Just Like We Planned, Almost
By Stephen Reed
To coin one of my all-time favorite movie catch phrases, I love it when a plan comes together! That’s exactly how I felt as I stood with pride outside the blind, looking up the hill into the well eaten food plot, at the doe lying there taking a dirt nap. Tyler was in the blind asking, “Can you see her? Is she there Dad? Can you see her?” I could hear the anticipation growing with each question. And I couldn’t help but smile as I turned to him and nodded my head and he jumped out of his seat with a “YES!” and a series of first pumps. I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself, so I’ll back up to the part about the plan.
Figure 1 “Photo” Stephen Reed and his son Tyler Reed.
We set this plan in motion in the middle of September 2012. It was a very, very dry year for us in Missouri. The mountain that our 80 acres is on has a small field right on the top that is about 45 yards wide by 75 yards long in an oval. We wanted to put in a food plot for the upcoming deer season. But, the ground was as hard as concrete and well I didn’t have a plow. I have a GMC 4×4 with an 8 inch lift and 35 inch tires. I broke the rear axle housing on my truck driving up and down this mountain road to get up to our place, so paying someone to do it for me was out of the question. And so we hatched a little plan.
After scouring craigslist for an old plow, I found the perfect candidate! A 100 year old three section horse drawn spring harrow plow that was at a junkyard that was being sold as yard art for $35.00 per section! I only needed one section so I bought the center one with the handle to raise and lower the springs. After a little haggling we settled on 30 bucks and I loaded it up and headed home. The handle worked great and I could raise the springs from 6 inches above the soil to a drag depth of about 12 inches. Now all it needed was wheels and paint. I took a quick trip to the local hardware store. I bought two 10 inch wheels mounted with grade 8 5/8 bolts for axles and a slick new red and black paint job. I bolted an old chain I had to the front of the plow, added a hook and for just over $60.00, I had a new plow!
The next step was to spend an afternoon at Cabela’s and the Bass Pro Shop researching which seed would work best up on the mountain with our soil type and in our temperature range. We had to decide what species of plant we wanted, when it would mature, and how long it would hold the deer once it matured. We also had to decide how deep it had to be planted and how the soil had to be prepared. It really was a daunting task. I never knew there were so many types of seeds for food plots out there. In actuality an afternoon of research turned into a weekend with several hours of internet research, before a choice was made.
Now came the hardest part, as I said before, the ground was as hard as concrete. I only had a limited window to get the seed plowed and planted. Since we were experiencing a drought like most of the country, there was no rain and none in the forecast. How was I going to plow and plant? I had almost given up, when there was a forecast predicting rain for the weekend. I attached the plow to the 4 wheeler, then loaded up and made the 3 hour trip down to the hunting ground. I got everything ready before the rain began. I mowed the field and set the plow to just scratch the surface of the ground. The ground was so hard the plow didn’t even scratch it. But it did manage to dislodge all the rocks and being a mountain, there were a bunch of them. We used the deer sled and loaded the rocks for a new fire pit that I wanted to build this spring. Once the rain started, it was on! I was a plowing fool. To make a long story short, we got it plowed and planted in the course of the weekend, in the rain. We were again blessed with rain the following weekend to water it even more.
We watched it grow with little to no rain through the end of summer. In the early fall and at its best, it was just over 13 inches tall. The one problem I noticed was that almost all of the deer activity on my trail cams had ceased, about the time I put in this food plot. The drought was in full force and up on top of the mountain, there was very little water. Even though I planted the food without water, the deer were not showing up like they had in years past. I was watching the same 5-8 deer on all my trail cameras. I had also seen several trail camera pictures from my deer hunting neighbors. They also had the same deer on their cameras as well. I had noticed by the first week of October that the plants were starting to be eaten in the bottom corner of the field. I had a Wounded Warrior Hunt planned in two weeks. I was excited at the thought of maybe taking a deer from the food plot on that hunt. I headed home with visions of 190 class bucks chewing mouthfuls of my food plot haunting my day dreams. I was eager to get back a couple days before the hunt began to check out how things had progressed. Much to my joy and dismay it had all rolled into one, the entire food plot was only about 2 ½ inches high! It was almost all gone! There were no more deer on the trail cameras, but the entire field looked like it was mowed! We hunted it a couple times during the Wounded Warrior Hunt, but never saw a deer in it.
Back to the story, youth season was the first weekend in November and Tyler was very excited. For those of you who have followed my other articles, you might remember the problem my nephew Ryan had with Tyler’s gun. It’s a Rossi .243 single shot youth model and we were having trouble with it misfiring. If the primers were recessed at all, the firing pin would only make a small dent, but not set off the round. I reloaded some new rounds that year for Tyler with flush primers. Since then, the gun performed flawlessly on all test fires at the range, and Tyler became a very good shot with it. We arrived at camp the night before youth season opened. We decided to hunt in the ladder stand for the morning hunt and use the ground blind on the food plot in the afternoon.
Figure 2 “Photo” Tyler Reed getting ready for the hunt.
Tyler had never hunted in a ladder stand. We talked about how you have to sit still and you can’t move, but he’s only 9. I knew it was asking a lot of him, but we tried it anyway. If he’s anything like me, he’s going to have to learn by doing. We strapped on his harness, sprayed ourselves down with our White Acorn Scent cover scent from 3D Hunting Supply and headed to the stand. We got there just before daylight and climbed up. We put on our safety harnesses, clipped to the tree and settled in; him with his rifle and me with my video camera.
The way the stand is set up, it overlooks a ridge about 60 yards out in front of us. Ninety percent of the time, I see deer as they are walking on that ridge. This gives me a great broadside shot, for almost a 130 degree sweeping range of motion right in front of the stand. But the other 10% of the time, they try to sneak up the wood line against the edge of the thicket. This maneuver leads them right to the base of the tree that we are in and under the stand and into the food plot from the back side. Can you guess which way they took that morning? We sat watching these deer skirt the edge of the thicket, walking right at us. As they got to within about twenty yards, I whispered get ready. Tyler turned his head and whispered ok, and they were off like a rocket! Two nice big does went running and snorting and bucking over the hill and out of sight. He turned and looked at me like what just happened?? Lesson learned. We hunted the rest of the morning with no luck. We headed back to the camper for a bite of lunch and to plan for the evening hunt at the food plot.
On our way back to the camper, we took a look at the food plot and jumped a doe and two yearlings. After a quick lunch and a short nap, we were ready to head back to the ground blind set up on the edge of the food plot. We sprayed down with our White Acorn Scent and walked to the blind, excited for our evening hunt. Tyler usually does a little better in a ground blind, since he can get away with a little more moving around. To his credit, he seemed to have learned from that morning’s lesson and was uncommonly still for our afternoon hunt. We sat there taking turns watching the field and playing a videogame on my phone to pass the time. Suddenly he said, “Dad, there’s a deer!” Sure enough that big doe had returned from earlier that morning. I told him to get ready; her two yearlings would be close behind her. It wasn’t long before all three deer were grazing about 40 yards away, straight downwind of us. Man that 3D Hunting Supply White Acorn Scent really works!
I quickly found the doe in the view finder on my video camera. Tyler grabbed his shooting stick and set his rifle up for the shot. I had her in my screen and I told him to take his time and shoot when he was ready. I could hear him cock the rifle and then flip the safety off. He whispered that he couldn’t see her. I told him to just calm down and relax, we had time. He found her again and as I followed her in anticipation of the shot, I was so excited for him. This was the first time I let him do it all by himself and I was just an observer. He said, “Ok I’m gonna shoot”, so I zoomed in a little and then, BOOM! I watch with disappointment as she ran off. Then one of the yearlings ran about halfway down the field and turned around. It started looking back up the field, then at the blind, then back up the field. I put the camera down in my lap as I reloaded Tyler’s gun. I was about to have him set up for a shot on the yearling, when she ran off after her mother. My heart sank! How did he miss at 40 yards when he was hitting at 75 and 80 yards at the range? He looked at me with joyful anticipation and asked, “Did I get her?” I had to swallow hard as I told him no, she ran away with her yearling. The other yearling must have run the other way because I didn’t see her run off. He looked at me kind of funny and said, “No Dad, I shot that other one, but I can’t see it now. I thought it dropped, but I can’t see it”.
I was a little confused, but excited. We talked and apparently he couldn’t see the big doe, due to the brush on the blind. Instead of waiting until she moved, he just picked the other deer that he could see, which was the second yearling that I couldn’t see with the camera. I got out of the blind and saw the deer lying in a shallow depression in the field. He finished his initial round of fist pumps as we made the short walk to his deer and he got to put his hands on his trophy.
Figure 3 “Photo” Tyler Reed and his doe. Way to go Tyler!
I have to admit, even though things didn’t go exactly like we planned, the plan in its basic form still worked. We found an old plow, refurbished it to suit our needs and then plowed the ground. We planted the seed to feed the deer and draw them in closer, in hopes of killing a couple to feed our family. Not only did we do that, but we made some great memories as a father and son. We also learned some valuable lessons for the future; like don’t move in the stand and let’s make sure we are both looking on the same deer before taking the shot. The most important one of all, if you feed them, they will come…