I wasn’t raised in a deer hunting family, so I know very little about what goes into “catching” a good (maybe a great) deer. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Greg Widiker, a science teacher who teaches a Sportsman’s Biology class at Webster High School. He and his hunting partner, Seth Pearson were kind enough to meet with me at Widiker’s hunting land and explain a little bit about what went into making it an ideal environment. After an hour, we just scratched the surface, but I learned enough to know that’s called a “scrape” and this whole process that they live and breathe is called Quality Deer Management.
When Widiker bought the land, he had Phil Stromberg, a local conservationist and consultant help him assess the trees, soil and travel funnels. He had an opportunity to start from scratch and wanted to do it right with a land plan. Deer are creatures of the edge, so they wanted to create places where they’d feel at home – some open and some wooded. With a tractor and some forethought, they created clover food plots, clay ponds, a meadow with the ideal scraping tree, travel corridors and a bedding sanctuary.
First, they pulled some stumps to create a meadow area around a tree that would become the communication center for the deer that pass through the land. The scrape tree, as they call it, has branches that start about 5 feet off the ground. These branches are “licking branches” where the deer leave hormones from the glands on the tops of their heads and near their eyes to communicate with other deer. There are tufts of fur stuck on the ends of some of the branches to prove to me that they’re not pulling my leg. (This is fascinating and all very new to me!) Below the 5 foot level, it’s bare with the exception of a few dirt patches. The dirt patches are called scrapes and the deer will use their hoofs to scrape those areas where the soil is saturated with urine and droppings. This tree is a destination point for dominant bucks and a place for them to communicate. (It’s like Facebook for deer and I can hardly believe it’s real.) They kindly ask me not to touch or disturb the tree and I get the point that it’s a bit of a sacred creation.
Next, they created some small clay based ponds for drinking. When the deer are running, they look for water. These ponds really just look like wet spots in the woods and you’d never know they actually created them. They’ve also gone to great lengths to grow food plots for the deer. They amended the soil to grow clover. After they got the ph levels just right, they found a frost tolerant variety that is 30% protein – Imperial White Tail Clover. (Hmm. Try a little of that with your oatmeal in the morning instead of eggs. Not.) On top of that, they have two “mineral licks” where the deer can augment their diet even more. In the summer, these mineral licks are hot spots for bucks, as the minerals are good for their antlers. Surprisingly, they only use about two bags of the mineral mix per year, so it sounds like just a dab will do!
Lastly, they left the back “40” a thick poplar forest, just as they found it. They call it The Sanctuary and never go there. The deer are on their feet during the day, but need a safe bedding area for night, so they’ve made a pact to not disturb this area…except when it’s deer catching time. I was also kindly asked not to go into that area. Sacred. I catch on.
How do they know all this tweaking and treading are working? They have deer cameras where they can see and record the animals that pass through the land. They’ve come to know and recognize many of the animals. They wait, watch them grow over the years and only take them when they’re mature, quality animals. It’s really quite amazing to get an overview of what goes into this obsession. It’s not hard to understand why they call it a religion in these parts.
Oh and did I mention there’s a hunting shack? It’s small, very simple and has no running water or electricity, but has been thoroughly sealed and mouse-proofed. It has a sturdy deck and overlooks a pretty wetland. With all the work and thought that goes into the land, I ask them what they actually do at the cabin. They tell me it’s a place to get away from the women folk, talk smart and have a beer. I have a feeling that’s sacred too.