How to get aggressive with habitat improvement to attract and hold deer.
Mountain men are considered the ultimate outdoorsmen. They hunted for a majority of their food, and they trapped furbearers for clothing and to make money. While it’s difficult to find a hardcore trapper these days, there are a few still out there. Some are better than others.
Some trappers have a way of reading the lay of the land and figuring out the travel routes and routines of animals. Armed with that knowledge, they strategically place their traps and reap the benefits of their labors.
Typically, trappers go after animals like muskrats, raccoons and mink. Jim Ward is a well known trapper. The difference between Ward and most trappers is he’s figured out how to trap whitetails.
When most trappers create a setup, they place a stick in a certain spot or move a log from one side of a river to another to force an animal into the trap. In a nutshell, that is what Ward does to whitetails.
It all started when he took down a series of fire towers in Florida and took them back to Iowa.
“We took down several 117-foot fire towers and brought them to Iowa to use as observation towers for learning how deer use the woods and terrain to travel,” he said. “From over 100 feet in the air, you can really determine how deer use the landscape. We used a spotting scope to watch deer move from their beds to the food plots and everywhere in between.”
By watching deer move from point A to point B, Ward was able to figure out where bucks like to bed and why.
“Eventually, I remember thinking that if I can build wood duck houses, why couldn’t I build buck beds?”
The result was that big bucks started using Ward’s man-made beds. When he knew bucks were using his beds, he made the area more inviting so the bucks stayed on his property most of the time. Eventually, he started killing big bucks by building buck beds on his property.
Today, Ward’s full-time job is running Jim Ward’s Whitetail Academy. He travels the country showing people how to build buck beds, how to “trap” big bucks, and how to harvest them.
FIND THE HIGH GROUND
When building a buck bed, Ward looks for the highest ground on a piece of property.
“Bucks like to bed on the end of a point or ridge on the high ground,” he said. “When a buck is bedded on high ground, it is hard for something to approach without him seeing or hearing it. They also like to bed on the high ground because the wind is easier for them to check. Regardless of which direction it’s coming from, wind often swirls up on the point, giving the buck an opportunity to check it easily.”
Does, on the other hand, bed a fair distance from the buck, often near food.
“In most cases, a buck picks his bed based on security, while does pick their beds based on proximity to food,” he continued. “Does often bed between the food and the buck. If something spooks the does, they alert the bucks as they escape out the back door, so to speak.”
CONNECT THE DOTS
Armed with this knowledge, Ward builds his buck beds accordingly.
When he visits a new piece of property, he studies topographic maps and aerial photos to get a lay of the land.
“I pay close attention to where the high ground is, where the food is, and what type of travel corridors there are between the two,” Ward explained. “I often locate the high ground and build a buck bed if there isn’t one there already.”
If a buck bed is already there, he does what he can to make it more enticing.
“I can’t tell you how many times someone hires me to teach them how to build buck beds. When I show up, they show me on a map where their sanctuary is and where their stands are. The bucks aren’t even bedding where the sanctuary is because it isn’t where they want to be. I build buck beds where bucks want to be.”
USE A BUCKS CURRENT BEDROOM
In many cases, when Ward finds the high ground on a piece of property that has other key features like food and water, he finds a bed. When he finds a bed, he makes it better.
“Often a buck will have several beds he likes, and he doesn’t always bed in the same one day in and day out,” he said. “My goal is to make or improve the bed so the buck wants to spend most of his time on one piece of property.”
When building beds, Ward often makes several in a small area, with all of them facing different directions so a buck has plenty of options.
BUILD A BED
Ward says old bucks are very particular about their beds.
“Bucks like a comfortable bed with food nearby, so that’s what I give them. I start by making a flat spot with a shovel. I dig up some dirt and make a flat spot about 3 feet wide and 5 feet long. I get rid of the sticks and vegetation that might be sticking up so the bed of dirt is soft. Then I make sure there is a decent backdrop. Sometimes it is a big tree or log, and sometimes I have to cut down a tree.”
According to Ward, bucks like having a thick backdrop that gives them cover and protection. “They like something overhead, so I usually hinge-cut a few trees to give them a canopy,” he said.
Hinge-cutting entails sawing through a tree just enough to make it fall, without sawing completely through.
“A hinge cut tree can live several years and puts browse within reach of the buck within a short distance of his bed so he doesn’t have to go far to eat,” Ward said.
“Many people think you need big food plots, but a whitetail’s natural food source is browse from low-hanging or ground vegetation.”
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Along with hinge-cutting trees, Ward often removes trees to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor.
“The buck bed area I build or enhance is usually about a quarter-acre in size. This includes the bed and the other improvements I make. With sunlight reaching the forest floor, a natural food plot starts. Combine that with hinge-cut trees, and a buck has a bed on the high ground in a comfortable spot. Sometimes a buck will go back to the same bed. Other times he’ll use one of the other beds Ward builds 5 or 10 yards away.”
BUILD A TRAP
Next, Ward creates a trail going to and from the bed that is easy to walk and big enough to access with an ATV or tractor.
“Think of your hand as a buck’s core area,” he said. “Your palm is the main food source, whether a food plot or planted field. The buck beds at the tips of your fingers. The areas between your fingers are where the does bed. The trails leading out from a buck’s bedding area are where I like to plant long, narrow food plots. I use five or more seeds so there is always something in season. That’s where I hang a stand.
“I don’t hang stands over the main food source,” he continued. “I put them on the trail between the bed I built and the main food source. I look for staging areas near the main food source and somewhat farther back, but I don’t want stands closer than 75 yards from the quarter-acre bedding area I created.”
By building a bed, creating a trail and providing food along the way, Ward is building a trapline that removes all the guesswork we normally face when hunting a buck.
Beds, food plots and stands are all built and placed with the wind direction in mind.
As a general rule of thumb, Ward’s buck beds are built about 250 yards from the main food source, but he also builds doe beds between the two to keep does in the area.
“Doe beds are like small huts that are built by bending over several small trees and tying them together,” Ward said. “They look like a small Indian hut.”
He makes the huts near the main food source and also hinge-cuts trees nearby.
“I use the doe huts and the hinge-cut trees to direct a buck’s path toward a staging area near the food source. All the land modifications I make are intended to make a buck move a certain way to and from his bed.”
GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT
Every piece of ground is different, but all can be improved.
“Not all properties are created equal, but I can entice bucks onto almost any piece of property, large or small, by giving them what they want,” Ward said. “What most properties I visit need more than anything else is chainsaw work to let light in so vegetation will grow.
“Trees need to be hinge-cut for food and shelter, and trees need to be removed for trails that will become the trapline,” he continued. “Often when I first build a buck bed, a small buck moves in because big bucks already have their beds. I’m fine with small bucks occupying the beds because those bucks will grow up on that piece of property and eventually become big bucks.”
Besides food and cover, Ward adds a few other things to keep deer around.
“I want to give deer every reason to stay on my property. I provide water, which can be a pond or a secluded 55-gallon drum, and I provide attractants. I use Acorn Rage, Lucky Buck Mineral and a few others to keep them where I want them.”
All of this might sound like a lot of work, and it is. The payoff comes during hunting season.
“By building beds and creating trails, I’m able to set up the perfect hunting situation,” Ward said. “In many cases, I only have to hunt a stand a few times to kill a big buck because I created the bed and everything in the surrounding area to work in my favor.”
Keep in mind, you don’t need 1,000 acres. Ward has had success with buck beds in suburban areas and on parcels as small as a couple acres.
Get a chainsaw, and with a little elbow grease, you could be gripping and grinning this fall.
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This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.