Friday, April 29, 2011

Planning the Field - Phase II

That quail hunt was fun, but back to getting ready to plant the dove field.  There was still a lot to think about.  Others I know may have the experience or innate knowledge of what to plant, when to plant, how much to fertilize.  I am not one of those people.  Perhaps the biggest part of the planning process was when.  I could read or get advice on when to plant, but the problem of when I am available to work on the field became apparent.
The seed catalogs tell me to prepare the field in spring and start planting in May, or maybe June depending on the crop.  With just a few weeks to get the field ready to plant, I looked at my calendar.  Easter Weekend and Mother’s Day are definitely out, there are Cub Scout events two of the weekends in May, and then there’s the camping trip with my brothers and their families over Memorial Day.  “So many social engagements, so little time.”
Merlin inspecting the tractor while
my daughter takes a test drive
When I did get the chance in April to start plowing, Johnny brought a part to his tractor that needed replacement.  The tractor would not hold the plow without it.  So we spent the time to replace the part, loaded on the disc harrow and turned the engine off to take a break.  When we tried to crank the tractor, the battery was dead.  With no way to charge it, we were not plowing that weekend.
Fortunately, Johnny found some time to start plowing, and started preparing the field as well as a few quail food plots in the past few weeks.  So we’re getting closer to being able to plant.  Still, time is running short and a loaded workday lies ahead of us for this weekend.
But the excitement continues and I got a boost when the soil test came back from UGA.  With a pH of 7.3 no lime is needed.  I thought we lucked out, but Johnny’s been dumping lime on the food plots over the past six or seven years, so his efforts have paid off.
The test recommended 60 lbs. of nitrogen, 20 lbs of Phosphate, and 40 lbs. of Potash per acre.  In other words, we will have ½ a ton of 12-4-8 spread on the field.  I called the local supplier and they said they would sale 12-4-8 at $10 for 40 lbs or they would spread the same at $10 per 40 lbs. with a 1 ton minimum.  I’m opting for the supplier to spread with enough in the 2,000 lbs. to cover the field and the quail plots.  We’re looking forward to some health plots and plenty of wing shooting in the fall.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Long Awaited Hunt

Johnny and I planned to meet in mid March to get some samples for a soil test of the dove field.  If the weather wasn’t too warm, he offered to bring a few quail to set out.  He had obtained a new bird dog back in August and was spending time in training, so time on birds would be great for Jip, the seven month old Brittany.  The added bonus for us was the chance to shoot a few quail.  Yeah they were pen raised, but at least we were hunting.
My in laws were in town that week for the big St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Savannah, so I invited my Father-in-Law, Merlin, as well as my daughter to come with us.  It had been close to 20 years since I last followed a dog in the field for quail, and as we drove the 2 ½ hours to Johnny’s land, my excitement grew.
When we turned onto the dirt path leading to the tract, we scared two gobblers off the road.  There’s a lot of game in the area and we’re almost guaranteed to see something with each trip.  Upon arrival at the camp, Johnny was waiting and Jip was going wild ready to hunt.  He had that look of a good bird dog ready to work; energized but focused.  A quick change of shoes to boots, loading the guns, and we were off.  Johnny led us down wind of where he placed the birds and Jip started that zigzag pattern of a good bird dog in search of game.
Suddenly, he froze 50 yards ahead of us. Watching the stiff dog, with paws raised and eyes focused, I think I froze too.  I don’t know that words can describe the beauty of a point.  Somehow a dog that was frantically weaving through the field suddenly stops, and every hair on his body is still.  Somehow he goes from a determined expression to eyes that show a wild focus.  It’s amazing.
After I regained my composure, we tried to get to the birds in time.  But Jip was an impatient young pup and ran them up before we could get there.  We had agreed not to shoot at anything that he ran up in an attempt to teach the dog that a reward only followed holding a point.
So we continued with Jip chasing up birds or birds flying too low for a shot without risking the dog.  After a while, the dog started to tire and we took a break to both water Jip and grab some soil for the test.  When we started back up, Jip was more controlled and held a good point.  As I approach, the bird shot up and I quickly put it down.  The nice thing about pen raised birds is they give even a poor shot like me some confidence.
Later, Jip found another single, but as I approached the quail took off low with the dog starting to follow.  I waited for the bird to clear and mounted for another shot.  At the very instance I was about to slap the trigger, I heard the report from Merlin’s gun.  I shot in the instance afterwards and the bird fell.  I’m not sure who hit the quail, maybe we both did, but Merlin let me claim the bird.  That’s the thing about family and friends when you hunt.  No arguments, no fights, just fun in the field.
Finally, after some 20 years, I got in the field for quail.  To benefit, my daughter got to experience it as well.  Her favorite part?  “Watching Jip hunt for the birds.”
Later that week, I took the soil to the state and started to impatiently await the results.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

First Step - Planning the Field - What to Plant

When Johnny, my friend who is letting me place a dove field on his land, agreed to my endeavor, I was excited.  Dreams of flocking doves settling into the field, accompanied by the sound of a civil war battle, put me to sleep that night.  But to make a portion of these dreams come true would take some work, and before the work, some planning.

My first thought was to plant sunflowers.  After all, thats what everyone likes to hunt over.  When I was younger, we would walk a mile to a sunflower field, bypassing the corn, millet, and other grains.  Johnny sent me a couple of links to seed distributers and I immediately went to the sunflowers.  But when I told Johnny about this plan, he said "yeah, that would make a great summer food plot for deer, but it won't produce because the deer will not let the plants get over 12 inches."

So I called the friend who let me hunt his field last year.  It was clear by the field and the results that he would know what to plant.  His advice?  I could either put a six foot fence around the sunflowers or I could "plant Brown Top Millet and follow it up a few weeks later with nitrogen."

I soon found that I could get all the advice a man would ever want.  All I had to do was to tell people what I was doing and they would tell me what to do.  The problem is that everybody tells me something different.  I spent hours online on wildlife food plot seed pages and at sites google found.  Again, lots of advice.

I settled on as the site to purchase seed.  They have a large variety and at least meet my budget.  They have many varieties of millet and recommend the Brown Top and Dove Proso for Doves.  This seems to be a good recommendation, but not overly creative.

On the more exotic side, they recommend Sesame for Dove fields.  I thought Sesame seeds were something that came on the bun of a Big Mac.  Apparently dove love them too.  The seed store goes on and on about how Sesame is the perfect plant for doves and quail.  But at $75 for 10 pounds, Sesame is by far the most expensive seed.  They have egyptian wheat, but the horticultural practices recommended for this plant seem to be way beyond my level of farming expertise.  They have sunflower, but again, I want to shoot doves, not feed the deer.  They have beans, corn, mixes, and all kinds of different seed to choose from.

Finally, I narrowed it down to Sesame, Brown Top Millet, and Dove Proso Millet.  I still have not decided and am leaning towards planting a portion of the field in one and the rest of the field in another.  I'm still getting advice from people and its not too late for you to jump in, just take the poll.

There's also advise about fertilizer.  Cooper Seeds recommends either getting a soil test or purchasing their 19-19-19 fertilzer to dump on the field.  One friend recommended to just put some nitrogen in, and most everybody, including Johnny said I needed a ton of lime.

When I looked at the cost of fertilizer, I was shocked.  Fertilizing a yard is cheap compared to what it would cost to prepare the soil for a healthy Dove Field.  I have new respect for Johnny who must have spent a small fortune to fertilize the food plots he has. I decided that if I'm going to spend this much on fertilizer, I should try to do it right.  So the next part of my plan was to go to the field and take a soil test.

And I made the plans to meet Johnny at his property.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Newhand Wingshooter?

I grew up hunting, well hunting occasionally.  We shot birds, mainly doves and quail, but sometimes ducks.  As I got into college and beyond, I enjoyed dove hunting with my brother and his friends.  I never killed many, my shot has never been great, or even good, it was the social aspect of wing shooting that drew me back.  I can't think of many things as fun as sitting in a field with friends and family with a chance to shoot.

Those Dove hunts were on public hunting fields, and sometimes part of the thrill was seeing the 300 plus other hunters all shooting at the same birds.  This was also part of the problem, because I worried about being shot like Harry Wittington.  Often it was just overcrowded.  The other dilemma was that public fields are not managed for optimum shooting.  Sometimes they are great opening day, but not after.  Sometimes,they are not planted or managed to even attract doves, so the shooting is sparse.

Last Dove season, a company I use invited me on a Dove shoot at a field one of their employees grew.  This field was managed right.  As we drove up, it had doves flying in and over.  The number of hunters was limited so no overcrowding.  Best of all it had hundreds of doves coming in.

Of course, I blew it.  The first two doves I hit with no problem.  After that I returned to my subpar shooting skills.  Worst of all, I only knew two others in the field.  My seven year old son, who was too hot, and the guy who invited me.  I didn't really connect with the others.
So, for Doves, I can either go to the public fields with few birds and too many hunters; or wait to be invited by a friend or vendor and take some class to improve my social skills.

Then, by the wonders of business losses and tax software, I found that I would get back much more from Uncle Sam than I thought.  This opened up a third option.

I could go to my friend who lets me do some deer and duck hunting on his land.  He has a few food plots, maybe he would let me plant a dove field.  I could mange it the way I thought would produce the best hunt. He may let me invite friends and family, those who know I have no social accumen.  He had the equipment.  It seemed like the answer.  When I asked, he said "Yes."

"focussed on wing shooting"
My son on his
first quail hunt
Now, this friend of mine has gotten away from deer and hogs, the primary game to date on his land.  He burned some of the pine plantations to promote quail and beavers have dammed up the creek, promoting ducks.  So now he is focussed on wing shooting.  And to my delight, he was as excited as me to have a dove field on his property.  So the planning began.

With all this planning and excitement, I thought I should document it and share my experience with others.  Why New Hand?  I've been hunting for over 30 years, but am definately no expert.  I just don't hunt enough or spend the time to develop it.  But I do love it.  Also, I am not a farmer, not a game manager, and this is the first blog or aything like it I've tried.  I could have used the word "novice," or "neophyte," or "tenderfoot."  I could not use the term "Old Hand," so "New Hand" seemed to fit.

If you want to follow this endeavor, or if you want to offer advise, keep coming back.  I can't promise the dove will produce to my dreams, but I will let you know about any success as well as all the troubles in this adventure.

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