I can tell you the exact moment I became addicted to fishing; it happened while standing on the rocks with my dad on the shore of the Sheyenne River just below the Baldhill Dam, as we landed white bass hand over fist on a warm June Saturday nearly 10 years ago. Clearly, I can recall where all the tumblers fell into place and the first door of the labyrinth that is fly fishing unlocked, as I targeted one rising trout after another on a mountain stream in northern Norway.
Similar to those moments, my 2007 deer hunt will be the one which seals the deal on what will be my exploration of the tradition for decades to come. For richer or for poorer (the former for experiences in the outdoors, and the latter for my pocketbook,) I have been stricken with buck fever and have been greedily snatching up my old magazines I donated to the lake cabin magazine rack, pricing out new equipment and reading everything I can to become a better hunter next year.
One such reading has me intrigued in that Do-It-Yourself way - an article on stand hunting over a food plot. My fiance's father has 40 acres of woods on his property, and while visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday, my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Adam and I walked the land looking for signs of deer, and perhaps a place to plant such a plot. Upon our arrival, his dad told us that any time from the afternoon into the early morning hours, a herd of does and yearlings was somewhere around his property, but he had never seen any bucks and seriously doubted their existence. He gave us the go-ahead to investigate, and if we decided to, plant such a hunting plot.
The land around his property consisted of similar poplar and pine forested areas to the north and west, and a clear-cut area where cattle grazed some half-mile to the east. Beyond the county road south of his house wound the upper reaches of a river but as the land surrounding it was owned by a corporation, no one was able to access it for hunting purposes. Adam reported seeing large numbers of deer on many morning drives along the property.
Expecting good things, based simply on geography, but discouraged by my future father in-law's observations, I trekked into the woods behind Adam. Thirty yards in, my heart raced.
"Look at THAT," Adam stated with a slight exclamation in his usually stoic voice.
The sight of a four-inch-wide pine tree rubbed bare of its bark alongside a distinct trail was nearly as exciting as actually seeing a deer. The rub was huge, extending over a three-foot area on the south side of the tree. I inspected, and confirmed that it was made by a buck and not someone playing a joke on us.
Around the bend in the trail was a small clearing marked by a ring of small white poplars, beige knee-high grass and a dead pine tree in the middle. Around it ran two deer trails, intersecting in the northeast corner of the area. Adam couldn't recall why the area was clear, but figured his dad had cut firewood there at some point. We picked out stand trees, and marked it as a perfect area for a small plot.
I snapped a few pictures and we moved on to the northwest along the deer trail. Recent colder temperatures had frozen muddy tracks into the ground, and as the trail approached another clearing, two large scrapes were fossilized underneath overhanging pine branches. This second sign of buck activity raised my hopes for future hunts on the property.
We entered the area that Adam suggested would be the primary food plot, and it could not have been more perfect. Like many of the diagrams, stories and how-tos I had read on the Internet and in old copies of Field & Stream magazine, the area was the ideal size and shape, and was a major thoroughfare for deer, with two trails entering from the north and one coming from the east and exiting where we stood on the western edge.
The area had been clear cut over a decade ago for firewood, and now smaller poplars, pines and brush grew in from the edges. Three or four trees stood in the middle, most likely spared from the first cutting, and a small seepage of water had frozen over in the center of the larger side. A stand of brush created a pinch-point leading to the eastern third of the half-acre spot and several large poplars behind lower pine trees on the south side of the U-shaped meadow would make ideal vantage points for future hunts.
The hip-high grass would be an easy match for a brush-hog mower, and the few trees we planned to cut down would provide a good deal of firewood for my father-in-law next year. The plan started whirling in my head. ATV? Check. Brush hog and tiller? Rent them. Sprayer? Can borrow. The free-flow of ideas began between the two of us, and we ended up painting a lush green carpet of clovers and brassicas being grazed upon by a herd of massive-racked swamp bucks. Sunlight would be ample, moisture should be suitable, and the only thing to look into is a soil test for acidity and what nutrients to add.
We walked around the area a few more times and then exited on a small trail to the west, and headed back to the house. Early the next morning, I set about fleshing out a map and splicing together my photos of the areas on the computer. Excitement was building, even though the next deer season was still nine months away.
I have a plan for this plot, and for my hunting skills over the next nine months, and that is to grow both. While winter settles in, the research continues on regarding tillers, fertilizers, seed mixes and planting dates. I am quick to brush aside those "what-have-I-gotten-into" thoughts, knowing full well a successful hunt over these areas will be another memorable moment that hooks me for life... in our outdoors.
Nick Simonson is an outdoors enthusiast and writer from Valley City. His column, Our Outdoors, appears in the West Fargo Pioneer bi-weekly.