Managing for Big Bucks on Small Properties

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We hear more and more about giant bucks these days.

Hunters are on a mission, scurrying to and fro – and even from state to state - trying to find the “perfect” hunting area where big bucks abound and they are found chasing does at all hours of the day.

These properties exist but they are expensive to maintain and generally, very expensive to hunt!

Let’s look at possibilities closer to home – your land, your lease or land that you have permission to hunt!

My brother and I are fortunate to have access to a small farm in southeast Georgia – we have hunted this property for almost 25 years now.

It is a large agriculture field, bordered on the west by a nice black water swamp, on the north by a dirt road, to the south by a stand of mixed pines and hardwoods and to the east by additional agriculture fields. These fields are used at times for truck farming and at other times, they lay idle. The swamp meanders north to south and ends up in the southwest side of the property, where the swamp widens out as the result of a series of beaver dams. The land totals only about 300 acres.

Early on, we were not selective about what we took off of this property… we shot many smaller bucks.

As the years wore and we grew as deer hunters, we wanted bigger bucks (that is not to say that this property did not already have big bucks on it – it had some great ones there).

We did a lot of things…

  • Eliminated bow hunting from the property – we shifted our bowhunting to other club lands and public access areas
  • Started to set open dates for the land, that minimized how often we pressured the property
  • Run feeders all of the off season months to help feed the herd
  • Plant (and do not hunt) food plots to help feed the herd
  • Planted numerous oak trees about 12 years ago, these are fertilized semi annually
  • Greatly limit 4 wheeler use
  • Limit guests til late in the year
  • Limit our excursions into the woods in the months leading up to season – we know the property intimately and generally know where scrapes and rubs will appear
  • Limit the use of trail cameras – we do not want to have the disturbance of going in and out to check the cameras
  • Does are taken at will, generally about 6 – 8 per year off of this property (we feel this number should be higher)
  • Only bucks that are 16” of wider and generally considered to be worthy of being mounted are taken – many years, we take none.

We know that on this small property, many folks will argue this point – that each one you do not shoot may walk off of your property and on to the next tract and then be shot.

Of course that happens. But… let’s take 10 smaller bucks… 1.5 to 2.5 years old… say that 2 walk off and get shot (in the state of Georgia, roughly 25% of the deer are harvested by hunters annually), 2 get run over (that number is too high, but for argument sakes) and that 2 die of natural causes… that still leaves 4 bucks from this year that will now be 2.5 to 3.5 years old next year.

Once they move into that 3.5 year age class, they are becoming mature whitetails.

Is it hard, at times, to pass on these smaller bucks? By all means!

It is that discipline, however, that elevates your expectation level when you hunt there and makes it all the more enjoyable… you know that through your actions – you have increased your chances of taking a nice buck.

We have also seen some results. This area is not known for giant bucks… a 125” buck in considered a very nice deer and when they move into the 140” class, they are show stoppers. 

In the last 8 years now, we have taken several (4-5) bucks that were 120” or better and two that were 135” or better, which is clearly an improvement from where we were.

Now, you could make the argument that these larger bucks were there all the time and that we did not see them because we may have shot some of the smaller bucks where we saw them – we believe that could be part of the equation, also – and we accept that fact.

In the final analysis, we believe that we have made improvements and that we have “raised the bar” on this small farm.

Try it in your location and see if it is not only a rewarding feeling but also if it does not increase your trips to the taxidermist!

Comments

groovy mike's picture

too small to manage?

Jim:

 

You have expressed some sound theory here.  I think the advice is good but I have to question how big a property you are calling a “small property.”  I’m not sure how much land you are managing or more importantly how much would be required to make a positive impact on the deer herds in the area.

 

I was excited when I saw the title of your article, thinking that I could apply some portion of it to my hunting area but I don’t know if it applies at all.  I think that my property might be too small to manage for big bucks.

 

I only have ten acres and most of that is steep hardwoods that isn’t tillable at all – I have lots of rocks and tree cover!  I also have access to the fifty family owned acres next door, but even when combined with my property that’s only sixty acres all together.   I don’t think that I have any “resident” deer.  I mean I doubt that any deer stay exclusively on my sixty acres.  But I do have a lot of deer that seem to cross through and spend some portion of their day browsing among the oaks and beech trees.  They lay up on the ridges enjoying the sunshine (at least that’s what their tracks and beds tell me) and they hunker down under the pines and hemlocks when the weather is bad (in the few places that I have them).

 

I like the idea of putting out food plots and feeding the deer naturally.  Hunting over bait and even just feeding deer outside of hunting season is illegal in New York – but food plots are still legal here. I’ve considered putting in a half acre of so of field corn just to draw in and nourish the wildlife to help them through the long hard winters.   I think that would help not only the deer but also turkeys and partridge.  Of course it just might be totally destroyed by squirrels and raccoons but I guess that’s a risk I’ll just have to take.

 

Now that I have the four wheeler (ATV) I might be able to do some sort of plowing and/or raking to ready the ground.  I think I’ll call that a plan unless you guys would recommend some other seed choice instead.  Any idea where to order feed seed from?  I suppose it might just be easiest to approach one of the local farmers and offer to buy a bucket of corn seed.  Worst case, I could just buy a bunch of garden sweet corn seed but that would seem like an expensive option.  There has to be a better way.  If any of you guys have suggestions on managing a REALLY small property like mine, I’d like to hear them! 

 

Thanks,

Mike

ManOfTheFall's picture

Great tips Jim. I personally

Great tips Jim. I personally don't own any land but all the land I hunt on is private. There are other people that hunt on these properties and many more on the surrounding properties. I believe 100% in what you are saying about passing the smaller bucks. My son and I began passing on these smaller bucks about 5 or 6 years ago. Even though these properties have other hunters and the surrounding properties do as well, we really started to see the results of passing on these smaller bucks. We now see 130" deer and bigger on a regular basis. When we were shooting 1 1/2 year olds we would rarely ever see any larger bucks. As far as the other stuff goes it is also good. Unfortunately the only thing we have control on these properties is when and where we can hunt. But, even just that has helped us out a great deal.

Critter done's picture

Awesome Tip

Jim, I truly believe what you are doing is going to produce some really super nice bucks in the very near future. I like your idea about not  hanging trail cams, I to do not like going in to check them and take a chance on scaring out game. We do all our scouting from miles away with spotting scopes. We also have lots of small tracts and they produce lots of 150 and 160 class deer for us and once in a while a booner. Great story and Tip.