Between this column and my speaking engagements across America I've heard from many DDH readers concerning small property quality deer management. By far, the most frequent question I hear is. “I own less than 150 acres, is there anything I can do to have better deer?” The answer is a resounding yes.
For some strange reason most hunters/landowners think they have to put together 1,000+ acres to have any kind of a QDM program. Not so. When I decided to walk away from “status quo” deer management in 1990 our farm was only 185 acres in size. Since that time we've purchased additional land and today we own 205 acres. However, 35 acres of the farm is a high-fenced research facility, which is off limits to hunting of any kind. If you back out the house, barns and yard area I wind up managing about 165 acres for hunting and deer management. So, I don't have a large amount of acreage to manage. In spite of limited acreage the results we've seen have been nothing short of incredible.
When I began in 1990 there was scant information available for small landowners who wanted to implement a QDM program. Because of this I “flew by the seat of my pants” in the early years. If I knew then, what I know now the ride would have been much less painful, with a much flatter learning curve.
In the next four Quality Deer Columns I'll outline how a quality deer management program can be implemented on a small parcel of land—fewer than 150 acres. I believe in its most basic form four ingredients are required to be in place before better habitat, better deer and better hunting are possible. The four categories are—The Plan, The Make Over, How to Feed Your Deer, and The Hunting Strategy. I'll cover the plan in this piece and the other three in following issues.
Dare to Dream—But Use Common Sense
“Failure to plan is a plan to fail.” I'm not sure where I heard this the first time but it works, especially when it comes to small property quality deer management.
Formulate a plan: When assessing your property step back and take a hard look at its layout, as well as the properties surrounding you. Understand going in that no two properties are the same and your needs and goals are probably not the same as your neighbors'. As a matter of fact, your neighbors may have no desire to have any deer management/land management plan. If this description fits your neighbors, don't despair. Stay focused on making your property better.
When I started our QDM program in 1990 none of my neighbors had a clue that there was a better way of managing deer than what they had been practicing for the previous 50 years. Today12 landowners border our farm and only three practice any form of QDM. However, even with so few participants, what we are seeing now, compared to 14 years ago is like night and day. To be successful under these conditions, with so little land required creative thinking, a great plan, and diligent execution of the plan.
Property layout—what's best for the deer and you?: As you'll see in the following segments, laying out the property's natural habitat, food plots and hunting locations are keys to having success. These locations can't be just any place on your property. They must be in locations that work for you and not your neighbors.
What kind of habitat do you have? Work to make it better. Look closely at the lay of your natural habitat. One of the keys to having a successful quality deer management program is having adequate cover and natural habitat. Deer are thick-cover lovers, the thicker the better. Remember this and remember it well, because it will be a key ingredient in your success or failure.
Having an adequate number of food plots (with the right forages) go hand in glove with natural habitat. For starters at least 5% of a property should be in food plots. Part 3 will address the food plot issue, from what to plant to where they should be located.
What are your expectations? Be realistic when it comes to antler expectations. If you think you are going to settle for nothing less than a Boone & Crockett size buck you are probably going to have one of two things occur, and maybe both. First, you will never kill such a buck because of hunting pressure on surrounding properties. Secondly (and most hurtful) you will quickly become frustrated by the lack of 140” Boone & Crockett bucks in your area. So, for starters try putting all yearling bucks off limits. Once done, try raising the bar each year.
You may find that you'll be satisfied with hunting and killing 100”-120” bucks (usually 2 1/2 year olds). If this is your goal, that's fine. I went though this stage and eventually found that I could pass on the 2 1/2 year olds. We now find that hunting and killing 3 1/2+ year old bucks is possible. We get there by having a minimum 8 point, 16” inside spread requirement.
Develop a hunting strategy. I'll expand on this in the last part but basically you must resign yourself of the fact that drive and still-hunting techniques are gone forever if you wish to have any kind of quality deer management success on a small parcel. I've found that when you jump a deer it normally runs or walks up to 600 yards before stopping. On a 150-acre parcel this usually means the buck is off your property before he stops, leaving him at the mercy of non-QDM neighbors. Because of this, stand hunting is the way to go.
Limit human activity on the property. Whitetails may not have the same intelligence level as black labs but they are incredibly smart and they learn fast. If you think for a moment you can run ATVs all over a small property and not turn your bucks nocturnal, you're just kidding yourself. For the last 9 years I've been involved in a cutting-edge research project dealing with deer movement in relation to sun and moon light. We are using high-tech equipment to monitor deer movement and have seen first hand what happens on properties that have little to no human activity and those with a high level of activity. On the properties with little activity 56% of deer activity occurs during the day. On properties with a lot of human intrusion daytime deer activity is about 25-30%. So, the fewer people you have running around the property, the more daytime deer activity you will have.
Keep records. You'll never know where you are going unless you know where you've come from. Don't leave things to memory; keep records of what you are doing. If you don't you won't possibly know if you are being successful. It's important to know if your deer are getting larger or digressing. At the very least you should know live weights and the age of the deer you kill.
In Part 2 I'll address what I call “The Make Over” which deals with improving and thickening the natural habitat as well as how to set up a sanctuary.