Winter. Oh, how I wish you’d leave.
Schools have closed for the past two days. Not because of snow or ice. But because it’s simply too cold to be outside.
Some buddies, sidelined from their work pouring concrete by the cold, decided to spend a few days ice-fishing. They borrowed my gas auger for the outing. Good thing they did. The ice was more than two feet thick.
A week ago, I tried to spend an afternoon on Noah’s Farm, checking trail cameras and doing some post-season scouting. I gave up after an hour. The snow is simply too deep for comfortable walking, the cold too bitter.
It’s times like these when I wonder two things: First, will winter ever end? And, second, why is it that I live here?
Both questions will be answered soon enough, of course. The winter will grudgingly give way to spring and the benefits of Midwest living will become abundantly clear.
But what am I to do now?
For those of us who live in areas where winters are long and growing seasons short, you quickly learn to plan ahead. So here are five things I’m doing right now to make sure I’m ready to make the most of the brief window I’ll have to do further habitat work on Noah’s Farm before another deer season is upon us.
1. Order Trees and Shrubs
You may recall that last year one of the first posts in this Micro Manager series was my excited reporting of the purchase of a few hundreds trees and shrubs at bargain prices from a county conservation district sale.
Well, I’m buying more trees and shrubs this spring and, in fact, have already placed my order. Last year, I was late with my order and had to show up on the day scheduled for order pickup and hope there were surplus trees and shrubs available. Fortunately, they were but there were a couple of species I was really hoping to add that weren’t available.
Find out if there’s a tree sale in your area and, if so, make sure you place your order before the deadline.
2. Stake Your Claim
Conservation groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever offer conservation seed programs, providing free or low-cost seed to landowners for habitat use.
NWTF chapters in my area, for example, offer surplus corn and winter wheat seed to chapter members at no cost. But you need to put your name on the list.
Contact your local NWTF and PF chapters to see if they offer a seed program – but do it now. The order deadlines are coming up quick if they haven’t passed already.
3. Repair and Maintain
I don’t own a ton of big-dollar equipment but the tools I use on Noah’s Farm weren’t exactly cheap and I need them to last and, just as important, I need them to work when the snow finally melts and I’m able to get to work.
Now is the perfect time to have repairs done and to perform routine maintenance.
My chainsaw is arguably the most important tool I own for habitat work. My wife bought me a dandy new Stihl two years ago and despite still being in excellent condition, I recently dropped it off at the dealer for a checkup. While there I left all of my chains to be sharpened. When spring breaks, I’ll have a freshly tuned saw and sharp chains at the ready.
Wait until the spring thaw and you’ll find long lines at the repair counter and big delays in repair time.
If you have a heated barn or shop, now is a great time to maintain treestands as well. Replace rusted bolts, inspect welds and cables.
4. Book It
I’m a big advocate of rental equipment. It’s really a matter of simple math.
I own 17 acres. Of that I will plant, maybe, four acres of food plots. Which means I will need a tractor, tiller, and various implements for maybe two days a year.
I could buy all of that equipment and pay several thousand dollars a year in payments. Or I can rent what I need for about $150 a day.
But here’s the thing: Most rental places have a limited number of compact tractors and tillers. And when it’s time to plant, demand for them is high.
Thus I think ahead. I’ve already picked out the weekend I plan to plant my food plots and have reserved the equipment I need. Sure, there’s a chance the weather will be sour. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Some places won’t take reservations this far in advance. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
5. Plan and Learn
The most important task at this time of year is one I enjoy the most: learning.
There is so much I still have to learn and, like it or not, there’s time now to learn it.
The Internet is a great place to start. My best advice here, however, is to stick with reputable sources. There’s no shortage of “habitat gurus” out there. Some know their stuff. And some are just looking to get famous.
Right now my focus is on proper pruning techniques for apple trees. Noah’s Farm is loaded with apple trees. I can’t tell you what variety they are. I can’t tell you how young (or old) they are. But I do know the first fall we owned the property the trees were so laden with apples that the air smelled of cider well into November. Last fall? Not an apple to be found.
I want those trees to produce every year and proper pruning can help with that.
There is no “magic” formula to creating a great piece of hunting ground. But there are time-tested methods for improving and enhancing the ground you hunt.
Now is the time to learn some of those techniques.