Monthly Guide to Great Food Plots

More and more hunters and landowners are planting food plots on their hunting grounds.  It does not take as much land (as little as 2 percent of the total amount) as you would think to plant and maintain a food plot that will be attractive to whitetails.  It will not only attract deer, but it will make an overall stronger, well nourished herd.

In order for a food plot to be effective it has to be well cared for.  There is so much more to a food plot than dropping some seeds on the ground and then waiting for deer to arrive.  Producing a healthy and nutritious plot that will attract and hold deer does not happen overnight.  It is an ongoing battle the entire life of the plot.  Work that is noticeable when hunters begin to see whitetails visiting his food plot.

Before seeds can be planted most land will have to be corrected in the way of adding lime to the soil.  Lime will bring the Ph level in the soil to where it should be.  Before you can expect a good food plot you first need to have a Ph reading of at least 7.0 in most circumstances.

Landowners have many options available to them when it comes to getting their soil tested.  The easiest way I have found to do it is by ordering a kit that comes with instructions from a private company such as the Whitetail Institute.  After taking a soil sample you then send it back to the company. In about 10 business days you will get the results back along with recommendations on making your soil the best that it can be for your needs.

Another method for obtaining Ph levels is done by having a local farm service company test the soil for you.  This is an inexpensive method.  When you get the results back the same farmers co-op that done the testing for you can help with whatever work that needs to be done with the soil to prepare it for planting.

Just because the soil is up to standards the first year of planting does not mean you can forget about it.  That is a good way to ruin something good.  Every two or three years you should go back to the plot to retest the soil.  If the tests show that your soil needs corrected, by all means do it.

In order to have a food plot that will attract deer you have to have a plot that has a thick stand of plants that will provide eye appeal to wildlife.  I am sure you can relate to this.  It is a lot easier to sit down and eat a meal that looks good on the dinner plate compared to one that does not.

One reason a food plot does not achieve it’s full potential is because too many seeds are put into the ground.  The more seeds that are in the ground the harder the plants will have to fight to survive.  It is best to put down the amount of seed that each individual company recommends for that particular seed mix and no more.  Do not trick yourself into believing that more plants will attract more deer.

Winter kill-off of some plants should be expected.  This is especially true with annuals like clover and alfalfa.  in early spring before the plants start to show signs of turning green go in to your plot and spread a light dusting of seeds to replenish what you have lost over the winter.

When you restock what you have lost be careful to not over-seed.  When these new seeds take on sprouts they will have to compete with the mature plants for water and sunlight. This can put a lot of unneeded stress on the new plants that can hurt their growth.  More is not always better.

In order to have a healthy plot you will need to fertilize the plants twice a year.

The first fertilizer should be put on in the spring one to two weeks after the plants turn green.  The second time that fertilizer should be applied is around the last week of August – the first week of September.

For my plots that consists of peas and beans (legumes) I like to spread a low nitrogen fertilizer like a 00-14-42 at 200 pounds per acre.  For my clover and alfalfa plots I tend to go a little heavier with the fertilizer, about 350 pounds per acre.  This could be different with your particular plots and soil.  Refer to your soil tests and the bag that your seed mix is bought in for fertilizing recommendations.

Never put fertilizer on plants right after a rain or when there is dew on the plants.  This could cause the plants to get a chemical burn.  If possible fertilize your plants one to two days before a rain.

Just like with the grass that is growing in your yard it is best to mow your food plot when the plants are not stressed.  If it is at all possible mow your plot when the sun is not beating down on it, or in extremely dry weather.  Mowing in hot and/or dry weather will put strain on the plants that they do not need.  The best time to mow your food plot is right  before a rain.

Whether your plot is a no-till or tillage plot it has to be mowed.  Mowing will make the plants healthier and control weeds that you might have growing beside your plants.

I like to mow my clover and alfalfa twice a year.  The first time I mow is when the plants reach the height of about 14-inches.  I prefer to mow them down to a height of about 6-inches.  The second mowing usually is done in late August, early September.  If the plants get too tall I will mow more often.  Anytime a plant gets to a height above 14-inches the protein levels drop off dramatically and they need to be cut in order to keep their nutrition levels where they should be.

A landowner has several options on what to use to mow their food plot.  If you have a no-till plot that you cannot get to with a rider or push mower, or a plot with a lot of debris on the ground it is fine to use a weed eater.  My preferred method is an old lawn tractor I bought at an auction several years ago.  I do not mind if the old mower gets dinged up or scratched in the line of duty.  Set the deck to a height of 6-inches.  If you have a large food plot that is over three-quarter acres in size I recommend mowing it in thirds, waiting three days between mowing.  Several small food plots in close proximity to one another should not be mowed on the same day either.  The reason behind this is you want the mowed plants to have time to recover while the deer feed on the plants that have not been mowed yet.

Grasses and weeds in a plot are not friends and can quickly take over a food plot if they are not managed.  Not only will they get out of control, but they also compete for water, sunlight and fertilizer that is intended for the plants you have worked so hard to get to where they are.  For the best possible plot, you will have to spray for weeds, especially if your plants are perennials.

Weed killers can be dangerous if not handled properly.  Follow mixing instructions that are included with the herbicide.  Always wear protective clothing that includes rubber gloves and eye protection.  When purchasing a spray make sure it will kill what you want and not kill you plot.  Consult the label on your seed bag for herbicide recommendations, or talk with the company from where you purchased the chemicals to make sure they will work for your needs.  Herbicides normally come in two forms.  One is to kill grasses.  The other is to kill broadleaf weeds.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to purchase the correct one for the job.  Do some research so you don’t but the wrong weed killer.

For large plots that re more than an acre in size herbicides can be applied with a sprayer that attaches to an ATV.  I use a 25-gallon tank that has a ten foot boom.  A boom is often an optional item that is purchased separately from the tank.  A sprayer will work with or without the boom.

For smaller plots a hand held sprayer will work, but they are time consuming and often do not give an even spread of the chemical.  This will leave a few weeds and grasses growing.  It is important not to overlap your spraying.  This will cause stress to your plants, possibly more than they can handle.

You will notice best results if you tackle the weeds before they get too big.  Weed control has to start before weeds become a foot tall.  If they get over 12-inches in height take your mower that is set at 6-inches and mow them.  Come back in two days and spray.  If you can wait until the ground temperature reaches 58 degrees you will see better results.

I cannot say for certain how often you will have to spray.  The weather and soil plays a big role as to how fast weeds and grasses grow.  Whenever weeds or grasses reach a height of 12-inches start the process all over again.

Man made plots are great for deer.  They offer food with high nutritional values, but they do not always last for the entire year.  In order for deer to have a healthy food supply year round wildlife also have to rely on Mother Nature and the food she provides.  We can do our part to help her ensure that natural food is available and nutritious.

Even though it is best not to plan too many seeds, the more natural food that is available, the better.  Natural foods can be apple, persimmon, oak and other hard and soft mast trees.  Shrubs that produce berries and cover what whitetails need can also be considered natural foods.

To get the most of the trees on your property prune the apple trees and fertilize the mast producing trees at least once a year.  The drip line of a tree is where the water runs off the branches of the tree at the furthest point from the base of the tree trunk and makes a circular line around the tree.  This is where fertilization needs to take place.  Start by making a 1-foot deep hole with a 1-inch metal bar every 12 to 15 feet apart.  This is all done around the drip line.  Once you have made the holes fill them with a 15-15-15 fertilizer.

If you have the opportunity and more importantly the space, plant shrubs that deer like.  These should be planted in rows.  Honeysuckle shrubs offer berries that deer love in August and September as well as provide cover.

It is a good idea to go around your hunting property in the winter and select trees to be cut down.  After you cull and cut trees make sure their branches are within easy reach for deer to browse on.  If you do not know which trees to cut  or keep consult a professional forester for advice.

Understand that in order to provide nutritious, healthy food for deer you will have to work all year long at it.  When that year is complete it all starts again.  Put together a time line and follow it.  Realize that different parts of the country will green-up at different times.  Below is what works best for me in my home state of Illinois.

January thru February – Select trees to cut that will provide browse for deer.  If you have apple trees to prune now is the time to do it.  Leave the branches for the deer to browse on.

March – Buy seed and test Ph levels.

April – Replenish seed killed off in the winter.  Spread lime.

May – Preparing and planting the plot.

June – Spraying weed killer and mowing takes place when plants reach 12-inches in height.

July – Do any mowing or spraying if needed.  Plant fall seeds.

August – Fertilize perennials.

September – Mow plants one last time to a height of 10-inches.

October thru December – Hunt.

Wild Turkey – How to Smoke and Brine

It’s that time of the year, when you need to be thinking about what you will do with the wild turkey you hopefully kill this year.

If you’re like many, you hope many meals will involve a turkey.

Do you know how to brine your turkey, and get it ready for the smoker?

Stacy Harris of Game and did a wonderful job explaining the process of brining a turkey.
Try this technique this season for a mouth-watering wild turkey breast.

It’s a new take on dinner using a turkey you harvested. Of course, you could use a domestic turkey, but using a breast from a bird you harvested would be so much more cooler.

50 Turkeys Roosting in One Tree [VIDEO]

Turkeys hunters strive to find where the birds are roosting.

Most of the time, we’re happy to settle when we find a tree that holds a handful of birds. But one lucky hunter in Mississippi found the ultimate roosting site. Check out how many birds are in this one tree.

Is a Mouth Call Necessary to be a Successful Turkey Hunter?

Years ago, when I first started turkey hunting, I was going to master every type of call there was.  Now, when I think about it, there aren’t a lot of different types of call for a turkey hunter to choose from, so it should have been a pretty simple thing to do.  I really wanted to be good at using a mouth call.  After all, that is all you see on TV, and in the majority of magazine articles.

A few decades later, I am still trying to master the mouth call, aka the diaphragm call.  At this point in my turkey hunting crusade, I have pretty much given up on the idea of learning to use the mouth call.  Some people get it, and others don’t.  I’m one of the hunters that doesn’t get it.  But, that is OK.  I have learned techniques that allow me to kill birds using different types of calls, which has made me an all-around better turkey hunter.  You can do the same.

Reducing hand movement when operating a call out in the open is critical to prevent a gobbler from spotting you.  Some calls make this easier than others.  Push-button style calls can be worked with just one finger.  Some can even be attached to your gun.

This allows you to have your gun in position for a quick shot while you are calling, reducing the extra movement associated with having to shoulder your gun.  The drawback to push-button calls is that they don’t offer a large variety of sounds or volume.

Being able to make the shot when you have the opportunity is critical.  Too many hunters do not take the time to pattern their shotgun to find the perfect load, choke, and sight combination.  What works for me might not work for you.  A 12-gauge with a 3 1/2-inch shell with an extra-full choke topped off with a red dot scope might work for you.  But, your wife might prefer a 20-gauge with a 3-inch shell with a reticle scope.  Find what works best for you.

The best advice I know to give any turkey hunter is not to be seen.  Camouflage from head to toe that matches your surroundings is a must.  Don’t hesitate to wrap your bow or shotgun in camouflage wrap if the sun could reflect off the weapon’s surface.

A ground blind is the best way conceal yourself, and the movements associated with using a call.  But, for hunters that prefer the fast-paced action of the run-and-gun approach of turkey hunting, a blind isn’t a practical choice.

Decoys put the odds in your favor.  When a gobbler hears your calls, and is able to see a fake bird, it is often too much for him to resist.  If your decoy has a little motion to it, all the better.  Some decoys come with a string attached that can be ran back to the hunter so he can provide movement to the decoy.  But, it would be easy to tie a piece of fishing line to any decoy.  Another trick on windy days is to place sticks on either side of the decoy’s tail feathers.  This will add realistic movement a couple of inches in either direction, rather than spinning around violently that would spook birds.

Being a bowhunter, I know that I can’t rely on my sights to still be on target from deer season to spring turkey season.  Get out and practice shooting, and remember a turkey has a very small kill zone. 

If you plan on using the big broadheads intended for neck/head shots, put on practice blades and practice.  These broadheads will fly different than any other broadhead you have shot before. 

Whether you are shooting archery gear or a shotgun, know your maximum effective shooting range, and do not shoot at a bird further than that.  Use a quality rangefinder in both your practice sessions, and when hunting.  As it tempting as it might be to take a shot just a little longer than what you are comfortable with, listen to what your rangefinder shows you, and stick with shots you know you can make.

For those of you reading this that still believes that you must be proficient with every style of turkey call there is, you don’t.

Learn to use other calls the best you can, keep your body and hand movements concealed, and use decoys.  Choose a shotgun setup with a shell, choke, and scope combination you are comfortable with.  Use a rangefinder, and don’t shoot further than you are comfortable making.

Above all else, learn as much as you can about the property you will be hunting on, and the birds you are after.  This builds confidence, and a confident hunter is often a successful hunter.

Bowhunting turkeys in the spring is a challenge, but it can be done.  Learn more about successfully bowhunting turkeys.


Which Turkey Call is Best for You?

Turkey hunting would be even more of a challenge than what it already is without the aid of a turkey call.  Knowing what call best suits your needs, and how to use it, will give you more opportunities when turkey hunting.

One of the easiest calls to learn to use is the box call.  Even though a box call is easy to use, it has probably resulted in more dead turkeys than any other call.  The problem with the box call is that there is more movement involved with using it than I care for.

Right handed hunters have to hold the bottom of the box horizontally in their left hand.  Do not hold the sides of the call as this can ruin the sound.  Hold the bottom of the call not the sides.  To make a yelp, slide the paddle part of the call toward your hands over the top edge of the box.

There are some turkeys hunters that prefer to hold a box call vertically, and work the paddle against the surface.  They believe that this method gives them more control with their hands, while producing a better sound.

There are many designs of box calls available to the hunter that make wonderful yelps, cutts, purrs, clucks, cackles and gobbles.  Whichever box call design you go with, always keep it chalked and dry so it sounds natural. Calling softly with a box call combined with a few clucks for 45 seconds, and waiting 20 to 25 minutes before calling again is all the calling you have to do

Friction calls, or what many hunters call the slate call is a round call with a slate, glass, aluminum or other metal surface.  Some slate calls have a combination of these materials like glass over slate.

For the right handed hunter hold the friction call in your left hand with your fingers and thumb cupped around the outside edge.  Hold the call waist high with a semi firm hold.  Hold the striker between your first two fingers and thumb at a slight angle with your right hand.  Hold the striker to the calls surface about one-third of the way from the outside edge.  To produce a yelp, apply pressure and put the striker in a counterclockwise motion, about the size of a nickel.

Added finger pressure is required on the striker for making cutts.  Hold the striker firmly at an angle so the top is angled towards you when on the surface of the call.  Quickly pull the striker towards your body with a good amount of pressure.  Without raising the striker off the calls surface slide the striker to the starting point and repeat the process several times.  This will make a loud cutting sound that will make a mature gobbler love sick.

Holding the striker so tight that is causes a squeaky, high-pitched sound is where most hunters have trouble when using a friction call.  Hold the striker loose enough that it will allow a natural sounding yelp.  With a little practice you will begin to get the feel of how tight to hold the striker.

Do not over call!  Especially if you are using a box or slate call that requires a lot of hand movement.  Start off with soft yelps.  If a tom is able to sneak up on you without being spotted, the yelps will often get the gobbler to sound off.  This will give you the chance to know his location.  After a few soft yelps, increase the volume for the remainder of your calling for that sequence.

Diaphragms or mouth calls are the toughest to master, but because no hand movement is involved they are on of the favorites among turkey hunters.

Beginners should start out with a one or two reed model.  They are easier to learn to use than three or four reed calls.  Talk to other hunters that are proficient with mouth calls.  They can tell you which is best for a beginner.

Find a diaphragm that fits snugly in your mouth.  If it is too tight in your mouth, lightly trim the edges.  Keep in mind that a little trimming can go along way.

Once a hunter becomes proficient in using a mouth call and producing the entire hen vocabulary, they can give the hunter an edge in the spring woods. Their hands free use is crucial when turkeys are close and a soft yelp or cluck is needed to get the bird just a little closer for a shot.

Do not get stuck on just one type of call.  Carry an assortment with you to the woods.  If a gobbler will not respond to a friction call try using a mouth call.  The change of calls might be all it takes to work a gobbler in.

Calling a mature tom to your set up with yelps, purrs, cutts and clucks is a feeling of success all turkey hunters strive for.  Not knowing the proper techniques on how to use the different type of calls (box, friction and diaphragm mouth calls) might send a longbeard to the next county.  With practice a hunter can learn how to be the best caller that makes other turkey hunters jealous.  Hopefully this advice will help you fill your turkey tag this spring, but above all else enjoy your time in the woods. 

Now that you have decided which turkey call is best for you, what about the shotgun you are using?

Good luck.

Photo: Howard Communications

DIY Turkey Fan and Beard Mount

I love a good looking turkey fan and beard mount. You can either pay to have a taxidermist to the job for you, or you can do it yourself.

This is a project just about anybody can complete for very little money. The crew at Bone Collector has some good advice on creating your own tail and beard mount, one that you will be proud to display.

Hopefully the arrival of turkey season also means the arrival of a big ol’ tom in the back of your truck. After putting in the hard work to harvest a big gobbler, the best way to honor the bird and preserve memories for years to come is to mount it. To mount a turkey fan and beard, it’s easier than you might think, so give it a try yourself using these directions… [continued]

How to Successfully Bowhunt Turkeys

Turkey hunting is admittedly not easy with a shotgun. But turkey hunting with archery gear can be downright difficult.  It can be a challenge to successfully bowhunt turkeys season after season.

Outdoor Life‘s Steve Hickoff has put together ten bowhunting turkey tips that will make it easier for you to take a turkey with your bow and arrow.

Taking a turkey with a bow isn’t easy, but it can be done. Here are my 10 best tips for archers looking to take a longbeard this spring…

1.) Get the turkey close — real close. Incorporate good calling and solid woodsmanship.

2.) Use a man-made blind constructed from natural materials on patterned turkeys to conceal your movements (though it limits mobility), or hunt with a model that’s easy to transport, and assemble.

3.) Practice arrowing a 3-D turkey target on a regular basis to visualize your intended quarry.

4.) Stake turkey decoys at your effective bow range to fix an individual gobbler or flock’s position.

5.) Choose turkey-specific mechanical broadheads for solid flight and serious cutting diameter… [continued]

Lotte Finally Killed Her Turkey [Video]

Photo: Jason Houser

My wife, Lotte, has always been a lover of the outdoors.  Whether it is fishing for bass on one of the farm ponds littering the countryside, fishing for catfish late into the night at the local lake, sitting in a treestand throughout the fall waiting for a shot opportunity at a deer, or any other excuse she can find to be outside.

But her true passion is chasing big tom turkeys in the spring.  She would rather do this than anything else.  She actually enjoys it more than I do.  

Before Lotte met me, she had only been hunting for smallgame a few times with her father, uncle and brother.  She quickly learned that if she wanted to spend much time with me, that she had better learn to become an outdoorswoman.

Not only did she learn, but she quickly fell in love with it.  Often times, Lotte was reminding me to apply for our deer and turkey permits.  And, she spent many hours on the computer searching out destinations to hunt.  Mostly for spring turkeys.

While we do have some turkeys in our area of Illinois, they are not abundant like they are in other parts of the Midwest, or even other parts of Illinois for that matter.

Our first year of turkey hunting together proved eventful.  On the opening morning of the 2nd season of the southern turkey zone in Illinois, Lotte got a taste of what it was like to be a turkey hunter.

Early on opening day, Lotte was able to call a big tom from 300 yards across a harvested corn field.  At 20 yards, Lotte shouldered her shotgun and squeezed the trigger.  The mature gobbler flew away unharmed.  I guess it was a bad case of turkey fever.

Over the next few years my wife continued to apply for her Illinois turkey permit, but the opportunity like she had on her very first hunt never presented itself again.  Sure, she saw turkeys, but she never got a shot off.

Knowing how bad she wanted a turkey, I called Bluestem Outfitters in Missouri and arranged a turkey hunt the last three days of their turkey season.  With her Missouri turkey permit, she would be able to shoot two turkeys on separate days.  Let me remind you though that she only had 3 days left in the season.

After driving 8 hours we finally arrived at the lodge with 5 hours to spare before we had to be in a ground blind.  With little sleep behind us, our alarms rang loud, and we were up preparing for what we hoped would be a successful hunt.

Lotte went one way, and I the other.  Our guide had already done the scouting, and he felt confident that we would see birds.

Lotte could hear turkeys in the distance, and used her Lynch Mob Slate Call to try to entice the birds to her.  She would only need one bird to cooperate, and that is exactly what happened.

I was covered in birds, some as close as 35-yards, but I was using a bow.  They need to be within 25-yards for me to feel comfortable to shoot.  I could only hope Lotte was having the same luck.  About 2 hours into the hunt, I got a text reading, “Big Turkey Down”.

I could not have been happier for my wife.  She made a perfect 35-yard shot on the gobbler as he danced around the decoy spread, laying the big gobbler down in his tracks.  The bird weighed 23 pounds and had a 11 ½-inch beard.

This is the second bird my wife was able to kill. Photo: Jason Houser

On the second day, we hunted together, but only saw a couple birds in the distance.  That only left us one day to hunt before the season came to a close.

On the second day, we again went our separate ways.  This time though we were only about 500 yards apart, but in separate fields.  As daylight was beginning to show over the horizon a shot rang out very close, and about 3 seconds later, another shot.

The night before we had gone to separate fields to roost birds.  I was not able to roost any birds, but Lotte was confident she knew where two big toms were.  Knowing this information, we hurriedly set up a ground blind hoping that the birds would show themselves the following morning.

On the last mornings hunt, Lotte never had time Lynch Mob call out of her pocket.  At first light one of the gobblers flew from the roost, and was headed straight to the decoys she had in front of her.  The gobbler was not liking the decoys in his territory, and put on amazing show for Lotte as he aggressively attacked the fake birds.

When the big tom was at a distance of 25-yards, my wife pulled the trigger.  She missed.  Surprisingly, the bird only ran a distance of about 15-yards and stopped.  This allowed Lotte time to pump in another shell, and to fire a fatal round to the big bird.  Her second bird weighed in at 25 ½-pounds with a beard measuring just shy of 11-inches.

Again, I received a text notifying me that a big turkey was on the ground.

In just 3 days of hunting, Lotte was not only able to wrap a turkey tag around one bird, but two birds.  Sure, we will be hunting in Illinois this spring.  But, we will also be back at Bluestem Outfitters in Missouri hoping to fill more turkey tags.

The gun Lotte was using was a Mossberg 835.  My father, Bud Houser, won that gun in a raffle.  Sadly, my dad was killed in an automobile accident before he was ever able to use it.  As my wife put it, dad was in heaven doing a happy dance for her on those special days in Missouri.

After 6 Years of Trying, Lotte Kills a Turkey [Video]

My wife, Lotte, has not been a turkey hunter for all that long. But, she quickly fell in love with the thrill of trying to call in a big gobbler.

She has had a couple chances over the years to fill a tag, but things kept it from happening.

Last year at the NWTF Convention in Nashville, Lotte spent a lot of time talking with the guys at the Lynch Mob Calls booth.

The guys were eager to help her learn how to use the call, and eventually she walked away with a new slate call she felt comfortable with.

Work kept Lotte from hunting in Illinois, but we had plans to hunt in Missouri at Bluestem Outfitters the last weekend of their season.

With her new call in hand, Lotte was able to harvest her first turkey ever on the first morning. She was also able to harvest a second bird the last day of the Missouri season.

Watch this video to see it all unfold, and be sure to like us on Facebook.