John's Journal... Entry 220, Day 1
SANCTUARY: THE KEY TO TAKING TROPY BUCKS
The Wisdom of the Insane
Note: Trophy bucks don't have to move when you're hunting them. Mature
bucks can find and have everything they need and want after dark - food,
water, sex, companionship, exercise and socialization - without traveling
during daylight hours. Too, older-age-class bucks have learned they're
more likely to encounter predators when the sun goes down. Therefore,
a trophy buck has locating sanctuary - a place where he can stay during
daylight hours and not have to contend with humans - as his number-one
priority. Landowners and hunting clubs that provide sanctuary for bucks
Most hunters want to know how to provide sanctuary for older-age-class bucks and to harvest them. Also, if you provide sanctuary for older-age-class bucks, how do you maintain the sanctuary and still harvest the big bucks? To learn the answers to these questions, I interviewed several avid hunters and biologists.
"Alex, you've lost your mind," I told Alex Rutledge, a member of Hunter's Specialties' Pro Staff Team, from Birchtree, Missouri. Rutledge had planted a 50-yard-wide strip of winter wheat all the way around the property line of the 160 acres he hunted. "Your neighbors are going to shoot all the deer coming from their land to yours. And they're going to shoot across the property line and kill your deer. Without question, this is the most insane green-field planting I've ever seen."
"Most people would agree with you, John, after first looking at my green field," Rutledge said. "However, I have an agreement with my neighbors not to hunt within 400 yards of my green fields. So by putting a green field just inside my property line, I make sure that my neighbors don't hunt the edge of my land. But you have to see my entire wildlife-management program to understand why I have a green field planted around the edge of my property." As Rutledge explained his management program, I began to understand the wisdom of his insanity. Rutledge had created roads and trails in a design that resembled the spokes of a wheel, with the property's border the outer edge of the wheel. Besides the winter wheat planted on this outer edge of the wheel shape, Rutledge planted the spoke-looking roads, paths and trails coming off this wheel in winter wheat and clover. The 20-acre center or hub of this management program included a thick-cover bedding area and a huge food plot. Rutledge had put several different wildlife plantings in this food plot.
When I asked Rutledge why he'd planted more than one crop of deer food in his sanctuary, he explained, "You know, Bubba, if you eat steak and taters all day, every day, even though steak and taters are good, you'll get tired of them after a while. And deer are just like us. They prefer a smorgasbord where they can pick and choose from a wide variety of foods when they're ready to eat. I plant this smorgasbord with several varieties of deer foods twice a year in the center of my property right beside the bedding-area sanctuary. I make the center green field a part of my sanctuary. In the fall, I plant turnips, triticales (a cross between wheat and rye), typhons (a cross between a cabbage and a turnip) and alfalfa, which I grow all year. I also have clover that grows year-round. For my spring and summer planting, I use milo and sunflowers, plus I still have my clover and my alfalfa growing. When a deer comes to my sanctuary, he can feed any time of the day or night on a wide variety of foods and knows that no one will mess with him. I only go into my sanctuary to plant crops. If I shoot a big buck that runs into my sanctuary, I'll go in at night to find and retrieve that buck. I'll also look for sheds in the sanctuary during turkey season. But during hunting season, no one, including me, goes into that sanctuary during daylight hours."
Dr. Grant Woods of Reeds Spring, Missouri, a nationally-known wildlife biologist and researcher, believes that Rutledge has hit on two major components needed to make sanctuaries effective for hunting-club members. "To keep the most bucks on your land, the sanctuary needs to be in the center-most part of the property," Woods advised. The deer in a sanctuary need to have little or no human contact. For a sanctuary to be effective year-round, the integrity of that sanctuary can't be violated."
Rutledge's sanctuary acts like a buck magnet. The deer from surrounding areas come to his property and practically line up to feed on the winter wheat. Then they follow the winter-wheat trails leading from the property line to his sanctuary fields where he has planted a deer-food smorgasbord. Next to the smorgasbord, Rutledge has 20 acres of undisturbed thick-bedding regions. Once a buck arrives at Rutledge's sanctuary, that buck has no reason to leave. The buck has cover, food and a supply of does that regularly move in and out of Rutledge's property. Rutledge takes no more than one or two bucks from his land each year and only hunts the spokes of his food wheel or the property-line green field. The biggest buck he's taken has scored 140 points Boone and Crockett. "I've seen bucks that will score 150- to 160-B&C points, traveling to and from my sanctuary, but I haven't taken a shot at them," Rutledge reported. If you only have a small area to hunt like Rutledge, you still can produce and hold older-age-class bucks there, using this spoke-and-wheel type of management system.
But no deer-management system can promise perfection. "I'm beginning to see a build-up of does on my land and the properties around mine," Rutledge advised. "Until now, I haven't had to harvest any does. This year I will. If I take does from my property-line food plots, I won't destroy the integrity of the sanctuary in the middle of my land. For a sanctuary to continue to produce big bucks, it can't be violated. If you do hunt your sanctuary, don't hunt it but once or twice a year when the wind conditions are right. Then there's a minimum amount of human pressure on that sanctuary."
TOMORROW: THE GALLBERRY THICKET