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.
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.