Why Hunting Small Properties, Can Make You Better!
As hunters, “bigger” always seems to be better. Over the years, I have found – that is not always the case. Recently, I have been able to gain access to several small properties for hunting whitetails, specifically with a bow. These properties have ranged from 5 to 15 acres, so relatively small in comparison to other farms or properties. These properties have taught me about many important aspects of hunting, some of which I may have never understood the importance, had I not gained access to these properties.
My top 5 reasons why hunting small properties, helped me better myself as a hunter overall:
1. Knowing Your Neighbors
On larger farms, it is so easy to just never “run” into a neighbor. On smaller properties, I learned that knowing the neighbors is a KEY to success. One does not need to have hunting permission from every neighbor, but simply knowing them, explaining to them you are hunting, showing them how ethics are your top priority, offering to help them if it is ever needed, all go a long way. In a few situations I have even been able to access more land to hunt, and in others, I have been granted permission to track a deer but not hunt. Either way, this was a major win as I was much more comfortable with my situation. There are always caveats to every situation, so it always pays to be diligent in your approach.
After finding out how extremely helpful this was on smaller properties, I started using this same “get to know the neighbor” approach around my own farm. I was amazed at how many great neighbors were around and willing to trade everything from deer cam pictures to harvest data. This is truly a game changing piece of the puzzle, when trying to manage a property for mature whitetails.
Again, I will compare this to large tracts vs. small tracts. On most of the places I have to hunt, that are larger farms, I am blessed to be able to do observation sits, run multiple cameras (sometimes a mile apart from one another) and truly put together the pieces of the puzzle on a deer or a few deer we are wanting to harvest. On a small property, you really need to get into the nitty gritty details of the property- terrain features, habitat surrounding the area, and the how/why a deer would move through there during legal shooting hours.
A small property, that I hunt, comes to mind. One is only 7 acres – yet we have killed a pile of deer off of it over the years. The 7 acres is split by a creek. This creates a main movement zone and pinch point along an oak ridge. This oak ridge then runs between the neighbors CRP (see section 1 – I have permission to track in this field) and the creek. This took me a few hunts and stand adjustments to figure out, but once we located the quadruple trunk maple along oak ridge and placed the stand eloquently between the trunks at 22ft – we were in position to kill. With the wind in our face, this stand continues to produce.
As you see in my above example, on these smaller properties – you might not have the luxury of multiple cameras, or stands. You surely don’t have the luxury of making many mistakes and pressuring deer off the farm. I have found the key is to locate one or two high percentage pinch points, movement zones, food sources, etc. and hyper focus on that area(s). They say “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” – well on small properties, I disagree. You might only have one really good spot – put it in the basket! Hunt when the conditions are perfect, and try your very best not to educate deer.
This type of detailed and focused strategy taught me to mimic this approach on my larger farms. I no longer hang a stand on the edge of a food plot just to visually see the plot. I focus on access, specific trails based on wind direction, shot angles, shot distances, and more. Much, if not all, due to small parcels illuminating the importance of these hunting strategies so clearly to me. Also, I have found that hunting when the conditions are perfect on larger farms is FAR superior to hunting marginal conditions. Although on larger pieces you may not pressure the area as much, due to the size and hunter density per area – you still can greatly benefit by being strategic in all of the areas highlighted above.
3. Shot placement
As I wrote in another blog for the Habitat Podcast “Anatomy of a Whitetail” – I am obsessed with shot placement. Now, to be fair, it does not always go perfect for me, or anyone. However, being hyper focused on the anatomy of a whitetail and how to quickly kill one, is crucial on a small property.
One of the worst feelings is shooting a deer and not being able to recover the deer. Hunting on small properties can make this even more complex, as the deer can cover several properties on a marginal hit. This results in needing to get more permission, letting everyone in the area know exactly where you are hunting, and various other complexities that may arise.
When I started hunting these types of properties, it forced me to center my attention on shot placement. I did not want to just aim by “putting it in a deer’s vitals” but more specifically, I wanted to heart/lung shoot (or trying my best) every deer. This can be challenging, as we all get excited when we are at full draw, but these small properties truly taught me the importance of slowing down, and trying my darndest to put it where I want it- “aim small, miss small” comes to mind! The outside pressure of not wanting the deer to leave the permission piece was a driving force behind my love for studying the deer’s anatomy and shot placement.
I found I carried this over to all properties I hunt and continue to tell myself to slow down, anchor and release when the pins are on the heart – in an effort to always make the best shot possible.
4. Habitat improvements
If you are reading this, I am sure you are very well in tune with the Habitat Podcast and all of the amazing habitat changes you can offer to the deer that call your piece of heaven home. So, I will not dive into every possible change but will highlight a few items to consider.
Hunting smaller properties limits you on the number of projects you can do but not on the quality in which they can be completed.
As you look at a piece of ground and decide if/how you are going to improve it, first you need to get the land owners permission, assuming you do not own the ground. Second, you need to take a detailed look at the surrounding area. If the surrounding area is all AG, a summer soybean plot that is a ½ acre, may not yield the desired results. Working on improvements for these smaller properties, really taught me the importance of studying the surrounding sq. mile(s). Once I felt confident in my findings, I then start drilling in my focus on the most limited resources available for the deer, that could then be sustained up and through deer season. I knew I wasn’t going to hold deer on 7 or 11 acres, so my goals switched towards putting a plan together that would pull deer on those properties in the early morning or evening, so I could make a fast and ethical kill. This is not always done with food. This can be done by creating a funnel with TSI/hinge-cuts before the deer head back to bed or to an AG field. All of this depends on the surrounding area, and the most limiting resource.
As with the others, I have used this same idea on my larger farms or even public hunting. I try to focus on the most limited resource and base my hunting plan or habitat plan around that information. This is forever evolving and will vary by property but the general ideology is concrete.
As if the record isn’t broken enough, I again like to talk about goals. Every state and subsets of specific areas within states are different. Some areas have giant bucks and no hunting pressure, many have the opposite. When hunting a smaller property, you want to have fun and align your goals for doe and buck harvest commensurate with the area.
These properties have taught me to relax and have fun. I am not controlling herd dynamics. I am not solely growing a Booner and I certainly am not passing a solid 135” buck. I have had a ton of fun just getting back to my roots, climbing up into a stand with the wind in my face, and the pure wonder of what might come down the oak flat. Each day is filled with more excitement as we enter mid-November.
One tree, plant, acre at a time!
Hunt hard, manage habitat harder!