The Ultimate Deer Hunting Property
By Ricky Kinder
As an avid deer hunter here in Iowa I am always thinking or more specifically dreaming of that perfect deer hunting property and how great it would be to actually call myself the owner of such a property. You know what I am talking about; that perfect piece of ground that has everything you could possibly want in a deer hunting property. Admit it if you are a serious whitetail hunter you have had the same thoughts and dreams as me. While our dreams may never come to fruition because our dream properties would require us to have been past lottery winners and take more time and effort than we have to create and maintain. For the majority of us that puts our dreams of owning such a property on hold indefinitely. But hey we can still dream can’t we!
So dream I will! Below is a list of components that would make up my dream property and why each component would lead to having the best whitetail property in the world.
I think 320 continuous acres would be ideal for a dream property here in Iowa. Sure I wouldn’t mind 500+ acres of land to hunt, but when you factor in the time, cost, and energy it would take to make large chunks of land viable it would be almost impossible for one person to do so…even 1000 acres might be stretching it a bit. Now if I had several people to help out then by all means give me more land. However, for this one man operation the perfect size would be 320 acres. It isn’t too big that I wouldn’t be able to maintain it and it isn’t too small that I have to fight tooth and nail to keep deer on my property. With a 320 acre tract it would be just the right size to enable all of the things I want to be on the property.
Edges and Funnels
Have you never noticed that deer are edge creatures? Meaning they spend a lot of time on the edges of habitat boundaries, such as tree lines, cornfields, creek bottoms, and even fence rows. They do this mainly for security reasons, never putting themselves too far away from safety. Also have you ever noticed where the majority of buck rubs and scrapes are found? You guessed it around habitat edges. Having a diversity in edges with a mixture of habitat will ensure that deer feel safe at all times when navigating the property.
In addition to having a lot of edges I would want several funnels. Funnels are simply larger structures of land that become smaller portions of land creating a bottleneck that deer have to use to travel from one place to another. These are great ambush spots for stand locations.
As mentioned above to go along with edges I would want a lot of different species of trees, plants, shrubs, etc. on my property. The more you can offer your deer herd the better chances you will have at keeping deer on your property, no matter if that is for food or security reasons. The goal for my property is to have several options for deer to consume food and to seek out cover based on the changing seasons. The more options you can provide to a deer herd the healthier they will be and the less apt they will be to leave your land for greener pastures elsewhere.
Low Intrusion Factor
You can’t have a dream property if you spook all the deer from the land while hunting them. Whitetails will not stand for constant intrusion and the best property in the world can become desolate of deer if human intrusion is constant. My property would take special note to this fact and have a myriad of entrance/exit trails to each part of the property that would disguise my presence. Along with entrance/exit trails the predominant wind pattern is crucial to everything. When setting up food plots, tree stands, sanctuaries, etc. I must look at what the does wind the majority of the time and each of the components I list must be thought of in relation to the wind.
Hardwood Timber with Creeks
The bulk of my property would consist of hardwood timber with fingers running out of the main timber. Whitetails are timber animals as it provides not only shelter, but food as well. I would want a lot of oak trees that provide a good mast of acorns. Acorns are a favorite of deer as they provide energy and fat storage for the winter. Within the timber would be a series of creeks that would allow for a natural travel route and funnel system for deer to use. Deer love to use creek edges to travel to and from places and if I can get these creeks to run through timber then better yet!
Prairie Grass/Buffer Strips
Bordering the fingers of the hardwood timber would be buffer strips approximately 50-80 yards wide. These strips of land would contain native grasses and shrubs. The grasses make great cover and provide ideal places for fawning in the spring. The shrubs would be a great way to provide browse throughout the year for deer to feed on.
A mixture of thick pines trees and thinned pine trees might get overlooked by some, but the benfits of having both should be noted. A thick area of pine trees or any evergreen species provides awesome natural cover and sanctuaries for deer the entire year. On the flipside if you can thin some of these areas out and let the sunglight penetrate you will create understory cover and forage via shrubs and grasses.
My property would have several food plots in various sizes and shapes. The biggest I would want to be around 10 acres near the center of the property and near major travel corridors right next to the timber and its fingers. If I had room for two of these plots then I would most definitely do so. As far as what to plant I would want a mixture of species to provide a good year round food source for the herd.
Along with the big food plots I would also want smaller strategic plots about ½ acre in size. These would be my bowhunting plots. Location wise I would want these smaller plots located in the timber in between the large food plots and santuaries on the property. This provides a great place for deer to visit as a staging area before they go to the larger plots after dark. Bucks will frequent these at all times of the year and look for does in these areas during the rut. I would want these plots planted in oats, wheat, turnips, rape…basically something that is easy to grow and will be around for the late season. These are the plots where I would be hanging stands. The options are endless…you can hang a stand directly on the food plot, in between the santuary and food plot, or in between the smaller plot and larger plot.
The last kind of plot I would like to have on my property is irregular shaped plots. These plots look like they belong to the diversity of the land and have odd shaped borders. I have grown fond of plots that look like “turkey tracks”; where they have a base point and then three appendages protruding from the center. These work best when they are placed in cover such as the thinned pine trees or prairie grasses mentioned above. I would plant these in a mix of fall annuals similar to the small plots discussed earlier. These types of plots are good for both gun and bow season and allow for a lot of different stand sites due to their shape. I would also want the “legs” of the turkey track to touch an edge of the neighboring habitat…this will aide in deer traveling edges to stop and visit the plot.
Being in Iowa and with 320 acres to play with I would have to have a primary harvestable soybean/cornfield. Deer naturally love to go out into fields and feed, even with all the food sources I have listed. I would plant 40 acres of soybeans and 40 acres of corn that tucks in between two of the timber fingers, this would provide a huge food source and keep deer from roaming over to neighboring fields. The soybeans will provide summer and late fall forage while the corn will provide extra cover and nutrition during the winter. Year after year I would swap the soybeans for the corn and vice versa to optimize growing potential.
Who doesn’t like a snack? Deer are no different and a great snack is fruit trees. It would be a must for my dream property to have several small orchards of fruit bearing trees as deer love apples, crabapples, pears, plums, etc. Instead of one large orchard I would have several 1-acre plots scattered throughout the property. Each site would have a variety of trees so I know at least one species of fruit is falling at all times of the hunting seasons. These would be located all across the property next to travel corridors.
Probably the most important component of my property would be sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are areas that are off limits to human intrusion, except right after the season is over if I need to do some maintenance or want to go shed hunting. These areas would be on high ground in the hardwood timber or the thick pine trees and would be thick and nasty cover. These are great places for bucks to call home during the daylight hours. Ideally the property would have some natural sanctuaries where I didn’t have to do any legwork, but even the best of properties probably need sanctuaries to be created. I would do so by hinge cutting trees. Hinge cutting is when you fell a tree but leave it connected about three for four feet up from the stump. The part of the tree that falls over will remain alive and produce great horizontal, overhead, and ground cover.
The purpose of these sanctuaries is to give deer plenty of spots to set up a headquarters, especially one where they feel safe throughout the day. My sanctuaries would also have a plan to them in regards to travel patterns. Each sanctuary would be in relation to food sources and where does might be at during the rut or gun seasons. It is also important to note the wind again…these sanctuaries would be made so that any human scent would be downwind of the predominant pattern.
With a dream property like I have described one would need a way to navigate all the equipment it would surely take to manage this property. Having a good network of your own travel plans is vital to the property…this way you can access all parts of the property by vehicle or implement. You still have to be strategic about the road network as it can also be great when used to park and walk to your stand site. So I would want the roads to be in position where the predominant wind blows any scent away from sanctuaries or other pressure sensitive areas I would want to hunt on any given day.
Ample Stand Sites
From what I have listed above I should have dozens and dozens of possible stand sites…and that is perfect. The more the merrier, by having so many options I can take pressure off the deer herd. With all of the stuff going on in the property it shouldn’t be a problem to pick a good stand based off of the time of year, the wind direction, and current deer patterns.
While deer get a lot of their water via the plants they consume I would still want a few watering holes on the property other than the creeks I mentioned above. Deer seem to prefer stationary water sources over running water. I am not sure why? Maybe it’s the noise associated with running water, but whatever the reason is they tend to opt for stationary rehydration locations. So I would want to place a couple of water holes near food sources. This way deer are not far from getting something to eat at the same time they get a drink of water. These watering holes don’t have to be that big, maybe ½ acre or less.
There you have it, my Dream Whitetail Property. On paper it seems a lot less daunting, but I know how much work it would take to create all of this…not to mention money! Will it happen for me one day? I am not counting on it, but until then I will continue to dream!