Managing for Big Bucks on Small Properties
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!