"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favor."
                                                                   
-George Washington                                                            
  HAPP THANKSGIVING
How appropriate it is, that I should find myself up early and having the time to make this entry, today, at the midway point of our hunting season.  I have been a lazy Catholic my whole life, and the church's ways often don't jibe with my own feelings about the world, but I've always found the time to make conversation with the Lord.  This "conversation" is truly about thanks.

Up at Red Hand, this could also be referred to as our "harvest" season.  We take great pride and recognize the great responsibility that we have in being stewards of our land and our wildlife.  Just last Saturday, we brought Red Hand full circle.  With 50 acres now planted in Ag crops, a new pond that will become a self-sustaining fishery next summer and the planting of 65 chestnut trees, Red Hand Ranch was officially reclassified as a working farm.  Outside of Marian, my children(that means you too Ben), grandchildren,  and my profession, this is the most rewarding feeling in my life.  It's ownership and working efforts by my entire family make me pause to give thanks for what we have accomplished.  

So, back to our "harvest" season at the farm.  We practice and support QDM principles on our land.  Quality Deer Management is a philosophy and practice that requires commitment and discipline.  We are members of QDMA (Quality Deer Management Association) and our land is currently under "pledged" status.  QDM in it's simplest form is the balancing of your deer herd by sex and age.  The sex ratio that would be ideal for us is 2:1 (does:bucks).  This requires the harvesting of does every season, initially harvesting more does than bucks to balance out the equation.  A balanced sex ratio keeps the herd healthy, fit and strong.

The second main component of QDM is protecting young males.  We are committed to allowing the age structure of bucks in our herd to mature.  We opt to pass on taking young male deer.  Mature bucks not only make for some nice trophies, but they also serve as strong, healthy propagators for the herd.   After reading numerous books, doing tireless research and studying deer biology, QDM is the best way to ensure a healthy renewable resource concerning our whitetail herd. 

So we started by harvesting two does during early bow season.  Jake coined a little phrase that i like ... "Bow is for doe".  Jake took our first deer of the year by bow out of his tree stand on top of the plateau.  A nice animal that will soon grace our dinner table.

Kellen followed that up with a large deer also taken from the plateau tree stand. We've already enjoyed a dinner Marian prepared from the meat taken.  We had a special guest, Jen Baccarella, spend last weekend with us.  That called for the prime cuts ... backstraps, need I say more.  Positively delicious.
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Recovery that evening before the coyotes try to claim their share.
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Back at the house where we field dressed her prior to delivery to Boss Farm for butchering.
And now for the reason why we practice QDM.   After enjoying our Saturday (11/17/2012) evening feast, including a farm fresh broiler (chicken) given to us by Eric (a neighboring farmer who also uses our land for harvest-able crop growing), we were set for bed and tomorrow's hunt.  We (me, Jake, Kellen and Ben) had seen plenty of deer all day long on opening day and had passed on some really nice 6 pointers.  Tomorrow could be eventful.


Out in the dark, in our stands well before daybreak, we were stoked.  The hours crawled by.  Not a single deer!!!  Nothing, nada, not a doe, not a fawn let alone a buck!  What's going on?


Sent a text out to the boys (ahhh ... modern technology).  See anything?  1st response back is from Jake  ... "nope".  Ben next ... "nothing".  Jake again ... "heard a sound behind me while texting, might have spooked a ..." suddenly a resounding  BANG just over my right shoulder.  Real close proximity, this had to be Kellen or Ben.  Seconds later a text.  It's Ben (he's hunting the middle wheat field out of the new Red Neck blind) ... 
"Doc I got a deer down, looks like a big buck."  
"Where?"  
"Left, the flat area below the slope". 
"OK stay there,  Jake and I will come down with the mule." 
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QDM works. Ben takes our 1st big deer.
We recovered this beautiful animal on the southwest border of the property.  I contacted our neighbor Jim, just in case we needed to look on his property.  We didn't want to trespass, so I asked permission to be respectful to our neighbor.

After we field dressed this bruiser and delivered him to Boss Farm, I had him weighed.  195 lbs. AFTER being gutted.  Biggest deer in weight they had so far.  He made quite an impression with the other hunters and the butcher staff.  I was very pleased that he was harvested from our lands.
 
Well we're finally wrapping-up not only all the planned projects for Red Hand, but also these two last minute "enhancements".

To complete the aesthetics and functionality of the new pond, we undertook the planting of 23 trees strategically placed around the pond.  An additional shade tree was planted up near the house to make the initial presentation of the property more bucolic.  Below are some pictures of the new trees.
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Five River Birch were placed in a slight depression at the shallow end of the pond. They should due quite well handling the "wet" soil in this location
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Seven pines were used to highlight the corner of the pond. Again location was shallow end.
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Six Locust trees were planted in an ovoid arrangement to allow for a picnic table to be placed in the center. In a few years, the canopy will cover the entire area providing ample shade.
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You can see the ditch that we had "back-hoed" down to the pond.

The electric will be installed in a few days and then connected into the house's circuit panel.  There will be outlets mounted into an exterior service panel/box right next to the picnic area.

The power is necessary to run an aeration system for the pond that we will install next spring.  It will also allow for kitchen type appliances to be used in the warmer weather when picnics shall abound.  A little music will add to the ambiance of a leisurely summer day spent down on the farm.  Possibly some lights in the evening for a little night fishing.  Whatever the use, the power will be real handy.

 
Well to alter Dorothy's quote from The Wizard of Oz ... "I've got a feeling this isn't Red Hand anymore".

Sure enough it wasn't.  We were in the high plains of Wyoming about an hour out of Casper.  Antelope country for sure.  The pronghorn herds were plentiful and there were bucks to be taken.  Our hunting party consisted of myself, Kellen and Ben.  We would be hunting a 100,000 acre ranch with SNS Outfitters. 
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Our's was the middle tent. A basic army canvas wall tent with a zipper flap for a door.
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Kellen and Ben were a little fatigued from the early start, travel and airport food. Note the heating unit (propane tank-top heater).
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My luxurious bed awaits me. Bet I get a great night's rest.
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Ultra-swank shower facility. And we only had to walk a 100 feet OUTSIDE to get to it.
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And the privy could rival the bathrooms found in the suites at the Bellagio in Vegas.
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And of course the most modern technology available to power up the camp.
So after dinner in the mess tent and our pre-hunt meeting, it's off to our tent for some shut-eye before the 1st days hunt.  In typical fashion, I didn't fully read the excellent information sent to us prior to our arrival.  Some hunters were to be put up in a hotel in town.  I read that part.  Others were to be bivouacked at an "out-camp" for trophy hunting.  Well I missed that part, and we were in the out-camp. 

Camp location meant you needed pillows and a sleeping bag, we had neither.  Well "necessity being the mother of invention" we improvised and scavenged the best we could.  Dressed in full hunt clothing, including long underwear and coats (Ben wore 3 pairs of socks, I slept in boots).  We tried to sleep.  Around 11:00PM the propane tank ran dry.  Seems there was a young lady in the tent the week before and ran the thing 24/7 at full heat.  Man it got real cold in about 15 minutes.  Canvas walls barely cut the wind and don't have any insulation value.  Seems like every 20 minutes or so one of us was getting up to go take a leak.  Tough night.  Longggggg night.

But morning eventually arrived, breakfast was eaten and the game was afoot.  I was the 1st up as we stalked the fastest animal in North America.  Because of my injured knee, I was getting to hunt the "home" range.  Next up would be Ben with Kellen hunting the following day.  These are the pics of our bucks.  All are trophy class.
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Double click to enlarge.
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Double click to enlarge.
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Double click to enlarge.
The hunt was easy as we tracked and stalked initially via pick-up truck.  Once a shooter buck was found, the hunter would exit the vehicle and proceed on foot until a satisfactory shooting solution was found.  My shot was a gimme at just under 100 yards.  Ben had the hardest stalk.  He needed to sneak up over a ridge on foot to acquire his animal.  Kellen had the longest shot at about 220 yards.  Knocked him down with one bullet.  We had a hellva time.  One more of life's good memories.
 
In exactly 17 days from now, we will begin our deer hunting season at Red Hand Ranch.  The bow season officially opens for the southern tier of NY state on October 1st, but we will spend our first day in a tree stand on Friday, October 5th.  With the season a mere weeks away, the anticipation, excitement and cabin fever symptoms are at an all-time high.  I can't speak for the other hunters at Red Hand, but these final days leading up to opening day are downright torturous.  And as that first day of the season inches closer and closer, I can't help but feel that my hunting season actually started about 6 months ago, in the middle of March.  This is something that I always have an extremely difficult time explaining to my non-hunting buddies.  Although the season only lasts for a couple of months, pursuing quality whitetails truly is a '365 days a year' effort.  The amount of work put in well before hunting season opens is what actually dictates whether or not you'll be punching tags that following year.  For those of you who have been following the website somewhat regularly, you have seen the immense amount of work we have done since the end of last winter.

This year's work began in mid-March when we passed on our annual ski vacation to Utah to instead be at the farm and begin preparations for the following year.  We spent several days in the field hunting for antler sheds, scouting for new travel patterns, observing fresh buck rubs, refilling mineral stations and trying to remove some problem coyotes.  I was even lucky enough to observe a buck who still had both antlers on the morning of St. Patrick's day.  This was excellent news, because it means a young buck survived the entire hunting season and would live to be a nice mature buck for the following year. The fact that he was grazing on our property in March also confirms that he is calling our farm home, and wasn't just passing through for the rut (like bucks you see in November).  It was a very productive week, and it helped us map our specific plans for this year's projects.
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The picture quality is a little grainy because it was taken with a cell phone camera through binoculars, but this is the young buck spotted in March. He is a nice, healthy looking deer and should grow some beautiful symmetrical antlers for this upcoming season.
Following our trip in March, we began moving forward with several projects.  In April, Kellen and I drove out to Ohio and picked up 45 chestnut trees to plant at Red Hand. The following week, I made a trip to southern NJ to pick up 15 more of a slightly different subspecies of chestnut tree.  Planting all 60 trees required a tremendous amount of work, but we were able to get them all planted, fertilized and protected by tubes before turkey season opened.  Following a difficult, yet successful turkey season, we got right back to work. By the end of May our perennial fields had once again started to sprout, but they were in danger of being choked off by weeds.  After vigorous food plot maintenance which included a steady regiment of fertilizing, spraying and mowing, our perennial plots absolutely took off.  They are thriving beyond our wildest expectations, and are without question the backbone of our overall food plot strategy.  Once the perennial plots were taken care of, we broke ground on our new annual food plots. In total we planted three new annual plots, but one was a late summer planting (more on that later).  For our two new spring plots we plowed the selected areas, and took soil samples to send to Whitetail Institute.  For one of the plots, we needed 4,000 pounds of lime to balance the pH! Prepping these two sites and getting them planted was once again a tremendous amount of work, but it was all worth it when we routinely saw deer piling into the "Power Plant" food plot throughout the entire summer.  The other field struggled to establish right away, but it seems to be finally taking. We will try again next year to improve that plot.
Once the food plots had been planted, we moved forward with the next and by far the biggest project of the year.  After considering it for a couple of years, we finally went ahead and dug a pond in the pasture behind the farmhouse.  While the pond is not directly correlated to deer hunting, it is just one more step towards making Red Hand the ultimate outdoorsman's paradise.  With the pond we will attract all sorts of new wildlife and huntable game.  The pond will be stocked with fish as soon as it fills to the brim, and it will open all sorts of new waterfowling opportunities.  Overall, the pond project was a massive undertaking, and fate was definitely smiling upon us when the contractor literally just showed up on our front doorstep one morning. Thanks in large part to an extended dry spell, construction of the pond took about 3 full weeks. During this time, we finished up all sorts of odd jobs around the property.  We hung new cattle gates in front of the Hess Bridge to deter poachers, initiated new mineral sites, set up new trail cameras, dug new drainage runoffs, laid tiling to alleviate flooding in some fields and of course continued with the regular mowing of the perennial food plots.  By the time the pond was done, we were just about done with big work projects for the year (or so we thought).
The final 2 projects for the season will be the planting of 24 mature trees (mostly around the pond) and the running of electric service from the house to the pond's "picnic" area.  
 
After a couple of "off" weekends we were able to get back to Red Hand just before we're gone again for 2 weeks in Lake George.

What kept us away was the opportunity to get caught up with old friends who we haven't seen in over 20 years.  Funny how life does that to ya.  You're so busy raising kids that friendships are put on hold.  Seeing them again made for one of those truly memorable weekends.  We're hoping to continue sharing some quality time together.

Anyway, the 2012 summer work at the ranch is coming to a close.  And what a stellar summer it was.  If I would have laid out all the work we hoped to accomplished on a spread sheet, I would have gladly signed up to complete 1/2 of it.  Well you guessed it, we got ALL of it and then some done.  Like the country song says ... "I've got friends with tractors".  With the help of family and our country neighbors and friends ( who showed up with a lot more than just tractors) the ranch property has become even more beautiful and scenic then when we purchased it ... AND ... we're ready to hunt. 

We now have 4 excellent stands ready for the early opening of bow season.  Each will overlook frequently accessed travel trails, fields and food plots.  We have been seeing deer every evening in the 3 visible locations.  The plateau tree stand is not visible from the house even with long range optics.

The Red Neck Blind, overlooking our 1st annual planting, has already been discussed in the Project Updates section.  The 3 new stands will soon be added to Project Updates, check there for additional info.   
 
There are several reasons for hanging a trail camera. They're an excellent tool for keeping tabs on the animals using your property, patterning elusive trophies, keeping watch for poachers/trespassers, deciding the best strategy for hunting a given area, monitoring whether or not food plots are getting used, and especially because they're flat out FUN! Every single time I arrive at Red Hand I'm absolutely itching to pull the SD cards in the cameras and see what we've captured on camera in the past week. The following images are a random assortment of some of the good, bad, and plain old funny pictures we've gotten in the past calendar year. Enjoy!
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This was the first picture of a buck we ever got on camera. Since then we've seen many, many more (including some nice bigger ones), but I'll never forget how ridiculously excited I was to see this picture.
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Another great use for trail cams is to keep track of specific bucks and to monitor their antler growth in the spring & summer. All four of these pictures are of the same buck that calls one area of our property home. In just under two weeks you can see how his main beam has split into two distinct tines and how the overall length and inside spread has increased noticeably. This guy is only a yearling and will definitely get a free pass this fall, but he has excellent growth for his first set of horns, and has tremendous potential to grow some serious bone in the coming years.
 
Actually this isn't the post.  Check "Project Updates" to see the saga of Red Hand Lake.
 
Wow, already Thursday and we'll being heading up to Red Hand as soon as I finish these last few patients.

The excavation of the pond was completed last week and the natural springs have begun to fill it in.  When Jake Hilts called last Wednesday to inform me that his crew would be finishing up the next day it really got my adrenaline flowing.  What was already a full weekend of work turned into a RIDICULOUS weekend of work!

Well, with Kellen and "our" Jake both coming up, Marian and I knew we could "git 'er done".  So despite not having enough time to load some pictures of the work right now, here's what we accomplished ...

1) Pick-up and haul the Red Neck blind kit from Springfield Tractor and deliver it into the field for assembly.

2) Couple-up the trailer, head to Sangerfield, pick-up and load over 2000 lbs. of cement block and deliver to the farm for bass spawning beds. 

3) Assemble the metal framework/stantion and erect the blind in the middle pasture overlooking the Power Plant food plot. 

4) Construct 6 "Honey Hole" structure trees and strategically place on the pond bottom.

5) Using the block, 1"-3" river stone and PVC down spouts, construct 5 bass spawning beds in the "shallows" of the pond and 1 deep water bed. 

6) Construct 3 shallow water structure "bushes" placed around the shallow water bass beds to provide safety cover for the fry.

7) Fabricate a deep water structure "cave" on the pond bottom utilizing a large old wood picnic table, cement block, aluminum plates and PVC pipe for lunker bass to hang out.

8) Mark the western ATV bridge with an 8 foot 4"x4", topped with a blue bird nesting house and red reflector to improve our ability to find it in the dense brush.  Cut the overgrowth "choking" the bridge itself. 

9) Clean up all the summer's accumulated project's debris, including 8-9 wood pallets and place them into garbage piles on the driveway for future removal.    

10) Locate and clear 2 more sites for game cameras, then mount and arm the cams.

Pictures to follow after this weekend ... I hope!!!  
 
Well 2 weekends ago Marian and I were at the farm and we knew we would be without the help of either of our sons.  Both Jake and Kellen had other commitments so I had to bring in some outside muscle.  The pond was almost finished and I figured we could use a real heavy hitter to keep the work moving.  I knew just the man for the job ... double click the pictures to see a real stud in action.
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Hey gramps, is this thing really for the pond? Can't Duke and I just crawl around in it?
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Here's grandma, make believe we actually know what we're doing.
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Really, I mean REALLY. I can shoot a coyote if I ride fence for a while?
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OK, you're right. Guess if we want a nice food plot of chicory and clover to hunt over I'll have to mow the graveyard.
Yeehaa ... the work's done.  Let's hit Patty's Pub for some eats then head over to the West Winfield town fair and field day celebration!!!
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Hey this is FUN. I like drivin' a firetruck. Work hard ... play harder. Yep that's my motto.
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Hmmm, next work weekend at the farm I should be the foreman, think I'll ask for double time too.
 
As we have just returned from the farm I'm unable to update ... but Jake put up one of our major additions to Red Hand under "Projects Update".