Back home in Missouri and Illinois, most people hunt on private land. There are exceptions, sure, but the majority of hunting is either done on the farms of family or neighbors. Growing up mostly in Illinois, our family farm sits just across the Mississippi river in rural northeast Missouri.
Our acreage, like many in the immediate area, is small for a farm. We’ve only got 40 tillable acres that are kept in a rotation of corn and soy-beans. The heavy lifting has been done by our neighbor down the road ever since my Grandpa got tired of fooling with it himself and decided to rent out our fields a decade ago. Since his passing seven years ago, my Dad and I have made a concerted effort to put some time into the rest of the property that had gone unmaintained for the last few years on my Grandpa’s watch.
Selling off fallowed machinery, pulling out fence-rows, and planting food plots for wildlife topped the priority lists. The idea was to recondition the land to be suitable habitat for area quail, rabbit and whitetail to want to hang out. With such a small amount of acreage, we can’t hold a resident herd or flock of much of anything. But making our land as attractive as possible certainly ensures we’ll be on their route. And now, after several years of hard work, it’s all beginning to pay off. On day three of last year’s rifle season I saw the biggest whitetail of my life chase two does from one stand of cover to the other before I could even raise my rifle.
Pop was certain this big boy must have been the buck leaving deep and wide tracks all over the place throughout the summer months, but we couldn’t be sure. So this year, he got a trail-cam and installed it on a trail between the small river bordering our property and the food plot.
The fact that my dad has put in way more work on this ongoing project than I is pretty obvious in his excited emails that I’ve been getting weekly at this point. Occasionally throughout the summer I’d receive an email with an attachment or two of some does milling around, and sometimes a six pointer that was loafing around pretty regularly. But since they got the corn out a few weeks ago, the deer’s habits have changed, and so has the size of my emails.
It seems that upon last check, Pop had over 50 pictures of wildlife on the camera that he’d captured in just two weeks. Many of which were photos of good sized bucks. I haven’t seen the monster buck from last season in any of the photos, but if any of the neighbors had got him last year we certainly would’ve heard about it. So I’m holding out hope he’s still lurking.
There are many points I’d like to make about the state of things at the Begley farm this hunting season.
One of which is that I have realized this season in Montana how good I’ve had it back home all these years. Even though our prime habitat plan has only come to fruition in the last year or two, we knew the lay of the land well and could at least see who’d been hoofing around as often as we’d like. Being a stranger to big-sky country, a few weeks of scouting just isn’t enough to really get a feel for the land in my area, much less how to slip in and out easily and quietly, or who’s firing lanes I may be walking through. I shouldn’t have to say much more about our luxury of exclusivity back home. Perhaps most surprisingly, there is a difference I never considered before that comes from harvesting a buck that you’ve come to know over the course of a season or two. There is a familiarity, a rapport. We may even get a sense of his personality, and garner a respect as an opponent in a grand game of hide and seek. On the lands I’ve been hunting in Montana, the big buck that gets away may never been seen again once he makes it over that ridge. But back home when you don’t get an opportunity to take a shot at that buck you’ve patterned all season, “there is always next year.” So there are a few things I’m missing about hunting on the family farm this fall. But perhaps the thing I’ll miss the most this year is waking up to Pop’s bacon and sausage sizzling away in our one-room cabin just a 10 minute walk from the stand.