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Different Tactics to Take Deer Day 5: Build Trails Through Thick Cover for Deer

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Editor’s Note: You can open-up more land and possibly take bigger bucks on the property you hunt by installing trails – stalking lanes – in young pine plantations – 2- to 15 years old. When landowners first plant pines, vegetation will grow up thick and lush, providing plenty of food and habitat for whitetails. But you often can’t move through these regions without spooking the deer. Once you begin to put heavy hunting pressure on the edge of a pine stand, the older, smarter bucks may remain in that thick-cover region all day and only come out after dark.

Wildlife biologist and forester Mark Thomas of Birmingham, Alabama, has developed a stalking-trail tactic that deer will use as travel trails and that enables hunters to move through thick cover quietly and unseen, to hunt it much more intensively than ever before and to increase the food availability for the deer inside the young pine plantation.

“Once you install a stalking trail, you can hunt a pine plantation from the time it’s 3-years old until it’s 22-years old,” Thomas says. “You may have some annual maintenance on it.”

Thomas recommends you use an ATV with a sprayer attachment to quickly and easily put in a stalking lane through even the thickest cover without damaging the pines. “Most pine plantations are planted on an 8- by 10-foot spacing, allowing the owner to grow 720 trees per acre. Each row will average about 10-feet wide with about 8-feet between each tree, which means you should be able to move your ATV down the row easily and put in the stalking trail between the pine trees planted in the rows. Once you have the sprayer attached to your four-wheeler to spray a swath 4-feet wide, select  herbicide containing the active ingredient imazapyr, and mix 1- to 2-percent herbicide to a volume of water. Here’s the process Thomas recommends you follow.

  • “Determine the direction of the prevailing wind – generally from the northwest in Alabama.
  • “Begin the stalking trail on the southeastern side of the young pine plantation, and use flagging tape to mark it. Have about 10–25 of these 45-90 degree turns in these trails that may run 1/2- to 1 mile deep into the pine plantation.
  • “Turn between the rows of trees. Start spraying the trail, and go 40-60 yards, before making a first 45-90 degree turn. Go across the rows between the trees for 20-40 yards. Spray between the rows to the left and the right of the trail for 30-40 yards, making the ends of these two feeding areas turn back slightly to create a herringbone pattern. Later plant the two herringbone feeding areas off the main trail with green-field plantings or fertilize them to cause the natural plants to regenerate themselves.
  • “Return to the main trail, and go across the rows in the opposite direction of where you’ve already sprayed, continuing to spray and creating more feeding lanes on each side of the main trail.
  • “Use a pruning saw to cut the lower limbs of the young pines, which won’t hurt them, along the edge of the trail and the feeding lanes to allow you to see into the feeding areas where the trail turns back and to keep the limbs from brushing-up against you and collecting odor that the deer will detect.
  • “Continue to follow the flagging tape, until you’ve created a long trail with 10–20 herringbone feeding areas coming off the main trail. The size of the pine plantation and the terrain will dictate how long you need to make the trail and how-many feeding zones you can put on either side of the trail. Once you’ve sprayed the trails, and the hardwood brush has died back, then come in and clear the trails. You and a friend can build a mile-long stalking trail in one morning and then be able to hunt it for 10-20 years.”

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