A few years ago, I interviewed the host of a prominent whitetail TV show about his proven hunting strategies. He started off by saying that he plants around 100 acres of food plots each year. From that point, his hunting decisions are based around having dozens of destination food sources to choose from. Every single one is heavily monitored with trail cams and set up for easy access to blinds and stands. I remember thinking: How is this relatable to anyone else?
Most folks aren’t dealing with that amount of acreage and don’t have a combine parked in the shed. Many of us do, however, have access to a chunk of ground that’s family owned, leased, or where we have permission that allows for easy improvements. And the best part is, most of these projects are inexpensive and involve little more than some sweat equity.
Thomas Krick hosts the hunting show “Identical Draw” with his twin brother Nathan. He says one of the easiest things anyone can do to a property is utilize the sun.
“With our property, we are always thinking about food and bedding cover—both of which can be manipulated by sunlight,” Krick said. “Simply taking down a few trees or even some bigger branches can result in sun-loving plants getting more light.”
This is obvious when it comes to food plots, but it can be applied just about anywhere you’d like to promote browse, cover, or both.
It also works with mast trees. In 2015, I bought 30 acres in north-central Wisconsin. The first thing I did was carve out a little kill plot in an overgrown field near a bunch of small apple trees. I flagged every fruit tree and then opened up the canopy around them. How much they’ve grown in five years is incredible. Sometimes working with natural features on your property is a better bet than trying to create something from scratch.
Keeping Out Deplorables
Mark Kenyon has been developing the Back 40 property for a little over a year now. This 64-acre chunk of Michigan ground started as a blank slate that Kenyon has worked to improve through intensive plant management.
“One of the most important projects I’ve taken on with the Back 40 is to manage invasive species. We’ve got a spot called the Honey Hole, where autumn olives and buckthorn have crowded out the native species,” Kenyon said.
To remedy this, he went to work with a chainsaw and then followed up with targeted herbicide. The herbicide was applied directly to the remaining stumps so they wouldn’t sprout anew in the spring. After that, he conducted a prescribed burn to jumpstart new growth and give the more wildlife-friendly native species a shot at outcompeting less desirable plants. When Kenyon is finished, he’ll have an improved bedding area that’s also great for other fauna.
Divide & Conquer
Even a small property can represent a daunting amount of work if you’re limited on time, resources, and equipment. This is why the Kricks divide their 80 acres into six management units.
“It’s worked really well for us to split up our property based on landscape, types of available trees and plants, and topography,” Thomas Krick said. “This allows us to think about what would benefit each unit the most as far as improvements, and helps us plan around hunting them.”
Once you’ve laid out that plan and started to develop each section, you’ll get a much clearer picture of how to connect them—the importance of which can’t be overstated. Don’t only think in terms of defined bedding area, defined food plots, defined thermal cover, defined staging grounds, etc. Consider how the deer will move between these zones.
For example, I’ve cut and maintained major deer trails on my Wisconsin property for the last five years. I make them big enough to easily move through, but concealed enough to make the deer feel safe. Those manicured trails have absolutely helped me kill deer because whitetails prefer easy routes that keep them in the cover.
While the television and social media world of whitetails often presents an off-putting and image of go-big-or-go-home land management, that’s not a reality for most whitetailers. An awful lot of us have just have one piece of ground and limited resources. But with the right plan and willingness to work, these small projects can yield big results. Eventually, after a few years of effort, you’ll have your own deer paradise that will put more venison in the freezer.
Feature image via Captured Creative.