Pre-Season Checklist that will Improve your odds this Fall

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The hot summer days will start to fade soon and the much anticipated hunting season will be here before you know it. If you have not already started, now is the time to re-think game plans, stand locations and get your equipment ready for the upcoming season. Get your equipment out and make sure it is game ready, fine tune your habitat with annual food plots, and develop your overall hunting plans for the fall. During the season, I spend every minute I can in the field and with today’s hectic work schedules, sometimes it is not as much as I would like.  I am going to run through a list of things you should be doing or at least thinking about prior to the season opener that will increase your odds of bagging a monster buck.

Hunting Specifics:

Bow and equipment – If you are going to change arrows, broadhead weights or fine tune your bow, now is a good time. It is time to make those little adjustments you thought about last hunting season, but did not do because your primary goal at that time was chasing Muy Grande.  Sight in your bow or crossbow and if you have not been practicing already, now is time to hone in those shooting skills. Sharpen broadheads; check peep sightsmake sure your string is in good shape.

100 degree weather did not keep these kids from practicing with their new Barnett Cross Bow

Check batteries on your rangefinder, motion cameras and feeders.

Scouting – Go to MyTopo.com and order a satellite photo of your hunting area. These are great maps that allow you to see your land, your neighbors land and determine natural game funnels, water sources, record stand sites and allow you to visualize your hunt when you are miles away from your hunting area. We also designate hunting areas which allow us to individualize our hunting areas. I know that if I am away for 2 weeks during the season, my area is that much better when I return. This reduces the traffic in our hunting areas and really allows the deer to settle in and feel comfortable on our land.

Stand set-up and hunting areas –  I like to spend some time in the woods well before I put my stands up and think about wind directions, sun positions and what the area is going to be like when all the leaves are off the trees. A good stand site makes a big difference when you are sitting or standing in the woods for hours on end. In Texas the prevailing wind is out of the south or south east and on occasion, we will get blue northerners blow in from the north to north west. I try to have multiple stand locations that take the prevailing wind into consideration. The sun is constant and always rises in the east and sets in the west, although it is on a much more southern track in the winter than in the summer. I always try to avoid stand locations where I am looking directly into the sun as it rises or sets, as this makes it difficult for you to see the game, makes it much easier for the game to see you and also plays havoc with your sights. I find that a little extra time in the woods prior to actually putting up my stands pays off once the season rolls in.

Get those stands hung early and then get out of your area and let the big bucks settle in.

Food plots – Hopefully you were able to put in some perennial food plots during the winter and spring. Now is the time to put in your annual fall food plots. First thing is to test your soil. This is an easy process with big dividends. The correct process is to dig down 4 to 6 inches from multiple locations (6 to 10 different locations from the potential plot area) where you plan to put in your food plot. Put the soil in a non-metallic container or bucket. Don’t gather soil from eroded areas, ridge tops, gullies or other areas where the soil is different. Mix the soil you have collected together and put about a pint into a large plastic zip lock bag. There are multiple laboratories that charge minimal fees (around $10.00) to test your soil and will tell you what your PH is, if you need to apply lime, what fertilizer to use and what types of plants will grow the best in your soil.

Next you need to determine what you are going to plant. I like mixtures that work as a fall attractant and offer valuable nutrition during the stress periods in late winter. Heartland Wildlife Institute offers a variety of seed options to accommodate this very thing.  It is good to buy your seed early, so when the weather gets right, you can get it in the ground. In North Texas, I typically plant my fall annual plots from mid September to Mid October depending on weather conditions.

Early October we will be planting fall annual food plots with a mixture of seed from Heartland Wildlife Institute.

Prepare your site with a tractor or ATV implement depending on the size of the plot. Good equipment makes a big difference. I typically try to rent a tractor that can do a number of chores along with discing and spreading the seed. I start by brush hogging or cutting the area, followed by 3 or 4 passes with the disc. Then pack the ground with a drag. Remember – the more pact the soil, the better your seeds will germinate and grow. Finish with spreading the seed, either by broadcast or a seed drill. Depending on the size of the seed will determine if I go back over it with the drag or just leave the seed sitting in contact with the soil. A good rule of thumb is to plant the seed at a depth 3 times their thickness. With small seeds, this is not very deep.

Herd Management practices – It is time to monitor your deer herd. Be particularly observant to the number of bucks, does and fawns you see from mid August on. Record what you see, which will help you understand what your buck to doe ratio is and your fawn recruitment numbers. With the help of a biologist, this will determine how many bucks and does to harvest during the fall months. We try to maintain a 1 buck to every 1 or 2 does. This ratio allows us to grow a high percentage of trophy class bucks and maintain a very healthy herd. We hunt 1,500 acres of low fence land, some of which is owned and other acres that we lease the hunting rights. The deer roam back and forth across multiple neighbors, but with similar goals and a little understanding from landowners and hunters, we have created a very special place in a relatively short amount of time.  We also are very diligent about letting young bucks walk, particularly those young bucks with the most potential. As our herd gets better, it is easier to hold off on bucks that in prior years we would have shot. We currently try to only shoot bucks that are 4.5 years of age or older. The toughest deer to let walk are those 3.5 year old bucks with the most potential. I’m talking about bucks that are 10 and 12 pointers at a young age. These are the bucks with the best genes and are the bucks that have a shot at being once in a lifetime bucks. If you can let these bucks walk another year or two, you will see their true genetic potential, pass a lot more of their genes into your herd and have a crack at a buck of a lifetime. The reward is worth the wait!

Motion cameras and protein help us grow and monitor the herd on our free ranging Texas ranch.

Motion camera set-up – Motion cameras have had a dramatic impact on our sport. They are a great tool to assist in understanding the make-up of your herd, a powerful scouting tool and just fun to use. It is great to be able to monitor your hunting grounds when you are not there. These cameras work both day and night and give you a great idea of what is in the woods. This tool alone has aided us in raising the bar on which age class of bucks to go after. It allows us to evaluate and discuss the bucks prior to hunting season. Sometimes we don’t all agree, but we definitely discuss and have fun evaluating the bucks on our ranch. Motion cameras have also showed us how smart wary old bucks can be. We have photos of a dozen or more large bucks that we have never seen, except on camera. I have a free ranging red deer that I have seen 7 years in a row on game camera, and except for the one hunt 7 years ago, has never been seen by a naked eye. The challenge is what drives me!

Ranch work – I spend a lot of time killing mesquites. We used to cut the mesquites down, but quickly realized that these invasive plants come back stronger and with more thorns every time you cut them. I now use a mixture of remedy and diesel and kill them once and for all. This opens up shooting lanes, gets thorns off the roadsides and allows the more desirable plants to get a lot more water. Mesquites, cedar and juniper trees will drink as much as 35 gallons of water a day. If these invasive trees are not kept under control, they can actually soak up enough water that creeks will stop running and ultimately have a very negative impact on your habitat. Pre-season is a good time to make improvements to roads, ponds, fences and the like. I try to remember where the bad spots where in roads the previous fall and winter, when the weather was at its worst and correct these spots long before the wet weather hits.

Camp and Equipment – Look around camp and figure out what would make it a little better this year? Now is the time to clean it up and get ready for the season. Things we have done to improve our camp are: built a shed to park our hunting buggies under, put up a skinning pole, flood light, wireless cell phone booster, built a fire pit, bought a bar-b-que grill, brought in electricity and added a satellite dish so we can watch football games on weekend.  Also spend some time checking your hunting buggy and other equipment. Always better to get the greasy and oily chores done prior to hunting season so you don’t to take these odors in the woods with you. Camp has become more than a weekend retreat, it is a place where stories are told of previous hunts, game plans are discussed for coming hunts and memories are made that will be shared for many years to come.

Everyone pitched in to build a UTV shed, which ended up be a great bonding experience for our fellow hunters.

Cooler weather is not too far away. The woods will come alive. Dove, ducks and geese will fill the airways. Bucks will rub their velvet off, bust up from their bachelor groups and begin marking their territories. Yes – hunting season will be here before you know it. I can’t wait!