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Grow Your Own Big Bucks

Grow Your Own Big Bucks

By Mark Melotik

Tired of all the extra effort required to beat the crowd to the best public-land hunting? If so, it might be time to buy your own chunk of deer hunting land.

Let’s consider a typical small-tract scenario of 80 acres or less. Maybe much less. Can you take those 80 acres — or 60, 40 or even 20 — and turn it into a buck-hunting paradise? The short answer is yes — if you’re ready to invest some serious sweat equity.

Location Is Critical

I took the budget-friendly parameters listed above to avid deer hunter, author and longtime hunting land manager Steve Bartylla. He’s been managing lands specifically for deer hunting for several decades and knows the game inside and out.

Bartylla warned that with a smaller tract — and even many larger spreads — you can simply be the victim of a low local deer population and/or intense local hunting pressure. Small tracts can struggle mightily facing either one of these obstacles. If both exist, you’ve got trouble.

Look For Quality

Bartylla says the ideal spot for a small tract is an area that holds both good numbers of deer and consistently produces top-end bucks. No surprises there, but do such tracts actually exist? Take heart, they do. However, Bartylla knows lots of boots-on-the-ground research might be needed to find them.

“I would knock on lots of doors, talk to people and get a feel for the area,” Bartylla advises. “It sounds great to simply check the recordbooks for the county you’re in, but that can be deceiving.”

Why? Bartylla says many still balk at the thought of entering deer in recordbooks.

Prep Work Can Help

Bartylla says most any tract can be optimized to attract more deer and hold effective stand sites. If done correctly, there should be no worries about overhunting.

“You can hunt the heck out of a small-tract property, if you do it in a low-impact manner,” Bartylla said. “By this I mean the deer should not hear, see or smell you. And that’s where habitat improvement comes into play.”

Good Access Is Huge

“One of the most-critical things to look for is good access,” Bartylla continued. “Access is almost never set up for deer hunting, but typically for farming or logging. Edge access is gold, and it’s the ideal. An example would be a square 40-acre parcel with a road around the perimeter.  This gives you the ability to access half of your property, under any wind direction, without ever having your odors blowing into your property.”

Honest Evaluation

“You also must learn your new ground,” Bartylla advised. “Find out what the deer need — the best area food, water and cover, and where deer go to feel safe, find comfort and breeding opportunities. Some properties are more transition zones, and some are primarily food sources. Figure this out, and then play to your strengths. If you own a smaller property, you’re never going to make it so deer will never leave it, but you can absolutely get them to spend a lot of time there.”

Play To Your Strengths

Bartylla offered an example of a fairly typical small-tract scenario:  A good bedding area off one side of the property, and some prime feeding off the other side, while yours offers neither option. 

“This is a classic transition property, and so your goal would be to have deer stage on your property — while traveling between the bedding and feeding areas,” Bartylla advised. “A small food plot or two might be one answer. Also, deer might be crossing through it using 12 major trails. Through habitat improvement, you might make it so deer will cross through at just four locations. And so your odds of hunting success have just gone way up.”

What And How To Plant?

When it comes to planting, Bartylla’s best advice is one word: Diversity.

“There is not a single food source out there that is a favorite all year,” he said. “Every source has peaks and valleys, so I like to offer a little bit of everything. One thing I do a lot is to ring the outer five to 10 yards of a plot with clover. Most plantings don’t do well with shade from the surrounding forest, but clover thrives in shade. The inner portion, I like to plant brassicas, and when they get about three inches high, I top-seed with 100 pounds of three parts cereal rye to one part oats. So now, at this one location, you’re ramping up the variety of food choices.

“Upwind and within bow range of the best stand site, I also like to plant six apple trees,” he continued. “Two that produce in early season, two in mid-season, and two that produce fruit later. I also like to add a water source — you can buy a water trough and bury it to the lip. You’re doing all these things to stack the odds in your favor.”



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Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd