September 28, 2000
PRIVATE LAND HUNTING EXPERIENCES ON PUBLIC LAND
Early this spring I thought that we were off to a good start. With my observations and the views of many others, it turns out to be true. This is the third consecutive mild winter and along with last year’s excellent forage growing summer, this year’s early spring with plenty of moisture conditions couldn’t be better for the deer in Mid-Michigan to express their potential.
My farming home base location of 120 acres is in Gladwin County DMU 106. All of my farmland (400 acres) was put into CRP in 1996. With the help of the DNR Forestry Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Division, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture we planted 60 acres in pheasant cover, 60,000 assorted trees, flooded 4 areas, dug out a pond, and set up a continuous food plot program of 12 acres for a variety of wildlife at the home base. The farm is open with very few trees except for a 4-acre red pine woodlot that was planted 13 years ago. I do not hunt this farm. I allow a few neighbors and friends to hunt it with the stipulation that does be taken and only bucks that are 2 ½ years old or older. Starting in 1998, I noticed a small group of older bucks that chose this location for their summer resort. In 1999, this group increased to 7-9 bucks with the oldest being probably 4 ½ years old. This encouraged me to plant a wide variety of plants from early spring, late spring, late summer to early fall for a total of 20 acres starting in 1998. The intent was to provide a choice of high protein and carbohydrates year-round. The variety consisted of 4 rape types, 10 acres of corn that was left standing, a variety of Legumes, oats, rye, and wheat, and more.
Around the middle of May this year the bachelor group reappeared and had greatly increased in size. The doe and fawn population remained stable with no more than a dozen visiting or living on this open area. On June 18, 2000, the alarm woke me at 5:00 a.m., dressed with a pair of binoculars and shorts, I sat on the deck and waited for the sun to appear and burn out a heavy fog. At dawn’s early light many familiar four-legged forms appeared 300 yards directly west past the dug out pond in a 1 ¼-acre Legume meadow. There were 15 munching deer, 14 were bucks. In a 3-acre cornfield nearby there were 4 bucks and 3 does. Thinking this would make a good photo, I scurried around to the front door, still clad in my warm weather attire, to fetch the camera. I glanced at the east side of this property and observed 6 more bucks. Total deer: 24 bucks and 4 does. I like that ratio. These deer were not alarmed at my presence and continued to graze. The 14 bucks eventually moved to the far west of my property and proceeded to bed down in the open field. That evening, dressed more appropriately, I observed all 14 bucks emerge from their beds, move into the cornfield, then migrate into the east end and feast on rape until dark. This scene or one similar repeated itself until the middle of August when the bucks started to move off the farm to bed down in the morning.
I have documented on 2 hours of video on my 120-acre farm the following: (1) 5 ½ year old, 14 point; approximately 165 Boone and Crockett, (3) 3 ½-year-olds, all 10 points; from 130 to 160 Boone and Crockett; (8) 2 ½-year-olds, (1) 10 point, (1) 9 point, and (6) 8 points; from 90 to 130 Boone and Crockett, and (16) 1 ½-year-olds; the smallest being a 5 point, and (8) 8 points. This is in a county that averages less than one record book buck per year. Mr. Dan Boss of Hook and Hunter, Channel 9-10 Cadillac showed excerpts of these brutes on August 24th.
In this location, I have a few neighbors who have agreed to protect the 1 ½-year-old bucks. Most of these bucks will drift off to nearby doe areas to fulfill nature’s cycle in mid-October. It was a thrill to watch the pecking order evolve. Some of these 1 ½-year-olds would literally jump out of their hides when approached by the 5 ½-year-old or the 160 class 3 ½-year-old. The next time you hear the phrase "If I don’t shoot him my neighbor will," tell them this story. The above happened due to the following: nature cooperated, our intense habitat management program, adequate harvest of does, record keeping, and the protection of all 1 ½-year-old bucks.
You would think I would be ecstatic about this year’s experience. I am, but I am also sad. I encouraged all to drive by and observe these bucks and many have. I did this knowing full well that I was inviting potential trouble (poachers). On September 16th a.m. we observed (7) 1 ½- year-olds and the big four. So far, so good. So why am I sad? These deer belong to everyone and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to observe what I did this past summer whether on private or on public land.
Mr. Tom Campbell, editor of Woods and Water, asked me what could be done for the public land hunter when baiting is banned and yet the private landowner has the option of hunting over food plots. I feel very strongly about this and think the public land hunter has been getting the short end of the stick for some time. Witness the change in the deer population, public land versus private land. Thirty years ago 75% of all our deer were on public land. Today it is estimated to be less than 20%. The primary cause is poor deer and habitat management. The cure is good deer and habitat management.
In addition to protecting all 1 ½-year-old bucks, and harvesting an adequate number of does, here’s a suggestion of many in habitat management that could be taken. When you drive a rural highway you become alert for crossing deer. Have you ever asked yourself why the deer gravitate to the roadside? It’s a perfect food plot. It’s cleared, mowed, and a mineral lick (salt applied during winter), and the runoff of water from the road provides additional moisture for increased vegetative growth. Think of the great improvement if every two track and fire lane on public land became a no till 60-foot wide food plot. The technology is already here.
First, create a 60-foot wide clear-cut in these lanes. Kill existing vegetation in these 60-foot wide clear-cuts with a low toxicity to animals contact herbicide (many choices available). Apply this contact herbicide 3 times with the last spraying around the middle of September. This creates an ideal seedbed for the following early spring no till broadcast frost seeding. Using the existing two tracks, apply this herbicide with a self-propelled commercially available sprayer (Hi-Boy) capable of spraying a 100-foot wide swath, with a spray boom that is 8-feet above the ground. Broadcast lime, fertilizer and seed with a commercially available self-propelled spreader. If adequate moisture is available the broadcast seeding could be extended for additional seeding to late spring, late summer, and early fall. Broadcast a variety of plant types that will grow in the sprayed soil types. Maintain this 60-foot wide clearing if necessary with cuttings. It’s cheap, attractive, and it works. This should pull away most of the deer visiting roadsides, and create a safer condition for the motorists’ and the deer. With the savings the insurance companies will experience plus generating good will perhaps they can be moved to cover some of the cost. The funds for this program should come from the existing CREP program. The increased cost could be financed through an adequate increase in all hunting license sales, (including anterless). I believe once hunters understand that the increase would be 100% earmarked for habitat management there would be overwhelming support. Can you imagine seeing private land type deer and having private land type hunting experiences on public land? This program would benefit many other species of wildlife from ground nesting birds to foraging bears.
For large tracts of land it has been found that between 2-3% planted into food plots is satisfactory. This would be around 15 acres per section. Not including the income from the initial clear-cut, the cost to plant and maintain should not exceed $100.00 dollars per acre per year. For 5000 sections, this would total 7.5 million dollars. A $10.00 dollar increase in the buck licenses alone would more than cover this worthwhile investment. The 15 acres of food plots per section should maintain a minimum of 20 healthy and productive deer year-round.
This wasn’t meant to be a hunting tactic article, but from my experience food plots induce deer. Setting up near the food plots in the staging areas works well in the early bow season. In the later bow and firearm seasons being near their bedding areas and observing their trails leading to the food plots pays off. You don’t need bait.
Can public land deer hunting mimic the better private land hunting experience? What needs to change for this to happen?
I have deer hunted on public lands exclusively for 22 years, in a private hunting club for 20 years, and for the last 9 years on my own private property. I think I know what many of you are experiencing and not experiencing. I believe the gap can be greatly narrowed. What needs to change my fellow deerhunters are our attitude and financial commitment.
The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) is somewhat progressive, but is more into decision making on submitted proposals. I think they listen to the public. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is more reactive to public pressure. Too many times their decisions are tailored to placate you and not necessarily serve the best interest of our deer. An example is last year’s decision by the DNR to greatly expand the unlimited anterless deer permits. I believe that was one of their boldest and soundest decisions. They actually put into your hands the power to manage your deer. You know what happened. A grass roots organization was formed in opposition. When this organization was asked by DNR officials to seize the opportunity and manage their deer, they said no. They wanted the DNR to set a quota because they didn’t trust their neighbor. Sounds like the QDM syndrome, "If I don’t shoot the young buck, my neighbor will". Even the highly respected MUCC conservation organization was opposed. The DNR took quite a beating on this sound decision. No wonder they move slowly.
Michigan deerhunters, if you want an improvement in your deer hunting; it has to start with you. Accept the serious role of being the ultimate deer manager, accept the financial commitment that it will take to achieve it and when you do the NRC and DNR will support you.
Keep the Fun in Hunting!
Ed Spinazzola, Board of Directors QDMA
President Mid-Michigan Branch QDMA
Web page: QDMA.Net