January 3, 2007

4 Min Read

As I sat perched on my ladder stand, overlooking a tiny opening surrounded by a sea of tangle-thick cover, I thought back to an eleventh grade English class. Lines from “The Ancient Mariner” kept going though my mind: “Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”

Deer were everywhere, but I couldn't see one to shoot.

I bought this 153 acre tract in 2001. It had been clearcut in 1999 and planted in loblolly pine in 2000. No herbicide has ever been sprayed, so hardwood stump sprouts and honeysuckle quickly filled in gaps between the pine seedlings. Now after six growing seasons, on good loess soil, the vegetation is nearly impenetrable — by people, that is. Deer, on the other hand, worm their way through it quite well. In fact, they have carved out a tremendous network of tunnels that make them invisible from any angle. The five inch-thick pines have overtopped the hardwoods, but the hardwoods and honeysuckle still have plenty of light, so they're thriving, too.

Surrounded by corn, soybeans

The entire 153 acres provides a refuge surreounded by corn and soybean fields, and pasture. Deer browse the hardwood saplings and native vines in the summer, and honeysuckle sustains them in late winter, when other green stuff is gone. The area is perfect for deer, but extremely hard to hunt.

As soon as I bought the tract, I spent $ 5,200 to improve the one mile logging road that snakes through the property. I put in good culverts and water control grades, then seeded the road to Indiangrass, a native warm-season grass with deep roots to prevent erosion.

A couple of years later, I spent $4,500 to break the area up into 15 management units — all surrounded by dozer-width fire breaks. I added four small food plots and four tiny water holes.

I've had a generous number of deer from the beginning, but the number has been gradually increasing. This past year especially, I was amazed at the amount of deer sign. And I've killed several deer, but try as I may, I simply can't hunt them effectively — the cover is just too thick. And there's little incentive for deer to visit my four tiny green food plots. Food is too abundant elsewhere. Again, good for deer but not for hunters.

As the evening wears on without my seeing deer again I reflect on my dilemma. Most properties have areas open enough to hunt, and if the owners are fortunate, or if they've planned well, they have thick security refuges. I have the refuge, but practically no open areas to hunt.

For years, hunters in similar situations have dealt with the problem in one of two ways. In some Coastal Plains areas of the Southeast, hunters use dogs to flush deer to standing hunters. In other Coastal Plains areas, and in the Texas brush country, deer are lured out to small openings by bait stations. Neither is legal in Tennessee. But that's just as well. As the evening wears on, I begin to concoct a plan.

Last year, toward the end of the season, I lowered my head and explored some of the deer tunnels. Amazing! Rutted trails, rubs, scrapes, droppings and urine so thick and fresh, I could smell the deer. It reminded me of a cattle feedlot! Of course, I made so much noise, they just ghosted out ahead of me. I did, however, discover several activity hubs — areas much more heavily used then others. So, here's my plan.

As soon as this hunting season ends, I'm going to re-explore the entire area. Once I locate several of the best activity centers, I'm going to look for a tree big enough to attach a ladder stand. This won't be easy, but I believe it's doable in most areas. In fact, some of the poplar sprouts now are as much as six inches thick on the best soil sites.

Other plans

I'll then clear three to five narrow visibility/shooting lanes out to about 50 yards and erect a ladder stand to the tree. But that solves only part of the dilemma. I need to be able to quietly access these stands from a firebreak. And since I need to come in from downwind, and southwest winds usually prevail, most access routes will need to lead southwest from the firebreak. Of course, I'll need some others, for occasional alternate wind directions.

I have a unique problem, though. A cleared access route becomes a deer travel route as well. And if they travel the same route I do, they'll come in downwind of me while I'm on stand, and/or smell my scent on the ground. So, I have to make it effective for me, and at the same time unattractive to deer.

My best thought at this point, is to stretch wire across the trail at 10 to 20 feet intervals. I believe that about 18 inches off the ground will do the trick. I can easily step over the wire, but it would probably be enough to discourage deer. I'm still working on this plan — if you have any ideas, let me know!

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