August 15, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to know some pretty good deer hunters, camouflage-wearing practitioners of the art of finding, hunting, and tagging the kind of huge bruiser whitetails that grace the cover and pages of North American Whitetail every issue.
And as I’ve gotten to know them over the years—and watch their outdoor television shows, like the outstanding Buckventures TV program that Jeff Danker is known for producing for Sportsman Channel and partners like Academy Sports + Outdoors—I’m always marveling in amazement at how these deer hunting savants are able to consistently get it done every single year, tagging great bucks, often after an unexpected challenge or obstacle presents itself.
Their big antlered path to success most often comes through careful hunting, attention to detail, and perseverance until there is a chance to find a successful moment in the woods, losing an arrow or a bullet downrange, following a solid blood trail after the hit, and wrapping a tag around an antler beam while double-tasking and sending out a text or social media post of autumn season success.
Like these rock star deer hunters, I also dream of finding and unlocking the mysteries of a new spot each year. But if I’m truthful, they seem to live the dream out far more often than I do and I’ve often wondered why. I guess that’s why I write, instead of filming a top-rated deer hunting TV show.
Truth be known, sometimes, even for guys like Danker and his pals, there’s a little bit of deer hunting luck involved. But more times than not, their big buck success simply comes down to a lot of leg work, searching for and gaining access to a private piece of ground, a new lease, or even buying the deer hunting farm of their dreams.
When such a dream piece of property comes true, however, the realization then comes for everyone—even deer hunting television show hosts—that there’s a good amount of sweat equity involved in turning a new piece of hunting ground fantasy into a tagged-out reality.
With that idea in mind, how does one go about actually setting up a new piece of deer hunting property? While I’m no expert, here are a few ideas to keep in mind.
Survey Deer Numbers
First, you’ll want to gain an understanding of how many deer you have on your property and what their daily lives are like. Think of this as a big triangle where you connect the dots about where the deer live and bed, feed and water, and travel about from one area to another.
How do you connect those dots? By boot leather, simple observation, and a little common sense says Texas deer hunter Jim Lillis, a man in his fifth decade of chasing Lone Star State whitetails, a task that was ramped up a few years ago when he retired from Ducks Unlimited as a hard-working senior regional director.
“Even with today’s technology, which includes apps made for hunting and things like Google Earth, there’s still little substitute for just simply walking a property out — well before the season, of course — and looking for deer signs and the best places to put up stands for hunting,” said Lillis, who has a public-land Boone and Crockett Club typical buck on his lengthy hunting resume.
“You’re still just basically looking for what deer need each day — food, water, bedding, cover — along with where they are traveling about, funnels, things like that.” To start down that road, you’ll want to actually get onto the property for some boot-leather scouting time. Carry a notebook with you as you drive, walk, and even sit and observe deer movement in the early morning and late afternoon hours. To figure out the actual deer numbers that your land has, you can employ a biologist — from the private sector or a public agency if your state game and fish agency offers such services — who can conduct a real deer survey and/or spotlight census.
If no such opportunity exists, Lillis says you can employ the use of a good game camera. At your local Academy store or online, there are a variety of brands and models offering different features to fit just about any need and budget. By strategically setting a game camera up and using either supplemental food or an attractant (check state laws and local regulations before using such products) over a period of time, you can gain an understanding of how many deer might live on or around your particular piece of new hunting ground.
What to do if you have plenty of whitetails on your new hunting ground? Not much of anything, except to plan for how to hunt them and how you might tag a big buck before season’s end. But if you don’t have the numbers you would like to see, then you’re going to want to do what you can to attract and hold more deer on your property.
Add Feeders, Food Plots, and Attractants
The second major step you’ll want to take is to provide some sort of food and/or attracting power to your hunting ground. While state regulations will vary, such work can include several things like planting, fertilizing, and enhancing the growth and production of existing natural food resources like green browse, hard mast such as acorns from red oak and white oak trees, and soft mast from such plants as persimmon trees.
Some hunters and land managers will choose to add the power of supplemental feed to the mix. In states like Texas, where Lillis lives and hunts, using a feeder and a 40-pound bag of Academy Sports + Outdoors Deer Corn is almost a way of hunting life.
Feeders can be simple like the Wildgame Innovations Treehugger Gravity Feeder, something you can hang from a tree limb like the Moultrie Pro Hunter II 6.5-Gallon Hanging Feeder, or a big motorized spinning-plate style feeder like the Game Winner 600-pound Big-A VP Feeder.
If supplemental feeding isn’t the way you want to go, or if your state or landowner doesn’t allow for it, planting food plots is another step to take in feeding, attracting, and holding whitetails. Food plots can be as elaborate or simple as you want, ranging from big destination plots that are dozens or even hundreds of acres in size, or simple, small kill plots of a quarter acre or less that feature products like Evolved Habitats Throw & Gro No-Till Forage 5-pound Feed Plot Seed.
In addition to supplemental feeding and/or food plots, hunters might also consider, where legal, of course, the use of attractants like a Wildgame Innovations Apple Crush 4-pound Mineral Salt Block or Big & J BB2 20-pound Granular Deer Attractant.
Plan and Set Up Hunting Stands
After figuring out deer numbers and coming up with a plan to attract, feed, and hold deer in your hunting area, the third step in setting up a new hunting property is to get some stands in place.
The list of stand options a hunter can find at Academy is vast and growing every year, from a simple fabric style blind like the Primos Smokescreen Swat Camo Ground Blind to a hard-sided box blind like the Muddy Outdoors Gunner 4-ft. x 4-ft. Box Blind to a ladder stand like the Hawk 20-ft. Big Denali 1.5 Man SLS Ladder Stand to a Big Game Treestands Pursuit 12-foot Portable Tripod.
For the tried-and-true treestand approach, a hang-on like the Millennium M50 Hang-On Treestand with tree-climbing sticks is hard to beat. If the timber you hunt requires a climbing stand, consider something like a Summit 180° Max SD Closed-Front Climbing Treestand.
Don’t Forget the Accessories
After getting the right stand in place, you’ll need accessories that help make a successful stand hunt possible. The fourth step on this list is to have the necessary gear for a successful hunt, woodsy start to freezer finish. This includes a hunting knife or two, one that can handle the big meat cutting chores and perhaps another that can do the more delicate, intricate work of dressing a deer out and getting it ready for the taxidermist.
If you need a new hunting knife - or any of the other venison processing tools that come in handy after a deer is tagged — visit your local Academy Sports + Outdoors store where a Team Member can get you squared away.
Keep in mind you’ll also want to have a way to cool down the venison you get after a successful hunt. You can do this at a nearby locker plant, by hoisting a downed deer up into a wind-cooled tree while using a Game Winner Gambrel, or by burying the deer in ice in a big cooler.
Plan for Camp
The fifth and final step in setting up a new hunting property is to consider where your camp will be. In some cases, perhaps your new hunting spot is close enough that you’ll sleep in your own bed each night. In other cases, maybe you’ll be spending the night in a local motel room or even a rental property. Or perhaps you’ll have a camp on the spot itself, either in a cabin, hunting shack, a camper that you tow in, or a tent that you actually set up.
From lanterns, high-powered LED flashlights, and warm sleeping bags and tents to portable grill and smoker setups, all of your deer camp gear and equipment needs can be met at your local Academy store or online.
What’s the bottom line here? We all dream of gaining access to a new piece of primo deer hunting ground, the kind that Jeff Danker and other Outdoor Sportsman Group deer hunting pros get to hunt each year.
If you’re fortunate enough to find such a place for this fall, roll up your sleeves and get to work turning a piece of ground with deer hunting potential into a can’t-miss hunting spot where big-buck dreams do come true. And whatever equipment and gear you’ll need along the way, don’t forget the great folks at Academy Sports + Outdoors who can help you every step of the way as you hunt like a deer hunting rock star.
And who knows, maybe you’ll bump into Jeff Danker on the way out the door. Or maybe, just maybe, one day, we’ll enjoy a fall where we end up with a taxidermy bill like all of the deer hunting rock stars seem to get every year. We can always dream, right?