By Ricky Kinder
If you are an archery hunter please raise your hand if you agree to the following question: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have 1,500 acres of vast pristine whitetail habitat to hunt in Iowa? While I obviously can’t see the hands going up I could imagine most of you have your hands in the air. The bad news is the overwhelming majority of hunters don’t have such quantities of land to hunt. In fact I would be willing to bet that most hunters who own, rent, or lease hunting property have less than 120 acres to hunt on.
The problem that most of us small acreage hunters face is how do we get the bucks to come to our land, or how do we get them to stay on our land? Both parts of this equation, especially that latter or not that easy to do but with some management work you can see better results in the number or bucks that use or live on your land.
Lets be honest, what we are trying to do is pull bucks from neighboring properties and use our land. Sounds greedy right? Well in a sense it probably is, but such is life in the archery world. If you don’t harvest that big buck that has been passing through your property then chances are your neighbors will…might as well be you right?
While it can be done it is difficult to stock pile bucks on small properties. Bucks, especially mature bucks like there space and are really solitary, if there isn’t enough room on the property they will seek out a better place to live.
Have a Plan
The most important thing you can do is to have a plan in place before you start your management. Land management isn’t an easy task and everything should be considered before diving in. Remember that this is a long-term process and will take some time to develop. There are certain things you can do to get quick rewards but the overall objective will take several years.
The first thing you should do is analyze your land to find out what properties it has for attracting and holding bucks and what it lacks. Once you figure this out then you can begin to implement what needs to be done.
Study your land and determine what you need to implement. The topics below will help you determine what you may or may not need to think about.
A great thing that can be done to a piece of property to hold bucks is to plant trees, shrubs, and native grasses. While this is relatively easy to do its important to note that before you set out to do any plantings to contact a biologist to get their recommendations on what to plant.
A forester will let you know what species to plan, when, and how. You can also consult with them on what species will grow quickly versus the one take time to grow.
Remember when you plant that you want mixture of species that provide cover and mast.
Today a lot of hunters are after the biggest racks possible, which is fine, but you need to determine if you want your land to be a big buck heaven or a buck heaven. If you are after a Boone & Crocket buck then you must be selective in your buck harvest. Pass on the smaller racks and let them grow into that monster you are seeking. On the flipside if you want to just increase the number of bucks on your property and not be selective in your harvest that is fine as well, but you need to decide on a goal.
Food Year Round
If you could do only one thing in land management practices they should be establishing a variety of food on your land. Whether or not a deer will call your land home determines a lot on the food your land has in supply. Whitetail
In Iowa we have the luxury of corn and soybean crops that provide deer excellent nutrition and food for the spring, summer, and most of the fall months. After the crops are harvested though this is when a small piece of property must have some source of food to hold or bring in the deer. If there is no food on your land once the crops are harvested the deer will leave for greener pastures.
The most common way of having year round food is by planting food plots. Food plots can be anything you want them to be. Some popular mixtures today include sugar beats, winter wheat, clover, rape, chicory, and turnips. The options are endless in today’s market and having variety of food is a good way of getting bucks to use your property.
Another way to offer food all year round is if you have cropland on your property. Leaving a section of crop on the property creates a great natural food source for deer. If you are the owner of the land this is an easy option, but if you cash rent your land or lease a property you will need to talk with the farmer.
There has been much debate about mineral sites over the past decade and do they actually work to create bigger bucks. While the jury is out the science behind this debate one thing is for sure that deer frequent these sites, but not all year round.
Placing a few mineral sites on your property will
Any given piece of land can only offer so much sustenance to deer. Meaning that if you piece of property has “X” amount of food on it that only “Y” amount of deer and other wild life can sustain themselves off of “X”.
There are two ways to increase sustainability for bucks on your land. The first one we already discussed and that is creating more food opportunities for bucks. The other is to harvest does. Doe management is import for the quality of deer on your land and will increase the sustainability of the land in return. Observe the deer on your property and figure out how many does you think should be harvested annually.
Every big buck management property should have designated areas that are hands off to humans. Mature bucks are solitary animals and any pressure at all will cause them to leave or go nocturnal. Not ideal consequences for a deer hunter.
It is important to look at your property and designate where you should have a sanctuary or where you might already have one. Sanctuaries typically consist of dense thick underbrush that provides cover from intrusion.
There is one rule to sanctuaries on your land: Don’t go in them leading up to hunting season or during hunting season. If you want to check out your sanctuary do so after your season is over. Good times to look at sanctuaries are in the late winter to early spring months.
Putting any kind of hunting pressure on a mature buck is too much! When you hunt your small property you have to be smart about it. Only enter the property during the season if you plan on hunting it. During the off-season is the time to do any maintenance to the land. If you put trail cameras up don’t check them regularly.
Stand placement is vital on small properties. A stand should be placed in conjunction with the prevailing winds. Remember it is all about keeping deer on your land and not your neighbors. If you hang and hunt a stand that blows your scent straight into a bedding area or food plot then you run the risk of being winded. Next thing you know your neighbor is calling you or emailing you pictures of that big buck that lived on your property all year…until now.
Know how wind reacts on your land. Just because the weatherman says a east wind doesn’t mean it will be a east wind on your property. Once you have a good feel for how the wind will react on your property set your stands in the proper places.
For bucks it is all about cover, more specifically dense thick ground cover that they feel safe in. By trimming a few branches or completing removing some trees you can greatly improve the canopy of the timber on your land. What this will do is allow sunlight to the ground and improve growth of the underbrush.
It is also a good idea to trim dense underbrush and ground cover, which will promote usage by deer.
This one is a tough one! Deer require water everyday just as humans but they get there a lot of there water in the vegetation they consume. Still dry periods of the year won’t allow a deer to get the water from vegetation they require so if your land has a water source available you will increase the odds of deer spending more time on your land.
The hard thing is though creating a pond or water source on small property isn’t easy to do. Sure you could bring in the “dozer” and have at it but that can be costly, instrusive, and just not realistic on your property. Before you dive into a water source project make sure you absolutely want to do so. This should be the last step of your project as it is the most troublesome to accomplish.