New York Hunter Shares Successful QDM Practices

By Russell Nitchman

In August 2000, my wife and I purchased a 104- acre parcel in upstate New York. At that point, I was an average hunter who had read about quality deer management in magazines. I had bought into many of the ideas, mostly because of the larger bucks that QDM can produce. Since I was a teenager, I had dreamed of killing a trophy buck. But after buying my land, my reasons for practicing QDM have expanded beyond tagging a trophy to include improving habitat for whitetails, turkeys and other animals.
Before owning my land, I didn't have a place to practice QDM and knew no one who did. I had no idea where this would lead me. But I have no regrets, and it has been an exciting adventure. When I bought my property, it consisted of a swampy area, an uncut hay field, a small piece of wooded mountainside and two smaller fields undergoing succession by shrubs. There were already some nice bucks in the area. A neighbor had killed a respectable 10-pointer and a smaller 10-pointer the first year. Still, most of the bucks were yearlings, carrying their first set of antlers.


I began my QDM program by planting two fields with two and three acres of Imperial Whitetail Clover. I had taken the soil samples, and with my experience of working on a farm as a youth and teaching Agricultural Science in high school, I had a good understanding of basic agricultural practices. My soils were quite acidic, with pH ranging from 4.6 to 5.2. The previous owner had not limed or taken proper care of the soil. I put out two to three tons of lime per acre on my fields, hiring a local Ag business that sold and applied lime. That first application brought the pH to about 6.0. The Imperial Clover germinated and thrived, though the improvement was far from ideal. The next year, I again called in the lime truck and added another two tons per acre. Meanwhile, I began work to reclaim a secluded five-acre field, which also had low pH. I limed it heavily. By the third year, I put down my final lime application on all the fields. Six months later, my soil tests revealed improved pH — about 6.5 to 7 — on all the fields. Even at first, the Imperial Whitetail Clover I planted had done very well, even in the lower-pH soils. The improved pH level was ideal. At spring green-up and late August, I applied 300 pounds per acre of 0-40-10 fertilizer to my fields. When I bought the farm, I also bought an old 68- horsepower diesel tractor. I began to add equipment as fast as I could afford it. First was the medium-duty brush hog. By the way, one of my biggest mistakes was cutting too much brush. Deer love brush and need it for bedding areas. In one field, I cut all the brush and created a great food plot that left deer with no nearby thick bedding areas. That was a big mistake. Now, the edges of that field are uncut, and I have planted trees and encourage thick growth.

The past three years, I added a york rake, three-point spreader, three-bottom plow, 12-foot cultipacker and 14-foot boom sprayer. My local farmer lets me borrow his 12-foot disk when I need it. Other than that and a drill to put large seeds directly into the ground, I think I've finally obtained all the equipment I need. I use a commercial walk-behind broadcast spreader that I push to sow small seeds, such as Imperial Clover, Alfa-Rack and Winter-Greens. I believe I have a lot more control over the thickness of the application when I walk behind the spreader and watch the seeds hit the soil. It’s more work than using a tractor spreader, but a tractor spreader is not nearly as controllable. I use the tractor spreader for larger seeds, such as PowerPlant. I get great results sowing my seeds that way. I planted half the Imperial Clover seed with winter wheat and rye in the fall. In early spring, when ground was still thawing and re-freezing, I went back over it with the rest of the clover seed. That frost seeding did a great job of putting seed into good contact with the soil. Then, in late May or early June, I cut the wheat and rye down, leaving lush, dense clover. Before I plant, I disk the seedbed, smooth it with the cultipacker, spread the seed, and run over it again with the cultipacker. I also learned to plant my fields in strips. Rather than one large five-acre field with one great crop in it, I mixed it into strips 30-feet wide. I plant corn, then Imperial Clover, then Winter-Greens and then Power Plant. While on stand, I contemplate how to plant the field next season. “How can I improve it?” I ask. That might be the best part of managing fields for deer. I planted apple trees my first year, and they are finally beginning to produce a few apples. This past winter, I released six mature apple trees along field edges by heavily pruning and fertilizing them. I planted 27 apple trees and seven pear trees the past two years. I have tried to enhance my woodlands by planting oaks with protective cages around them. In addition, I planted 100 Northern cedars, better known as arborvitae. I grow them in five-foot-tall concrete-wire cages. Whatever plant parts grow through the six-inch squares of the wire is for deer to eat in winter. The inside portions remain alive and let the plant regrow in spring.


My Whitetail Institute food plots became an instant magnet to deer. A neighbor has a bow stand on the edge of a field planted in Alfa-Rack, and he said, “I can get a doe any evening just by going over to that bow stand!” He’s pretty much correct. On four of the past six opening evenings of bow season, he has tagged mature does. My most productive stand is on the twoacre field where I had mistakenly brush hogged the dense cover. The food plots have involved work and definitely cost money. And it’s worth every penny. It’s awesome to look out in the fields during summer and watch deer pour into them. To see three mature bucks come to the same field, as I did one early August morning this past year, is even better. Because my property is only 104 acres, I cannot expect to hold deer exclusively, though I still try to. I have worked to educate my neighbors on QDM, and to shoot does and let small bucks walk. One has bought into it, but another rejects it. A neighbor across the road enthusiastically practices QDM. In 2002, just two years into the QDM program, my friend Josh shot a nice 2-1/2-year-old buck. My neighbor who embraces QDM killed a large buck with a 19-inch spread in 2004. In 2005, good friend and fellow teacher Frank Grunseich shot the largest buck on my property at that time. He rattled the deer out of a swamp just before 4 p.m. during the opening day of gun season. The nice, heavy 8-pointer had a rack just to the ends of his ears. it was perfectly symmetrical — a beautiful specimen of what a well-fed buck should look like after 2-1/2 years. Also in 2005, fellow QDMer Jerry Moore convinced me to purchase two digital cameras. Even though I started late in summer, I took hundreds of pictures. We saw many good bucks that year, but none were mature. This past season was different. I had learned where and how to film deer on my property. The cameras went out in mid-July, and we identified four mature bucks with antlers outside their ears. Three frequented my property regularly. I attribute this to the food plots and habitat improvements I've made. The secluded five-acre field has become my honeyhole. A friend tagged an antlerless deer there on the evening of opening day two seasons ago. The field has a smorgasbord of forges, including Power Plant, Imperial Clover and Winter-Greens. My friend said the field was full of deer.


After that hunt, we avoided the field until the late gun season. With little pressure, a great food source, great bedding areas and the second rut, things looked promising. The evening of Dec. 9, I planned to slip out into a stand along the edge at the midpoint of the food plot. From there, I could reach almost the entire field with my 12-gauge. The field is surrounded on three sides by thick bedding areas and the mountain on the fourth. I quietly slipped into the stand at about 2:30 p.m., well before sunset. The wind was out of the west. Just as the sun went over the horizon, the steady winds decreased and then came out of the south, which is ideal for hunting that setup. It seemed like forever until the first doe entered the field about 4:30 p.m. She was in a group of three: two mature does and a fawn. Five or 10minutes later, another mature doe entered. Five minutes later, another mature doe came, and later a sixth joined them. From behind me, I heard the distinctive crunching of leaves as deer approached. Remaining motionless, I caught movement as five deer passed beneath my stand and moved toward the field. I watched the group ease across the field and split up to consume their favorite food. I’m not sure whether it was the sound of crunching leaves or simply movement in my peripheral vision, but I looked to my left and saw a mature buck headed right at me. Moving quickly and with purpose, he turned 90 degrees to his left and walked into the field. He did not hesitate at the field’s edge to stop and check it out. The 11 antlerless deer eating seemed to be all he needed. My hands were already on the gun, ready for a shot. I slowly moved the gun to my shoulder and found the buck in the scope. He was walking through a small shooting lane. Not feeling comfortable about taking a walking shot and not being in a rush, I picked the next opening. When he entered the second shooting lane, one of the does bleated. He took two more quick steps, stopped and snapped his head back around toward me. I could tell that the 50-yard shot was good as he took off across the field with difficulty. He tore for the far corner of the field but disappeared in the PowerPlant about 30 yards from the edge of the field. Does ran past him and left the field. There was no sign of the buck. He was down. Later, my hunting buddies drove the truck across the large field to my area. Two remaining deer cleared the field, and I climbed down. We found the buck with no problem. The 3-1/2-year-old 10-pointer was the largest deer killed from the property. Checking my digital cameras, I found eight pictures of that deer. The cameras told me there were two larger bucks on the property. The largest, a split G-2 10-pointer, was captured on pictures opening morning and a week into the season. My cameras are positioned to capture his movements after the season. I think both deer are still alive.


What an evening! With high hopes my daughter and I returned to our farm. (I live in NY City, 230 miles away from my farm). My goal was to harvest some deer, but more importantly, get my daughter Abigail her first gun deer. In the back of my mind I thought there might be an outside chance of harvesting a trophy buck as well. That Saturday evening was the best time for hunting that I have ever experienced. The rut was over, there were 8 inches of snow on the ground, and a large cold front was heading in. The wind was out of the southeast, which made hunting the southern 5-acre food plot the place to be. Abigail and I climbed together into a wooden box with our muzzleloaders in hand for the evening hunt. At 3:45 p.m. the first deer, two smaller 1-1/2year old bucks and a doe, showed up. Moments later I shot the doe. We remained in the stand as I figured more deer would be coming. By 4:20 p.m. more deer began to appear. Within minutes we had deer coming from the north to our left and a larger group from the south to our right. This time I would wait until a suitable deer got closer to Abigail for a better shot. What amazed me the most was that 1/3 to 1/2 of the more than 30 deer that entered the food plot in the next 30 minutes were antlered bucks. My neighbor had killed seven bucks already. I figured most bucks were gone by now, with only a few remaining. These deer must have been attracted from miles around. I had the best groceries in town and the deer knew it. We picked out a larger bodied buck from the group and when Abigail was sure that she could make the shot, she let me know. I continued to scan the field as more deer piled into it. When Abigail shot, she was certain she had hit her buck. We climbed down with 10 minutes of light left. I followed a blood trail in the snow to her beautiful 6-pointer on the edge of the field. My 100-pound doe lay dead another 20 yards beyond. Her buck was a muscular 2-1/2 year old that dressed out at 120 pounds. That evening Abi said about our 30 hour whirlwind trip, “This was exciting...I’m glad that I came.” I will never forget the old timer who helped me get my first buck 27 years ago. I doubt Abigail will ever forget this evening either.


The newest weapon in my management plan is a secluded boomerang-style food plot in the woods next to thick bedding areas and in the midst of heavy travel corridors. This past summer, I cleared a 100-by-25-yard area into a boomerang shape. Remaining trees were downed in late December. That was a lot of work, and it produced more than 18 cords of firewood. Next spring, I hope to lime it and then plant Imperial Clover and Winter-Greens. It is so much fun to manage property and see it get better every year. I also hope to build another food plot 150 yards away in the woods, in the shape of an S. During the past couple of years, my management plan has finally come together to create a property of which I’ve always dreamed. I believe things will continue to improve as I grow quality food, learn more about my property, determine new ways to hunt it and hopefully convince more neighbors to practice QDM by example and the regular harvest of large bucks. I look forward to continuing to use Whitetail Institute products on my property. They helped me grow these quality deer. The research and development put into their products are what make their products superior to others. Being a high-school science teacher, I place great value on that kind of research.