How to be Successful Hunting Small Farms for Big Whitetail Deer
As a whitetail deer outfitter I seldom get to hunt believe it or not. Our best tree stands and best farms are simply for our hunters. As the owner of a whitetail outfitting service, IF I get to hunt whitetail deer I always am stuck on the “red headed stepchild” locations. On the day before the Missouri Firearms Season in 2007, I let my camp managers and professional hunt guides select the best and hottest tree stand locations for our paying customers. After they had picked all the best tree stands for our hunters to be positioned on the next morning, I sat quietly over the aerial photos and attempted to select a farm that no hunters were assigned to. I found an 80 acre tract of ground the hunt guides, nor my camp manager had selected. Carefully I reviewed the aerial and chose the tree stand I would crawl into the next morning. I thought to myself, “This farm has been overlooked because it is only 80 acres.” I closed the aerial book, and knew I was going to have to “gut it out” on this small land tract that I hoped would produce a trophy whitetail buck for me.
This particular farm had a 3 way funnel leading to a cedar thicket which I felt would produce the possibility of a trophy whitetail buck harvest. The next morning I climbed into the tree stand an hour before light, and began to wait for that special moment. In the darkness of the Missouri morning I awaited for the sun to rise as I listened to a couple owls call back and forth in the darkness. As usual I was nothing short of excited even though I was stuck on this tiny piece of acreage. 17 minutes after legal shooting hours I watched a trophy buck with his nose to the ground heading right for me. He was 100 yards away and closing the distance looking for does in heat. I carefully observed him through my scope to make sure he was a trophy whitetail buck. I rested my gun on the shooting rail, and ever so slightly squeezed the trigger on my .300 Win Mag. Down the big nontypical whitetail buck went. I was done. I was also amazed that small acreage farms produce trophy whitetail deer, if a few common rules are followed when whitetail deer hunting on them.
Whitetail Deer are like rabbits. Both can live in small, isolated patches of cover almost anywhere. Whitetail deer have proven more adaptable than anybody ever thought, and now some dandy bucks are coming from some of the most unusual places. Some of these places are smaller farms that are often overlooked.
Even on small farms, people don't realize it doesn't take a lot of cover to hold onto a trophy whitetail deer. A little bit of cover and lot of food supply, is all it takes. I know with a lot of the deer I take, some of the areas are small 120 acre farms that don't have but 30 or 40 acres of timber. Whitetail deer hunters need to learn to look at the lay of the land and how it pertains to whitetail deer movement. I always tell people, if it's the right farm, no matter the acreage then that's the one you want to deer hunt.
The key to hunting small farms for big whitetail deer begins with reviewing aerial photos and topographical maps. With these tools you can locate the small pieces of timber or cover that most whitetail deer hunters overlook, and it is these places that hold no human scent due to no hunting pressure. I’ve seen the biggest of whitetail deer bed up and hold up in the smallest of places simply because no whitetail hunter was ever going to look for them there. Whenever I obtain an aerial of a small farm to hunt whitetail deer on I tend to take a black sharpie and outline my property borders. That can be a mistake as most whitetail hunters tend to then look only within the boundaries of their small farm which they are hunting trophy whitetail deer on. The whitetail deer hunter has got to train his eye to look outside the boundaries of his small farm for adjoining terrain. The particular 80 acre tract of ground I was hunting deer in Missouri for on the aforementioned morning held a triangular section of timber, while the rest where simply fields within my confines of the boundaries. However when I began looking outside the lines I saw that at each of the three points of my triangular piece of timber I was hunting connected to huge blocks of timber coming from the surrounding farms. This was an immediate indicator that the surrounding farms were “feeding” my small whitetail farm of a mere 80 acres. It meant that any bucks in search of does in heat that where travelling to and from the larger surrounding woodlots would have to pass by me to travel to the next big piece of timber.
The opposite scenario is also true. Often times if no timber surrounds a small timbered farm then whitetail deer are utilizing that small farm for cover. Further, if their isn’t much big timber around your small farm then most often times as whitetail hunters scroll aerial maps they will overlook that small tract, leaving it open to those willing to hunt small farms for big deer. These type farms without big blocks of surrounding timber are often times the very farms that the biggest whitetail bucks run to, in an effort to hide and escape hunting pressure in more densely timbered areas of the county.
I’ll never forget as an Iowa deer outfitter, that one day I was cruising along in my side by side Polaris Ranger just enjoying the day and looking at some tree stand setups when I decided to drive past a small 1 acre rectangular draw. I was only about 10 yards from the outside of the draw. As I passed by the small draw on my Polaris Ranger I looked and just 10 yards off the field’s edge in the draw laid a 170 inch plus Boone and Crockett buck. He slowly perked his head up as he was bedded down and watched me cruise on by. I knew if I stopped he would run off so I kept a steady pace on the all terrain vehicle and he never moved. He literally thought I hadn’t spotted him, and to tell you the truth I’m darn lucky I did. I went directly to the hunt lodge, and that night after dark we set up a tree stand in the small crazy draw knowing he would be out feeding nocturnally in some grain field nearby. The next day I had a happy hunter with a 183 inch whitetail buck on the ground. Why? Because that whitetail deer had grown accustomed to laying up in a small area where nobody with “brain one” would hunt him. Now that whitetail deer is hanging on somebody’s wall.
Strategies to Improve a Small Land Tract for Big Whitetail Deer
Food Plots: Let me tell you that food plots are nothing short of whitetail deer magnets. A few well placed quality food plots on a small land tract can draw big whitetail deer off your neighbour’s property quickly. Especially food plots that provide food throughout the coldest months of the winter. Brassicas, turnips, rye, and a good stand of clover are but a few of the food plots that can bring the adjoining property’s whitetail deer herd onto yours. While the whitetail deer will most likely not all bed up on your small tract, quality food plots will turn your small tract into the heart and soul of the herd’s travel routine quickly.
Mineral Licks: Mineral licks are legal in most States. Believe me, a few well placed mineral licks will also draw whitetail deer into your area. It is like candy to them. My favorite mineral lick material is “Deer Cane” by Evolved Habitats. Trust me as a whitetail outfitter for 13 years we have tried many different types of mineral licks. Our older “Deer Cane” mineral licks actually have produced huge trails where no deer trails existed before, because whitetail deer actually changed their travel pattern just to include a visit to the mineral lick of their choice as a part of their daily routine.
Hunt Pressure: The smaller the land tract the less pressure you should apply to it. Whitetail deer won’t put up with too much hunting pressure. Thus don’t hammer the same small farm day after day. To decrease the amount of pressure or at the very least try and minimize what hunting pressure you alert the whitetail deer to, you can do several things.
1. Use scent elimination sprays from reliable companies like Hunter Specialties.
2. Bathe in hunter scent away soap.
3. Utilize Medalist Scent Elimination Clothing and throw your carbon lined clothing away.
4. Always have a well thought approach to your tree stand. On smaller properties you are easier to detect, thus don’t just march to your tree stand carelessly. Think about wind directions and where deer might be bedded up or feeding upon your entrance and exit. Go out of your way to make sure you are avoiding detection. Remember these small farms are usually holding big whitetail deer because no other whitetail deer hunters are utilizing them. Keep them fresh.
5. Tell friends no. Just as soon as you buy or lease a small land tract all your friends will usually try and invite themselves along for the hunt. On a small parcel of ground when hunting whitetail deer you simply need to learn how to say “no”. Remember a small farm can be your friend or get you busted quickly by monster bucks. You have to say “no” to reduce hunt pressure so you don’t alert whitetail deer that this small farm is no longer the sanctuary they once thought it was.
Quality Deer Management Programs
On small farms you will want to implement strict Quality Deer Management Programs. The smaller the acreage the more strict the program should be. I would recommend that on these small acreage farms one needs to harvest whitetail bucks with minimum scores of 125 inches or even higher. If you take care of your whitetail herd, your whitetail deer herd will take care of you.
You will also not want to take a great number of deer off the property. While it is good to harvest does, don’t harvest too many. You can harvest a little less than 20% of the deer off small parcels and still be safe. If the truth be known I would hunt your small farm for trophy bucks only, and find somewhere else to harvest your does or meat deer. If you are going to harvest whitetail does on your small farm then do it in the timber so your whitetail deer herd associates safety with your food plots areas.
Logging Your Small Farm
Often times I have seen small farms be more productive if selective logging is done. Why? The treetops of the logging efforts are left on the ground creating a dense bed area. Dense bedding areas for whitetail deer are almost as much of a draw for whitetail deer in the area as food plots and mineral licks. Don’t let your logger get carried away and cut too much. Just let him take enough to make you a few dollars and create a dense bed area. Be sure and mark what trees you want to utilize for hunting and don’t let your logger harvest these trees. On small farms sometimes it is hard to find the right tree to hand a tree stand from. If these trees are the ones taken then you will have lost the advantage of hunting that particular spot.
Small Farms Don’t Always Produce Trophy Whitetail Deer
Now that we’ve discussed how small farms produce big whitetail bucks, don’t think for a minute that all small farms do so. When you are looking at a small farm hoping to find a “honeyhole” of whitetail deer be honest with your evaluation. To accurately evaluate the property look at aerial photos and see if any creeks or tributaries run through the farm. Walk these tributary banks and look for good deer runs. Also look for last year’s whitetail scrapes and whitetail rubs. No matter what farm you’re looking at the real estate agent or the landowner wishing to lease will most often times tell you the farm is great for whitetail deer hunting. Sometimes they don’t know what a good whitetail farm is while other times they are just exaggerating so they can make money off you. It takes a special farm that is small in acreage to deliver on trophy whitetails. These locations can be few and far between. No matter how many food plots or mineral licks you place or how you hunt the farm, if the whitetails aren’t in the area you can’t draw them in no matter how hard you try.