by: Matthew Rosenbaum
Turkey season is starting to slow down in most of the country as we head into the latter part of May and begin to enjoy the warm weather. This is an important part of the year that whitetail hunters have a little extra time to put towards things that will help them finally close the deal on that elusive old buck. Here are a few DIY things you can do to help prepare for the fall this off-season.
1. Plant a food plot
Okay I know the argument is coming, we all watch TV and see the massive food plots out west and dream of having this in our favorite spot. There is no way the average hunter can afford these. You are right, but there is still possibilities to create a good plot. On your own farm, lease, or private land that you have permission to hunt; a small plot is easier to make than you think. These are called ‘Kill Plots’ that are easier for the average hunter to make than it looks on TV. First, pick a good spot. Some of the best places for these are staging areas before larger agriculture fields or natural openings in a block of timber. The deer will hit your plot before heading out into the large fields feeding at night due to the cover provided in your plot compared to the larger agriculture fields. Once the spot is picked, get permission from the landowner or lessor if applicable. Having the spot picked already can go a long way in getting approval. Second, clear the area with some round-up or similar product that kills everything. Within a week or two, this area should be dried out and ready to go. Third, burn off the killed foliage. Be careful here and remember safety first. Create a solid fire barrier and make sure conditions are right. This will leave you with bare ground that can be raked or dragged with an ATV and it will be ready for seed. Third, go ahead and plant the plot and let it grow. Clover is typically the go-to plot for this and seed is easily picked up at Wal-Mart or any farming store. Provide fertilizer and other related products depending on the soil content in your area (that is a whole other post). Check out the Midwest Whitetail group on YouTube, they do a good job at explaining these types of plots and call them ‘Poor Man Plots’.
2. Organize your gear and make sure clothes are ready for storage
This one can be done as soon as deer season is over and is probably better done then. However, if most of you are like me you use a lot of deer season clothes and equipment into turkey season. There are many ways to store gear, but here is the best way in my opinion after doing this for a couple of years. Lay everything you use for hunting out in the living room or basement (If the wife is picky). Then you can begin sorting items between what you actually use and by season. For example, I had three sets of rattling horns and buck growlers this year, but I only use the same one of each year after year. The rest of it went on eBay and I put the current gear to the side for the rut phase ‘pile’. Once this is done, wash clothes with either no detergent or hunting detergent and dry them with no dryer sheet or hunting dryer sheets (make sure here, this is where a lot of people mess up). The detergent and dryer sheets are usually on clearance in various stores this time of year. Alright, so the next step is not necessary, but I personally am a little OCD when it comes to scent control. I hang everything up and spray with one bottle of spray and dry scent spray that lasts for about 30 days then a layer of autumn scent field spray. For your equipment, use some scent free cleaning wipes and then spray with a layer of autumn field spray. Air dry everything and then place in scent proof containers (anything from Walmart coated in scent spray and dried). I typically sort them by clothing and accessories used in each season and then place all necessities in the archery season box. Doing this will help give you a head start in being scent proof and fooling the nose of that old buck. Just because you are seeing does and young bucks consistently, doesn’t mean the old buck isn’t smelling you.
3. Minerals and trail cameras, start now
In the early part of my hunting career, I put out cameras, corn and minerals around late July or early August. That is where I was messing up, minerals need to be out early May to help bucks fully develop a good rack. There is research and conflicting articles on the internet about how much these help, but you will for sure get plenty of pictures on minerals. . The best part about this is following the growth of a buck that you will be hunting this fall. You get to see each stage of growth and trust me, when you kill him you will feel even more accomplished than usual. Last year, I put out minerals on my lease in mid to late May in Illinois and ended up watching a buck grow from little nubs to a monster 10-point that I was fortunate enough to kill in the rut. I also saw success doing this back home in Virginia my 8-pointer last year and previous bucks in the past. It was awesome to be able to show everyone the pictures of their growth and the result of me with my hands on him in early November.
4. Practice with your bow
How many of you have missed a buck or even doe based on shooter error? Everyone does it, even the professionals on TV. I would love to meet the seasoned hunter that has not done this. One of the best ways to prevent this is to practice year-round. I have a little agreement with myself that every day after work I will shoot at least three arrows at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards. I know this is not attainable by everyone, but make sure you are at least shooting once a week if possible. This will really pay off in the moment of truth as your release will become second nature. You will be familiar with your bow and know how it performs. Things like target panic and unintentional releases will become almost nonexistent. There is no way to be a perfect shooter, but there is room to master the craft. One of the best ways to do this is to join a league and shoot 3-D tournaments. These can be a blast with your friends and a great way to meet hunters just like you in your area. You never know what will come out of these new connections. I am headed to Ohio this late season to go after bucks based off a connection I picked up with some shooting buddies. Not to mention these perks, but it is FUN. A lot of people even get the wife and kids involved.
It is important to note that these are not everything to do in the offseason to help prepare for the big buck of your dreams. However, these are important to help ensuring success this fall.