5 Quality Deer Management Activities for February
Dan Perez once owned a 110-acre farm called Big Buck Acres, which consistently produced trophy whitetails. Now, most people don’t believe that such a small tract can grow and hold four-, five- and six-year-old bucks year after year. BBA’s track record, however, proved much different. Dan worked hard to improve the farm. He strategically used the lay of the land to his advantage while constantly thinking of ways to make it better, and that's why the farm yielded two to three trophy bucks each season, despite its size.
As soon as the deer season would end, Dan got to work preparing for the next. It’s not all work though. Naturally, the deer hunting gets better every year, but that's just a by-product of what really matters: he maintains a close connection with the land, the wildlife there, and the time he gets to spend in the great outdoors with friends and family. That’s a heck of a way to spend the offseason starting in February.
Find secrets of a season yet to come.
“Experience has taught me next season’s deer hunting success hinges on this winter’s scouting expeditions,” said Dan. “That big buck that gave you the slip during the late season is still in his post-rut pattern, using the same travel routes and displaying many of the same habits as he did during late season.”
Dan’s post-season scouting trips revolve around entering a buck’s core area, usually a no-no other times of the year. He walks as much of this area as possible and notes travel routes, especially those passing through pinch points or funnel situations. He locates secondary food sources, which are more likely to be used by pressured bucks during daylight.
A key benefit to scouting during this time is that the timber is leafless and the ground barren of dense underbrush, providing optimal visibility. Broadleaf trees and heavy underbrush can no longer hide clandestine big buck refuges.
“Naked of cover, Mother Nature now reveals the entire lay of the land,” said Dan. “Every deer trail, bedding area, travel corridor and possible funnel situation is easily recognizable. The rubbed trees that stood their ground, now stand out like red and yellow markers; old scrapes resemble hog wallows and deer tracks are sunk deep into the soft snow and thawed ground.”
Post-season scouting results in a trove of information that will be helpful in planning next year’s season. And hey, while you’re out there, look for the year’s first shed, which brings us to the next pursuit.
2. Shed Hunt
Look for some brown gold.
There are so many benefits to hunting antlers. A few of them are learning about deer movement on your farm, harvesting some cool interior decorations for the cabin and getting confirmation of which bucks survived the season. That’s just scratching the surface. For Dan, shed hunting is a family event, one where his grandkids get to discover their hunting and gathering instincts.
“My whole family is going to be out there looking for sheds,” said Dan. “It’s a really big thing to have the grandkids out there because when they are looking for those sheds, they are no longer looking at their cell phones. It does my heart good when they are wandering through the woods looking for antlers. What’s so cool about that is the little predator that was born in them comes out when they are in the woods.”
Shed hunting is a great time to introduce someone to the outdoors for the first time.
“A lot of people don’t even realize how much they love the outdoors until they are actually in the outdoors,” continued Dan. “I just love to be out in nature and walking, and if I find an antler, that’s icing on the cake. If I can share a wonderful day in God’s country with friends and family, that’s huge for me – even bigger than the icing on the cake.”
3. Coyote Hunt
Protect wildlife from predators.
A key component of managing the deer herd is controlling coyotes, bobcats and other predators. Studies have shown coyotes kill more fawns than wolves, bobcats or bears. Now that deer season has faded, it’s time to start thinking about hunting coyotes. While coyotes are more visible and easier to hunt with calls and decoys during February, a management strategy needs to include a persistent plan to keep them at bay.
Watch the above video from the Whitetails Properties team explaining some ways to manage the predator population.
4. Hinge Cut Trees
Build a bedding area
There are a lot of benefits to hinge cutting, but Dan Perez focuses on the benefits it gives his whitetail herd.
“One of the things I like the most about hinge cutting is creating a habitat that is very conducive to sanctuaries,” said Dan. “It gives deer a lot of security.”
Hinged-cut trees can also be used to create funnels. If that is the goal, cut the hinge a little lower, about knee high so deer can’t get under it. For bedding areas, cut at chest height to create a canopy where deer can get under.
You’ll be amazed at the thick cover that sprouts from a few hinged-cut trees.
“When the trees are laying horizontally, it opens the canopy so more sunlight comes into the forest floor and builds that understory so it’s thick,” said Perez. That’s even more cover. It builds a thick brushy area with more tangles. It’s thick and nasty and that’s where those big bucks live and hide.”
Safety is always the most important issue when using a chainsaw and standing around falling trees. Be sure to watch this video, which shows a hinge-cutting method that minimizes safety risks before getting to work
5. Frost Seed Food Plots
Let nature do some of the work.
February is a great time to put the boots on, grab the broadcast seeder, and improve your food plot by frost seeding. Instead of scrambling and hoping all the stars will align during spring planting windows, broadcast some seed on the frozen ground and let the spring thaw pull the seed into the soil. Frost seeding only works with hard-seeded, cool-season perennials and annuals. So, if you want to establish a new food plot using this method, you need to kill all the competing vegetation the fall before.
“Frost seeding maintains the existing food plot, doesn’t require near the work and you can broadcast over the top of the surface layer of soil that freezes during winter,” said Dan. “So when it thaws, it simply pulls your seed into the soil and provides for great early spring growth.”
Some frequently asked questions about frost seeding food plots:
Q: How do I know when to broadcast the seed?
A: This varies by region, but generally the times are as followed:
South: January - February
Midwest: Mid-February - Mid-March
North: Late March - April
Study historical weather data for your location and look when the ground was freezing at night and thawing in the evenings on a daily basis. Then watch the weather forecast. When you get the right temperatures, go broadcast the seed.
Q: Can I frost seed on top of snow?
A: If the snow is less than two inches, you sure can. It may be better to frost seed on a little bit of snow as you can see the seed distribution and ensure you are spreading it evenly.
Q: What can I plant with this method?
A: We have heard of some folks successfully planting clover, chicory, alfalfa and even oats, wheat or rye, but we really only use Whitetail Institute Imperial Clover and Alfa-Rack. These seeds are hard-coated, so neither will rot while on the ground waiting for spring and 45-degree ground temperatures to arrive before germinating. In addition, clover and alfalfa seeds are small, so they easily fall into the small crevasses created in the soil when the freezing and thawing action takes place. It is also important that the seed used be inoculated. All Whitetail Institute products are ready to plant.
Q: At what rate should I frost seed?
A: For new food plots where you killed the competing grasses before the winter, follow the recommended broadcast seeding rate. For maintaining an existing food plot, cut that rate in half.
With less work, frost seeding can provide longer lasting perennials, better nutrition thanks to younger plants and some help in the weed control department as clover tends to germinate and grow with cooler ground temperatures than many native grass and weed seeds.
We hope these suggestions help you beat cabin fever and lead to a better hunting season this year. Have fun out there!