Holding the deed to 640 acres of land or more for your personal whitetail nirvana is a dream for most. Unfortunately, for many of you (me included), that dream acreage decreases into smaller numbers, possibly with only two digits. Keep the faith. A small property could be all you need, whether you own it, lease it, or just have permission to hunt.
My favorite example is a Midwestern hunter I know who co-owns less than 10 acres. He has taken bucks ranging from 160 to 180 from the modest property. Last season, he nearly broke the 200 mark on that Prius-sized property, but who is counting? Size does not always matter when hunting enters the conversation.
A 200-class buck may not be in the future for you if you hunt Alabama, but nevertheless, a small property could provide you with quality hunting if you create a plan to hunt it like a larger property. Here are four elements to include on a small property to make it hunt like a much bigger version. Spring is the ideal season to launch this small-property review.
Plan Their Escape
Regardless of the size of the property, an area of escape for deer on the property has merit. By creating a refuge in appropriate concealment cover, whitetails have either a cloaked travel corridor to use or an outright sanctuary for safe haven use. That refuge may exist on your property in the form of extensive brush, forested ridges, cattail wetlands, or overgrown coulees. By merely staying off a ridge or out of a thick draw, it gives deer confidence to be in the area whether living or traveling on the property.
Wildlife consultants toss the figure of 50 percent of your property should be off limits and in refuge, but that figure does not need to be adhered to on a small property. Instead, set aside as much as possible and don’t enter except for occasional visits in the offseason for property chores. A spring visit for shed antlers is allowed, but the more you enter the safety zone, the more deer may not feel it as safe.
If the refuge area seems a bit too drafty, there are ways to accentuate cloaking. First, consider chainsaw and tractor tactics. Dropping dead timber, selective harvesting of live trees and gathering downed trees to push into piles boosts escape cover for all wildlife. Deer seek out brushy deadfalls for bedding and refuge, plus opening the canopy allows more sunlight to reach the ground, thus stimulating growth for briars and new saplings that create additional browse opportunities. Consult with a forester before undertaking this chore and catalog all mast species for future ambush opportunities.
A strategically planted screen of crops or tall vegetation provides another refuge option. Popular crops to utilize include corn, grain sorghum, and Egyptian wheat. With several rows planted as cover, these crops can easily construct a wall boosting the confidence of wildlife behind it. These crops produce nutrition for deer, turkeys, upland game, and small game. Other vegetation to consider include tall switchgrass, Sudan grass, or even big bluestem planted in dense clumps. Piled deadfall and strategically located plantings of cover vegetation has ample confidence-boosting appeal for all wildlife.
Making a Plan for Fall Deer Seasons
Set the Menu
Speaking of farming, your small property may not allow a major food plot, but inventory any openings, glades or old roads where you can till, plant, and fertilize crops such as clovers, turnips and other nutritious species. You may not be able to supply year-round food, but you can focus travel with strategically planted mini crops. A half-acre of turnips adjoined by a half-acre of winter wheat grabs the attention of any deer withing sniffing distance.
Depending on the makeup of the land, you could farm it with inexpensive ATV/UTV implements. Begin your food plot planning with a visit to your local Natural Resources Conservation Service. These government offices provide an array of assistance to our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and forest owners. Through branches of their department, such as the Conservation Technical Assistance Program, they offer free support to maintain and enhance natural resource features with up-to-date approaches to land management.
Technical support includes access to existing soil surveys, contacts for soil testing, farming preparation expertise, seed choices, and detailed conservation plans. There are even programs for financial assistance that provide economic relief for landowners. Think of it as a speed course in farming 101.
If your property is too rocky or entirely shaded in a canopy of timber, bait, and supplement minerals could also provide attraction appeal. Check state laws and the current commodity price of any bait you consider. These items also become spendy but could provide you the instant food plot you need without breaking any ground.
Lastly, consider augmenting or adding water to your property. Whitetails seek out convenient water sources next to food or cover. Rutting whitetails need a recharge any hour of the day. An augmented water source near refuge or in a food plot field, gives deer a quick option to hydrate before bedding, or after feeding.
Digging out existing waterholes and layering them with fabric or bentonite may guarantee a year-round source. You can also add water tanks to the property. Using your HuntStand hunting layers helps you discover existing water, plan a water project, and measure future food plots with distance measuring tools. It is an all-in-one property management partner.
The Things We Learn from Shed Antlers
Play Ambush Roulette
As refuge, food, and water planning moves along, analyze every nook and cranny of your small property for ambush locations. That is plural, even if your property feels more cramped than the two-seat makeup of a Corvette.
Why plural on a small property? Your goal is to keep deer guessing. If you latch on to a favorite treestand like you do your favorite recliner in front of the big screen, your intentions become easy to pattern. Deer that sense repeat visits by predators to their lairs, avoid those areas more. They may still use the property but circumnavigate the perceived danger zone. Of course, they could also up and leave the property after classifying it as just too dangerous.
A handful of ambush sets, blinds or treestands, spreads your footprint out on a small property and keeps deer guessing on whether you are on the property. They may have sensed you at a food plot ambush location a few days back but were not expecting you in the adjoining oak draw. And if that advantage is not enough, multiple ambush locations give you ultimate wind advantage to hunt even if you experience 180 degrees of wind switch.
Your goal is to have these stands in place weeks before the season. Nothing sets off the alarms of a mature buck more than your placement of a new treestand in the middle of the season. And the sight of a newly staked ground blind could cause panic attacks in any passing deer. Now is the time to add few features to the landscape to allow deer to become accustomed to alterations well before the season.
How to Plant a Small Food Plot with Hand Tools
Plan Your Entrance
Finally, whether checking trail cameras, accessing stands, or exiting after a long sit, be invisible. Start at home by using topographic overlays on your HuntStand hunt area map to find every elevation change that offers you concealment. Utilize ditches, hills, coulees, and riparian zones to duck into and minimize your human form. A favorite tactic of mine is walking along creeks or rivers with my form below the bank. Walking in the shallow water helps you de-scent and the sound of moving water veils any noise you may create.
Sanctuary crops, grasses, and piled-up dead timber, offer a veil to move behind for invisibility. A slight breeze covers noise you make behind the rustling of the dried, fall flora. A thick matting of growth conceals your form. These sanctuary projects serve a dual purpose and are a great investment in a small property lacking diversity.
And for added assurance your movement is not intrusive, plan every in and out around the schedule of deer. Avoid any travel areas, bedding cover, and food sources when you suspect deer will be enroute to a site.
If you still use traditional trail cameras without cellular links, minimizing your camera monitoring is important. Set cameras so you can check them easily without refuge intrusions or disrupting deer travel patterns. Infrequent checks also demand loading cameras with maximum memory and the best in long-lasting batteries.
Spring has barely sprung across the country, but with the gobbles of turkeys, it signals time to begin fall hunt planning. That especially rings true with creating the perfect plan for your small property.