By Cole Daniels
Most deer hunters dream of having a thousand acres or more to call their own. Many of them already have a plan in their head of how they would manage it, what deer they would harvest, and which ones they would pass on. Some even have names for the imaginary deer that live on their imaginary thousand acres. The reality is most hunters are lucky to have any private property to hunt. Many of us who are privileged enough to hunt private property hunt small parcels of one hundred acres or less.
Hunting smaller properties requires a little more diligence in the field than hunting big spreads. There are fewer deer and a smaller amount of places for them to hide. That doesn’t necessarily mean that densities are low. I have seen small properties loaded with deer. High densities don’t happen over night. The hunters managing those properties put a ton of effort into making their place a deer haven. And when the season began, they hunted carefully and cautiously.
The first thing anyone hunting a small property should do is print off an aerial map of the parcel. You can find these maps for free on Google or Yahoo. Aerial maps allow you to truly see your property from a bird’s eye view. Every time I study my maps I learn something new. If you’ve never seen an aerial view of your hunting land, it will truly be an enlightening experience.
If the property is new to you, walk the woods next. Look for buck rubs and deer trails. In the winter, trails are easy to locate and you may even find some shed antlers. Take your aerial map with you and mark the locations of these trails. Are there good stand locations near the trails? Note those spots on your map as well.
In agricultural areas, food plots may not be necessary. However, if you are trying to bolster the numbers and quality of your resident herd, creating a food plot plan can be beneficial. On small properties it’s important to place food plots close to bedding areas. If you put them in out of reach spots, deer are not going to use them until after dark. A big buck isn’t going to walk into the open during hunting hours. He didn’t get big by doing that.
After surveying the property and putting in food plots, it is time to start hanging stands. If you have a bonafide deer haven, go ahead and hang some stands in that area. But stay out of there until the rut. During normal conditions deer, and especially bucks, will avoid it if human presence is detected. During the rut, you can get away with a little more. If deer are used to moving through the area safely, they will certainly be there during the rut. I usually hang the rest of my stands near the perimeter of the property. Hang a few on each side so that no matter what direction the wind is blowing from you have at least two options.
Once the season arrives it is time to hunt. This is where some folks get sloppy. Scent control is important. But playing the wind is a bigger factor. Obviously, hunt the stands that keep the wind in your face. Where most hunters blow it is the approach to their stand. Your preseason walk through and aerial map studies should provide a good route that doesn’t blow your cover.
I call one of my favorite tactics “The Drive By”. No, I’m not advocating road hunting. Deer on smaller properties are most likely used to people in cars. Farmers are checking crops or cows. Loggers are surveying forests. When vehicles drive away, deer sense that potential danger has left with it. Have a friend drop you off. Deer can’t count and won’t know that one of those strange two legged things didn’t get back in the car. I have found my deer sightings are usually higher when using this tactic.
Hunting the fringes of the property is the way to go during early season. You want to keep that safe haven intact. Bumping all the deer off your property in September isn’t going to help you tag a buck in November. Tread lightly and switch up your stands. Deer will figure out where they are getting pressured and where they are not. Don’t hunt the fence line, but try not to infiltrate the heart of your deer refuge until the time as right. As some of my buddies say, “Let It Load”.