By Chris Larsen
Here at biggamelogic.com we often get questions about riding ATV’s on hunting property. Many people use their property for a variety of uses and wonder about the effects on the resident deer herd. Whether it’s ATV use or other hunting, it’s vital to create a refuge on your property. And by refuge, we’re talking about no use at all. But what if you only have 80 acres? In that case, refuges are even more important.
Why have a refuge? The idea is to create an area that deer are left totally undisturbed and unpressured. The refuge will give mature bucks a place to bed, feed, and chase does in solitude. Deer move throughout a given territory. Most deer will live their entire lives within a few square miles. The object is to have deer call your property home.
If you have access to several hundred acres, declaring part of it off limits is no big deal. There are plenty of other places to set up. If you're working with 80 acres or less, it will be more difficult. However, in this case a refuge is critical. Most hunters of small properties want to use every inch because they don't have much to hunt. This is flawed thinking from a multitude of fronts. First, there are only a few stand locations that are really worth hunting on a property of this size. Think about how many spots are there on a small property that a hunter can get in and out without being detected. Will you be able to hunt from more than a few spots without blowing scent over a given deer path or feeding area? How will staying out of a certain area on your property effect deer movement?
Most of us don't have access to huge pieces of land. Take a good look at your small property. Print off a satellite map. Where are the best locations for common wind directions in your area? Plot out a way in and out of each stand. It is very likely that when you complete this exercise, there will be a great deal of property that won't be accessed. This is your refuge. This is what holds deer on your property when the neighbors are doing drives. This is where your trophy hides when hunting pressure is at it's greatest. As property manager, it's your job to figure out how deer are accessing the refuge. As hunter, it's your job to maximize results with this information.
Once you have decided the location and size of your refuge, it's time to set some ground rules. Will you turkey hunt in the refuge in the spring? Will you hunt for sheds during the winter? Ride ATV's through it in the off season? These are questions that each individual has to answer for themselves. Obviously, the less you encroach upon the refuge, the more attractive it will be to deer. The more you harass them, the more likely they are to look for greener pastures elsewhere. As a rule of thumb, 25% of the total property set aside for refuge is a good number. So if you have 80 acres, staying out of 20 acres really shouldn't be that difficult. If you have 800 acres, leaving 200 alone is not a problem at all.
Can you get away without a refuge? Deer need a place to relax and feed. If there is an attached property that serves as a refuge, you can probably get away without one. Let's say the owner lives in another state and/or doesn't hunt. Understand that you are using the attached property as your refuge and set up stands accordingly. You will be able to hunt deer as they leave the refuge to feed or seek company. This situation will help maximize your property. But as the adage says, "if you like the view, you better buy it." In an instant your refuge could disappear if the property owner decides to use their property in a different way.
Setting aside a refuge on hunting property will greatly increase the value of your hunting experience. It makes you think about land use and how it effects the game on it. Better yet, it's one of the key components to developing trophy potential in the deer on your property.