Part 2: Habitat Planning: What You Need
Reflecting on the 2018 deer season, how would you rate your season? Often times we want to rate our season based off of shooting our target buck or filling X number of tags. If that were the case I would be disappointed more seasons than I'd like to admit. Were you disappointed at the end of the 2018 deer season? If so, what are you going to do to make sure that 2019 is better?
Our 2018 Season in Review
My business partner and I had the privilege of hunting 6 parcels of land, including public ground in 2019. We both ended up with our buck tags in our pocket when the season closed. However, I would consider 2018 to be one of our best seasons yet! Strictly hunting with bow, we had a lot of closer encounters with great bucks just outside of shooting range. As night fell on our 2018 season, we saw 3 of our shooter bucks on their feet with over an hour of shooting light left. As they comfortably fed out of bow range, it was a blessing to see these 3 bucks make it through the season completely healthy.
Over the final month of the season, it was not uncommon to see one of our hit list bucks on his feet at any time of day. A 4 1/2 year old buck being seen on a nightly basis post firearm season is not an ordinary sight on most small parcels in northern Indiana. However, with my observations over many years of hunting, it really wasn't a surprise to see him at all. Here are the 3 key reasons why this deer was so comfortable on this small parcel.
We're fortunate enough to have approximately 20 acres of bedding sanctuary for these deer. Also, our neighbor has set aside multiple acres of sanctuary on his property for deer.
What Is Bedding Sanctuary?
An area in which a deer cannot see, hear, or smell hunters at any time. The only reason we'd ever enter into a bedding sanctuary is to retrieve a deer. If at all possible, we choose to enter the sanctuary well after dark in hopes that the deer have left the secure bedding area and are out feeding. These deer have cover, browse, and water to support their needs throughout the day. A bedding sanctuary is by far the most important addition you can add to your property. How much can you set aside? Whether its 5 acres or 50 acres, you will reap the benefits next season!
Secluded food is defined as a food source that is mostly hidden from humans. Obviously it is not uncommon to see deer out on an evening drive eating out in ag fields throughout Indiana. However, having a secluded food source is a complete game changer after the weekend warriors and orange army hit the woods and really change the patterns of your localized deer herd. Along with our sanctuary, we are blessed to have a 20 acre secluded alfalfa field and our 6 acres of food plots. We are able to watch deer feed well after dark before heading to the large ag fields long after hunters have left the woods.
Can you visualize a spot on your property to create a 1/2 acre+ secluded food source? Maybe you can make 2 or 3 small 1/8 acre plots? It may be as simple as firing up the chain saw and opening up the canopy. The key to having successful secluded food is to not over pressure it. The expectation that you will have a field full of deer by hunting over these locations will leave you highly disappointed. You have to be the ultimate predator!
Being The Ultimate Predator
Playing the wind seems obvious but it is one of the most overlooked aspects of hunting mature deer. With many highly innovative scent control products on the market, I don't believe any of these products are guaranteed to keep deer from smelling hunters. Truly knowing where these deer bed, I can honestly say none of our shooter bucks on this property ever smelled us while we were in the stand. If the wind was wrong, we simply did not hunt those deer. During the 3 month season, we only sat on this property approximately 12 times. Seeing the deer we were seeing consistently would've had most hunters hitting our stands on a nightly basis.With core bedding South and West of our stand locations, we had to pick and choose the right times to hunt. Does that mean the deer didn't know they were being hunted? Absolutely not! However, seeing them in shooting light throughout the season and never leaving the area meant they did not feel pressured or threatened by our hunting tactics.
Another tactic we utilize is our Defender Screen. There were times we were able to sneak out of a stand with deer feeding less than 100 yards away but they were unable to see us due to our 12 ft high barrier between us and their location. The number one reason for your plots to become nocturnal to deer is to blow them out on your exit route. Developing the Defender Screen has become a game changer for us!
The big question: How do I start? This property discussed above has by and large seen the most improvements over the last 5 years. The first step is to recognize what your property is lacking. What took this property over the top was the addition of more secluded food. We went from 2-3 acres of food plots to around 6 acres of diversified food with screening for additional seclusion. Take a look at an over head map of your property. Outline where your sanctuary will be or currently is. Next define travel corridors and implement secluded food sources. Finally, set stand locations in positions where you can enter and exit without deer seeing or smelling you. Become the ultimate predator! Identifying the areas you can improve now is crucial for making 2019 your best season yet!
In our finale to our October Success Starts in January series, we will show you exactly what we will be doing to one our own properties this off season. Stay Tuned!