28 Apr Andy Pettit “11 Minutes”
The average NFL game has only 11-minutes of action. If you’ve ever watched a game on TV, you’ll probably agree! Between the color commentary, countless instant replays and the constant selling of beer, chips, and cars via overplayed commercials, there isn’t much left in the way of actual gameplay. Think about the athletes, obviously world-class specimens in every sense of the word. They live, eat, breathe and train year-round for these little 11-minute battles. Literally, 99%+ of their football career is spent preparing for those precious few game minutes. It is the 1% “game day” that most outsiders and fans see and care about.
One of the most intriguing NFL players of the past few years is the quintessential underdog and Super Bowl winning 5’11” quarterback Russell Wilson. He attributes his success to one thing – preparation, he says “The separation is in the preparation”. Hunting and harvesting mature deer are in many ways very similar. How many times have you thought or heard someone say, “I’d love to hunt John Doe’s property, he always has all the big deer”? I know I’m guilty. What most people don’t see is the 99% preparation time John puts in. The long hours spent with a chainsaw, the shovel in his hand planting trees, the weekends spent on a tractor or the huge 3-year old bucks he consistently allows to walk. All we see from the outside is John “spiking the ball”, grinning ear-to-ear sitting behind the giant deer in his trophy pics!
As you may have picked up in a previous article, I’m obsessed with land stewardship & whitetail management. I frequently find myself sitting in a tree in the fall of the year, waiting on Mr. Big, only to drift off in thought and think “man, I need to cut those hickory trees to promote growth on that big ole’ oak tree”. I have only been serious about the “preparation” part of deer hunting for the past 5-6 years. I made some mistakes and learned some valuable lessons along the way. If you are early in your land management journey, here are some things that may help you:
Mistake – Not prepping or planning ahead for tree plantings. I lost gallons of sweat, hundreds of dollars and loss of pride by planting trees by the “place and pray” method. I didn’t kill fescue/competing weeds or protect saplings before pushing them into the ground. Literally, 500+ trees didn’t make it over the early years. It is better to plant 3 trees the right way than 3,000 the wrong way.
Lessons Learned – Use and take advantage of the free/low-cost expert technical assistance out there. This sounds ultra-obvious but I’m still shocked on how many deer stewards I meet that don’t do this. If you bought a new farm, one of the first things I would do is schedule a visit with your local State private lands conservationist. I’ve been able to get the following done at a minimum of 50% cost share on a few farms, not to mention gaining exposure to their expertise:
-Forest stewardship plans
-Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) execution
-Permanent timber clearings for food plots
-Food plot development, including seed & fertilizer
-Native Warm Season Grass (NWSG) reintroduction, including seed & fertilizer
There are other invaluable services like CRP, EQIP, etc. Also, don’t forget other available technical resources/biologists from the QDMA, NWTF, Quail & Pheasant Forever, etc.
Lesson Learned – Think small game. A great Missouri Department of Conservation biologist (John Murphy) I worked with shared a simple suggestion for awesome deer habitat – manage your ground for quail, even all timber tracts. Things like edge feathering, native grass restoration, prescribed fires, etc. benefit all native game. Perfect quail habitat typically equals awesome deer habitat.
Lesson Learned – Involve your family. I have put in extra effort to involve my family in habitat projects. They have grown to love outdoor pursuits as much as me! Planting trees takes twice as long with little ones, but the impact on everyone involved is greater than twice of doing it alone. I’ve drug my wife to countless habitat seminars, conferences, and speakers. She now doesn’t look at me cross-eyed when I talk about hinge cutting, no-till drills, cover crops, etc. In fact, our 7-year & 9-year olds can identify bush honeysuckle and clearly explain the impact to our native landscapes.
Mistake – Hinge cutting timber. This is an awesome tool when used with a plan and in moderation. It creates instant ground cover and food. Hinge a maple tree and go look at the buds the next Spring, you’ll see a bunch of broken, snapped twigs from deer pounding it. In the past, I’ve over hinged areas that became a war zone, void of any deer. It gets so thick that it becomes impassible. People also think they are doing TSI by hinge cutting less desirable species next to valuable walnuts and oaks. This does little to help with improving your desirable timber, they’re still competing for resources.
Lesson Learned – Hunting Pressure – less is more. One of the hardest things for me to do, having a smaller property, is being ultra-selective on the days I hunt. I learned that 5-7 quality hunts in perfect conditions (wind, access & exit routes) in a season is way more fruitful than 20 forced hunts.
Lesson Learned – Control access. I’ve owned three farms so far and am always excited to share them with family and friends. If you want to have consistent daylight buck activity and resident bucks, you have to limit activity. I’m slowly evolving to only letting very select friends and immediate family hunt with me in perfect conditions. There is an age-old problem that once you let someone hunt once, they often feel they have an open invitation. This has brought up some hard conversations with very close friends and relatives. I’ve been stepped on multiple times, but you have to be stern. Decide what you want out of YOUR property and make people play by the rules.
Lesson Learned – Food plots. For years, I dreamed about having lush corn and soybean fields to feed my deer & turkey herds, only to realize there are much better options for people with limited land, equipment, and resources. There was an amazing habitat expert out of Iowa named Paul Knox, better known to many as Dbltree/Lickcreek on a few internet hunting and habitat forums. Sadly, he passed away not long ago, but he generously shared years-and-years of research. He perfected an incredible food plot recipe that has proven successful across the entire country. His goal was to have palatable & desirable food available for his deer herds in the same fields, year around. His basic recipe was 10% white clover, then a 45/45 rotation of cereal grains and brassicas, filled with other low-cost inputs like buckwheat and red clover in certain times of the year. He created legions of loyal followers, including yours truly. Search for his research on Google. There is still a place for corn and beans in the smaller food plot game, especially when you’re trying to convert an old field into a productive & sustainable food plot. Running a few years of Roundup ready corn & soybeans and killing out undesirable fescue and invasive weeds will save you a lot of headache in the future. In fact, I’m doing that on my newest farm right now.
Lesson Learned – Chainsaw & equipment safety. On my first farm, I recruited a group of pretty inexperienced chainsaw operators to help with a large TSI project. Fifteen minutes into the project I heard someone yelling for me. I sprinted over to see a great friend sitting on the ground with his jeans ripped open and a saw cut across his thigh. We were only cutting 6” or smaller trees, but he admittedly got careless and started swinging his saw. Thank God, he is as skinny as a rail, as he barely cut himself and didn’t even require stitches. The outcome could’ve been much worse, especially being 45-minutes from the nearest hospital. A chainsaw doesn’t get started on my property now without helmets, gloves and protective chaps.
Thank you for reading, hopefully, some of the quick tips I’ve shared help you in your preparation for the “big game”!
Andy Pettit – St. Charles, MO
Andy lives and breathes hunting and habitat management 365 days a year. He spends his days working in the fast-paced high-tech industry and dreaming of being outside. He has relentless passion on working to ensure his hunting properties have the best habitat available in the neighborhood and helping others in their journey. He focuses primarily on deer & turkey, but will often be found with a fly rod in his hand as he is trying to achieve a lifelong goal of catching a fish in all 50 states on a fly rod. Andy lives the WKP mantra by introducing and mentoring his 3 children to God’s glorious outdoor creations (as he frequently chases them through the brush).