Clear-cut aspen proves to be great for deer hunting
On Sunday, Dec. 13, at around 4:38 in the evening, the last firearm deer hunting for 2020 in our area came to end. The statewide antlerless hunt (which wasn’t statewide by the way, just in the Farmland Zones) closed, leaving only the late archery hunt in our area left.
Josh and I and my brothers, along with a nephew, did some hunting in the statewide hunt. Friday evening Josh and I had three fawns and a yearling doe along with one small buck. He had a fork on one side and nothing on the other. He fed past our hide at less than 15 yards at one point. But the big surprise was a yearling doe knew something was up and spent about 20 minutes fussing about it. She was at about the size where I’ll pull the trigger. She was between 15 and 25 yards for most of those 20 minutes.
She showed up about an hour before shooting light ended and browsed around while a couple fawns and the buck fed. Josh was hunting with a crossbow and I had the equalizer. When she really started fussing, I almost told Josh to plug her as he had the crossbow on the sticks and ready.
We held off because the next day we were hunting with the deer camp crew in a honey hole that hadn’t produced its sweetest nectar as of yet this year. It’s a patch of cover with tall grass inside a thick strip of alder brush on the west side of a long pond. When we do a soft loop of the pond, the deer almost always move around the pond to the other side, looking to head northeast. We have a stand on the east side of that pond, set back by about 75 yards. And it has always enabled us to kill at least one buck during the second weekend of gun season. This year the pond push moved no deer past anyone.
That cover didn’t change; something else got better about a quarter mile to the west, on the neighboring property — an 80 acre piece. They clear-cut about 10 to 15 acres of aspen last winter and that’s where the deer are bedding now, as observed by one of my brothers and a couple nephews watching deer moving into the regenerating cover.
The one year old clear-cut of aspen has a lot of waist-tall grass, some blackberry, and a lot of aspen suckers, like one-yearold aspen clear-cuts do. The grass makes excellent bedding area for deer, and once the crops are harvested, the aspen suckers are prime forage for deer. Given a water source close by, deer would never need to move more than 100 yards for feeding, watering and bedding. A clear-cut like that will remain a major draw from November to spring green — up until one of two things occurs: The tender shoots of the aspen suckers and the emerging tender branch tips grow higher than what the deer can reach, or the canopy from the regenerating aspen suppresses the grass by shading it out. This usually happens after between 5 to 10 years of growth when the cutting becomes more transitional and escape cover for deer. Cuttings like this become such a draw for deer during the gun season that Wisconsin’s most well known deer hunters focuses heavily on these areas for their gun deer season.
Beavers create small clear-cuts of mature aspen, but we suppress their population. Wind storms can knock down patches of timber to regenerate the aspen, but not efficiently for regeneration and they are very rare. Fire used to be the primary source of aspen regeneration, but we suppress forest fires. Logging remains the only method to create aspen clear-cuts for regeneration of young aspen stands.
Aspen clear-cuts, or should I say aspen management areas, need to be clear-cut to regenerate young aspen. Wisconsin’s most famous deer hunters, as well as more and more landowners, are learning that aspen clear-cuts bring the deer and higher quality deer hunting. My guess is, about the time the aspen clearcut stops holding bedding for deer, in five to ten years, the owners of that property will have another 10 to 15 acres on the property logged by clear-cutting.
We will have to adjust our management plan a bit to revitalize the second weekend honey hole. Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season filled with good cheer and a Merry Christmas to you and yours.
CHUCK K OLAR LOCAL OUTDOORSMAN