every night as I leave a farm where I am doing TSI. It is exactly a 1/2 mile in either direction to outstanding food sources including a corn stubble field in one direction and a lush food plot in the other and everything in between solid timber cover yet these deer feed in a fescue pasture....

Why don't the leave? Why don't they flock to the other food sources? Because they are adapted to living in their home range cover, they have adapted to surviving on the available food sources and refuse to leave.

We could say however that deer love fescue and that everyone should plant it!

I took this picture in my own back yard as deer contentedly grazed on my lawn grass this evening....

I walked out to the end of the driveway and counted 8 deer feeding in a combined soybean field...the deer in my lawn where only 500' from that field yet they stayed in my lawn because they are adapted to living in the thick cover I have created for them around it.

I could say "plant lawn grass....deer love it!!"

Silly isn't it? Yet this is the thought train of people who mistakenly believe that food sources hold some type of magic and that planting whatever food source they believe in will produce fantastic results.

What then do deer really like?? They like cover...safe, secure cover and they will leave that cover only to take advantage of food sources that are adjacent to that cover...if it is a field of soybeans in July, alfalfa in September, corn in November or winter wheat in February...they don't care and they won't travel for miles to get to any food source.

Whitetails "really like" clovers, cereal grains, brassicas, and nearly all ag crops and they "really like" them planted in combination in one feeding area that provides year around food sources and like it even better if that area is surrounded by thick bedding cover. Focus on the cover first and the food secondary and avoid hunting the feeding areas or risk making them nocturnal.

Don't be misled into thinking that any one food source will fix your habitat and hunting shortcomings, improve your habitat and hunting tactics and whitetails will happily eat nearly anything you plant for them....
Property Layout Examples

The following are property layouts (some shown previously in other threads) to help with planning your own habitat plans. It is easy sometimes to get focused on one or two facets of habitat management and then miss out on other important elements. What good for instance is trail blocking without year around food sources, or food sources with no or poor cover? Great cover and food may be useless without an effective means of hunting mature deer using the property.

Put ALL the pieces of the puzzle together with one centrally located feeding area per 80-120 acres, use a combination of food sources that provide year around feed to insure whitetails have no reason to leave. Create thick bedding areas utilizing TSI, hinging and NWSG and screen both timber and feeding areas with a combination of edge feathering, annual screens like Egyptian Wheat and permanent screens utilizing conifers and shrubs.

Take advantage of natural funnels and then enhance them using hinge cutting to funnel deer past stands that are in the interior (even if only by 30-50 yards) of the timber on "rut runways" that bucks use to check doe bedding/feeding areas. Planning is everything and with the right tools you can create a very attractive and effective habitat and whitetail management program.

Central food source vs a central sanctuary.

The subject of centralized feeding areas has in some cases become confused as meaning "central" as in exactly the middle of the property and in most cases that will neither be practical nor effective. Here is an example of multiple feeding areas, each planted with something different and deer traveling dozens of runways to the various food sources...never becoming adapted nor creating predictable patterns

here is an example of a single "centralized feeding area...NOTE...it is not in the "center" of the property but centralized. Rarely is any property going to allow a feeding area in the exact center but on the other hand if there is a field in the center surrounded by cover...GREAT!

Note that ALL deer adapt to going to ONE SINGLE FEEDING AREA year around....talk about predictable and easy to kill! It's almost not fair!

A feeding area should be only 5-10% of the property so that leaves a LOT of ground that then becomes a giant sanctuary. Use timber and NWSG to create cover on every inch of your property with the exception of ONE feeding area. Use a combination of crops within that one field to keep deer fed there every single day of the year.

Funnel the runways leading to the feeding area and every buck in the area is going to travel that runway at some point versus dozens of runways in the above scenario. Throw out the old thinking, forget the "gun plot", "Bow plot", clover in this plot, soybeans in that plot, etc etc....that is ineffective strategy. Any deer you can kill with a bow you can kill with a gun and a blind can easily cover ONE feeding area where ALL the deer will always always come to feed.

Now for those with families and unique property topography there are always exceptions as previously discussed in this thread. But if your goal is to kill mature whitetails then plan out a feeding area that is not near the neighbors fence line or exposed to roads and human activity...and make the rest sanctuary. If there is a hidden field in the center of your property...use it but otherwise use one that is at least towards the center of the property lines and block off multiple runways leading to it.

Sanctuaries should be ALL the rest of your property (crop land the exception of course) deer bedded along the perimeter of your property should be just as safe as those in the very center...if you utilize habitat management strategies like hinging, tree planting, screening, NWSG planting etc.

Some of the biggest deer on farms I manage live no were near the center of the property let alone the center of the thickest timber but they travel rut runways leading to the bedding areas surrounding the centralized feeding areas, which BTW are not in the center of the property...don;t get to hug up on the "central" thing and take it out of context.

One feeding area per 80-120 acres, 5-10% in feed, centrally located (away from everything/everybody) hidden, well screened, plant a combination of year around food sources within that one feeding area. Make the rest a living nightmare of the thickest nastiest most miserable cover that a rabbit can't get thru and funnel them up....after that all you need to do is....shoot straight....
Rut Runways

Sex...there are few things more powerful and it affects both man and beast profoundly and has been the undoing of many. Whitetail bucks are most vulnerable during breeding season, it is the one time of the year when mature whitetails may expose themselves during daylight hours. Trail cam and telemetry studies reveal that mature bucks are often 95% nocturnal until just before and during the rut but even then it doesn't mean these wizened survivors will boldly walk into the open in the daylight, it means they may move within their comfort zone in areas of heavy cover...in search of.

Each landowner can use a combination of bottlenecks and cams to determine the % of time the bucks using your property travel during daylight hours, each buck as a "personality" and by keeping track of them on cam you can better learn their habits.

By using funneling techniques it becomes a simple matter to know fairly intimately the whitetails using your property and if they are nocturnal

or likely to travel during daylight hours and where?

I have previously shared many pictures of bucks using the above funneled runway that is a rut highway from late October thru early December...but rarely used by bucks the rest of the year. They prefer to bed in areas not frequented by doe groups but during the rut...they know where the girls live!

There are many hunting methods of course and each landowner must choose the methods right for them but when contemplating what you believe to be most effective I would ask this question....

"Are you consistently successful at harvesting the most mature buck living on or around your property?"

If you are then certainly you would not want to change your methods...if however, you are frustrated with your current methods then it might be time to consider more effective means of harvesting the most mature buck on your property.

We all go through life believing in certain things and change can be difficult...(don't ask me how I know) but I have a passion for learning and researching both habitat and whitetails and God has blessed me with a unique opportunity to do all of that on many farms across SE Iowa. This gives me a perspective few people have access too, because I'm not talking about just my personal farm...but many farms with literally hundreds of different deer in all kinds of habitat.

With that in mind I can tell you that centralized feeding areas with funneled rut runways allow us to set up very deadly, very effective harvest scenarios. People often believe they need "kill plots" yet I challenge any red blooded man reading this to turn down sex....for a steak?! Bucks are driven...even far beyond what we as humans can comprehend, they have a short time to breed and they rarely stop for more then a bite as they blast down rut runways in search of a hot doe.

The most efficient means of finding those does is for mature bucks (one and two year old bucks are immature and act very differently) is to cruise runways that connect bedding areas and circle feeding areas. They cover as much areas as possible using a runway that intersects many doe travel runways and that runway may be down the center or along the outer edge depending on how the terrain is laid out.

This is an example of how a rut runway might look and how funnels can keep bucks from taking a short cut.

Can bucks be killed on a kill plot? Of course...bucks have been taken in almost every imaginable circumstance but often the odds of that kill beingconsistently repeated are low. On the other hand using the techniques I teach, I have been able to consistently harvest the most mature whitetail bucks living on my property and the more a fine tune those techniques, the less time it takes to a successful harvest.

Funneled runways that connect bedding areas and or feeding areas can force every whitetail buck in the area to travel down it. A kill plot however would be a shot in the dark and multiple plots make matters even worse! Who wants to be sitting on one plot only to find out a buck passes thru one of a 1/2 dozen other plots? That is not a high odds scenario...

During the rut bucks sleep and eat little....they travel however...relentlessly....kill them on a funneled rut freeway as they travel in a place they feel comfortable traveling in cover during daylight hours. Feed the does....kill the bucks that find them worth dying for.....
Getting Started...with your new feeding area

Planting that first feeding area can sometimes seem like a daunting challenge for those with less experience and changing old habits can be equally difficult for those set in their ways, so every one can pick up some ideas from this post.

Many people have contacted me saying "I want to start utilizing year around food sources but I'm just not sure how/where to start?" so let's run thru a few steps and reminders. We'll start with a field that perhaps has been in brome/fescue sod and not farmed for some time...what do we need to do first?

1) Soil test

There are many places you can send soil samples including your local extension office, ag co-op, Biologic and others but I have found varying results sending like samples to a number of labs and have had the best, most accurate results from the ISU Soil Lab in Ames. The following link has more details on taking samples, information sheets and contact information. Cost is $8 per sample

ISU Soil and Plant Analysis Laboratory

Late winter is a great time to take samples even if you need to use a spud to break thru the frost, be sure to take a number of samples from across the field and mix them together well and then take a sample from that to send in.

For accurate information the lab needs to know the soil type and you can get that information from your local NRCS soil maps or use the Web Soil Survey. The WSS can be a little confusing until you know how to use it so read the instructions on the first page before getting started.

Web Soil Survey (WSS)

Without the soil type the labs will have to "guess" at certain factors and you may end up applying more then necessary which can lead to higher costs.

2) Spray to kill sod grass

In early spring after grasses have fully greened up (fall is better but spring kills can still be successful) spray your feeding area with 1-2 quarts of glyphosate per acre. A better kill can sometimes be accomplished by adding 1 quart of crop oil per acre, especially if using generic gly rather then "Roundup" brand what may have surfactants in it.

You can find a wealth of knowledge about herbicides of all kinds as well as links to weed ID, understanding surfactants and adjuvants and more at this link:

All about Herbicides

3) Establish a spring cover crop

Habitat is not about one thing so while food is very important it's only part of the equation, that said the assumption here is that our feeding area is in a hidden, secluded area where whitetails feel safe feeding during daylight hours. That accomplished we want to make then predictable by planting the right combination of crops that will feed them year around rather then just during the fall. Failing to do this will cause deer to look for "greener pastures" so to speak and then "re-adapt" to feeding in your plots the following fall. A combination of white clover, brassicas and fall cereal grains then is able to provide year around food sources in most of the nation with exceptions in the deep south or arid areas.

All of those crops are planted in mid summer thru early fall...so what to use in the spring? We want to start adapting deer to feeding in our feeding area and we want to get the dead sod grass root systems broke up and decomposing well ahead of our summer plantings. Those root systems can suck up a great deal of nitrogen and moisture as they decompose so better to get that part out of the way early if possible.

Buckwheat is often mentioned as a summer cover crop but buckwheat is not a legume and I have found better options to both suffocate weeds, build soil organic matter, add nitrogen for the next crop and feed deer a high quality, high protein food source to boot.

Oats and berseem or crimson clover is a perfect spring/summer cover crop that can be planted in mid spring (late April thru May) in the Midwest. This same cover crop can be used yearly to follow the brassica portion of our crop rotation as well.

Always purchase seed locally if possible but often local suppliers may carry neither berseem nor crimson clovers (both ANNUAL clovers) so the following link is a source who will sell you seed by the pound (if you need 5#'s or 500#'s) and their web site has a wealth of planting information as well.

Welter Seed & Honey

Roughly 60#'s of oats and 10#'s of either berseem or crimson (or a mix of both) per acre will do the trick and if you have the time, this is a good time to begin adding any lime, potassium and phosphorus as well.

Till the soil and till in lime and fertilizer as you do, then broadcast oats, cultipack (or lightly drag in) the oats, spread the annual clover seed and re-cultipack again.

For more ideas on equipment needs and possibles for new landowners the following thread may be helpful.


Now that the oats and berseem is planted we have several options...just allow the whole thing to grow until tilling it under or clipping the oats off as they start to head and giving the berseem some room to grow. Areas that will be going into brassicas I like to clip the oats off while the areas going into the rye combo I leave standing and then shred the mature oats to get some free seed so we have options in this regard. if you get too many weeds then clipping about 8-10" high will usually release the clovers and the weeds will not generally return.

4) Planning and planting our feeding area

I utilize one feeding area per 80-120 acres providing it is large enough, usually 5-10% of the total cover available on that area of property. In some cases we may use several smaller feeding areas that are as close as possible and in a centralized location that is secluded and far from outside activity.

Using the example above we begin to create a work of art from a blank canvas, beautiful habitat because it will be planned out to provide high quality food sources year around while at the same time lowering our fertilizer and herbicide inputs. To do all of this we need a combination of crops ALL planted in ONE field that we can easily rotate from year to year. The old habits were to plant the whole field to only one food source and that creates a huge problem when the feeding are becomes nothing but a dirt plot and deer head for the neighbors place.

Many people find the "crop rotation" idea confusing but it is really very simple and the following picture reveals an example of how I create a masterpiece that provides ALL of a whitetails needs year around. I can say that because the surrounding area contains premium bedding and browse...for more on that subject I suggest reading the following link:

Hinging trees for bedding, browse & bottlenecks

Here is what our plot might look like....white clover around the perimeter and a strip down the center, one side planted to brassicas and the other to the winter rye combo

Why clover around the outside? Why not equal strips of clover and the other crops? Good quality white clovers bred for intense grazing by livestock (such as Alice, KopuII, Durana, Patriot and others ) can provide a tremendous amount of forage in a very small area so equal amounts are usually not necessary. How much clover you plant will depend on deer density....high deer numbers may require more white clover.

Planting the clover around the outside and odd corners of the feeding area means deer have something to eat the second they set foot in the plot which sometimes helps keep them from decimating the rest of the crops. Planting the "odd areas" just makes working the rest of the feeding area a little easier. 30-50' around the perimeter is usually enough but this is something each landowner will need to experiment with.

The following year we simply rotate the brassicas and the rye combo...simple and easy as pie!

Now if you are like me and prefer to make things a little more interesting then you can plant a series of smaller/narrower strips limited only by your imagination.
Now if you are like me and prefer to make things a little more interesting then you can plant a series of smaller/narrower strips limited only by your imagination.

The strips tend to keep deer moving across the field simply because they have the "grass is greener" attitude and will also follow the edge of any two different crop types. This can be used to "lead" deer by a stand or a blind for instance as can the Egyptian Wheat used in conjunction with the strip crops.

There many crop rotation options of course but I have settled on the clover, brassicas and cereal grain combos because they feed deer over the longest period of time at a lower cost. They are also not vulnerable to predation by coons, squirrels and turkeys as are corn and not as easily wiped out as soybeans. Whatever option you use, be certain that the combination can feed deer every month of the year because doing so will mean your whitetails will become very very predictable and far easier to pattern and harvest.

The following is what I plant on many farms across SE Iowa where landowners have high deer densities and are determined to do everything possible to hold whitetails on their farms year around. I plant it because it works exceedingly well...and the information below is the nuts and bolts of how, when and what to plant.

Plant ALL in one plot in strips or blocks

Alice (or comparable) white clover 10% of plot, sow at 6#'s per acre with the rye combination in the fall or in the spring with oats and berseem clover. Correct Ph and P&K with soil tests...details at this link All about clover

Brassicas in 45% of plot...details at this link: Brassicas

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

Plant in mid to late July in most Midwest states, or 60-90 days before your first killing frost, Use 200#'s of 46-0-0 urea and 400#'s of 6-28-28 per acre. Follow the dead brassicas with oats and berseem or crimson clover in mid spring at 60#'s oats and 12-15#'s berseem clover and/or 50#'s of chickling vetch)

Cereal Grain combo in 45% of plot...more details at this link: Cereal Grains and Cover Crops

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 or 4010/6040 Forage peas 20-80#'s per acre
Red Clover 8-12#'s per acre or white clover at 6#'s per acre (or 20-40 pounds hairy vetch and 20-30#'s crimson clover on sandy soils)
Groundhog Forage Radish 5#'s per acre

Plant in late August to early September, if following well fertilized brassicas use 100 - 200#'s of urea, if starting a new plot add 400#'s of 6-28-28

Rotate the brassicas and rye combo each year

A great deal of information can be found in our habitat threads at Dbltree's Corner

and more detailed information on getting started in this thread...
Watering Holes for Deer

In most areas of the country, whitetails have plenty of water via ponds, streams, ditches and even small puddles after a big rain but watering holes can be strategically placed next to a feeding area and/or a stand site. During the rut bucks are constantly on the move and frequently make a point to hit a water source as they travel between doe bedding areas. Knowing this we can use it to our advantage by creating a small watering hole where they will stop to drink....25 yards from our stand our blind. This of course allows us to make a clean shot at a standing deer rather then trying to stop them in mid stride and the cost is minimal.

This small watering hole was pushed out with a small skid steer loader and because it is clay soil it holds water year around. Whitetails seem to prefer the dank warm water from standing water versus clear running streams making it even more attractive.

I used my tractor and loader to push out a small hole

and then picked up a heavy duty water garden liner for about $175 and left it doubled to help avoid punctures if they step into it.

When I laid it in the hole we hadn't had rain in weeks so I filled the loader with water to get things started

A few days later we received nearly 7" of rain and the "hole" has stayed full ever since

I have not as of yet placed a cam over the watering hole but tracks reveal they use it regularly and this despite the fact they literally have water everywhere this winter.

Those on a budget could certainly dig one by hand and shop around for a liner if the soil may not hold water on it's own. A watering hole is certainly not imperative but can be a useful tool to consider in planning out the habitat improvements on your farm. In arid areas water is essential and not to be taken for granted of course and in those areas there may even be cost share to help create a water source for wildlife....
It's all about the cover

For years I touted the seemingly outstanding attraction of corn and soybeans and endeavored to use them almost exclusively in my habitat programs, but over time I came to realize that the type of food source had almost nothing what so ever to do with holding whitetails. Eventually I realized it is all about the cover and that whitetails would readily take advantage of almost any food source that was planted adjacent to premium cover. The flip side of that I learned that lacking good cover, deer would often ignore almost any food source of any kind.

To often we see whitetails in large numbers in an ag field that may be almost any crop that is commonly harvested, including corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, field peas, canola and sugar beets and the sight of all those deer easily convinces us that it is the crop that attracted the deer...it never occurs to us that it might be the cover surrounding the crop that holds the key. This causes us to mistakenly place undo importance on the food sources we plant rather then changing the type of cover.

Each of us see's our own individual farm or property and everything we know stems from what we see and experience there. Managing the habitat on multiple farms for other landowners as well as having owned separate farms miles apart however has allowed me to experience what the average landowner can not and in turn share that information via these forum threads.

A case in point is the idea that soybeans for instance have a magical draw that can lure whitetails from parts unknown (you can insert almost any crop in place of beans) and having witnessed large numbers of deer in standing beans....I would not have been one to argue! The following is an example on one farm on which I help manage the habitat and where we plant the clover/brassica/rye combination food sources in centralized feeding areas across this very large farm. The open fields are in a crop rotation of soybeans/corn and alfalfa much as one would find across the nation.

The landowner commonly has the farmer leave whatever crop is planted adjacent to the feeding areas, standing as noted in this aerial

Note the crops planted and that the year before they were planted to the opposite crops...one would assume that if soybeans (for instance) had some magical attraction that the field where soys were left standing would have been quickly annihilated but....such was not the case!

In fact it was quite the opposite, despite the two fields being barely a 1/4 mile apart, deer scarcely touched the soybeans and as noted in pics previously posted observation from an elevated blind revealed that what deer did enter the plot...spent as much time eating the brassicas and winter rye mix as they did soybeans, but none of it was hit hard.

In contrast the combination food plot next to the corn was wiped out! The grazed both rye and brassicas to the dirt and then proceeded to eat every last kernel of corn...all before the end of December!!

Why?? I thought deer would walk thru fire for soybeans...right?? I thought corn itself was one of the most powerful attractants so why would whitetails concentrate on the brassicas and rye before turning on the corn???

The answer is not easily seen from an aerial view and only by walking the surrounding timber is the answer revealed. The hard hit food sources are adjacent to heavy thick cover, large areas of dense, re-growth of young trees, brush, grass and every imaginable form of cover that whitetails love.

Where the soybeans are that cover however is made up of mostly open timber, beautiful young white and red oaks but not a scrap of ground cover even though at a distance it appears there is plenty of "cover".

when it comes to food sources...arguments prevail over which is the "best" and the myth that any food sources has great drawing power enables those who market seed to convince unknowing landowners that planting their product will sure guarantee "success".

In truth, is planted next to great cover, a simple plot of clover will prove outstanding but next to poor cover....a cornucopia of the very best food sources, meticulously planted and cared for...may not attract more then a few deer.

I strongly urge you to make improving your cover the number one priority and you can learn more about that by reading thru the following threads that can help with detailed information on various types of cover improvement.

Timber Stand Improvement

Hinging trees for bedding, browse & bottlenecks

Tree Planting

Native Warm Season Grass

There is no question that deer love soybeans and...corn, and wheat, and alfalfa, and clover, and rye, and brassicas....and the list goes on but whitetails are opportunistic and will take advantage of the food sources closest to premium cover, regardless of crop type. In some cases whitetails are adapted to traveling out into freshly harvested crop fields in the fall, but over time you can change that by moving away from crop sources like soybeans and changing over to multiple crops that feed whitetails year around.

Cover first....then food sources that keep them there year around....
Great Ideas

Friends often share great ideas and links to helpful resources so I thought I would post a few and add to this post in the future.

Some things are very simple yet very effective and usually make me wonder...why didn't I think of that?

My friend Bob taught me to use blue painters tape to leave semi permanent notes inside the covers of a drill or seeder, on sprayers , tool boxes, seed bags and so on...great idea! Easy to open the drill cover and see exactly where to set the drill for whatever seed we are planting.

My friend Steve shared with me a neat item for collecting soil samples...mine arrived the other day and I am anxious to try it out!

Collectngo soil sampler

Bryan shared a link to waters Ag where you can get everything from soils to forages tested and they provide accurate and rapid service.

Waters Agricultural Laboratories, Inc.

When I broke an axle shaft on my Krause disc harrow I wondered where in the world I would find parts for this implement, knowing it was a very old disc but after some searching I came upon Shoup Manufacturing where they sell bearings and parts for almost every imaginable outdated implement!

Shoup Manufacturing

They did not list the axle I needed but I ordered their catalog and noted in it, that they will make any axle shaft needed so with a phone call I soon had a new shaft and bearings on the way!

If you have helpful ideas or links to share please add to this thread and help a friend out in the process...
Finding the weak spots

Every farm or hunting property has positives and negatives, strong points and weak ones so we ant to enhance the strong points making them even better and begin to correct the weak areas with sometimes major habitat improvements. Whitetails need two main things...food and cover and they need a whole lot more cover then food, yet usually I find the opposite to be true on most farms I visit.

The following pics and examples are from a farm I recently planted some Egyptian Wheat screens...I had never been there before but as I worked I couldn't help but notice all the weak areas or areas that are at this point simply wasted. Land is expensive and mature whitetail bucks hard to come by even in great habitat so leaving any area of a farm unimproved is not in our best interests.

The farm I was working on is comprised of open farm land, land previously in pasture or hay, wooded draws and waterways and mixed hardwood timber. As you look at the pics, look at the first one of each set and ask yourself what you would change? What is missing or weak in each picture...and in the following pic I will share some ideas, keeping in mind they are only options....

In each case the answers would vary depending on the positives and negatives of surrounding habitat and property...if the timber is beautiful oak timber...it would not make sense to plant more oaks. NWSG or a conifer bedding area might be a better answer for instance.

The soybeans (or corn) will be harvested and no feed will remain which of course forces deer to move to adjacent fields in search of but a simple strip of white clover around the edge can help with that problem. The fescue/brome grass area is a wasteland as is and probably most productive in this case planted to switchgrass.

The landowner has blinds of course but it's difficult to get in or out without being seen so while EW screens are helpful with this, a permanent conifer screen should be established to provide year around screening. White clover would adapt deer to traveling inside the screen and feeding their way right by the blind.

Unplanted, unused area...

Good place for a white clover plot...well hidden, odd shaped and difficult to farm but perfect for a perennial clover patch

What are the weak points here?

Again....areas that are not farmable that are providing neither cover nor food sources...

waterways over grown with trees...nothing wrong with that right?

In this case the waterways are infested with honey locusts and while deer will eat the pods on occasion a mass of locust trees makes for very poor cover. Low value trees come in many different species across the nation so yours may not be locusts, the principle remains the same. The hidden field to the left could possible be an area for year around food sources....

By now you may be able to see a pattern of unused, overlooked areas that provide very little if any food or cover....

Identify the weak areas and then find the best solution to improve them

Old pasture next to crop field...

Already partially overgrown with brush and trees, NWSG is probably not a great option but planting open areas to conifers like red cedars or Norway spruce would make for a fantastic bedding area and sanctuary.

No field here...so what to do?

Perfect place for a clover strip along the edge and the timber is begging to be edge feathered

Timber? Lot's of trees...what's not to like?

I like that there is lot's to work with but that's about it! Oak trees crowded by competitive weed trees...no understory, wide open for as far as I could see...needs everything!

So now what would you do?

The quality of this landowners deer hunting would improve 10X over just by using a chainsaw to improve his timber and cover

Eventually it becomes easy to see the "forest for the trees" and figure out that just because you have "trees" does not mean that translates into premium bedding cover

What are the weak spots on your farm? What is the best means of correcting them?

Be certain to consider all of the surrounding factors and remember that COVER is the most important element followed by year food sources that together provide for a whitetails needs year around. Planting NWSG and trees can be expensive and may not be high on your budget list but you can make leaps and bounds in your habitat improvements with a chainsaw!

Tour your property, make a list of any places that stand out as being weak or unused and then establish priorities that fit your budget and time plans starting with low cost, sweat equity improvements you can do yourself. Determine the costs of other improvements, research cost share possibles to help with expenses and lay out a reasonable time line to make your improvements.

Sometimes they seem overwhelming but over a period of years your habitat improvements will began to pay off with more successful encounters with mature whitetail bucks....
Salt and Minerals

Where legal, salt and minerals are easy and relatively inexpensive to put out for whitetails and are one of the best ways to get fairly accurate trail cam surveys. Deer love salt and hate minerals so will only eat minerals when they are "disguised" with salt so even a bag of mineral is in large part....salt.

Trace Mineral salt is by far the most the most economical yet most effective way to attract whitetails and when people ask me what to put out for a cam survey, this is what I recommend. 50#'s will last the season and deer typically dig huge craters, eating the soil/salt mixture over time. This of course allows them to get some minerals naturally but I usually add a bag of mineral to the mix.

When it comes to minerals it is important to remember that despite all the hype, university studies have shown absolutely zero benefits in regards to antler growth. Many people believe it is helpful but without cloning to whitetail bucks and feeding them identical rations...it is impossible to prove. Just be realistic about expectations and avoid spending your habitat budget dollars on expensive and ineffective commercial products.

Trace mineral salt will almost always provide rapid results in regards to attracting deer to a cam site and will generally be more effective if put out in mid to late winter but a friend of mine decided to try a bag in early summer and shared the results with me. A simple bag of TM salt for a round $7 produced 415 pics in 19 days, 329 of which were buck pics...

The lick was placed near a pond where deer normally travel to drink

and in this case apparently in a summer buck bedding area where bachelor groups live

Using the cam survey he can begin to identify bucks by age structure and begin to come up with a management plan

For 7 bucks...he is gaining a tremendous amount of information about the whitetails on his farm and if he continues to maintain this lick in subsequent years it will be even more heavily used and the information he gains invaluable for his management goals.

I have a client where i Have put out salt and minerals but he felt he might see more activity if we added some commercial salt/mineral mix....which I did but I doubted we would see any significant results. In the meantime I thought it would be fun test various commercial mixes against my own TM salt/livestock mineral

I have a lick that I have used for nearly 15 years now and it varies from 500-1500 pics per card pull so I decided to record the # of pics and note the dates, start and stop...such as shown here

6-28-2012 Start

7-10-12 Stop...660 pics

I picked up some commercial mixes