Small Property Bow Hunting | Designing Your Small Deer Hunting Property
One thing we do very well as bow hunters is pay attention to the details. Whether it’s the color of your peep sight, speed and penetration of your arrow and broadhead, or the accessories you put on you bow…the details matter! Deer, especially mature bucks couldn’t agree with us more. Deer are particular and, knowingly or not, select for desirable habitat and conditions. Unfortunately it takes a lot of land to give a buck everything he desires. Fortunately that statement couldn’t be more wrong! A small property, when designed and managed correctly, can be a whitetail and bow hunting paradise!
January, the start of the off season for many, is the perfect time to start designing (or re-designing) your property. The advantage, besides the now available time in the off season, is working with a skeleton of your property. It is an empty shell right now, bare food plots, minimal cover, and leftover deer sign from the rut are all the remains. This makes it the perfect time to scout and adjust the elements of your property maximize bow hunting success.
This 70 acre property resembles what you might encounter a lot in the Midwest. A small, abandoned farm or pasture that has grown to be a whitetail refuge in a land filled with open crop fields.
Food in the Midwest is in no shortage whatsoever during much of the year. How many acres you should devote to food plots depends on the region and surrounding habitat. High production Ag regions need to be thought of differently than say a mostly wooded region. While there is no exact percentage of acreage you should enroll into food plots, you generally fall somewhere between 2-16% on average. More important than the “how much”, is the “what kind”.
This 70 acre small property is in a region soaked in soybeans and corn rotation. There is no shortage in food over the summer and fall. Keying in on the deer herd’s needs, what’s lacking in the region, and exploiting that resource while bow hunting is how one comes across success.
Planting 1 acre of this property in soybeans, and 1 acre in 2 small clover plots meets the properties basic needs and maximizes bow hunting opportunities. If available putting more acreage in beans or planting another food plot in brassicas would add diversity and supply another food source when the deer herd will utilize your property. The small clover plots will act as early season attractant and provide some food when soybeans are not yet planted in the spring. With the optional addition of brassicas you now have a food source to bow hunt over in the early and late season.
You may be asking…why plant soybeans, when that’s all there is around you? By not combining the beans, and protecting them till December, will create a highly desirable late season food source. The secret to growing a small soybean food plot is to install a food plot fence. It protects the beans until they get about 3-4 ft. tall at which point they can outlast and outgrow browse pressure. This also creates the opportunity for “gates”, funneling the deer into the food source.
Cover is what most deer and habitat enthusiast should manage for…especially small properties in Ag regions. When the crops come down the land suddenly becomes barren. Deer, including mature bucks, will seek thickets and early successional growth in late October. In the November rut, these thickets will be scent checked for does. Having great thermal cover on your bow hunting property in the late season will also draw deer from neighboring properties.
Create cover anywhere you can place it, but go ahead and take opportunity to do it strategically. On this 70 acre property we selected every area parallel to our entrance and exits on the property. Use any terrain features, plot screens, edge feathering to block the view of the deer. For this property, Hinge-cutting and prescribed fire have created optimal cover to the north and south of the soybean food plot. Entrance and exits on the property work with the east or west winds, taking the scent away from plots…but still allowing good conditions for hunting.
Weather it’s a pond or a somewhat always wet creek, having water or a quick pit stop on the property can be advantageous. If your bow hunting property is lacking the pond or creek like this property you can always create one. Yes you can rent the backhoe or hire a company to come in and make a pond, or you can create small watering holes. Buy some cheap kitty pools or livestock troughs, bury them next to a food source, and fill them up every chance you get. It’s a lot of work but a small watering hole can produce the ideal 20 yard chip shot.
The true secret to small property success is in security, in other words zero human pressure. Minimal hunting, walking, talking, and bothering your property. Only having 1 or 2 stands that are minimally hunted keeps the pressure to a minimum. Obviously paying attention to cold fronts, selecting only the best days to hunt, and watching the wind direction is needed in this effort.
True security is given to deer by creating sanctuaries. A sanctuary is a section of the property, more often than not a large thicket or grown up field, that you do not set foot in. No trail cameras, no hunting, no walking…no human pressure whatsoever. Sanctuaries create mature buck bedding areas which increases your property’s attraction and traffic. On this property, the large sections of cover created to the north and south of the bean field are set as sanctuaries.
Multiple Trail Cameras
The last piece of advice for small property bow hunting is using as many trail cameras as possible. Ideally 1 per 20 or 30 acres. Again the idea behind this is keeping pressure to a minimum. Place the trail cameras in easily accessible spots, on your way to the stand or on the food sources. Check the cameras with rubber boots and gloves, going in as scent free as possible. Check them every other week throughout the season. Simply put, placing multiple cameras allows you to hunt smart…when the trail cameras tell you to.
Now is the time to start on these projects. The season is over, you have the free time, and have plenty of months to go before next hunting season. Designing and managing your small bow hunting property with these tips in mind will maximize next year’s bow hunting success.