Don Higgins Interview Part 3 – Real World Whitetails and Higgins Outdoors

don higgins buck

Today we have the final part of the 3 part Don Higgins Interview. Known around North America as a sterling voice on deer hunting, and wildlife management, Mr. Higgins talks about his career as a deer hunting writer, author, and what he thinks the future of deer hunting has in store for us all!

You can read Part 1, here.

You can read Part 2, here.

Writing

OF - Who do you credit for helping you get started in the deer hunting writers fraternity?

Don Higgins – I always had a desire to be an outdoor writer. I remember as a freshman in high school writing to the editors of several hunting magazines to get a copy of their “writers guidelines”. I spent a lot of years as a young adult still having that dream but not yet feeling qualified to share my knowledge or experiences in such a professional venue. Eventually I started noticing that what I was reading in a lot of magazine articles was simply not what I was experiencing as a hunter in the real world. I realized that I knew at least as much as some of the writers who were appearing in the magazines. With that I started “knocking on doors”. Eventually Gordon Whittington of North American Whitetail gave me my first writing assignment and it just sorta grew from there.

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Don Higgins Part 2 – Higgins Outdoors and Real World Whitetails

Don Higgins Buck Part2

Today, as promised we continue with our 2nd Part of the 3 Part series with Mr. Don Higgins, of Higgins Outdoors and Real World Whitetails, as well as renown deer hunting writer in magazines, and author of Hunting Whitetails In The Real World. In part two, we speak with Don about his Consulting business, and Tree Farm / Habitat Company that plants trees, food plots, and grasses for outdoor enthusiasts across the midwest.  ENJOY! You can see Part 1, here.

Consulting

OF – How many properties did you consult for, last year?

Don Higgins – About a dozen or so. I don’t do a lot of properties; in fact I turn down way more consulting opportunities than I take on. I want to be sure that I can give each landowner their money’s worth before agreeing to take on their project. I also like to do those properties where the landowner is looking for a consultant to not only draw up the plan, but then have them do the work. I find it very rewarding to take a fresh property and work it over as if it were a blank canvas, creating new habitat and improving what is already there. Then when I am done I wait for the landowner to call and tell me he just took the biggest buck of his life.

OF – You charge a premium for your consulting time, why should people solicit you for helping figure out their property?

Don Higgins – To be honest, I am probably not the right consultant for most landowners. I ask a lot of questions before I agree to take on a consulting job and if the fit isn’t good for the landowner’s location and expectations and the experience and knowledge that I bring to the table, then I won’t take the job. I don’t make my living by doing consultations so it really doesn’t matter to me if I do 5 a year or 25. That approach alone sets me apart from most others. I also think a consultant should stick to the geographic area of their expertise and not try to cover the entire country. There is also a proper time of the year to do consulting visits; that is during the winter right after hunting season up until the woods green up in the spring. Beware of a consultant who is willing to “go anywhere at any time” to “help you out”. I am not saying that there aren’t other good consultants, there definitely are. What I am saying is that the consumer needs to be aware that some consultants are all about the money and will go anywhere at any time to get it. The consumer should also look at a consultant’s track record. How can a guy help you kill 4 yr old bucks if he isn’t consistently doing it himself?

The landowner that I am going to be able to help the most will be from the Midwest agricultural regions. Killing mature whitetail bucks will be their number one purpose for owning the property. They will be open minded to new ideas and willing to change his current approach.

I am also very familiar with the government programs that offer financial assistance to landowners with creating habitat on their properties. I have literally planted millions of trees and seedlings and thousands of acres of warm season native grasses through these programs as a private contractor. I have the knowledge and experience to turn a property into a whitetail hunters dream BUT it has to be the right property AND the right landowner. My own property is literally the best place I have ever hunted and yet when I started it was one of the worst. Between my experience on my own property, the work I have done as a conservation contractor and more than 3 decades of real world whitetail hunting experience, when I take on a property I am confident that I can make it better.

OF - What is the most prevalent problem with the properties you consult?

Don Higgins – Without a doubt, skeptical landowners who won’t take my advice to heart or want to take a little bit of my idea and blend it with some of their own. This approach might work in some instances but many times it won’t yield the best results.  It sometimes frustrates me to see a property with so much more potential than what I started with on my own property, and see that potential never realized. My goal is always to have a landowner call me a year or two after I visited their property and tell me they just killed the biggest buck of their life and it was because of something I did or told them. In the end it is always the landowners decision as to what they do with their property and I respect that. I truly wish them the best whether they take everything I say to heart or throw it all out the window. Still, it can be frustrating to see someone sitting on a gold mine and have them not listen to you when you know you can help them mine that gold.

OF - What type of documenting summary or paperwork do your consulting clients receive?

Don Higgins – I send each landowner a multi-page plan including a marked aerial photo after I have visited their property. I put these plans together as if I owned the property and my primary goal was to kill mature whitetail bucks and money was not a hindrance to make the property the very best that it can be for that endeavor. I also outline any of the proposed work that Higgins Outdoors can do for them. It is then their decision on how to proceed and whether they hire me to do the work or someone else or do it themselves.

OF - What type of people SHOULDN’T hire you for consulting?

Don Higgins – People who do not live in the farm country of the Midwest and those who are not willing to put some effort, time and money into making their property the very best that it can be. Also those folks who have other uses for their property that limit the deer hunting potential (such as ATV riding) should not waste their money hiring me. I go into a consultation looking to create a whitetail paradise for the landowner and there are situations that make this harder or almost impossible to happen for them. I want all of my customers to be satisfied whether I am doing a consultation for them or selling them a tree or bag of seed.

 

Tree Farm/Habitat

OF – Was consulting and offering habitat improvement services just a natural progression from your consulting service?

Don Higgins – I guess it was a natural progression. I started including notes about my own property and my work as a conservation contractor in my magazine articles and after a while I started getting requests to visit properties or mark aerial maps for landowners. At first I resisted but eventually gave in as long as it was a situation that I was comfortable offering advice on. One thing I will note is that I do not mark aerial maps for landowners and don’t believe anyone can do a good thorough job of offering sound advice without an on-site visit. I always have landowners send me aerial photos before I visit their property and I try to get a plan or idea in mind before the visit by looking at the aerial. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to totally scrap that plan and start over once I was on the property. It is certainly possible to select stand sites and such by using aerial photos but for the detailed plans that I lay out, a visit to the property is a must.

 

OF – How did you get started in the foodplot seed business?

Don Higgins – I was working with some friends to produce a new hunting video series when we got the idea of testing different foodplot seed products side by side by side and video document the results. We were going to include this seed test on our hunting DVD. When we started contacting foodplot seed companies to donate seed for this project we found that most were willing to send us free seed to film our hunts over but none of them would send us any seed if it was going to be planted next to another company’s seed. This told us a lot about the faith these companies had in their seed products and the idea to start a new foodplot seed company was born. Also as land owners who plant foodplots we wanted the very best possible seed products for our own use so we began our own testing of various seed species and varieties. As that testing progressed my partners Kevin and Travis Boyer and I met with Kitchen Seed Company, a local agricultural seed supply company, and teamed with them to start “Real World Wildlife Seed Company”. Kitchen Seed Company had the facility, licensing and expertise that we lacked to become a major player in the foodplot seed industry. We started with and continue with the idea that we want the consumer to plant our seed blends side by side with any others on the market. We continue to do side by side testing on our own properties and strive to have the highest quality foodplot seed products available. Our motto is “Dare to Compare”; we want you to compare the ingredients in the bag, the amount of seed that you get per acre, the price and the results with similar products on the market. We strongly believe that we will either beat the competition or hold our own in every category no matter what product ours is tested against. See

 

OF – Tell us about your Whitetail Bedding Mix. What makes it superior?

Don Higgins – We have a product called “Bedding in a Bag” which is a blend of native warm season grasses. There are 3 species in the blend – big bluestem, Indian grass and switchgrass. What we did is test every variety of these species that we could find and included in our blend only those varieties which remained standing the best against harsh weather conditions such as snow and high winds. There are more than a dozen varieties of each of these 3 species that we tested side by side to determine which ones to include in this mix. These grasses will easily mature to over 8-feet tall and make excellent bedding cover for whitetails and other game. Some varieties of native warm season grasses have a tendency to fall over flat to the ground under wind or snow conditions. That is why we tested for standability. Also, once these grass areas are established they will last forever as long as they are properly maintained, just like the grass in your yard. I believe so strongly in this product that I planted 20 more acres of it on my property this spring.

OF - How long have you tested the Real World soybeans?

Don Higgins – I have been planting soybeans in foodplots for a lot of years, more than a decade for sure. In the beginning I would plant seed that I would get from my neighbor who is a farmer; some years it would work out great and other years it was a disaster. The soybean pods would shatter open and drop the soybeans into the mud where the deer couldn’t eat them. It was frustrating to go to the effort to plant and maintain a foodplot only to have the soybeans lying in the mud when the deer needed them most. I even tried a highly touted forage soybean a couple of times but those soybeans never fully matured and didn’t produce the soybean grain that the deer crave in the late season. I finally had enough and got serious about solving this problem by doing my first side by side comparison. That year I got around 60 different soybean varieties from a soybean breeder and planted them side by side on my farm to select those with the best shatter resistance. That was the beginning of our Real World soybean blend.

OF - Does Real World Wildlife Seed company have any plans to release any new seed blends?

Don Higgins – Yes. We are currently working on a couple of possibilities but we don’t introduce new blends just to increase sales or add to our product line. We continue to test soybeans and in fact this year we are working on a northern variety for hunters in northern regions with a shorter growing season. That testing is taking place in North Dakota about 20 miles from the Canada border. I plant about 80% of my foodplot acreage in soybeans as this is by far my favorite foodplot crop. I have never seen any foodplot attract deer like a soybean foodplot does during the late season.

We only want specific products that are legitimate and warranted. Too many seed companies rely on hype to sell their products. We would rather educate the consumer about our products and then challenge them to plant our products side by side with similar products from other companies and see it for themselves. It seems that everyone is looking for that “magic seed” to draw in deer like a magnet just as they are looking for that magic hunting product to draw in monster bucks. Successful veteran hunters know that there are no “secrets” or shortcuts to success. The best products on the market must be used in conjunction with sound hunting practices in order to work. We want to put out the very best foodplot seed products available anywhere and then educate the consumer on their proper use rather than selling them “the next super foodplot seed” and have them disappointed with the results. Also, we are deer hunters first and foremost. We want to maximize our hunting success on our own properties as much as anything else. If there were better foodplot seed products available anywhere, we would be planting them.

OF - You’re a big proponent of building sanctuaries for deer hunting. What type of habitat makes the most ideal cover and vegetation?

Don Higgins – Sanctuaries are the key to success on any property but I believe too many hunters,  including many sanctuary proponents, have the wrong idea on what is best. Essentially I think most land managers make sanctuaries that are too small and really aren’t sanctuaries at all. I believe sanctuaries should be as large as possible and the vegetation within them should be as thick as possible. I prefer fields of warm season native grasses such as Real World Wildlife Seeds “Bedding in a Bag” as well as thick wooded cover containing lots of second growth understory species. I also believe that the “human intrusion factor” is more important than anything else in designating a sanctuary in the eyes of the local whitetails. You can make a sanctuary out of an open woods with no human intrusion a lot easier than you can in a thick area with lots of human traffic.

OF - How do you feel about hinging trees for bedding cover? Do you practice this with your consulting clients?

Don Higgins – While I will give you that hinging trees works, I personally feel that it is way over-rated and often there is a better alternative. I prefer to go into an area that is being set aside as a sanctuary and start by logging any mature trees with timber value. Then look at what is left and cut all remaining trees that will never have any value; just let them fall where they may. Doing this allows sunlight to reach the ground and instantly promotes the growth of all sorts of weeds and woody growth. Next spray herbicide on the stumps of those cut trees to kill them. Spraying the stumps of those trees that were cut kills the root system and promotes the growth of the new plants whereas hinge cutting keeps those trees and their root systems alive. My approach gives the new trees a much better chance to get started and thrive by decreasing the competition for space within the root zone. The dead trees laying strewn about makes excellent bedding cover and the new growth from other plants only enhances it. As a finishing touch I then go into these cut over areas and plant seedlings to establish species of trees that will improve the area for wildlife as well as future generations of conservationists. Oak species that hold their leaves in the winter are some of my favorites for this application but there are several options. By protecting each seedling with a plastic tree shelter, you ensure that the deer won’t browse off the most desirable trees in the area. I took this very approach with a 5 acre woodlot on my property a couple of years ago. This woods was totally open and provided nothing for the local deer, no food or bedding cover. In fact it was rare to even see a deer there. I did all of this work in the winter and by the first fall that formerly open woodlot was thick prime bedding cover with deer using it on a daily basis. This spring I went into that 5 acre thicket and found 8 shed antlers in 20 minutes proving the value of my approach. Not only do I have better deer cover now than if I had hinge cut the area but in 50 years the timber in that area will be of much greater value than had I simply hinge cut it to make deer beds.

OF - How many employees do you have that help?

Don Higgins – I have 1 full-time year ‘round employee and have up to 5 or 6 during the busy seasons of spring and fall. I am very fortunate to have good employees who are very interested in the work we do. They are serious deer hunters and one of them just graduated with a forestry degree. They understand what we are doing and why we do it certain ways.

Read Part 1 of this Interview – here.

Thanks for your time Don. Part 3 of this 3 Part series will be on this great website on Wednesday July 6th.

Don Higgins Interview Part 1- Higgins Outdoors and Real World Whitetails

Don Higgins 2002, 150 buck

Don Higgins Interview – Higgins Outdoors and Real World Whitetails

Don Higgins is the owner of Higgins Outdoors, author of Hunting Trophy Whitetails in the Real World”, and well respected deer hunting journalist. He offers a number of services in regards to consulting and habitat management not only for whitetails, but all wildlife and is co-owner of a wildlife foodplot seed company, Real World Wildlife Seed Inc.. It is my honor to bring you the first of a three section series with Mr. Don Higgins. Today, we will discuss his personal life, and his personal captive deer that he looks over. Later in the series we will discuss deer hunting, his consulting business, and outdoor writing. The second part of this series will be up next Monday, so check back! Enjoy!

Personal

OF – What did you think you’d be doing for a living, when you were in high school?

DH – Wow! talk about starting off with a tough question! I don’t know that I really knew what I would be doing for a living way back then but I do remember having a strong desire to raise purebred registered livestock, beef cattle and hogs. That dream sort of fell by the wayside because aside from my grandparents 30 acres, my family didn’t own the land or other resources needed to get into this venture on a big enough scale to make a living at it. (Continue Reading…)