The most common question I get from deer hunters related to land management is some version of this: What’s the easiest thing I can do to improve my property?
The issue of where to start is a stumbling block that many aspiring land managers run into. With countless websites, podcasts, videos, and books espousing different management ideas, it’s understandable that all of this can get a little confusing.
I’m here to tell you the answer is actually quite simple.
The Low Hole
The single easiest way to get started improving a deer property is to identify “the low hole in the bucket” and address it.
I first heard about this “low hole in the bucket” idea from Dr. Grant Woods many years ago. The concept was inspired by an agricultural principal known as Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, which states that agricultural yield is proportionate to the most limited nutrient present. I would contend that something similar could be extrapolated to the “yield” of a deer hunting property. The “limited nutrient” in this scenario is replaced by the most limited factor that deer depend on.
What Deer Need
Deer need food, water, cover, and a sense of security. If you’re trying to determine the easiest or most impactful change that you can make on a hunting property, this is where to start.
Ask yourself, of these factors, what’s missing? What’s the “low hole in the bucket?” When asking this question, it’s helpful to look in two places.
First, look within the boundaries of your own property. Examine the food and water sources. Locate and analyze available cover. Consider just how much security from hunting pressure and human activity wildlife on your property have. Walk the property, study maps, and think carefully about how the land has been used.
The second step is to expand your view to the entire neighborhood. Zoom out from your own farm and look to other properties. Are any one of these factors missing in a significant way? What over indexes in the neighborhood and what under indexes?
If your property is surrounded by thousands of acres of crop fields with little timber or brushy cover available, you have a significant opportunity. On the flip side, if the entire region is big timber with no high quality food to be found, you also have a clear answer. The same can be said if you discover that every property is littered with shooting houses and tree stands.
What’s the missing link?
What To Do Next
Once you’ve audited your property and neighborhood, it’s time to address that low hole. The ways of doing this are nearly infinite, but I’ll share a few simple starting points. Don’t stress over these decisions too much early on.
When you approach land management with this prioritized focus, the tactic you ultimately choose matters less than you might think. By addressing the low hole in the bucket, you will get disproportionately positive results out of whatever improvements you make. Pareto’s Principle, a widely applied economics concept, states that there is a small set of important inputs (about 20%) that lead to 80% of the positive outcomes. This 80/20 Rule, as it’s also known, can apply to a deer property too. By identifying and addressing the missing link, you’re doing the 20% of work that will lead to the 80% of positive outcomes.
If your missing link is food, you can try planting food plots, implementing a timber cut to increase natural forage, or planting soft and hard-mast producing trees. If cover is an issue, you can fill this gap by seeding switch grass, planting conifer trees, or executing a timber management plan that prioritizes getting sunlight to the understory. If security is the missing ingredient, the simplest first step is to designate a part of your property as a “sanctuary.” Leave it untouched throughout the year to give deer a spot where they feel totally safe.
So what’s the easiest and most impactful way to get started on your deer property? The answer will be different for each of you, but the process to getting there is the same. Find the missing link. Plug the lowest hole.