Go From Barren to Bruisers
“Hugely rewarding in many ways,” is how Craig Dougherty describes his Quality Deer Management and Habitat Program. “It’s a happy camp when everyone is seeing bucks, but the satisfaction runs much deeper than big antlers. Doing things with the land keeps you there all year long. You seed it, fertilize it, and get great satisfaction watching a blanket of brush transform into a field of green, growing, high-protein forage.”
Dougherty succeeded through deliberate steps. “When we purchased the land, the previous owner thought two or three apple trees grew on the property. We found 30 and immediately went to work with chainsaws and pruning hooks. Getting a wild crop of apples the first season was a rush and motivation for the next challenge. Logging roads and old trails were planted with clover and other deer foods. These elongated food plots amounted to four or five acres in square footage and were an important step. We also pruned and fertilized the fringe of the trails, adding nutritious browse. A 7-acre tract of gnarly thick brush became a sanctuary that has only been walked by humans twice in 10 years.
“Hardwoods were selectively cut to generate money to buy more land. Today we have just over 500 acres and transformed it into the Kindred Spirits habitat development and quality deer hunting site. Selective timbering harvested the mature oaks, allowing lesser trees to grow better mast and opened up the understory for more browse and the next crop of nut trees.
“Each year we identify projects for habitat improvement,” continues Dougherty. “In the last five years, we have become farmers creating larger food plots up to three acres….
“Early on, only about 5 percent of bucks sighted were more than 1.5 years old. Today, more than 30 percent are upper-age-class bucks. The trick is to set a better table or make a better bed than your neighbor. For Neil and I, Kindred Spirits is a vision come true and we are eager to share it.”
Build Your Own Recordbook Buck
In one year you can make a difference. Nutrition and age are the two factors that grow record-book bucks. If you can let the young deer grow a few years and provide the right nutrition, you’ll have record-class horns.
1. Plant 1 percent of your property in nutrient plants. Up to 5 percent is better.
2. Prepare the soil correctly. Use a soil test to get PH between 6 and 7. Lime corrects this; it is inexpensive and easy to use.
3. Fertilize 300 pounds per acre. Again, not a big expense.
4. Don’t plant seeds more than 1⁄4 inch deep.
5. Think like a farmer. In a drought year you may have to replant.
6. Use a mineral lick—about one per 160 acres.
7. Fertilizing specific acorn trees will make them outdraw and out-produce surrounding trees. Place fertilizer at the drip line in spring.