We have been lucky over the last few weeks. Temperatures have reached in the upper 60’s multiple times and all I can think about is the soil temp. I seem to be addicted to mushroom hunting and I start obsessing over soil temperatures. I prefer the readings that are 4” deep into the soil. Once you start seeing the ground temperatures get into the 50’s the morel mushroom craze will begin. I used to start looking in late March to early April here in Central Illinois. I always wanted to be one of the first to find them. During my young, anxious days I didn’t care if it was warm enough or not, I just wanted to be in the outdoors and get to the woods before anyone else. Now as I have gotten a little older, I don’t care what the temperature is outside or the time of year it is, I will wait until I see the surface ground temp get between 54 and 56 degrees than I begin the hunt. If the soil temp is based on 4 inches below surface 50 degrees is the target.
I usually don’t have a problem finding a pound or so of mushrooms on my first trip. Usually, I find plenty of little greys and if I am lucky, I will find some of the two to three inch greys which for me, are the best eating mushroom you can find. Everyone has their preference but the first nice mess of greys that I can fry up are always the best. Maybe it’s just because it has been a long 11 months since my last taste of little delicacies.
The mushroom season never seems to last long enough and many years ago an old timer told me if the temperature gets above 80 degrees for a couple of days you can forget finding any more mushrooms. Well so far, it’s been pretty true. I still find a few but usually they are just not fresh morels. I know others I have mentioned this to say I am full of crap. Well that maybe true as well but one thing I learned along time ago is if someone older than you provides you with some wisdom, you tuck it away in the brain for future reference.
As everyone heads to the woods to chase the elusive morel please pay attention to property lines and if you find trash please pick it up. Always leave the area better than you found it. I am always frustrated when I am morel hunting and find someone’s trash from the hunting season before. I know most hunters don’t litter up the woods, but it seems every year I find soda cans and bottles where they shouldn’t be. This year I am going to start taking an extra bag with me just so I can pick it all up.
With the warm temperatures a couple of weeks ago I was getting antsy to head to the woods for some shed hunting. This is something I started doing a few years back as a way to get back into the woods a little earlier as well as to see how the deer activity was through the winter months. I don’t usually find but a couple a year, but I always tell myself that someday I will have a couple of chandeliers made so I can pass them on to my kids. I have always been very sentimental about items that have been passed down to me and this is my way of passing something that I love to do onto my kids. I figure a chandelier maybe something they keep. I don’t think the kids are going to want the antlers or the deer mounts I have so maybe this will be away to pass a little bit of myself onto the future generations.
The temperature was 65 degrees and I had just finished delivering the magazines for the month. It was time to treat myself and go for a little walk in the woods to see if there were any antlers to be found. Usually, my first time out I don’t find anything and that rang true this time as well. The next day the temperatures were pretty much the same, so I said “forget work I am going to find some antlers today”. The fist day I didn’t go to my normal spots. I tried something new to see if it would pay off. On the second day my hopes were a little higher. The only concern I had about finding any sheds was last fall we just didn’t really see the deer we normally do. Deer numbers in our areas seem to be on the decline. Not like a four or five years ago when the disease reared its head but just doesn’t seem like our area has fully recovered.
It really didn’t matter if I found any sheds or not, I was just getting some exercise and scouting new stand locations if nothing else. I walked for a good hour until I decided to take a little break. As I was leaning against a tree and grabbing a drink of water I look over and low and behold it was my first shed of 2021 and not a bad one at that. Of course, then I had this crazy idea I was going to find the other side of the shed. I started walking back and forth in a grid through this bedding area hoping he had lost it there. It wasn’t but a few minutes later I stumbled on my second shed. Not the one I was looking for but another one to add to the collection.
After walking for a couple of more hours the legs and hips were telling me it was time to go, but I had one of my best areas still to come so I decided to stop looking where I was and just head there before heading out. This particular area always seems to have sheds. What is odd is it is not an ideal bedding area. As a matter of fact, there is a ton of other areas within a hundred yards that seem to be better bedding areas. This area is only about 20 yards wide by 10 yards long but there is a couple of small patches of grass that they always seem to lay on. Now this same grass is all over this area and much thicker in other locations but this seemed to be a nice small secluded area that was not far from where many does bed down and some timber to their back for an easy escape. The does used the heavier cover to bed in but it seems the buck like this particular area. I actually harvested my largest buck ever when he stood up from this very area one morning while courting a doe. I thought maybe it was him whose antlers I have found over the years but the next year after I harvested him I found two antlers from two different deer in that exact spot. It seems to be a buck bedding area for some reason. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any antlers in that area. I decided it was time to head home. Last I checked the food plot to see if anyone had dropped an antler while feeding. I know many people find them in their food plots but not something I have had success with up to this point. As I arrived on the food plot I looked around and didn’t see anything. As I turned to walk down the plot I look down and there is an antler. No giant but my first food plot shed.
I began my walk out and as I was getting close to the truck when I spotted some deer hair. As I traveled this path, I was seeing more and more hair. Didn’t look fresh but I wanted to see if could find the deer. After another 60 yards there it lay. A small little fork horn that seems to have been there awhile. Definitely not from this year or last probably been there a year and half or even more. If I find a little dead head or an old one, I usually just leave it for the squirrels. If it a nice deer and not been out there for years, then I will call the game wardens and get a salvage tag.
There is a lot of shed hunters out there and for the most part many know the rules but if you don’t, here is something to remind you. If you find a dead head in order to keep that head, you need to call the IDNR to get a salvage tag.
For the last three or four years we have reclaimed land on the property we hunt and started planning food plots. One thing is for sure, we are not farmers and have learned a few lessons along the way. The first couple of years we had clover that we didn’t plant at the correct time it really never took off until the following year. It did help draw in a few more deer but not sure it was worth all of the effort.
Last year, we decided to try something different. We ordered Brassica blend seed mixture that included brassicas, turnips, rape and radishes. We prepared our plots by killing them off in June and then in July we started tilling up the soil. We ended up planting the third week of July and boy did it ever take off. The plot by my stand filled in nicely and provided a much-needed winter food source for the deer. Unfortunately, on one of our other plots the seed just didn’t take off. The only thing we could figure is the amount of water. We have a couple of springs that run on the property and we always have beavers damming this up pretty much weekly. When this happens, our ditch backs up and then the food plots have no way to get rid of the water.
I was so excited to hunt my food plot. I really thought this would draw the deer in and hopefully help my daughter be successful in harvest a deer. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Day after day I sat in the stand and the same yearling would show up at 4pm and eat until dark. I was always anticipating big Luey showing up and that just didn’t happen. After reading a few additional articles on this type of food plot it seems late season is much better. Once it gets well below freezing, they will start hitting the plot. Well weeks went by the second gun season passed and still nothing really using the plot. I guess that was a waste of time, energy and money.
I usually don’t hunt much past Christmas, and this was the case again this year. Since I was out there shed hunting a few weeks back I thought it would be a great time to check my cameras and see if anything had changed. Well to my delight the food plot was absolutely destroyed. It went from giant turnups and greens to nothing but half eaten turnips and radishes. Needless to say, I was pretty exited to see what the camera would show. All season I had checked my card every couple of weeks and there just wasn’t anything but a yearling using the plot. When I got home and plugged the card into my computer, I was amazed. There were no deer showing up on the plot until the 3rd week of January. Then I was getting up to 14 deer in one picture. I was amazed at the amount of traffic on the food plot. The deer had eaten everything the could and even the ones frozen in the ground had the centers eaten down two or three inches into the ground. So, after seeing this I realized that maybe it didn’t help me or my daughter harvest a deer this last year but what it did do is supply our deer herd with some much needed forage during the coldest days of the winter. I would say this is maybe a ½ acre plot and in two weeks there wasn’t much left. I was happy to know that even though I felt our deer population was down they seemed to be there in the winter.
Now for our 2021 project. Everyone talks about frost seeding clover in March so we thought with the food plots that we do have are pretty much bear dirt at this time it would be a great opportunity to frost seed some white clover we purchased from Kelly Seed in Peoria, IL. Tim and I purchased five pounds of seed and a new seeder and were off to the farm. We were able to get three of our food plots seeded and now we wait and see how it will work.
May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!