Summer is over, and all of us are excited and ready for hunting season to start; but more importantly, is your property ready?
As we have now officially entered fall, we are closing in on the start of the various upcoming hunting seasons. In fact, we have essentially made it through the antler growing season of 2022. Most anyone with property and deer (like myself) is always looking for ways to make their ranches better and to take this investment of a lifetime to the next level.
I also know that as property owners, we are almost always juggling a lot, especially this time of year. For that reason, it can be extremely helpful to have a short list of action items to make sure you maximize the success of any given hunting season.
To make it easier on you, I’ve come up with a quick 10-item checklist to run through as we finalize pre-season preparations before opening day:
1. Continue supplement feeding your herd. You likely have already been doing this throughout the year. I highly recommend continuing to do so up until and even throughout the hunting season. Many landowners or lessors stop feeding protein or other supplemental feed to their deer when the season starts. However, I feel strongly, on both low fence and high fence ranches, that it’s worth the money spent to feed year-round. You have already invested the money and time to ensure your herd was healthy all year. Why stop those efforts right before hunting season only to run the risk of potentially forcing the herd to leave your ranch in search for more feed (if low fence) on your neighbor’s property? If you have a high fence ranch, you run the risk of herd health deteriorating during the season if their habitat conditions end up less than favorable. For instance, in dry years, like the one we’re in, nutrition becomes even more critical. Don't get slack at the last minute.
2. Verify shooting safety. Check your rifle range berms to ensure they are still fully capable of stopping bullets. Make sure the target stands are in good condition and that the shooting benches have everything needed for good target practice.
3. Ensure tree stand and blind safety. Go to each blind to check for wasps, broken windows and for animals that might have used your blind as a summer home. There is nothing more embarrassing than dropping off a guest or client at a blind that is overrun with bugs, droppings or worse… perhaps even a dead varmint. Check every tree stand to ensure that all straps or chains are in their proper position and in good condition. Check all tree stand lifelines to ensure they aren’t damaged or showing signs of weather rot.
4. Clear & clean your land. This is the time to make sure all your roads and shooting lanes are trimmed with unobstructed visibility for shooting. Shred all your roads and shooting lanes as well.
5. Inventory your herd for management purposes. If you don't already have your trailcams out, it is time to start getting a good inventory of the bucks on your property for the season. If you are in the Managed Lands Deer Program (MLDP), you need to get your game surveys scheduled and completed. Once your survey data has been gathered, you’ll submit your data to the biologist. If you’re managing the property yourself, it is time to set your harvest quotas for the season. Even if you are managing your own property, it’s a good policy to use any game survey data and camera survey data to determine how many bucks and does should be taken off the property this season to ensure you are managing the herds correctly and maintaining the proper carrying capacity for your ranch.
6. Ensure proper permitting. If you are running a high fence ranch and plan to bring deer to the ranch to improve your herd genetics before the fall hunting season, soft release permits may be required and arrangements must be made to legally move those deer to your ranches. (Remember if you are leaving the antlers on the bucks, you have to have had the deer re-located on your ranch no less than two weeks before the start of the season in October.) If you have had any deer in Deer Management Permit (DMP) pens and plan to use those pens for anything else this season, you have to have had your deer in the DMP program liberated and no food and water in the pens for at least 30 days. Without paying close attention to these timelines and deadlines, you can miss opportunities to participate in these programs this season.
7. Clean sweep of your facilities. Check your lodges, hunting camps, walk-in coolers and skinning facilities to make sure everything is in good working order, since more than likely those structures have sat idle since last season.
8. Coordinate livestock grazing plans with hunting logistics. If you have a rancher running livestock on your hunting property, it’s a good idea to visit with them to understand the grazing plans for this fall. You’ll need to make arrangements to deal with any issues that plan might present during the hunting season. Communication is key to ensuring y’all are on the same page and are working together to ensure everyone utilizing your property has a successful fall season.
9. Plan ahead for donating extra meat. If you are managing a property with fairly high harvest quotas, it’s a good idea to make arrangements now for donating any additional meat you may have from the season, so nothing goes to waste. Trying to coordinate this last minute can be a pain and very challenging. You can always find someone who needs the help and will appreciate some good venison, but finding them ahead of time is key to making sure no meat goes to waste.
10. Add water sources if you can. On a dry year like 2022, if you have the ability to add additional water sources for the game, the fall is always a good time to do so. It’s smart to have a 3-5 year water improvement plan for your ranch that you can stick to. During dry years, we know the animals are struggling for water. Not only will your herd benefit from you adding more water sources on your property, but by doing so, you are investing in and adding substantial value to your ranch.
Without question, the extra time, money and effort it takes to prepare your property for hunting season will be well worth it. You and your hunters will appreciate every bit of your hard work when you’re reaping the rewards on your ranch in the middle of this year’s hunting season - and in many cases, even in the years to come. Happy hunting!