How Drought Changes Hunting & Habitat Strategy

Show Notes

Over 90% of the sate of Wisconsin is in the midst of a significant drought right now. In fact, much of the whitetail's range is in the midst of a drought. As deer hunters and habitat managers, how should we adapt?

In this episode of the Wisconsin Sportsman Podcast Josh talks with Sam Bilhorn of Whitetail Partners about strategies for overcoming drought conditions. Sam shares his steps for creating water holes, how his hunting strategy will shift, and how he's approaching his property a little different given the lack of rain. 

For the rest of this conversation, listen to the July 20 episode of the How to Hunt Deer Podcast. 

Check out the Sportsmen's Empire Podcast Network for more relevant, outdoor content!

Connect with the How to Hunt Deer Podcast on Instagram.

Connect with Josh and The Wisconsin Sportsman Podcast on Instagram.

Connect with Sam of Whitetail Partners online, on Instagram, or on Facebook

Show Transcript

What is going on everyone? Welcome back to another episode of the Wisconsin Sportsman Podcast, which is brought to you by TACT Camp. This is your home for all things outdoors in the Badger State. I'm your host, Josh Raley. We've got another good one [00:01:00] coming your way today I had a chance to catch up with Sam, bill Horn of Whitetail Partners,

who, as you probably know, has been on the show a number of times before. But I wanted to have Sam on because of the drought conditions going on in Wisconsin, depending on where you are. You may be in what is considered an extreme drought in the state of Wisconsin this year, and there are lots of questions.

What is that going to do to our deer hunting for the fall? What is it gonna do for our habitat management? What is that going to do for our food plots? What is that going to do to deer antler growth? How should our hunting strategies change? How should our habitat management change given the fact that we are experiencing such an extreme drought and not really any sign of this thing slowing up?

So should it continue into the fall? How should our hunting look different? Sam and I get into all of that good stuff. So Sam and I actually had a two-part [00:02:00] conversation. This is part one of that conversation. So this is the first half of it. I aired the second half of it as last Tuesdays, I'm sorry, last Thursdays.

How to hunt deer episodes. So if you didn't catch that after you listened to this one, go look at last Thursday's how to hunt deer episode. Where we talked a lot more hunting strategy even out onto public land, how things might differ for you if you are doing some hunting in an area impacted by drought, which, honestly is much of the Midwest.

So this is part one of that conversation. I really hope you enjoy it. If you do, make sure to head over to Whitetail Partners on Instagram, Facebook, or you can also check them out on. no matter where you are. Our team has a regional expert that can probably help you out.

As of right now, we've got Whitetail Partners, Wisconsin Whitetail Partners, Michigan Whitetail Partners, Ohio Whitetail Partners, Tennessee, and then myself, Whitetail Partners, Georgia. [00:03:00] So lots going on there and actually a lot of cool stuff coming up with Whitetail Partners. There's gonna be a lot more educational material coming out from Whitetail Partners.

I don't wanna say too much about it yet, but just know there is more coming and it's going to be very good. And if you like to listen to podcasts there may be something coming for you but don't wanna give away too much today. Anyway, great conversation with Sam. Really glad I was able to catch up with him.

Now let's shift our focus just a little bit. We've gotta pay the bills here and we've got some amazing partners here at the Wisconsin Sportsman Podcast that help us do what we do weekend and week out. First up, I wanna mention the OnX Hunt app. I was talking with one of the guys from OnX Today and holy smokes.

The features that are about to launch from OnX this year man, it's gonna be phenomenal. They are going to, in, in recent times there have been some other mapping apps that have come out [00:04:00] with some really cool features, some things that maybe Onyx didn't have. I still think OnX was the most user friendly, and for me that's number one priority.

And it's for me also the most feature rich. But there are some features, one or two here or there that I'm like, man, I really wish OnX had that. There's an update coming that is going to, in my mind, solidify OnX as the industry leader. There will be. No doubt. Now, I can't say anything just yet about what these updates are going to be, but what I can tell you is that in the next couple of days, Onyx is going to be rolling these out and I'm gonna be doing my best to feature some of this both on my Instagram page, as well as talking about them on the podcast.

They are going to be. Absolutely huge. So if maybe you haven't been using OnX, but you, maybe you've got OnX around, but you haven't been using it very much, you need to go give it a look here over the next couple of days. Keep an eye on what OnX is doing. If you're using another mapping app, let me encourage you, go give OnX a try once these new features launch, [00:05:00] because I think you are going to be very surprised.

So it doesn't matter if you're a land manager, a public land hunter, A mobile guy or a guy that likes to sit the same stand all season long, Onyx is gonna have some awesome features for you that are just going to make you way more efficient. So head over to onyx to keep up with that and learn more.

Or you can find them on the app store of your choice. Just search Onyx Hunt app.

Next up hunt worth. They've got some awesome stuff coming out again this year. Still don't have a whole lot to talk about on that front, but I do know that this time of year I love wearing my Durham lightweight pants. They go into the woods with me every single time that I go. When I'm scouting, when I'm putting out trail cameras, when I am trimming out spots for presets, because I'm a saddle hunter, no matter what it is that I'm doing, I'm wearing those Durham lightweight pants.

I've also got the Lodi pack with me, which is, it's just enough, right? Like it's got enough room for your water bladder. You can [00:06:00] fit a couple trail cameras in there. If you're like me and you like to have the big metal boxes that go with your trail cameras, you can fit a couple of those in there. And a good amount of water and be on your way.

So that pack to me is just perfect. You can find the pants and the pack on their website, hunt worth Go check 'em out. And then last but not least, of course, tactic cam title, sponsor of the show. Man, I just took my bow to the shop. Need to get that thing tuned up just a little bit. I started shooting a little bit over the last couple of weeks.

I should have been shooting more. But I haven't been, and so I shot a few times and I decided, you know what? I just want to take this in, make sure everything's good to go for this upcoming season. So just dropped it at the at the shop today. But one of the things that's really important to me this time of year is making sure that I am practicing with my tactic, hand camera on the boat.

And that's for a couple of reasons. Number one, I wanna get used to hunting. Number one, I wanna get used to shooting with that additional weight on there. It's not very much, but there is some weight at it. [00:07:00] Number two, I want to practice taking shots and keeping my bow up because once you shoot the bow, if you've got a deer coming in and you are filming that on your camera, you wanna make sure you don't drop the bow.

You wanna follow that deer because your weapon is your camera. And if you just drop your bow arm, you're not gonna get footage of where that deer runs. Which, if you're like me, one, I love sharing my hunts with people, but two, I love having that footage so that I can go back and watch the shot and say, okay.

Did I make a good shot? And which way did he run? Did he pass this tree or that tree? That's 15 yards further, right? Like the footage is going to show that. So head over to Go ahead and pick those up so that you can get shooting and practicing with them on your bow this year. Right now they've got their 6.0 camera, which is their flagship model.

It is insanely good. It's got a little touchscreen on there, which is awesome. Four K footage, all the good stuff. So head over to their website, tac to learn more.

Now that's all the commercials guys. Please do go support the partners [00:08:00] that support this show. They really do. I can't emphasize enough how much they help me when it comes to making this show possible. I couldn't do this show without these partners. This show would not still be around without them.

So go show them some love. Now let's jump into this week's conversation with Sam Bill Horn. All right, back on the show. With me today is Mr. Sam Bill Horn from White Cell Partners. Sam, how's it going in your neck of the woods? Oh, good,

Sam Bilhorn: Josh. Good to be back. Good to start having us get closer to hunting season.

I'm starting to feel the mood here coming on, so that's good. Yeah, man, it's

Josh Raley: getting close. I was I was doing a little Googling yesterday to figure out how far I am from my from my November rutt hunt in Wisconsin that I'm looking forward to. And so I typed in how many days until November 1st, and it was 106 days.

So we are getting very close to, my favorite time of the year. But then obviously opening day is way, way sooner than that. Lots going on. But man, there's this nagging thing going on in a huge chunk. Of the white tails range [00:09:00] right now and unfortunately in a lot of states where people really like to hunt and that is this massive drought that we've got going on.

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah. We were just talking before we fired up this looking at the drought map of the Midwest and we're like a bullseye here in southwest Wisconsin. It's it's been a tough year. We saw some decent rain. Early May planting went well early on for the farmers and everybody thought we were off to another good year like we've had.

But it's been pretty tough going lately. We did have a good rain here about week ago here in July first, first week of July. And it was that was really needed to kinda rescue and get the crops going, but otherwise it has just been it's been as dry as I've seen it in many years. Yeah.


Josh Raley: just to give people an idea of scale here, like we're talking a drought. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri Kansas, Nebraska, north and South Dakota. I think we're included in that.[00:10:00] Heading south to Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas parts of Mississippi and Louisiana at least.

Just gigantic and it's hitting a lot of what I would consider, like destination whitetail states. So if guys are listening to this maybe they're leaving Wisconsin for especially the early season. That seems to be the thing of a lot of folks that I know they like to head out of state early in the season, maybe get some velvet hunting in or something like that.

It's impacting a lot of those states that people might want to might wanna travel to. What kind of impact do you think that's gonna have on the hunting?

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah and you talk about destinations too. I'm looking at this, it's Missouri we can sit here and can can complain about Wisconsin, but Missouri is the whole state is in a pretty severe drought.

And, I know a lot of people that travel there from Wisconsin to go hunt there. And that's certainly something to consider. Southeast Iowa claim to fame, with the huge bucks there, they're in a tough spot as well. So I think that the early season hunt, I don't see changing too much from a standpoint [00:11:00] of those summer patterns.

And hopefully with some rains we'll have those summer crops and patterns to follow, but, I think it's more of that middle timeframe there where we talk about acorn crop. That's one of the big things that we track and see where that's at. This could be a really down year for acorns because of that exceptional heat we had early, I.

Followed by a long stretch of lack of moisture. And that's one thing to consider. So I think that those, if we are able to have good fall plots, tho those plots may see even more activity because there's less brows. You look at the trees now even the, mature, established trees, look.

Very stressed from this drought and it's it's gonna affect 'em. There's gonna be some real changes. And I wonder just even about brows too, once that things start to go down in the fall and the woody brows that's there, this, it has not been a good year for that.

I see trees even. Letting go of some of their new growth and leaves and all that, and that they [00:12:00] are, they're just surviving through this time. And that's certainly gonna affect what we see in the timber. Yeah. And that,

Josh Raley: Honestly I'm thinking ahead. As soon as you say Woody browse, I'm thinking ahead to winter and what is this setting the deer herd up for come winter time when they're really dependent on on that, fresh woody browse from the previous spring.

Sam Bilhorn: You got me scared for all the thousands of little conifers and hardwoods I've put out here diligently the last few years and yeah. Oh man. But we'll be sure to do Bud Caps this fall and help 'em survive.

'cause they'll. The brow is pretty good on those Norways if we get a decent amount of snow. Yeah.

Josh Raley: Yeah. Sam I thought we'd break down the conversation in two different directions here, and the first one might sound a little bit clickbait, but I'm really interested to, to hear if this is something that we can do.

I've seen some discussion on it especially on YouTube from some guys who were really serious about habitat management. And that is drought proofing your farm, to the extent that you can. [00:13:00] And then the second half of the conversation, I'd like to talk about hunting strategy.

Assuming this drought continues because I don't think we have a lot of reason to think it's going to let up anytime soon. We look at the two week forecast. There's not just massive amounts of rain to catch us upcoming. How will your hunting strategy adjust and change maybe on your own place?

And then, if you're going to be meeting me on my favorite local spot there in Wisconsin to hunt, or if you are going to be heading out of state, how might your hunting strategy change? How's that sound?

Sam Bilhorn: Sure.

Josh Raley: No, that sounds great. All right, so let's talk about properties in general. Number one, what is the state of your property after this drought? What. What kind of an impact is it having right now on on you and what you've done and the improvements that you've got in place?

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah, so there's a couple different things to cover there. We have our food plots are in tough shape from a standpoint of anything.

We tried planting spring plantings, which we do that. [00:14:00] Corn doing a good amount of corn this spring has been significantly set back and even some areas to the point where I'll just be planting fall plots over on top of 'em just because our timing was poor. Generally, we try and time our corn. To be late May, almost 30 days later than what the farmers are doing because we want a later maturity date.

We want the, we don't want the early browse pressure and also just to try to be efficient with it, not have to plant any more than is necessary. We want to get that in later. We really got hurt by that drought and that's okay. We accept that saying we can make up for this with summer plantings and even some fall plantings and have a good plot.

One of the things that really is, I think, emphasized in a year, I. Where we have drought is the effect of the cover crops that we've been doing. And that has been really a game changer that we've done the last four or five years on our property has been getting in crop rotations.

And depending on where you're at, Specifically just to address [00:15:00] Wisconsin southern part of the state, you can almost get two, two spring cover crops in a real early one as soon as things start greening up. And a second one around mid-June for that, then say early August planting. And in doing that, the anyone who's researched this for a short amount of time knows the benefits of cover cropping with keeping the soil cool, helping retain moisture.

Helping infiltration, it seems like some of these times we get these massive rains, we get two inches of rain dumped on you, but the effect of that on a, very compacted. Soil is that a lot of it runs off. Having a soil that is, that is more aerated and has some living root within it, it's gonna absorb a lot more.

So that, that's some of the benefits we have of that is soil. Have having moisture retention also weeded suppression. It seems like the weeds, there's, they, there's, if there's a will, there's a way they get a drop of rain and they're growing. And all these things have [00:16:00] helped us maintain good soil and soil that's ready.

Then for fall plots, I'm still optimistic that if, when we do our plots here in early August, that. We'll have a good take. We're gonna look at the forecast, try and time some rain, get that seed out on the ground, and then in terminating that cover crop, we will have a good thatch, which again helps with moisture retention on that soil.

And we'll hopefully be still looking at a successful fall plot despite the. Harsh spring, summer that we've had.

Josh Raley: Yeah. When this may be a silly question because your place is in southwest Wisconsin. Is there a lot of moving water on your property already? I.

Sam Bilhorn: No, we only have where we're at specifically with Hill Country.

We have just the runoff that occurs with rainfall. Okay. We, we do not have any streams or ponds or anything like that. We do have our water holes, which that's a, a. Excellent [00:17:00] tactic we should talk about here in in drought conditions. And that's still something that people could employ here yet this year if they wanted to, is those strategically placed water holes on travel routes.

And I'm talking just the tanks. We've covered that before. But keeping those tanks filled with water on, in, building them in such a way that they. They can take water. You get this two inch rain, you want to be able to recover or gather that. I see all these water holes constantly.

I always like to dwell on it that they're sticking two inches above the grade or I buried my water hole. No you didn't. The lips above the ground, getting it dished in so that they will fill up my water holes were getting down there. They probably had four or five inches in the bottom of them and we got that one rain and they're full.

And. That was very helpful. The other thing, which is a little more extreme, on one of my best spots I've gone to now installing a tank, a reserve tank that's up the hill from that location that's along my hunter access. So when I come into that [00:18:00] stand location, I got a tank that's filled and I can just open the valve on that tank and gravity feeds that.

Water hole fills it up and the deer done the wiser as to where that water came from, and I'm keeping that tank filled. I am super careful about not having hunter any sort of interference on the land during hunting season. So I. Bringing in a U T V or a truck to fill a water hole is a non-starter for me.

So I, I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to do that. And we'll probably be adding more of those in the future, especially if we have, multiple drought years.

Josh Raley: Yeah. Is. Is this gonna change anything about your food plot strategy for the fall? So we talked a little bit earlier of how this is gonna impact browse.

This is gonna impact crops. This is going to impact everything that's going on out there, including including your food plots. This is impacting your food plots. Are you going to plant anything different than maybe you normally would, or are you going to anticipate [00:19:00] hunting those plots differently?

Given the conditions of the woods, those deer if you can get a good lush green crop rolling, you might be the best show in town by a long shot.

Sam Bilhorn: That's right. And yes, I am changing what I'm gonna do. And not so much, I shouldn't say changing, but just really on. My toes, I am going to be planting multiple seedings because the rain seems so much more regular and when it happens, it is intense.

I want to probably hold back a little bit on my seed and I'm gonna, so I'm gonna over order on my seed. I'm gonna probably have say, 150% of what I might otherwise have. I'll hit it with close to that a hundred percent application early on. But then I've always gone back and filled in holes.

You get a little hole in Nebraska, plot you can plant I. A few weeks later, you can fill that hole in. Or even month and a half later, you can do a late season brassica, which just has a [00:20:00] shorter maturity date. And you can get that going. So I'll be on top of it.

I'll be wanting to fill things in. I do want it to be very dense too. Like you say, all of a sudden you've got a great food source in an area that we're, surrounded by. Drought conditions, we could have really heavy brows, more brows than we've had in recent years. And we shouldn't be disappointed by that.

We should expect it. So I think keeping a a higher application rate, multiple seedings coming back on top of it and just continuing to pour on the seed, I'm just gonna anticipate that and have more seed on hand and be ready to go. 'cause I do think that will help my plots be more sustained throughout the

Josh Raley: season.

Yeah. Any changes to the species that you plant?

Sam Bilhorn: No. No. I still want to go with a good variety of seed throughout my plots because I don't have that corn. That I would typically have or have as much of it, I think I might go a little bit heavier on The Bean. Not that I'm expecting to have pods and [00:21:00] grain that way, but just I think having a little bit more of that potential will help me in the longer run, have something that'll be out there a little bit later into the

Josh Raley: season.

Yeah. On these plots. Especially with a year like this year when there's a chance for this. Huge influx of browsing pressure. So much so that you may have trouble between the lack of rain and the number of deer getting a food plot started, have you ever experimented with any kind of fencing, electric fencing, anything like that and had any success?


Sam Bilhorn: I haven't because it's all for us, it's been about timing. Like I mentioned earlier, that we plant our corn later because, and beans too We want the agricultural fields to get ahead of us and get that browse pressure in the spring. I'm talking now and then our crops do better by being a little bit later.

We run the risk of getting hurt by early season drought, and that's what happened this year. And we just expect that, and that's okay. But no, I'm not [00:22:00] changing things otherwise. Or you talked about the fencing. I haven't done that. I've thought about it with the corn because I like to see that corn just be perfect.

Yeah. Especially late. So not so much protecting the germination and the early growth, but. Protecting the grain and keeping 'em out of there until I wanna unleash it, so to speak. I haven't done that yet. I probably will at some point when there's more time in my

Josh Raley: schedule. Yeah. As a guy, originally coming from the south, heading up to Wisconsin, I.

I ha still have not quite figured out the mystery to me of deer's relationship to corn. It and the reason it's a mystery, it's 'cause it's like some people say they will not eat it until it's towards the end, fully mature. Other people say they will, start chomping on it as soon as they possibly can.

And, Just talking about the differences in how, on some properties, deer really love to bed in the corn, and then we'll move into the timber and browse in the evenings. Some deer like to bed in the timber and move into the [00:23:00] corn in the evenings. What have you noticed when it comes to when the deer really start munching on your corn crop?

Sam Bilhorn: Sure. The other thing to mention is other critters too. I have a raccoon problem that I need to start exterminating, but the deer though, what I like about it, and we don't talk too much on it, and I think it's just, it's important to bring up too, is. I really like how corn breaks up plots, so I'll use it within plots for architecture to make it so deer have to move throughout a plot to see things.

I don't want a deer to be able to come into the valley and just look over the whole field. I want them to have to bob and weave and move through that whole area to see what's going on, and also provide comfort. If you have a. Like, I have a, almost three acre food plot in, in my main valley, and they, it's a pretty big area and it could, can be intimidating.

Now we have a ton of structure around it, edge feathering and bedding areas and switch grass and. Now we have trees growing up. So it's really becoming [00:24:00] wild here and good that way. But I still like using corn and putting it in strips throughout the plots and rotating that. If you wanna picture just these, not necessarily straight long rows, these areas that it we stagger it throughout the plot and break it up just like you would a tic-tac toe board.

And, I like it for that because it really provides compartmentalizing the, those plots. So anyway, that's more the visual part. As far as the attraction goes. They hit it, I've seen it even earlier on in the summer. As soon as the years are there, they're messing with it and figuring out what's going on, but they will really hit it once it reaches maturity.

And again, I referenced it earlier, a later planting date. Later maturity date they're gonna be really hitting it. I think they if you can keep it into late season, that's where it's really the best. Yeah. But you do need to have a certain amount to have it be sustained that long you're not gonna accomplish that with, a five pound bag of seed.


Josh Raley: absolutely. [00:25:00] Absolutely. Have you ever tried any kind of irrigation methods for your plots? To do that on scale? For the average food plotter seems really out of reach.

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah. And I haven't it, it's, I've thought about that, but it is, if you do the math on what a. Inch of rain is over, and I could do it here quick over an acre or acres.

It is a, an enormous amount of water. Yeah. And we don't have a good water source on our property, so that's, a big strike one there. And just playing the odds and being flexible. Weather patterns change. We have a phenomenal area in soils anyway, where we're at. And because we're in a valley, we, we do have generally higher moisture levels than further up on the ridges and things like that.

We, I would say just playing the odds, playing the numbers we're generally in a good spot, but there's years like now where we have to be more [00:26:00] creative and. Just come to expect it. That's just, it's gonna happen.

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Just a little bit of info there. One inch of rain over a an acre is 27,154 gallons.

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah. I don't have that readily available, Josh.

Josh Raley: No. And if you just think about the logistics, if you did have it, of trying to, that, that's roughly, if you've seen like an above ground swimming pool, One that's in like the 24 foot round range, that's about how much water is in one of those.

So you would have to move that kind of water somehow,

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah. Maybe I'll buy a water truck someday and have it out there that we can hook it up. But there you go. I don't see that happening anytime soon. I just accept fate and Move on with it.

Josh Raley: Yeah, for sure. All right. I want to circle,

Sam Bilhorn: oh, go ahead.

I was gonna say one more thing that it's of value here too, and just as hunting relates to hunting and say, I'm going to [00:28:00] value some other types of hunting differently, so travel based hunting or on those water holes and some of that stuff, even more so than those food plots. Now I'm still hopeful to have a high quality attraction in my plots, but even if that was a complete loss, hunting those travel patterns, Hunting, those normal patterns that they have, especially pre rutt and so on, are gonna be there.

Yeah. And I'm okay in accepting that, saying maybe there's some places I'm gonna hunt a little bit more or give a higher priority to when it comes to those parts of the season.

Josh Raley: Yeah. Do you, would you ever consider, looking at your property, let's say we get into the fall, your plots are struggling still not a lot of water.

Would you consider Hey, this may be the time I need to head down the road to the local piece of public that's got. Some good water sources on it or,

Sam Bilhorn: Sure. If you're completely lacking things, I think you'd need to reassess it. And I have the, if I have other farms I hunt and other places I go to that I have that ability to be flexible.

You can [00:29:00] do some late season plot saves, like I talked about a late season bra or do putting out rye and you'll have a very basic plot, which is still is gonna provide a certain level of attraction. With a high level of success on, with a little bit of rain and all that. But yeah I would consider other options.

I think you have to, you get too stuck in a rutt of depending on, I. One certain crop or a pattern that you have relating to food, you need to think about what are the other things these deer do. And I mentioned before with acorns, acorns scramble deer a lot. They they'll move about a property differently when those are really peaking.

And I think that with, if that's lacking and it's. Likely it will be. Some of those patterns we are aware of and control and have manipulated on our property are gonna be really strong. We might have some very successful early, mid-season hunts that we didn't have on travel routes because they're just going from A to B.

They're going from the water hole to that. You know that one bean field that's still standing [00:30:00] because. That's all they got.

Josh Raley: Let's back up then just a little bit and talk about water holes. We've talked about water holes a couple of times before, but it's been in passing and I don't think we've gone really into detail, but I think as a property owner, this is probably one of the best things that you can do to anchor the deer on your property during a drought. Type of season especially one where they're not able to really get it easily from other water sources around you.

And number two, they're not going to be able to get it from what is their primary source of water, that being the browse that they consume. I don't know what the percentage is, but I think that's 70% of a deer's water for the day comes from browse.

Sam Bilhorn: It's certainly the majority. Yeah.


Josh Raley: Let's talk about how you would install a waterhole for somebody who. Maybe hasn't done one. And now their eyes are open and they're like, man, this pond that's usually on my property, or this swamp that butts up to my property, they're dry this year. What do I do?

Sam Bilhorn: The first thing is assessing where you put it.

And when I talk water holes, [00:31:00] I'm talking 100 plus scale tanks. The bigger the better. And these are installed in. Travel locations. They're not installed in the middle of food plots. They're not installed in bedding areas. We're talking the tra main travel routes and specifically the best pinch points we have.

So you're talking the best stands. We design a hunting property, we'll lay it out maybe a quarter to a third of the stand locations we're gonna assign to have a water hole. So these are the best of the best and in hill country talking. Pinch points and things like that.

Oftentimes a very common example I'll give is at top of a drainage. So you have a steep drainage that occurs where a hillside changes and the water's focused from many years of runoff. That's generally a very difficult thing for deer to cross. And there's defined travel at commonly at the top or the bottom of that drainage.

And what I like to do then is say, okay, this is the spot we pick the tree, pick where the water hole's going, [00:32:00] mock scrape as well, and. Get all those things put together at the same time, because you can, don't wanna just install a water hole and then say, okay, now where's the stand going? You're always thinking about how those work together.

I like to see a water hole at 25 or 30 yards from a stand close enough for an easy shot, but far enough away that you can be a little bit sloppy in your in your hunting. But Anyway, once you had that spot picked, you found the spot. One of the details with that too is looking around for quality runoff and maybe trying to utilize some very subtle features in the land.

Okay, there's just this one little draw that. We'll focus water to a point. You're not talking big, steep ditches, you're just talking, okay. So a disproportionate of water is gonna run through this spot, and that might be looking around 20 feet in every direction and saying, where's the lowest spot here?

That water's gonna run through or past? And focusing on that. So you're trying to anticipate where good runoff will be [00:33:00] because you wanna be able to capture that water when you have a decent rainfall. And again, that mindset of if that's lip, that lip of that tank is sitting above grade, you have a problem.

So anyway, digging out the hole. What I like to do is salvage the topsoil first. So take a big area, like 10 by 10, get all that topsoil put it in a pile out of the way and keep it there 'cause you'll come back for in a minute. Dig that. Tub down to, or tank down to grade. Topsoil, say you got four to six inches of topsoil off to the side, now you're bringing, you're digging out clay or whatever sand you have underneath, and digging that out and getting into that water hole in there trying to cast or, throw that down downstream of where that water hole is.

That Spoil and get that out of the way. Get that water hole more or less flushed to that lower grate. And what that you've done by that is now you bring the topsoil back, you funnel that you can make like a big dish that comes towards that water hole. So you [00:34:00] have already maybe this existing drainage that.

Brings water to this focal point, but specifically around this water hole, you've got a good amount of drainage coming to it so that, again, you get that one inch rain, you'll fill it up because you're not capturing this, 10 square foot area of this tank you're capturing. Maybe it's 300 square feet all around where this between the existing grade.

And this grading job you just did, you're able to get the water to come in there. So that is it. As far as the install, one last thing, just from an erosion control standpoint, I usually plant clover around this location. Takes well in the shade. I. In the disturbed soil and get that growing.

It is not a food source. It will eventually be stamped out and gone and, the leaf litter and whatnot will choke it out pretty quick, but that's okay. You want to just help it get some root there that it's going to have Erosion control effects for it. One last point I forgot to mention is when you're putting that tank in there, you want it to be as [00:35:00] level as possible.

I bring a four foot level and get that tank squared off as best I can before I do the back filling. And what that does then is you don't want to have this tank on, be. Full on the brim on one side and you got six or eight inches of hanging out on the other side. That also helps keep it from wanting to have any sort of heave that's un unlevel.

So anyway, a little bit deeper dive there on, on what I would do to put in a water hole. But one last point I should make make mention of obviously we're working with a deer corridor. Through this location, deer travel, I always want that water hole to be on the opposite side of that corridor from the stand location.

And when I say opposite, I'm talking anywhere from two to 10 feet off that trail because what I want when a deer comes from either direction, On that corridor, I want them to take interest in that water hole turn towards it. What that does is gives you a quartering [00:36:00] away shot or a broad a broadside shot.

Whereas if the water hole is on your side of the corridor from between your tree stand in the corridor, obviously, then that deer's turning toward it and they just turn towards you. So you have a quartering toward you shot as well as. They're looking right at you. Yeah. And we wanna avoid that.

Josh Raley: Yep. When it comes to, sinking these water holes, I've seen people put them, trying to get. Capture good runoff. They're in a spot that pinches down dear movement. But they will, sink most of it. But because of how steep the terrain is, the back half of the tank sometimes will be hanging out.

If that makes sense. So the one end is towards where the water runoff would be in its flush, but then the back half is hanging out. What are your thoughts on that?

Sam Bilhorn: I've, I have one on a hillside like that. My answer is not the easy one, but I think it works best, is to simply find soil excavate material, and sometimes we've just dug a big hole.

[00:37:00] 10 feet away to get borrowed, to bring back. And I wanna build up that backside. Okay. I wanna, I don't wanna have that lip on that backside be there. I really want it, I want to get, build almost a platform on that other side that a deer could at least walk around that water hole. I think it'd be better for usage that they would have.

And really the, if you think about that, unless a lot of times in those type of setups, you're on the downhill side. For your stand set up and what I just talked about a minute ago with that, wanting to have the water hole on the opposite side of the movement, you're really harming yourself by doing what you just described because you're almost asking the deer to go on the opposite side of that water hole.

Or it's just smack in the middle of the corridor. 'cause you're really hunting a side hill. Don't, I would say don't do that. You pick that. That's picking a poorer spot. I would rather see at least a big. Change in grade, like a picture, a bench, or where a big tree fell over,[00:38:00] 80 years ago and is rotted away and now you have this little bit of a shelf there that there's something for that hole.

You're looking for that grade to be a certain way that would help you put that water hole in and still have deer skirt around it. Yeah. What,

Josh Raley: What size are we talking when it comes to these tanks that you're using? I imagine. This year may make some people wish they had a little bit bigger tank in the ground.

'cause I'm sure there are folks out there right now who are thinking, man, my water holes are dry and have been for a while.

Sam Bilhorn: As important as the size is, the depth in the ratio, because, I see people, the, in, there's some of these popular tanks. I won't mention names out there right now, but some of these tanks that are made to look more natural and they're very shallow.

They have a lot of surface area and you think that looks great. It looks like a puddle. It's also eight inches deep and it's gonna evaporate very quickly. Whereas if you have a deeper water hole, I mean ours that we use, I think are at least 20 inches deep, and the deer will go right down to the [00:39:00] bottom of 'em.

They'll put their. Their front legs right in the water hole and drink. I posted pictures on social media of that, and I like to see good depth. So regardless of the size, you need depth. If you're thinking little kitty pool that won't cut it because it's just not deep enough. So you really want to have something deep, again, emphasizing a rodent stick and those things to let the little critters get back out.

But I'd say a minimum a hundred gallons. And generally I think the bigger the better. I think there's a point of diminishing returns, certainly with having, you don't need to go out there and put in, a 2000 gallon stock tank. But I think bigger is better from a standpoint of holding water.

But these little water holes that we install, 110, 150 gallon tanks, they're. They work

Josh Raley: great. Yeah. Another mistake that a summer like this one could prompt someone to make is when they start thinking about the number of water holes on their property, they may go out there and just absolutely scatter their, yeah, their property with water [00:40:00] holes, and it may be, That may be effective for a year like this but typically, how many would you say to put on a

Sam Bilhorn: property?

Yeah, so I made mention of that earlier where I said maybe 25% of your best, that your best stands are gonna get these as far as the locations go. That generally translates, if I'm gonna design and lay out a 40 acre property, depending on. They're, and they're all different.

I've had 40 acre properties that we put three or four tree stands on 'cause it was one guy and those are the best spots and that's all he needed. But if it's hunted with more pressure and regularity, there's maybe as, as many as 10 or 12 stands on a 40 acre property. Okay. And that's not, obviously they're.

Used differently, and there'll be seasons where they don't all get used, but that's more of a max level, right? Yep. I would say at that point in time, a 40 acre property might have three or four. So that's a smaller, more efficient property. In the grand scheme of, we're talking farms and bigger properties, but that doesn't mean on [00:41:00] 120 acre property you're gonna have 12.

It's not a ratio that you use per 40 acres, it's more about number of stand locations. Another general rule of thumb that I'll say is I'd never want to have one much closer than three or 400 yards. Obviously you're stressing that a little bit more in these smaller properties, but bigger properties where you can start to focus more on the best spots and still have an adequate number of stands for the hunters that are there.

You that number goes down as the acres go up.

Josh Raley: Would a summer like this ever prompt you to put in maybe one or two more that maybe, you're not going to. Not going to maintain or heaven forbid, no. Have to go back in there and pull them out later on. 'cause that seems like a

Sam Bilhorn: lot of work.

Yeah. When you said that subject, I just said no because it is a lot of work, to do this and yeah, maybe you got machinery, you can do it and it's no big deal with a skid loader or something like that. I can see doing that. Just maybe you'd do it in a food plot in a year, you wouldn't normally do it, but I think it would have to be so [00:42:00] desperate on the drought level to consider that.

Yeah. I and I, what my mind goes to and what we've done this year, and I mentioned it before, is working on. Sources to keep the water holes you have full. And I think if there's any doubt coming into season right before season starts to go fill 'em up using a U T V or truck for that I'm all about that.

I think that makes sense. But for me, like I said earlier, I want to have a more stealth approach. And what I did is I bought one of those I forget, the food container, I b c tanks or whatever they're called. Yep. And I built a tiny little roof structure, a couple panels of sheet metal with a gutter that fills it up.

And that's 40 yards away from my tree. Stand up on the property line and there's a hose that goes down to the water hole and I can open up that valve and fill up that water hole. Whenever I come by that stand location and I cross through there to some other stands as well. So I might go through there.

Let 50 or [00:43:00] a hundred gallons leak out and then keep on going on my walk.

Josh Raley: Yeah. Yeah. That's really good that, that makes me think about one of my first I guess trials with a water hole was actually not too far from the place where we were living. I. And I had a couple hundred feet of hose where I could walk over to the spigot in my yard, turn the hose on and fill the, fill the water hole from where I was, and then just turn it back off, which, seemed really good until one day when I turned it on and got that going, and then I turn it back off. The hose was in the water and it ended up siphoning all that water. When I disconnected the hose, it ended up siphoning all the water back down the hill, which was not good.

Yeah, that was pretty disappointing. But Sam, one of the last question I want to ask you is why not put a water hole in a food plot? Because that is something that I see. I. All over the interwebs. And if something's on the interwebs, it must be true and right, Sam it must be right.

Sam Bilhorn: Yeah. The [00:44:00] redundancy of attraction is where my simple response would be. And to say that the food plot is an attraction deer will come there, they get moisture from those plants and that, that food plot, they're hopefully high moisture content plants in a decent year. And You know that I don't want to waste that attraction at that spot.

Yeah, they might come there, it might be a focal point within the plot. I'd rather use a mock scrape and have a tree that you put out there or a post with a mock scrape and have that be more of a social area that way versus a water hole, the water holes. Also in those open areas we talked before about evaporation if they're exposed and out, sitting out in the sun.

They will dry up much quicker and be more difficult to maintain. I think if somebody has the means and the topography to do it, to have a pond, you wanna those, more zero depth pond type. Setups within the corner of a food plott or something, I'd say that's okay. I don't think Deere are gonna use that as much.

I've seen properties where they do get hammered because [00:45:00] they're very secluded, but that, that takes a lot more work. It's not necessarily the typical guy that's gonna go out there and do that. I. But the water holes on the Travel Routes Focus Travel's Week episode.

Josh Raley: As always, thank us so much for

Sam Bilhorn: tuning in fo Point for Hunting.

This podcast, let podcast number, podcast. Not gonna have too many of these on property and have be spread out. We wanna use those in our hunting locations in the timber, how food park. Also, we're gonna be really careful. We hunt 'em, that we don't blow up that attraction. So there's many reasons I would point to, to say no, I'm not gonna recommend that.

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Josh Raley: And if you're looking for more great outdoor content,

Sam Bilhorn: the one thing that comes to mind is somebody who might only have a couple hunting locations or because of their ability, maybe they're having to hunt in a blind, it's a kill plot location, and they're only gonna have two spots they go to.

So some of that is specific to who the hunter is and how they set things up that I might [00:46:00] design a water hole in a small kill. Done. But that's more the the, the unique situation than it is the norm.