I own a grand total of 14 acres and I’ve discovered that it takes a strategic management approach to make my limited amount of real estate the best possible deer-hunting site. If you want to get the most out of your small piece of property each season, there are a few key points you need to keep in mind.
First, you should focus on drawing deer to your side of the fence during the hunting season. Second, determine any “limiting” factors for the deer herd in your region. And finally, plan your hunting schedule around the times that deer are attracted to the resources available on your land. Let’s look at each of these factors in more detail.
FOCUS ON THE SEASON
It’s extremely important to always keep in mind that your biggest goal is to have deer moving through your property during the hunting season. It won’t do you much good to have deer bedding and feeding all over your mini-farm in the spring and summer if they move somewhere else in the fall. Start by thinking about the factors that draw deer to specific locations in your part of the country in the fall and early winter.
For the most part, this involves food sources. What food sources do the animals seek out at that time of year in your region? In my part of Missouri, row crops and acorns are the biggest draws for deer when hunting season is open, although food plots featuring attractive mixes of vegetation are another good bet.
However, bow season in Missouri opens Sept. 15 and doesn’t end until Jan. 15.
Obviously, the needs of the deer herd change greatly over this four-month period. During the first part of the season, when temperatures are still warm, I’ve found that hunting near a preferred watering hole is sometimes better than focusing on a food source. Then, in late season during the dead of winter, available food and protective cover from severe weather are the most important factors that dictate where the deer will be.
If you live in an area where the hunting season spans a period of several months, think about how the needs and preferences of the deer change over the course of the season.
This way of thinking will help you determine when deer are seeking different resources during the season. The next challenge is trying to attract them to your property to obtain one of those sought-after resources.
IDENTIFY LIMITING FACTORS
Obviously, it’s unrealistic to try to meet all of the habitat needs of your deer herd on only a handful of acres. Don’t expect to be able to provide bedding areas, premium food sources, watering holes, protection from severe weather, and other important habitat characteristics on one small tract of land. It simply can’t be done.
You have to accept the fact that your local deer will probably never find everything they need on your property alone. However, once you understand that you cannot provide everything they need, you can begin to focus your management efforts on one or two specific resources that your land can offer the deer — things that will attract them and keep them coming back.
The best way to determine what that “magic bean” might be is to think about the limiting factors for the deer herd in your area. A limiting factor is any resource deer utilize that is not common in your neck of the woods. It’s usually limited in supply but always in demand by the deer. In dry regions, permanent water sources are often limiting factors. In an agricultural area where entire farms are devoted to row crops, thick cover for bedding and escaping severe weather and/or hunters might be the limiting factor.
In many areas, a specific food source that deer crave but have a hard time finding can be a limiting factor. Depending on where you live, a grove of persimmon trees, a stand of white oaks, a field of oats in the fall, an orchard of apple trees, or a newly sprouted patch of ladino clover could be a resource that deer don’t find in abundance.
Do your best to identify one or two limiting factors that occur in your region that deer seek out during the hunting season. This might take some time and legwork. Spend time driving the roads around your land. Identify what types of habitat are available to the deer. More importantly, try to note the resources that are not available.
In addition to driving, make time to talk with adjoining landowners. Ask them about the predominant habitats on their property, and pay special attention to any key food sources that the deer find there. Finally, spend some time studying an aerial photo that displays all the property surrounding yours.