At one point, I had three different properties. All ranged in size from 28 to 30 acres, and all were mediocre pieces when it came to quality and quantity of deer. I managed to pick up all three in the span of about five years in a soft recreational real estate market. At that time, he had big dreams about improving the habitat.
I wanted it all. Food plots, apple trees, water troughs, hinged cut bedding areas, you name it. However, I quickly realized that I didn’t have the time or resources to effectively upgrade three properties (or one for that matter). I half-baked them with random kill plots, trails, fruit tree plantations, all in an attempt to improve them a bit.
While my trail camera recon showed plenty of deer use on every piece, hunting mostly sucks. I couldn’t really figure out why, until I started thinking about access. This brought a level of clarity to the situation and made me realize what I had been missing.
Access really is (almost) everything
You’ve heard it from a dozen prominent whitetail voices: Access is everything. When it comes to thousands of acres of public land, maybe. When it comes to small properties, absolutely.
This lesson really resonated with me on a 30-acre piece of land I own in north-central Wisconsin. Over the years, I’ve carved out and farmed a small slaughter plot, and it always houses a few resident females and random males.
I thought I was being smart to park as far away from that lot as possible, which wasn’t that far. But whenever he hunted on the plot, he saw very few, if any, deer. On a whim, I decided to park much closer to the lot, but also much closer to the two nearest neighbors’ driveways. The first time I tried it, I shot an arrow at a doe that was coming from an unexpected direction and was probably lying down 100 yards from my truck.
It was a lightbulb moment that seems silly now. Of course, the deer were used to hearing noises from cars and people there, because they do it every day. Parking my truck there didn’t cause any alarm because it blended in with what they were used to hearing. That little switch on the access made hunting on that plot much more productive.
The lesson here is simple. On small properties, you want to preserve natural movement by minimizing its impact with each hunt. Deer that hear, see or smell where you entered their world will be negatively affected by it. Be careful, plan carefully and pay attention. The deer will tell you if they are in your presence.
Use what is available
Anyone who has a small property in their hands, and has the means, is going to put up a food parcel. It’s a fun task that usually results in a decent hunt. But there are other things to consider, which may already be available to you.
Take, for example, other food sources. On the property I just mentioned, I planted eight apple trees in bear-proof cages as soon as I bought the place. Six years later, those apple trees are about 10 years away from dropping any fruit. The rest of the property, I now know, is full of apple trees that were there when I bought it. I’ve been opening up the canopy for them ever since, and they provide plenty of fruit for deer, bear, and grouse.
The best way to approach this is to take a hard look at what you have to work with on your small piece of land and what is available to deer on neighboring properties. If you’re surrounded by agricultural fields, you probably don’t need to focus on food. The bedding cover should be the main focus there. If you are in a dry section, installing a pond could be more beneficial than any food plot. If most of the woods around you are old with little browsing, it might be time to bring out the chainsaws and get some sunlight to the forest floor.
Even if you only have 10 or 20 acres to work with, you have options. You may not be able to create a dream deer spot complete with everything a deer needs for their daily lives, but you may be able to play with something that isn’t available in your neighborhood. If it does, make sure you have a way to get in there to hunt it down without scaring the whole thing away. So even on a small acreage, you’ll have a decent hunt every time you go out.
Featured image via Matt Hansen.