Whether you're planting a few pounds of oats around your deer stand or turning over hundreds of acres for food plots, having a deer management plan and the right tools for the job will produce better results.
In fact, in areas where tracts of land are relatively small and whitetail home ranges cover several different properties, there may be stiff competition to keep deer on your land.
The following tips will help you improve your deer hunting land and we've designed them to appeal to a variety of budgets.
Small Acreage ($500-$1,000 Budget)
If you don't have a lot of land you can get ahead by investing sweat equity and save money at the same time. This means doing more manual labor yourself and limiting your scope to small-but-well-maintained plots.
No matter what the tract size, whitetails need cover, food, water, and travel routes between. If you don't have a big budget, focus on improving native food sources (acorns, clover, wild grapes, greenbrier or crab apples) that are already on your property.
Remove invasive non-native species, like Amur honeysuckle, and replace them with native species. This takes time and energy, but you'll be balancing your habitat and providing the resources deer need. This can be also accomplished with basic hand tools (axes, saws, shovels), and mechanical implements, like a pole saw or chainsaw.
Some state wildlife agencies help coordinate prescribed burns and provide free consultations to help you return your property to native forage, so contact these agencies and take advantage of these programs.
Test Your Soil
One simple and inexpensive step is to have your soil tested. Remember that plants act as vehicles to transfer nutrients from the soil to the deer, and even though some plants are more effective at this than others (clovers, for instance, fix nitrogen from the soil) you must have the soil nutrients in place first.
Biological nitrogen fixation is the process that changes inert N2 (nitrogen gas) to biologically useful NH3 ( ammonia form of nitrogen). Other grain legumes, such as peanuts, cowpeas, soybeans and faba beans, are good nitrogen fixers and will fix all of their nitrogen needs other than that absorbed from the soil.
If you can't afford to treat the soil with fertilizers, consider using clovers and other legumes like peas and vetch to improve soil quality.
If you're willing to make a low-cost, long-term investment consider planting trees. You can often transplant small trees, like crab apples, at a very low cost.
Even though you may not see results the first year, over time trees pay big dividends as their roots protect the soil from erosion and they require little care. Allowing native plants to mature will also help provide the cover deer need.
Moderate Acreage ($1,000 to $10,000 budget)
If you try to manage more than an acre or two with hand tools you'll be quickly overwhelmed. If you own an ATV or small tractor there are a number of implements you can use to work the soil and with a bigger budget you can afford more seed, fertilizer, and herbicide.
In the world of agriculture, $10,000 is not a lot of money, but with this budget range you'll be able to rely on your mechanical equipment and less on your back.
There are a number of implements for ATVs and UTVs that will make the job easier. These include mowers, plows/discs, planters, and sprayers.
Your budget probably won't allow you to buy a new tractor or ATV and all of that equipment, so you'll need to look at your overall budget and decide where you are willing to sacrifice. Can you spray your food plots by hand? Are you willing to use a manual broadcast seeder to plant?
Finding the right balance between mechanical and manual labor will help you stay under budget. You're also going to need some equipment to clear land, trails, and shooting lanes, so be sure to budget for a high-quality chainsaw if you don't already own one.
Having a larger budget will also allow you balance your soil so that the ground is properly fertilized and contains micronutrients that are vital to deer health and antler production.
Once you have balanced soil and cleared plenty of space, begin by planting hardy plants that are palatable for deer and grow in tough conditions.
You aren't in a financial position to plant huge tracts of diverse herbaceous species with a budget of $10,000, so you need to focus on very hardy plants that deer love, such as clover and chicory. Whitetails will feed on these plants every year, and during periods of bad weather these plants will likely survive to hold deer on your property.
Large Acreage ($10,000 + budget)
This category ranges from small plots requiring modest equipment (closer to $10,000) and up. If you are purchasing new four-wheel drive tractors and heavy implements, the cost can jump to over $100K in a hurry, but if you are managing a large acreage, you'll need large equipment, so budget accordingly.
It's foolish to plant $10,000 worth of seed in bad ground, so make sure that the soil is tested and pH and nutrients are balanced before planting.
One of the big advantages to having large acreage is the ability to diversify your food plots. If you have a lot of land you won't be in as much trouble if one seed blend fails, and this allows you to really experiment with what works on your land and what doesn't.
Sure, you'll want to plant some staples, like brassica and chicory, but you can also try a few acres planted in other seed blends. Experiment using different food types in different fields over the course of several years and keep detailed annual records of what works and what doesn't.
From this, you'll have the specific data you need to plant the right crops at the right time, and as a result you'll see more deer and bigger bucks. Soil types can vary from county to county and even field to field, but if you have the funds to rotate plants and record the results in a few years, you'll have the secret recipe for your land.
Big acreage and a big budget also allows you to get creative on your food/cover balance. One of the very best farms I've ever seen had a large field (perhaps 30 acres) divided into four parts with intersecting lines of white pine trees.
In the center of the field there were a few acres of pines, and in each of the four sub-divided fields there was a different seed blend — oats, brassicas, chicory, radishes, and the like. The deer bedded in the pines in the middle, traveled along the rows of pines between the fields, and had a virtual smorgasbord of the very best weed-free plants available at every turn.
It was a haven for deer, and each year the property yielded some huge bucks.
Good equipment costs a lot of money, so taking care of your ATV and farm implements is important. Usually, this requires nothing more than greasing and lubricating the moving parts, checking tire pressure and replacing any broken parts. Here are a few more seasonal tips that will help.
- Visually inspect your equipment
- Change the oil and filters
- Check hydraulic hoses for cracks or damage
- Thoroughly lubricate all your equipment
- Check disc and mower blades — sharpen or replace as needed