Pro Tool Industries has just introduced a new set of field guides written by J. Wayne Fears for outdoors enthusiasts. There are several subject areas available and new volumes will be added to the different lines periodically. Today, we’re going to look at a couple of the guides from the Deer Hunting and Management line.
Outdoorsmen everywhere know that preparation is the key to success. When you’re looking through the scope at that monster buck, you’re at the pinnacle point in the season. Most hunters know that that moment begins months, sometimes years earlier, preparing for the moment when you’ll be focused on your breathing and trigger press. If success is to be had, preparation must begin now. Hunting season may be recently over for some of you, but Woods Monkey recently took a look at some reference materials that will help you get the ball rolling on a successful next season right away.
With the first day of spring in the bag, most outdoorsmen are focused on two things; fishing and camping. I am, that’s for sure. But I love to hunt. When I grew up there were only three seasons, fishing season, hunting season, and school. I excelled at the first two. When the Woods Monkey staff asked if I would be interested in doing a review of some new hunting related books by J. Wayne Fears, I jumped at the opportunity. Fears has four decades of game management experience, is well known in the outdoor and survival circles, and puts his best kept secrets in back-pocket sized books you could digest in an afternoon. A couple of books from their Deer Hunting and Management line are “How to Manage Native Plants for Deer” and “How to Hunt Clear Cuts Successfully”, and they lay out the kind of things you can do now, and techniques that are useful to remember when it comes time to chase that heart-attack with a rockin’ chair on his head.
“How to Manage Native Plants for Deer” starts off talking about the exact thing I used to do in the south. My only experience with ‘managing’ land for deer consisted of a few guys on tractors clearing old logging roads, and tilling them up. Whoever drew the short straw would follow behind with a seed spreader and plant rye grass and clover. This was usually done a couple weeks to a month before opening day with mixed results. Some “food plots” would grow strong and be great hunting ground. Others would fail to grow and give us a great place to go ‘hunt’ between naps. Some food plots, planted the same day with the same seed, would grow knee high and have deer literally fighting over feeding rights. What made one work and one didn’t never made much sense to me then, but looking back, there were a lot more factors I wasn’t considering.
Fears teaches quickly that you need to learn to do exactly what most folks have great difficulty with. Identify plants. With the ability to identify varieties of plants, specifically those things that are going to make great food for deer, you can start working with what you already have. Fears is quick to point out that it may not be necessary to do all that tilling and seeding. Once you can identify the plants in your area, the next step is to focus on the things that deer eat. Fears breaks down the typical foods into major groups; Browse, Forbs, Grasses, Agricultural Crops, and Local Food Habitats. Once the categories are laid out, Fears goes about explaining how each of these groups are important to the deer diet. I was surprised at how un-important grasses are.
Throughout the remainder of the Native Plants book, Fears focuses on specific species of plants, how to fertilize, prune, and cultivate them into the food that deer will seek out and feed on. After reading through theses chapters, I was surprised has just how many of these are so common in my favorite hunting areas. From the common Oak, to Honeysuckle, to Apples, Wild Grapes, Persimmon, and Mulberry, Dogwood and Wild Strawberry, Fears talks about something that you can find in your area. Even dealing with things like hardwood Oaks, Fears gives some interesting advise. With proper fertilizing, and a little attentions to the trimming back surroundings, a big Oak will produce more acorns earlier and longer to keep the deer population well fed around that tree. That tree will not only be a good food source, but the route to and from the big Oak will be great hunting ground for years.
The second book, “How to Hunt Cleat Cuts Successfully” is much more than a hunting techniques book. With the knowledge of food sources, their relation to each other and the paths between them, clear cuts can be a “hunter’s bonanza” according to Fears. First and foremost, we have to establish what a ‘clear cut’ is. It doesn’t have to be a hundred acre field that’s just been plowed to count as a clear cut. As a matter of fact, a lot of the areas that most folks hunt have big fields, new growth fields, burn recovery, and even open corridor space between major landmarks. Fears approaches all of these with similar methods.
Young clear cuts offer very little food and less cover for deer. These can be tracts of land that have been harvested for old growth timber, or they can be the result of a recent fire. Either way, the likelihood that deer will hold in this area is very slim. What deer will use this area for is movement to and from bedding and feeding areas. Don’t expect to see that big buck walking across the center of an open field, he didn’t get to be that big being stupid. Instead, you should focus on the edges of these open expanses, paying particular attention to the areas that will lead deer into and out of more fertile ground.
As you would think, the more a clear cut ages, the more food and bedding area it will have to offer deer. A three to seven year growth area may have young pines growing, but they will still be about head height to a man. This offers excellent deer cover , and also a significant advantage for the hunter. While the deer are forced to stay low, the hunter can use hunting stands to get high above the new growth. Fears frequently points out that if you can combine this young growth cover, with access to food, the hunter will have easily, and cheaply, provided excellent deer habitat.
Fears discusses the older clear cut growth pretty similarly. With Fears calling 30 year old growth still a clear cut, the reader begins to understand that common hunting woods are typically in one stage or another of growth. Fears recommends obtaining a USGS map of the area to be hunted, and focusing on food and bedding areas, as well as what he calls ‘corridors’. With a good map, old timber can be dissected and researched for the best habitat without the hunter having to spend every spare second scouting for signs of life. What Fears recommends, along with motion activated cameras if budget allows, is skillful and thought out dissection of the typical hot-spots for deer travel through the thick cover. Fears lays out specific plans, with anecdote examples thrown in, that really get the reader excited about getting out there and chasing those deer.
Fears includes an excellent section of cartridge, firearm, and scope selection that I was pleasantly surprised with. As a long-range shooter and a life-long hunter, I’ve learned a lot of these lessons the hard way. Following Fears’ great advice, a novice hunter will be able to select the firearm combination best suited to their needs and abilities. Fear tells several short stories of hunts being won or lost on the equipment the hunter chose, and their abilities with it. Fears rightfully recommends serious practice with all equipment intended to be taken afield, especially the firearm. In my opinion, even if you do not plan on hunting clear cuts, but are new to hunting arms and are in the market for one, this books advice is well worth buying.
After reading Fears’ books in an afternoon, I caught myself sitting at my kitchen counter with plant identification books, USGS maps, and a copy of last year’s hunting zones. Fears’ books are easy to read and are written in plain language new hunters can read without being intimidated. Even if you’re a seasoned hunter and outdoorsman, the books will offer some information you may have stored back in the ‘ol file cabinet and forgot about. Plus, they’re a good read about topics we enjoy. And hey, spring is here, so go fishing, plan a camping trip, and get ready for next hunting season!
** I’ve included gratuitous pictures of deer in the yard around my house for your enjoyment and to get you into the hunting mood.