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!
Picture
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.
Picture
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.
Picture
Hey gramps, is this thing really for the pond? Can't Duke and I just crawl around in it?
Picture
Here's grandma, make believe we actually know what we're doing.
Picture
Really, I mean REALLY. I can shoot a coyote if I ride fence for a while?
Picture
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!!!
Picture
Hey this is FUN. I like drivin' a firetruck. Work hard ... play harder. Yep that's my motto.
Picture
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". 
 
Not to forget about the inside of the house, a little home decorating was in order.
Picture
Picture frame montage of Red Hand and hat rack made of hooves from Kellen's first deer.
Picture
Marian finally gets her towel rack for the kitchen. Antlers from deer harvest at Boss Farm 2011 season.
 
Picture
A post work picture (shot with the timer) after we hung the gates to block access into our upper pastures and prime hunting areas.
Picture
The gate affords a measure of security to the property. It blocks unauthorized usage of the Hess bridge to ATVs and other vehicles while we are not at Red Hand. All the farms up here have to deal with the outlaws who trespass and try to jack your deer. The gate adds another obstacle.
Picture
Red Hand was approved for "Pledged" status with the Quality Deer Management Association. We will continue our conservation efforts to improve wildlife habitat and try to qualify the land as a "Certified" property in the future.
The farm is a constant source of small and medium work projects that we do just in the normal course of a weekend spent upstate.  The work is always physical but tends to be enjoyable.  That satisfaction of a job well done.  Working with 166 acres presents us with countless opportunities to really improve the land.  The physical challenge of many of our projects somehow allows us to test ourselves in ways that living in suburbia cannot.  I'm thankful to share common goals and rewards with my entire family as we face many of the challenges the farm presents.  Between the hunting, fishing and work the time spent at Red Hand are my best days.  
 
Picture
Well it started out as a farm pond. Now people are starting to ask what we are naming our lake. You can get an idea of it's size by checking out the contractor walking along the near edge (click pictures to enlarge).
Picture
Grading the shallow end of the pond.
Picture
Digging the right side to increase depth and control spring water.
The pond is slowly becoming a reality. The construction is progressing at a steady pace. You can see that Jake Hilts, the contractor, had to dig 2 deep pits to control water that is already accumulating due to our underground springs. Controlling the water is slowing the digging. Fortunately we have had little rain, so the excavating is moving along. Those 2 pits will be the deepest locations in the pond. They should bottom out at around16'. An excellent depth for fish!!!

The main design includes construction of a gentle slope on the left bank as you face the pond from the house. We will leave about a 1/2 acre of shallower water for aquatic vegetation and fish nesting/spawning areas . It will also promote a greater amount of bio-diversity amongst the the various animals, amphibians and reptiles that can use the pond. We have already hit another spring in that location. It is causing some delay in moving the earth, but is another excellent sign that when finished, the pond should fill adequately with fresh clear spring water. 

Hilts is taking care to leave an adequate layer of clay on the bottom. Every time a dozer or excavator runs over a completed depth site, it compacts the clay to form the basin of the pond. Hopefully enough to prevent seepage and resulting water loss. It's my biggest fear that the pond will not/cannot hold the tremendous volume of water that it's size dictates. Much of my research alludes to this problem in some ponds.

We have saved the initial layers of top soil to place on the sides and top of the earthen berms that support the lower 3 walls of the pond.  This should allow healthy establishment of dense ground vegetation to prevent erosion of the walls.  Wall heights are determined by using an engineering transit.  This will let us adjust the pond perimeter heights so we can "push" the water where we desire it.

Hopefully we've designed it well, are building it properly and will plant the edge correctly ... then ... sample, test and adjust our water (if necessary) so that it holds fish and promotes their healthy growth and development.

When finished, "the Lake" should turn into a truly excellent fishing impoundment, swimming hole and possibly duck hunting fly way.  Ahhh, to dream.    
 
Picture
Loading up the spreaders so that we can broadcast fertilizer over an existing field. Looks like Jake's enjoying the work ... is he singing?
Well I've already written about Kellen and Jake traveling to Ohio to pick up 45 chestnut trees that were planted in the "upper bunny ear" field.  That was the 1st of what would turn out to be 4 major spring plantings this year.

Way up, on the top of the plateau, near the southwest line, I had Richie plow about an acre.  We all rock picked it like crazy.  Marian, Jake, Kellen and I spent a few hours for a few days up there tossing stones and boulders into the forest to clear the land.  Richie and his crew/family did likewise during the week when we weren't there. 

 Jake, Kellen and I hauled 3 tons of lime and 1 & 1/2 tons of fertilizer to that upper food plot location with the Kawasaki mule and the 650 Arctic Cat ATV.  That's 9000 lbs. of double lifting to load and unload.  Packaged in 50 lb. bags with the consistency of sand.  Ugh!!!  Mostly of the work was done by the boys while I rode the ATV to monitor the gravel roadways that were being paved.  Thank God for strong healthy young sons.

That week, Richie disced in the lime and fertilizer and the following weekend, I seeded the plot. We used another WINA product called EDGE.  Edge is a blend of highly nutritious forage for deer.  It consists of four (4) component seeds.

1)  Sainfoin - a perennial herb in the legume family that is exceptionally nutrition dense.
2)  Persist Forb - a highly attractive, sweetness perennial found in WINA's Extreme.
3)  X-9 Alfalfa -  a grazing alfalfa with a greater leaf to stem ratio that deer find very attractive.
4)  WINA-100 Chicory - a Whitetail Institute proprietary seed that produces a forage chicory vastly more tender and palatable for deer than regular cattle chicory.

This mix yields a whooping 44% protein once established.  It also is a perrennial blend designed to last up to 5 years with proper maintenance. 

Something new for us this year is our first annual planting.  The middle pasture soil is so rich I wanted to try an incredibly attractive food plot with irresistible forage for deer.  WINA has such a product.  It's called POWER PLANT.  It was designed to provide high protein with massive tonnage for heavy forage during late spring, summer and into the fall.

It consists of vining soybeans and climbing peas better able to sustain growth during heavy consumption by deer.  To provide a lattice for the legume vines to grow and climb, tall structure plants are included in the seed mix.  These consist of sunflowers and high quality forage sorghum.  The final plant is Lablab, an African hyacinth bean that is highly nutritious and extremely drought resistant. 

A number of issues will work against the Power Plant being as successful as I had hoped.  First, the weather.  Power Plant needs a consist ground soil temperature of at least 65 degrees.  Days after seeding, the temps dropped well down into the low 50's numerous nights ... not good ... germination will not occur.  Second, I messed up on how to plant.  These seeds need to be buried into the soil, unlike all the perennial plantings.  Seeding followed by cultipacking didn't bury the seeds enough.  I need to either shallow disc the next time or use a harrow after dropping the seeds.  That being said, the 2 acres are showing some growth even if it is less than spectacular.

The final planting consisted of large Dunston chestnut trees that we had shipped up to a nursery in southern NJ.  We purchased fifteen 10'-12' trees that Jake drove down to pick-up.  Because they had already "leafed-in" they had to sit in our driveway in River Edge for over 2 weeks while the weather at the farm warmed up.  

This would be the most sensitive planting of 2012.  These trees had already begun to produce nuts.  The problem is that they were cultivated in the warm temperatures of Florida.  The nursery director stated that they are Zone 4 hardy, so I took a chance.  So far 11 of the trees regrew their leaves (they arrived fully bloomed, but again even after waiting, we still received a few days of spring frost that killed off all the leaves).  The other 4 trees may still survive, but we won't know until next spring.

We may still attempt a fall planting for a winter forage crop.  Brassica tubers (including turnips), winter wheat, forage oats and triticale are all options for a hardy winter food source for deer and turkey. 
Jake and I made short work of our spring refresher of fertilization in the clover field.
 
Picture
Now I should be writing about more of this spring's plantings and other work projects that have already been finalized ... BUT ... the 800 lb. gorilla in the room beckons a mention.  Allow me to digress a little first.

The amount of work that has been going on at Red Hand has attracted the attention of many of the locals.  To paraphrase a Miranda Lambert song "everybody's famous in a small town".  

Well it doesn't get much smaller than "our" town.  Plainfield is so small that we have to use West Winfield as our address because many maps and GPS systems can't locate us.

So we've become a "small town" topic of conversation up these ways.  At least the Ranch has.  And for all the right reasons.  Local farms and neighbors appreciate that we are up on the property almost every weekend working and sweating to improve the fields and water drainage.  With an eye for the wildlife and the aesthetics of nature, we've had almost a 1/2 dozen neighbors and/or friends in the past few weeks tell us the land is becoming a "showcase".  Their word, not ours!  

So it was not surprising that a local logger/excavator stopped by 3 weeks ago to introduce himself and offer his services.  Ah the price for fame, hahaha.  

When we first purchased the farm, the US Dept. of Agriculture had an agent come out with all kinds of support for us.  Topo maps, soil maps, water ways, planting recommendation etc.  Our rep was Janine Harter.  She absolutely loved the land and complimented Marian and I for our foresight in acquiring it.  Very well prepared, I was able to glean a ton of information from Janine concerning our future plans.  

We both could see in our mind's eye what would transform the farm into a truly gorgeous piece of land ... a pond.  When I brought up the subject, she immediately became enthused.  In fact,  Janine volunteered the exact location that I had in mind.  Upon further discussion she offered to have the agency build it!!!  All I needed to do was place it in the wetlands protection program and they would put it in.  One major problem.  Maximum depth of 5-6 feet.  The reasoning was waterfowl migration and wetland flora.  I was willing to share costs if I could have 1/2 at that depth and the rest at over 10' deep to hold bass.  She said the USDA would balk and the Army Corps of Engineers might even give us some trouble because it is already wetland designated.  So the idea of a pond was put into moth balls, mainly because I didn't want a duck swamp.

Enter Jake Hilts.  An ambitious young man, Jake had logged the property for the previous owner years ago.  Now he was stopping by to see if he could establish a relationship with me for future work.

Picture
The conversation jumped from logging to constructing a pond.  He also could see the potential for a pond in the exact same location Janine and I arrived at.  So when he offered me a price too good to pass up ... and with an "in" at the Army Corps ... we decided to go for it. 

The two pictures show the location of the pond highlighted in blue.  The area has some standing water ( a good thing for the pond, bad thing for construction) and lies partially in the wetlands (bad thing for getting it past the Army Corps of Engineers).  Well the Army Corps approved it and the construction is now underway.  Because the Army Corps allowed us, with minor restrictions, we've more than doubled it in size and increased the depth.  In typical O'Neill fashion, we now have a small lake being built.  Jake is using it as a showcase for his work and expanded it with our approval for a reasonable price increase.  Win-win for both of us.  Depth will be 14'-16' at the deepest, plenty for bass and even trout because of the cold, clear, spring-fed water.  

Picture
The pond will be dug in front of the hedgerow. It will now extend past the tan colored cattails to the right and left of the picture. A depth of over 14' will allow a healthy fishery and some nice summer swimming.