Can small tracts of land be managed to effectively draw wildlife in and provide hunting opportunities, or do big acreages reign supreme? David says you can manage small acreages, as little as 10 acres, very effectively to improve hunting success. Hundreds or thousands of acres aren’t an absolute necessity. One thing you have to think about is the size of the food plots on those tracts. David says he is frequently asked about how many acres of food plots are necessary, and the answer is very simple because the deer will tell you. If a food plot is too small the deer will tell you by eating it to the ground or in some cases, browsing so heavily that it can’t even get fully established. Taking your cues from your property and the wildlife using it, if your food plots are being decimated, then the food plots themselves aren’t big enough, or in a wildlife rich area it may be an indicator that you don’t have enough total acreage to serve the deer that want to use your property. Managers can make calculated guesses to begin with to decide how many acres of food plots to establish, and that all comes down to knowing approximately how many deer you are feeding. David says that a 1-acre food plots will feed between 3 and 5 deer depending on its location, time of year and the forage you have planted. Using that baseline, managers have to make educated guesses on plot sizes, but David says the deer will ultimately tell you if you are right or not. If your food plot looks like a golf course green then you don’t have enough acreage to serve the deer that are browsing/using your property from a nutritional standpoint, David says. However, from an attraction stand point you may be attracting deer to the food plot and your property even if it has been eaten to the ground. Deer may go in and pick and nibble doing more recreational feeding than nutritional or sustenance eating. The two are very different – using food plots to feed the deer for nutrition or simply for attraction. If your goal is to actually feed deer and plant enough food plots to impact their health, condition, antler size and more, David says that you need to have enough acres of standing crops to achieve that. The challenge for small tract managers is that those smaller food plots always feed a lot more deer than actually live on the property. The reason being because those food plots are a draw for wildlife ¼ to ½ mile and even further away. From a management standpoint, hunters/land managers have to decide what it is they want from the property in order to chart the best course of action for it.
Purchasing land is expensive but making improvements to that land doesn’t come cheap. It’s like buying a fixer-upper, you have to be prepared to make an investment, but you also have to be realistic with the amount of money you pump into a property. If you buy a piece of land and want to put food plots in, but first you have to rip out trees, add roads and more, costs can soar really quickly. David says that hunters often ask how big of a property they “need”, however the real question is what can you “afford”. The amount of money you have to spend will dictate the kind of property you can purchase, as well as the improvements you make. David says that the money you invest in purchasing the land is only the beginning of the expenses you’ll incur, not the end of them. The real question becomes what is the cost of getting from where you are now to where you want to be and you have to be mindful of that. David uses timber as an example explaining how expensive it can be to clear hardwoods out of a property to make room for food plots noting that in most places you should be prepared to spend $5,000/acre to clear it. If you are very selective about the properties you look at, you can avoid those expenses. When buying, David says to look for tracts that have existing openings from old fields, pastures and more that won’t require clearing to get ag ready. Other improvements can also add up quickly. If you purchase a piece of land and you have to go in and establish a road system, possibly get power and water to it if you want to build a cabin, all those things add to the total cost of improving the property. For that reason, David says he likes old farms or abandoned properties that already have wells, septic systems and road networks. Paying for it on the front end in the initial purchase price could be cheaper than establishing those elements yourself, so those are things buyers need to consider.
A large part of the success of your property from a wildlife perspective has to do with pressure. David says it’s important for hunters and land managers to be aware of the pressure they put on property, not only hunting pressure but also that from habitat improvement projects. The amount of time we spend on the land can intrude on wildlife. This holds especially true for small properties. The smaller the tract, the greater the intrusion every time you go on the property, David says. Using your property intrusively and frequently can have enough of an impact that very few deer, if any, will home on the property. While you may be able to attract deer to your property for brief visits, they won’t call it home. If you want more deer to home on a small tract you have to regulate your activity which includes getting in and out of stands, accessing roads, and more. Be aware of how much you are interfering with their daily lives. Deer pattern people, David says, and they will tolerate being jumped or pushed once or twice, and they won’t perceive that as a pattern. However, doing that frequently creates a pattern and one they want to avoid so they will leave the area and avoid it because they expect that inference to continue. As hunting seasons approach, David says that you need to back off so you don’t push deer off your property. When establishing food plots and placing stands this is an important consideration, you need to be able to get to and from your stand without spooking the deer to the greatest degree you can. You can only run deer off of an open food plot so many times before you drastically reduce your chances of shooting a mature buck in that spot. Think about your path to and from the stand, to make sure you aren’t pushing deer out of a bedding area or off of a food plot on your way through. In general, human activity on small tracts has to be managed to a far greater degree than it does on large tracts.
You can watch Tecomate Whitetail Nation” on Outdoor Channel Sundays at 2:00 pm ET. You can also catch all the big buck action from seasons and episodes past by using the MyOutdoorTV app, be sure to check it out!
Manage your way to a successful hunting season,