Every property has a different management strategy, and the food plots on every property play different roles. Some food plots are established and maintained strictly for nutrition and left alone as a sanctuary for deer. Other plots are specifically planted with location in mind to serve as premiere places to hang stands and fill tags. Lee and Tiffany say their food plots benefit the herd as a whole, however they often design their food plot plan around specific mature deer that they want to target in the fall. Lee says when they identify mature deer that have made it through the season that they are likely to hunt the following season, they work to cater to those deer. You have to think about what part of the farm those specific deer are on or are using, then you have to make sure they have adequate food in the early season in that area, integrate corn or bean fields for later in the season and more. While they still have big fields that hold a lot of deer, Lee says their food plot approach today is customized to and centered around specific deer. They talk about the role food plots play in attracting deer in from neighboring properties and how the ability to feed them can cause them to relocate to your property on a more full time basis.
In addition to providing a lot of fields/plots with quality food for deer, Lee says they also feed the deer on their property Ani-Logics products during the months outside of hunting season. You don’t feed them because they don’t have enough food, he says, clearly there is plenty of food in Iowa. Instead, the Lakosky’s try to implement a feeding program to keep the deer healthy. Feeding in states where it’s legal, Lee says, can help save deer during EHD outbreaks.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is a problem that has really impacted the Lakosky’s and their farm in the last decade. Lee talks about the infamous Montana Milk River EHD outbreak and notes that ever since that time frame the cases of EHD seem to be more frequent and widespread. It’s happening every year, he says, depending on the weather. He discusses the weather extremes, both wet and dry that happen every year and considers the possibility of the weather or other factors being the driving catalysts for EHD outbreaks. Lee says because of EHD, things aren’t anything like what they used to be with deer on their property. There was a time around 2008 when they had as many as 50 mature bucks on their property, so many that they couldn’t get enough people to draw tags in Iowa to shoot them. As a result, a lot of nice mature bucks made it through each season and 7,8,9 and even 10 year old bucks were readily found. On the flip side, in one of their worst years like 2015 where EHD swept through killing a lot of deer, Lee says there may have been just 6 or 7 bucks that were 5 years old or more. Some years are better than others and in the years where EHD isn’t as extreme deer are able to mature and get some age on them. However, older deer are very susceptible to EHD and one bad outbreak can wipe out a large swath of mature bucks. The Lakosky’s say EHD hit their area again last year and while the properties that surrounded them suffered big losses in numbers of deer, their home deer were largely spared. Lee says feeding Ani-Logics, which works to stimulate a positive immune response and help deer to better defend against deadly disease outbreaks, has made an obvious difference. It works really well, he says. They can directly compare the survival of their home deer that are getting the benefits of the nutrition from what they are feeding, with the loss of neighboring deer. That’s not to say they weren’t impacted by the outbreak. There are only so many deer that actually live on a property and during the hunting season you usually count on the fact that outside deer will roam your property. However, with all of the deer around them killed in the EHD outbreak, Lee says no neighboring deer showed up and they had just their home deer. This cycle is likely the new normal Lee says, so now it’s about finding ways to minimize the impact and where legal, feeding could be a key component in keeping deer healthy.
There are other important factors to focus on outside of food and nutrition in order to effectively attract and hold deer on your hunting property. Providing cover, an unpressured and safe place for the deer to hole up on your property is important. Lee says they have been working really hard for the last 5 years or so to improve the overall quality of cover on their property - timber, CRP, grass fields, thermal cover and more. By hinge cutting trees, timber areas can be thickened up so deer feel safe and less exposed. When it comes to CRP and grasses, Lee says that brome is essentially a wildlife wasteland, not tall enough to adequately hide deer. He says they have been working on planting new varieties of grass that are taller and denser, varieties that will provide better year-round cover. You need to keep as many deer on your place as possible, Lee says. It’s a two-part approach - food and cover. The more deer you can hold on your property, the more deer you can get to eat the feed for EHD protection and that contributes to keeping them as healthy as possible. When it comes to hunting property management, it has really become more important than ever for a farm to be the “complete” farm, the total package. You can’t just offer food plots, you need everything.