Giving back to the Herd:
Lieutenant Dunbar’s (Kevin Costner’s character) first hunt with the Sioux was ritualized by devouring a chunk of raw liver. I would have been eight (8) years old when the movie Dances with Wolves debuted and to say it left a lasting impression would be an understatement.
That’s precisely how I wanted to memorialize my first successful whitetail hunt, by tearing a chunk of raw organ apart with my incisors. I was eleven (11), maybe twelve (12) when I bagged my first deer. Try as I did, I would eventually fail in convincing my parents to allow me to munch raw organ meat. My fortune came at dusk and over a bait pile. A young buck wandered in, in the middle of a snow storm, to have a meal and met his fate. Alone, and after waiting impatiently for a trophy deer I took a frontal shot to the neck with a small caliber, rim-fire rifle.
This was the early 90’s and two things occurred after that deer season: One, I bought my first gun, a .270 Browning semi-automatic Bar II. And two, we quit hunting over bait. This was long before the two (2) gallon limit and longer still before the eventual baiting ban as a result of the CWD scare. Back in those days you could put out as much bait as you could afford. As a preteen my Dad would establish a pile of apple pulp larger than you can imagine. It would last the herd all winter and into the spring.
Whereas apples are expensive, apple pulp on the other hand used to cost only time and money to fill the gas tank with trailer in tow. My Great Grandmother Ortha worked until she was in her nineties and many of those years were spent at Mason County Fruit Packers: Before they installed their new press machines they would give away their apple tailings from the process of making apple sauces and juice.
As the expression goes, ‘Anything free is worth saving up for,’ and so for many years we would take advantage of this opportunity. Note: You can still get apple pulp, but the new tech is able to press every ounce of water from the fruit, leaving only inedible dusty flakes.
Feeding deer has always had more to do with giving back to the herd and less to do with ensuring a successful hunt. Fast forward to the mid-90s; as teenagers we found other ways to feed the local herd where we hunted. With our bait-piling days in the rearview mirror and a used tiller in hand we started our first food plots the only way we knew how, illegally.
We would haul bags of seed, rakes, and hand spreaders miles into Federal land and locate our plots on strategic edges where pine and hardwoods met clear-cuts. I do not recommend doing this, but my truth is that our first food plots we’re small, shady, weedy, immature, and planted on State and Federal lands. We left no trace, never got caught, and learned a great deal.
These days we’re fortunate to own hunting property where our kids help us till, plant, culti-pack, and fertilize all sorts of leafy and bulbous food crops for the deer to frequent throughout the fall and into the winter months. This year we will expand and de-stump our destination plot and over-seed our smaller, ancillary clover plots. We’ll probably attend another Jeff Sturgis seminar hosted by Whitetail solutions and fine-tune cover and deer movement corridors.
We’ll do all this so our kids, our nieces and nephews, and our friends’ children will all hopefully have a successful year of their own someday soon (Btw, 98% of our hunts take place on public land). Win, Lose or Draw, we’ll continue to give back to the herd that has sustained us for three generations.
Into the wild and HangryOutdoors,
Article written by Mike Hiller
In memory of 'Francis' the deer (and no, if you're wondering Francis was not injured while creating this Blog...her stunt double was tasty though :)).