SHARE THE KNOW-HOW…Get Your Friends and Neighbors Started Right …and transform hunting neighbors into property managers

By Craig Dougherty

 During the past 25 years, my son Neil and I have introduced thousands of deer hunters to deer property management. Nothing excites us more than seeing an average (or sub-average) piece of whitetail property transformed into a first-rate piece of hunting ground. We do it because it’s good for hunting and good for wildlife. We also do it because the more people managing property, the better it is for us all. What’s better, one guy managing his 200 acres in the middle of 1,000 acres of ‘if it’s brown-it’s-down’ guys or 30 guys managing 10 square miles and helping each other? That one is a nobrainer.

Neil and I have turned many of our hunting neighbors into property managers. Instead of three mature bucks in the neighborhood, there are now over 20. How do you lose with those kinds of numbers? That’s part of the reason we have more than our share of good luck hunting big bucks. But after 25 or more years of trying, we still have some neighborhood holdouts. We keep after them, and little by little, the neighborhood is coming around. Here are some of our favorite strategies for bringing our friends and neighbors into the fold.

Food Matters

Food is the keystone of a good deer property. A good natural vegetation program is a must, but nothing beats food plots for attracting and growing good deer. And nothing beats a great food plot for showing your buddies and neighbors how they can turn their pile of rocks into a great hunting property. Note, we said “showing,” because the key to converting food plot skeptics into food plot fanatics is a little show-and-tell. And, when it comes to showing off what we have done, you can’t beat Whitetail Institute products for results. We have used Whitetail Institute products for years and have yet to be let down. The company's Imperial Whitetail Clover started the whole thing back in the late 1980s, and since then it has gotten nothing but better. An acre of Imperial Whitetail Clover has “deer” written all over it and makes a great show piece. It grows dense and leafy, just like deer clover is supposed to. Keep it weed free with an occasional mowing or an occasional application of Arrest and/or Slay herbicide, and you’ll have a plot that deer just can’t stay out of. Your neighbors and hunting buddies will be “green” with envy. Use

Only the Best

If you are going to bring new recruits into the property management fold, you had better be using the best. We are amazed at the proliferation of food plot products out there. Some are barely OK, and others are downright “not good.” The Whitetail Institute is clearly at the top of the pack. A lot of local feed and seed stores and second-rate seed companies use cattle forages in their mixes. They might be fine when baled up for cattle to eat, but they are just the wrong thing for deer (too much stem material). If you want to create great whitetail food plots, you will need to start with great seed. It might cost a few more cents per pound, but it will be more than worth it during the life of your plot. Stay away from cheap no-name brands and bulk seed. The Whitetail Institute spends years scientifically developing specific plants for specific needs and conditions. We know, as we have been helping the company test them up here in New York for years. You should never compromise on seed quality. Avoid off brands like the plague.

Circulate Scouting Cam Photos

Short of a bait pile, which is illegal in some states, the best place to set up a scouting camera is on a food plot. Deer use them regularly, and they produce some world-class beauty shots. Circulating them among your buddies is a great way to make them food plot believers. But don’t stop with just sending a photo of a deer. If you want to drive home the “food plots work” message, set up a sign in the shot that identifies what is planted in the plot. You can staple an empty seed bag to a board on a stake to drive the point home. If you don’t want to be quite that blatant, you can caption it with something that identifies what the deer are feeding on. Something like, “December buck digging Winter-Greens” will get the message across and help your audience understand how the whole food plot thing works. How about “Imperial Whitetail Clover fattening 'em up” as a subject heading for a nice doe/fawn group shot in September? I once saw a great shot of deer on a Chicory Plus plot that was green when everything else had gone brown from a summer drought. It was labeled, “Chicory Plus lives when everything else dies.” Everyone likes to look at deer pictures. Tying them into your food plot program will make believers of even the most dyed-in-the-wool skeptic.

Do a Deer Census

Before the advent of deer cameras, each September a friend would get a group of deer nuts together to count deer. He needed to know his population numbers and fawn recruitment rates to set harvest guidelines for the upcoming season. We were always happy to show up to count deer and compare notes afterward. Where did he do his counting? You guessed it, on Whitetail Institute food plots. He gave each watcher a tally sheet labeled with a food plot ID number. He also listed what was planted because they always would ask. It was always planted in something from the Whitetail Institute family. The guys had lots of fun comparing notes on what forages the deer used the most on a given evening. Counting 23 bucks and 49 does and fawns in one night makes food plot believers of us all. The most popular plot? Imperial Whitetail Clover. The second most popular? Alfa Rack Plus.

Plan a Hunting Camp Hot Dog Roast

We’ve seen it work dozens of times. Slap a few burgers and hot dogs on the grill, and invite the neighbors for a deer hunter’s neighborhood cookout. You sit around and talk deer hunting and property management, and before long food plotting will come up. That’s when you make your move. Take them out to see what you have planted and how you hunt it. Show them some pics of dead deer or mounts on the wall. If you want your neighbors to join in on the habitat management game, this is a great time to whet their appetites. Having a bag of seed handy for show-and-tell really can help the conversation along. Ever see a bag of Whitetail Institute seed? It’s got all kinds of easy planting directions and great user information on it. No brown paper sack full of seed. A bag of Winter-Greens is a sight to behold; very inviting and easy for a beginner to master.

Invite Them to a Planting Party

Inviting your friends and neighbors in to see how you plant is always a good way to get folks started planting plots. They will get a good feel for working the ground and the importance of soil testing and fertilizing. Again, the Whitetail Institute has made that part of it easy. Having a test kit on hand will enable you to show guests just how easy it is to do a soil test, and having some existing test results handy will show them the kind of information they will be provided for a little over a sawbuck. We like to plant strips of various seed varieties when demonstrating planting techniques. That way, we can discuss how Chicory Plus will take over when the drought and heat sometimes knock the clover down in July. Or how we like Extreme on poor soils, and how when the freeze sets in, they will be all over the Tall Tine Tubers and Winter- Greens. This gives them a sense that various plants can be planted for different conditions. The Whitetail Institute has a great variety of well-designed plants for almost any condition Mother Nature can deliver.

Take ‘Em Hunting

When all else fails, you can always take them hunting on your managed property. We do this on occasion when we need some help taking does. If you have never seen a hunter who hasn’t seen a deer in 12 sits on his own property sit up straight when the deer begin to come to a plot full of Winter-Greens on a cold December afternoon, you are in for a surprise. Chances are his eyes will almost pop out of his head as he fights back his excitement. Nothing turns a hunter onto food plot hunting like seeing deer where he thought there were none. The best time to do this is the absolute end of the season, when most of the guys have given up for the year. If you have a good assortment of plots planted, chances are they will be all over the Tall Tine Tubers or Winter-Greens by season’s end. Yes, you sometimes have to do a little hunter manipulation to go along with your deer habitat work. Deer hunting is a lot better and more fun when everyone in your neighborhood and all your hunting buddies are on the same page. You help each other out and at the same time help out the deer. We have yet to meet a food plotter who regrets getting started, and we have yet to meet one who hasn’t been happy with all the help the Whitetail Institute provides. We’ve written two books and published a pair of DVDs to help hunters and landowners along the way, and the Whitetail Institute has given them everything they need to be successful since starting it all in 1988. That’s why we wrote our books and published our videos. And, that’s why we have had almost 5,000 visitors to our western New York property — to see how you can turn a pile of rocks and clay into a first-rate deer property.