"Managed Farm" - Arguably the Most Fraudulent Phrase in the Free-Range Whitetail Outfitting Industry
A very wise man who has since passed, Mr. Gary Hinton Sr., hunted twice with me in my first two years in business without having a shot opportunity at a monster. It wasn't for lack of effort on his part. His son went 1 for 2 with me. On his last hunt with me in 2017, while battling cancer, he said something that really rung out to me. He said something along the lines of "it is impossible to have a managed farm in southern Iowa when the farms are all quite small and there are many neighbors sharing habitat." I never thought of it like that. Gary was from Louisiana and owned a farm in Texas as well where he hunted. In Texas, you can definitely manage a farm, but that type of management is different than Iowa. I decided to dig further into what he was saying. He was 100% right. I wish I could have him back up here one more time to try and get a big one down. He was truly a great man and will be missed by many whom he inspired. For Gary, let's dig into this topic as best we can.
The average farm size in Iowa is 80-120 acres. Yes, there are properties in excess of 1,000 acres, but there are way more from 10-40 acres. We lease ground sort of in the middle, from 40 acres to 500+ acres. Our average is probably 140-160 acres. Not every acre is hunt able either. Some farms have as little as 5 acres that is hunt-able, and others have over 100 acres of hunt-able area. It's hard to kill a deer with a bow in the middle of a 100 acre tillable field unless he comes across it right to your lap, which is easier said than done. Yet, we can do things on the farm to try and stir the deer towards our setups. That's management in Iowa if there even is such a thing. Yet, there are some myths out there that are crazy!
MANAGEMENT MYTH #1 - CULL BUCKS
Most people think that there is a real thing as a cull buck in the wild. I use to until I thought about it, the science behind it, and the logic behind it. Killing a cull buck that is 4-1/2, 5-1/2, or older means that I killed a buck that has been in peak breading age for one or two years. How many does do you think he has bred in that time? Woah! Plenty! So, what have you "culled" from the wild herd in your area? Maybe, a few more off spring than he already has. Well, the point of culling is to not let genetics continue. So, it is impossible to actually cull a wild heard unless you're taking out a buck before he is 3-1/2. Well, you sure as heck don't have a clue about his potential rack at 4-1/2, 5-1/2, 6-1/2 or older. So, it is a myth. If you hear an outfitter or any serious deer hunter talk about this, saying, "here is a cull buck"... well,... he just doesn't know the truth (yet). You do though!
MANAGEMENT MYTH #2 - KILLING DOES
"I have to kill 10 does a year on my farm to manage the buck-to-doe ratio." ARRNT! False! Well, sort of... Definitely, mostly false. Ha! Whitetails in Iowa roam, like really far. They travel miles! Unless you own a concrete area of habitat where deer don't travel, how can you truly know or influence the buck-to-doe ratio? You can't. It's always changing. Yes. By having more food and bedding, more sanctuary and travel, more water and overall space, you will increase your whitetail population, which is usually more does than bucks. Still though, you don't know the population numbers to truly calculate or even guesstimate what number of does need taken out for a more balanced herd. Furthermore, I hate killing does at all. Why? My neighbors and their neighbors probably do. If my does don't feel safe on my farm, the bucks sure won't. Plus, I have no idea what genetic potential she'll provide her offspring for rack size. Does supposedly carry between 50-60% of the offspring buck's antler genetic makeup leaving bucks with 40-50%. Well, I'm not a geneticist, but I can do high school level math. Does are valuable. Since I can't control their breeding, their population, or their travel routines, I can't control jack squat. Plain and simple.
MANAGEMENT MYTH #3 - HOLDING DEER
I hear guys talk about food plots mostly and other habitat features or creations that "help hold deer". Some of it is legitimate, but what I see from most people blabbering on social media is not true, especially for anyone in southern Iowa unless you're Lee Lakosky. Lee has a unique setup of which I can explain much more thoroughly in another post or sometime in-person. He might be the best whitetail hunter in Iowa. Honestly! I'm not a super fan or whatever, but the man truly has it figured out as well as anyone else I have ever seen or listened to. Back to this myth, holding deer is mostly impossible for 99.8% of all hunters whom have private access. Why? They travel! They roam! Deer do not know the property boundaries, who is hunting where, how big their rack is, who planted that plot and for what reason. All that they know is that they get horny in October, November, and December, and that they like to eat a lot of varieties of food all year, and then sleep. They are animals. Now, could I, in theory, hold a buck close by? Sure. Yet, it's not up to you alone. Your neighbors will also dictate this and the natural land composition and design. Holding deer is a complete myth because you can't control the deer's travel area, home range, winter range, or rut range. Want to hold deer? Build a darn big sturdy fence.
The areas of which I can "manage" my farms are basically what anyone can do if they have the time and money to complete.
1) Food plots
2) Mineral Sites (summer months)
3) Trail Cameras
4) Improved bedding seclusion
5) Consistent sanctuaries
6) Light access / human presence
7) Better stuff than your neighbors
8) Kill mature bucks 4-1/2 & older
That's truly all that we can influence along with stand/blind placement, which is truly a guess at best. So, management in Iowa is much different than Texas. Gary helped me understand that to a much larger degree than I had realized. I'm sure that we will dig into these areas more over time in future posts. If you have a topic that you'd like to see in a post, please comment such below. I really appreciate it! -Matt