Seen above: My family and I enjoy our 40 acre property for more than just deer hunting. The west four acres is used for family gatherings and parties. I have a rifle/pistol range on those four acres where we practice and do load development March through August. Even on years where I do not shoot a deer, the whole family still enjoys the small parcel of land. Being able to share the fun times with family and friends is the most rewarding part of owning small parcels of land.
Shooting a mature buck always takes some good fortune. Many times the stars have to align just right when you are in your stand in order for you to have a chance at “Mr. Big”. This is even truer on small sections of land. However, it is not all luck. There are certain things that you can do to increase your odds at harvesting the wall hanger. I want to share with you these pieces of the puzzle when owning small sections of land.
I purchased a 40 acre property in south-east Nebraska in 2008. Over the years, I have been able to enjoy the land with family and friends. I have also been fortunate enough to harvest some pretty nice bucks, all on those 40 acres. The west four acres has a small cabin and my practice shooting range. The east 36 acres is basically overgrown pasture; mostly cedars, a few pockets of hardwood trees, and open areas with brome grass and small food plots. This is where I do all of my deer hunting.
When put together correctly, the puzzle pieces will form the picture of mature bucks. I will just touch on these important parts; however, each one of these pieces could be a book by itself. The puzzle pieces all revolve around three important concepts; nutrition, protection, and doe. The basic formula looks something like this: when a property has nutrition and protection, doe will make that property their core area. Where you have doe, you will have bucks. When young bucks are allowed to live, they become mature.
There is year-round food on my land. Out of the thirty six acres used for hunting, four are devoted to food plots. Alfalfa, clover, and chicory are there early spring through late fall. The deer can count on my corn and bean crops fall through winter. My “kill plot” is planted with winter oats which are a huge attractant late fall into early winter.
I have also planted numerous shrubs and bushes to increase the native brose and habitat. Planting food plots and increasing the native brose naturally helps all three concepts of nutrition, protection and doe.
In terms of importance of bringing and keeping deer on my small acre hunting place, planting food plots takes first place. However, a clear second place would be the paths I have cut through the cedar trees. The cedar trees have grown together so much that it is nearly impossible for a human to walk through, although the deer manage to weave their way among them. I have made their travel paths easier by trimming back limbs or, in some cases, cutting down the whole tree. These paths are now deer highways and the deer will make their own “tributary “paths off of the main trails. This has increased their sense of being protected which has also helped increased the number of deer on my land.
These paths are important for two reasons. First; I have increased the usable acreage of my land. When you only have a small property, the deer need to be able to use every acre. Second; when a disturbance does happen, the deer do not bust out of my area. The deer will find safety by going into the dense cedar trees using the paths I have created.
The deer cannot know you are hunting them, period. Even on big properties, this is a big piece of the puzzle. On smaller parcels of land, this is crucial. I call this hunting invisible. If a mature buck knows you are hunting him, there is a good chance he will turn nocturnal, or may leave your land altogether. Making all deer feel safe on your land is important if you want to harvest those deer.
Scent control and proper entry/exit routes are the main factors in hunting invisible. I enjoy hunting all three of the Nebraska seasons; archery, centerfire, and muzzleloader. Archery starts September 1st and Muzzleloader closes December 31st. That is four continuous months of hunting in a small area. Being careless with my scent or routes in November could have effects lasting into December.
Another piece of security would be creating sanctuaries on your land. What better way is there to not leave any trace than to not go into an area? Roughly twenty of my thirty-six acres are left as sanctuaries. I only enter those areas for two reasons; one is to recover a deer that has been shot, the other is to maintain any paths that have been made. Now that the paths have been made, I can easily maintain them in one day. Meaning, the sanctuaries are virtually human free for the entire year. Even though I only own a small property, a relatively big parcel of land is human free.
If there is any forgiveness in this area, it is the fact that the deer may get to know you on smaller properties. My allowed work time in the hunting area is usually March through August. This is when I clear paths, work in the food plots, plant trees, etc. When you are out there working, the deer will get used to your scent. They will get used to the sound and sight of your truck, four wheeler and tractor. The deer will learn that you are of no harm to them. Of course, during the hunting season, you are not going to be able to walk into your stand while the deer are on the food plots. However, if they catch a whiff of you, it is not nearly as traumatic as catching the scent of a “stranger”.
Dust and debris can damage your action and trigger. When you’re out in the field, you need fast protection against the elements.
No Warnings for Trespassers
If you own hunting land, you will understand my next sentence. Sometimes the worst time to own hunting land is during hunting season. Landowners spend a lot of time and money developing and maintaining their land. A year’s worth of work can all be ruined by one “stranger” leaving his or her scent, making that wise, mature, buck go nocturnal or worse, spooking the deer to the neighbor’s property. Most trespassers do not understand the long term consequences of their actions on deer movement.
Landowners, especially small parcel owners, should have no sympathy when it comes to trespassers or poachers. You have to be willing to communicate with law officials. The local sheriff or game warden’s office cannot help with a problem unless they know a problem exists. Keeping track of the time, date, and other important information will go a long way in helping the sheriff or game warden. The good news, in this situation, is that the more the word spreads that you do not give warnings, you will have fewer and fewer law infractions happening on your land.
Most deer will not live their whole life on your small acreage. The deer will, at some point, travel off of your land onto the neighbor’s property. The habitat around your land has a big impact on the number and quality of deer you will have on your small property. This is a hard pill to swallow because we usually do not have any control over land that is not ours.
This may be to your advantage if the neighboring property owners have the same goals and philosophy as you. Communication with these land owners is vital. When this happens, both of you will experience the success you earn. Congratulations on having something that is extremely valuable.
There are three main things you can do if your neighbor has philosophies that are on the opposite end of the spectrum as yours. One is to improve the quality of your habitat. Make your place a one stop shop. Second, make your habitat as safe for the deer as you can. You could increase the amount of acres devoted to sanctuaries. You should only hunt from blinds or tree stands, no still hunting or deer drives. The main idea here is to not do anything that is going to push the deer out of your property onto your neighbors. Make it so the deer do not NEED to leave your land for nutrition or protection. Both of these items will attract more doe which will increase the buck traffic in your area. The third thing you should do is to openly communicate with your neighbors. Let them know what your goals and plans are. Maybe some sort of compromise can be reached. Who knows? Maybe they will change their way of thinking when they see what can actually be accomplished when people work together.
When you own a small parcel of land, the reality of deer management will become very apparent. You simply need more than 40 acres to manage deer. I would love to pass on the same buck for four seasons then harvest him at an optimal age of five and a half, but that is just not realistic in my area. My definition of a shooter buck is three and a half years old or older. Based on your situation, you will need to define the criteria that determines if a buck makes your hit list.
It is important to understand that some bucks will stay all summer long; eating your nutritious food that you have worked so hard to grow, using the trails that took you days to clear, and following doe that have made your place their home, only to leave in early September. You may never see those deer again. However, do not be too discouraged. Other bucks will take their place. Bucks that you have never seen before will come to your property for the same three reasons that the other deer are there; nutrition, protection, and doe. Be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that come along.
As you may have noticed, the puzzle pieces do not include mature bucks, even though that is the end goal. You need to value the process, not the prize. Having mature bucks is simply a natural consequence of having plenty of year round nutrition and adequate protection on the land you hunt. These two things will attract female deer. Where there are doe, there will be bucks. When the young bucks are allowed to live, there will be more mature bucks around for us to hunt.
Jason is a father, husband, avid outdoorsman, Benchrest shooter, and science teacher. Jason is our go-to for learning about Benchrest Shooting, loading techniques, and hunting. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and if you like this post make sure you hit the like button.