QDM ON LESS THAN 150 ACRES - by Charles Alsheimer


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.


In Part 1 I discussed the importance of having a plan, from both a harvest and resource standpoint. In this part I'll address the importance of making a property's natural habitat deer friendly. Along with what I discussed in Part 1 it is critical that a property receive some kind of make-over to hold deer and to make it into the best hunting site possible. In addition, it is critical that a property be set up so that neighbors who could care less about QDM do not benefit from your efforts to improve the herd.

Property Layout
Laying out a property for QDM is the foundation for any program. For starters, very few (if any) properties are tailored for QDM, either when they are purchased or when the decision is made to manage for quality deer. Sometimes all that is required to make a property QDM friendly is minor tweaking, but often major work is required. The process is like building a house. If a property is built right deer will not only come, but stay. The goal should be to build the best managed deer

Mecca possible.
When my wife and I purchased our farm in 1973 it consisted of 90 acres of mature hardwoods, 25 acres of brush and 65 acres of open fields. To accomplish our goal of making the farm more attractive for deer, turkeys and grouse I knew a make-over was in order. I can remember framing a large aerial photo (that was behind glass) and with the aid of a grease pencil, I marked it up, trying to come up with the best layout.

QDM was unheard of at the time, so I didn't understand deer management like I do today, but I did know that the wildlife I was interested in needed more and better cover. By “dreaming” on the glass that covered the aerial photo I broke the bigger fields into small 1-7 acre sections, with some earmarked for evergreens and shrubs plantings. The layout called for some of the evergreens and shrubs to be planted in blocks and some into hedgerows. Other openings were projected as food plots. In the first two years we planted thousands of evergreens and shrubs, which over time drastically changed the farm's appearance.

Needless to say I've learned much in the last 20+ years. Along the way there were many challenges with the biggest being how to hold deer. Others included how to set up the property for the best bow hunting opportunities, how to give the deer the foods they need and how to keep young deer that don't meet our goals from being killed by non-cooperating QDM landowners. To accomplish these goals it was important for food plot locations to be set up so that our deer did not have to travel from surrounding properties to take advantage of them. This was and is being done by providing wind friendly set ups (for the hunter) and the thickest possible cover near each food source.

Wind Set Up
When mapping out a property for QDM practices always think in terms of how you plan on hunting it when the sanctuaries and food plots are in place. The goal is to be out of a deer's sight and mind, which ultimately means out of its nose. For this reason never place a food plot in such a fashion that a deer will smell you as it exits its sanctuary when coming to feed. So, for best results, lay out the hunting sites for cross winds and work hard to insure that there will be no swirling winds at the ambush site.

“Thicker is better,” is a phrase often used to describe what it takes to hold deer on a property. Few think of this, but it is important to set up safe havens for individual doe groups. If you can hold several different doe groups on a property you can hold the bucks. This can be accomplished by creating multiple sanctuaries, areas that are totally off limits to hunters. If you break down, and hunt a sanctuary when things get tough, you've defeated your purpose. Learn this and learn it well for it will be one of your biggest tickets to success. At the very least 25% of a property should be placed into a sanctuary habitat, and much more if possible.

When I first began practicing QDM on our farm in 1990 I had one 40 acre sanctuary. It didn't take me long to realize there was a better way. Over the years I learned that the greater the acreage in sanctuaries the greater the whitetail potential would be. Today our farm has 120 of its 200 acres designated as sanctuary, with their size ranging from 5-50 acres.

One of the best QDM consultants in America is North Country Whitetail's Neil Dougherty. “One of the first things I do is break a property down into 25-acre grids so I can develop doe family groups,” he said. “I do this in order to develop habitat and give each doe and her family group their own sanctuary area. By doing this you'll have a better chance to pattern bucks during the rut, when they begin cruising from doe group to doe group. The bottom line to this is that if you keep the doe groups on your property you'll reduce the buck mortality.

“If a thick sanctuary set up does not already exist I encourage landowners to cut less desirable trees within a 3-5 acre area in order to develop a sanctuary. In 5-6 years such locations should see excellent regeneration, which will provide the sanctuary cover deer need. The goal is to have available natural browse, thick cover up to six feet off the ground and not be able to see more than 60 yards through the brush or woods. This is the kind of thick cover a sanctuary needs to hold deer.

If the area being cut has wild apple trees make every attempt to cut the trees around them so they will get enough sunlight to begin bearing fruit. Of course, when making a cut be sure to leave the tops, cutting only the branches that are over 5-6 feet off the ground. The tops provide browse and add structure to the setting.”

If your sanctuary plan calls for reforesting an open field think about planting fast to moderate growing trees and shrubs. I've had great success using staggered rows of evergreens and shrubs for such sites. An example would be to plant parallel rows about twelve feet apart of red pines (fast growing evergreen), Bush Honeysuckle (fast growing shrub) and Norway spruce (slow to moderate growing evergreen), repeating the process until the field is planted. A tip I can offer is to always make sure that the evergreen rows are separated with a row of shrubs. In the long run this will produce much thicker cover.

Though the role of food plots will be covered in the next part it should be pointed out that any road in a forest setting should be considered for a food plot if it runs north/south. Be sure to cut back the road edges by 15-20 yards so mid-day sunlight can bathe the roadway food plot during the middle of the day. This kind of forest food plot offers deer the ultimate security when they want a convenience snack.

In the next part I'll discuss how to give deer the right food to hold them on a property.


I began a four part series dealing with how to accomplish QDM on less than 150 acres. Part 1 dealt with formulating a plan for this size property. Part 2 discussed natural habitat improvement. This part will deal with the food plots needed to make a small property shine.

Food Plot Layout
When considering food plots three things should be considered; security, wind direction for the best hunting potential and forage production.

Security: Don't even think about planting a food plot where it is visible from a road or a neighbor's property. To do so means that your prized deer will be killed before you get a chance to hunt them. If you must utilize a field next to a road for a food plot your only option is to plant a shrub hedge along the road. Shrubs will grow fast and create a barrier so deer won't be poached from the road.

If a prime food plot location borders a neighbor's wooded area be forewarned that the deer will feed on you and bed on your neighbor's land, which means you will be feeding them and they will be killing them. So, work hard to lay out both feeding and hunting food plots so that deer will not be exposed to the “outside” world, but will be close to bedding areas or sanctuaries. By being close to sanctuaries the deer will not have to travel far to get to them.

Wind Direction: This is a critical point, especially for hunting food plots. Lay out food plots so that the wind is not blowing from the proposed hunting site to the sanctuary or where you expect deer to feed. At the very least make sure there is at least a prevailing crosswind at the stand location. In addition, lay out the hunting plot so that the hunter doesn't have to look into a rising or setting sun to kill a deer.

Forage Production: Every deer on your property requires at least 1 1/2 to 2 tons of feed a year to survive. If you don't give it to them they will go elsewhere. For this reason a minimum of 5% of the property should consist of good food plots, both feeding and hunting. The difference between the two is that feeding food plots are larger, so they provide the tonnage deer need to thrive and stay on the property. Hunting food plots are smaller and located in thick cover between the bedding/sanctuary and large feeding area. They should be narrow so that bow shots can be taken across them and less than 1/2 an acre in size.

The beauty of hunting food plots is that they provide deer with a “fast-food” stop they can visit as they travel between their bedding and feeding plot. Because they are small, with security around them, deer will hit them during daylight. Feeding food plots on the other hand are intentionally large so they can produce the tonnage needed. Because of their size and layout deer will normally use them under the cover of darkness.
Food Plot Preparation

How to prepare a food plot for planting is one of the most overlooked aspects of quality deer management practices. The failure of seeds to grow is normally because of poor site prep or lack of rain.

The first step in preparing a food plot should be testing the location's soil for its pH. For best results make every attempt to get the soil pH above 6.0 and as close to 7.0 as possible. At 7.0 plants can perform at about 95% capacity. As a further example at 6.0 a plant's performance will be about 80% and if the soil is 5.5 (which is common in our country before liming) it is only about 45%. So, the importance of good soil pH is obvious.

In order to improve the soil pH liming may be required, but you will not know until a site soil test is done. Outlets that sell lime and fertilizer can usually do the soil analysis for you.

Once the soil pH is known and lime applied, if needed, the site should be sprayed with the herbicide like Round Up to kill weeds and grasses that are present. For those who prefer to use organic practices this can be eliminated but it will shorten the lifespan of a food plot like perennial clover by about two years.

The next process is to till the soil, smooth the plot's surface, fertilize and plant the seed. Make sure that the seed is not planted too deep. Clover, for example, should be planted no more than 1/4 inch deep. If planted any deeper it will not come up. Also, do not plant more than the recommended amount of seed. The tendency with many first-timers is that more is better. Not so with food plot seed. If you apply too much seed the plants will be choked and not grow as well.

What to Plant
Variety is the spice of life when it comes to forage choices for your deer. I've found that on small properties at least 60% of the forages should be in perennial clover. Clover will provide a protein level exceeding 20% and is highly preferred by whitetails. It will also provide 3-5 tons per acre under normal fertilization practices. At least 20% of the food plots should be planted into a forage that will provide high tonnage during late season so that deer have adequate food in December and January. One of the best choices is brassica because it becomes preferable to whitetails after a few frosts (when starches turn to sugar), and its plants are high enough to stick above the snow.

The remaining 20% should be dedicated to the hunting food plots. These can either be planted into clover if you desire to have them work for more than three years. Or, they can be planted on a yearly basis with an annual forage like wheat or rye, which is highly attractive to deer in their first 90 days of growth.

Now that the habitat has been covered it's time to move on to how small properties should be hunted. In the last part this will be discussed.


Hunting strategies for QDM properties concludes this four part series. How to hunt a property is without question the topic of greatest interest to individuals interested in quality deer management.

In the majority of situations (areas where not all the surrounding landowners practice QDM) hunting a property to insure one sees good day-time activity and keep the majority of small bucks from being killed requires what I call stealth hunting strategies. This type of hunting often requires a great deal of thought, preparation and execution. However, when all three parts of the equation come together great things follow.

For starters drive and still-hunting must be eliminated. This is so for two reasons. When it comes to drive hunting it is simply too difficult to field judge a buck when he has been jumped and is running through the woods. Poor decisions are often made when a hunter has only a split second to make up his mind whether a buck is big enough to harvest. The same nearly always applies to still-hunting.

However, perhaps the biggest reason for eliminating these popular hunting strategies is what each does to deer and their behavior. Drive hunting and still-hunting turn deer highly nocturnal and push the deer off a small property.

Over the years I've observed that when a whitetail is jumped and pushed it walks or runs 300-600 yards. On a 150 acre or less property this means that the deer has exited the property. When this happens it is at the mercy of neighboring landowners.

Study after study has proven that pressuring deer will cause them to become nocturnal. The fifteen year cutting-edge lunar research project Vermont deer biologist Wayne Laroche and I are conducting has proven this conclusively. Our Trail Timer data has shown that 56% of a deer's daily activity is during daylight when little or no pressure is put on them. Our data also shows that when frequent human pressure is present on a property (people/ATV activity) a deer's daytime activity drops to less than 30%. So, it's critical that one stays out of sanctuaries and makes every effort to limit activity around feeding food plot locations.

While on the subject of food plots, I seldom hunt feeding food plots. The only exception would be during the late muzzleloader season when I'm trying to harvest does. Hunting such locations during bow or early gun season will almost always pressure the deer and cause them to wait until nightfall to frequent them.

Never enter a sanctuary during daylight hours during hunting season. Never! If a deer is wounded and enters a designated sanctuary wait until legal shooting hours are over before doing so. The last thing you want to do is blow the deer out of their secure sanctuary and onto the neighbor's property. So, in the majority of cases tracking should be done at night when sanctuary infringement comes into play.

Two things are critical when it comes to stealth hunting strategies on small acreages. First, beating a whitetail's nose is paramount. Secondly, leaving behind little or no human sign (sound or scent) is critical.

This requires hunting only what I call strategically located transition zones. These are areas that a hunter can slip in and out of without deer knowing he is or has been there. It's awfully tempting to hunt on a major feeding food plot or right next to a prime sanctuary. Don't do it. Rather, hunt in the connecting cover between the sanctuary and feeding area. Following this tip will insure that maximum day-time deer activity continues throughout the season.

A transition zone can be a funnel, pinch-point, bottleneck or a hunting food plot. All of these locations will have one or more well used trails leading through them. It is along these trails that one should hunt, but only if the wind is in the hunter's favor. If the wind is not right, hunt another location. Don't try to push the wind issue, you will lose every time. The location on our farm, where I kill the bulk of my bucks, can only be hunted when there is zero wind. It's tempting to force a hunt when there is even the slightest breeze but I've learned over the years that doing so will not work. You may be able to fool a yearling buck but you will never force the issue and win with a mature whitetail, be it buck or doe.

Though climbing stands are very popular I tend to shy away from using them where stealth hunting is required—and in my opinion the highest level of stealth hunting is required for small properties. The reason for this is that they tend to be very noisy. In spite of all the disclaimers I have yet to meet a hunter during my career who can use a climbing stand without making noise. The goal and key to hunting a small property is to leave little or no trace that you were there. For this reason portable, hang-on-stands are what I use.

Along the trails in a transition zone make sure there are licking branches every fifty yards, with a major licking branch within shooting distance of your stand location. This will almost always require you hang a mock licking branch about 5-5 1/2 feet off the ground over the trail. For best results use a preferred browse species. In my country, apple, oak and maple work well.

Strategically placing licking branches along well used trails will cause them to be prime scraping locations. When a buck stops to work the licking branch he will stretch to reach the branch, offering a standing broadside shot. I've also found (for whatever reason) that when a buck is working the licking branch he is oblivious to minor movement, like coming to full draw during the moment of truth.

Perhaps one of the best tips I can offer is to rake the entrance/exit trail to a stand. Eliminating all leaves and debris from the trail will offer a silent entry or exit from the stand location.

When hunting a location always enter the area well in advance of the time you think deer will be using the transition zone. Our lunar research shows that the primary hours of deer activity are two hours either side of darkness, with a minor spike in activity around mid-day. When leaving a stand do so only when deer are out of sight and you are reasonably sure that nothing is coming.

Many landowners have a burning desire to hunt a major hunting food plot at the end of day, especially during bow or late muzzleloading season. In most cases the risk of turning a whitetail nocturnal becomes a serious issue. One way to lessen the chances of this happening is to get to a prime stand that overlooks the food plot in early afternoon, before the deer arrive. When nightfall comes and deer are feeding in the plot in front of you plan to have someone come and pick you up with an ATV or vehicle. Letting the ATV or vehicle blow the deer off the field, rather than you climbing from the stand, will keep them from being “people” frightened and becoming nocturnal. In most areas of the U.S. deer are accustomed to vehicles and when spooked by them they will leave when the vehicle arrives but come back when it is gone. You'll be amazed how well this works.

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