Owning your own piece of hunting land has to be every whitetail hunters dream. I know it’s mine and I’m pretty sure it’s yours as well. You don’t have to deal with all the other hunters on public land and unlike a lease, no one can buy the rights to hunt the land out from under you a month before the season starts. But when it comes to owning land, small, tiny, and undersized are not words that most want to hear, but for most of us looking to own our own piece of whitetail heaven, buying hundreds of acres is out of the question and owning small tracts of land is the only option.
Of course owning just a few acres has its drawbacks. If I could own 400 acres or 3, of course I would choose 400. But small, doesn’t mean useless. Quality deer hunting can definitely still be had it just takes a little extra planning to enjoy the best part of owning your own land. Getting little dirt on your hands and doing some habitat management work is a very rewarding endeavor and there is nothing better than improving the habitat on a property and seeing the deer herd improve along with it. And nowhere can you see the improvements you have made help a deer herd faster, than on a small piece of property. One of the best ways to see this improvement is by planting food plots.
Do I Need Food Plots?
Food plots are a great way to improve a small property, but first you need to decide if you even need food plots on your property. Food plots are the “in” thing to do when it comes to deer management and for good reason, but on small properties they may not always be necessary. To do this you not only need to look at your property, but your neighbor’s property as well. If you live in the Great Plains like I do, you know that food is everywhere and cover is the limiting factor. If you have property in this area and your property has the only cover for miles you would be foolish to destroy that cover to plant more food. If you live in the eastern half of the whitetails range and cover is everywhere, food is the limiting factor. If all your neighbors have cover, food plots are a great idea in this situation. So, get online and look at an aerial photo of both your neighbor’s property and yours. What is the limiting factor? Are food plots going to add to the attractiveness of your property or is your money better spent improving another aspect of your property? If food plots are still a possibility, let’s look at where to place them.
Where Should I Plant My Food Plot?
There are many different schools of thought when it comes to planting food plots on small properties and one is to plant them near the middle of your property to keep deer away from the property lines. To me it just depends on how small the property is. If you have 10 acres, it doesn’t matter where you locate a food plot it will be near a property boundary. If you have 100 acres, you can probably locate a food plot near the center of the property; however, one drawback is how you hunt the food plot. If you like to hunt over your food plots, having one in the center of your property means you will create a lot of disturbance getting to and from your stand.
Another school of thought is to plant them in natural openings. Sometimes on small properties you don’t have many options and you are left with planting a food plot in areas that are already relatively open, or will allow enough sunlight to grow a crop. This theory works fine, just remember to check and make sure that you can hunt these locations without doing more harm than good.
The final school of thought is to place a food plot in areas where the deer are already traveling. This is a great idea for small properties because more than likely deer will just be passing through. So by planting a food plot on or near where deer are already traveling you give deer another reason to stop and stay on your land just a little bit longer. One problem with this is that in some areas there may not be any natural openings in this area or it will take more time and effort to create a food plot in this area. But, if you are willing to do the extra work, these types of food plot locations are great.
Each school of thought has its drawbacks and its benefits. Each property is different and it is up to each individual land manager to decide what is best for their property. Also, as mentioned earlier, make sure when you decide to place a food plot in a certain location, that the location is place you can enter and exit the stand unnoticed and take note of the prevailing wind as well.
What To Plant In My Food Plot?
So now that we know where we are going to place our new food plot, it’s time for that million dollar question. What do I plant in my food plot?
Clovers are perennial legumes that make great food plot crops. They are easy to establish and deer love them. Clovers are also shade tolerant so for small food plots tucked back in the timber, clovers are perfect for your food plot. Crimson clover is great in warmer climates throughout the South and is not as cold tolerant as some other varieties. Durana white clover is drought tolerant and is highly productive and it has a high graze tolerance, which is great for small properties to help you get the most out of a small food plot. Both of the above clovers are best planted in the spring.
Forage radishes are cold tolerant brassicas and their long roots act as a great soil builder. Radishes have huge tap roots and succulent leaves that both providing food for wildlife. Because of this they will provide a maximum amount of food for your deer herd in a small plot. Forage radishes can be planted in late August in the North and September in the South. Radishes should not be planted for more than two years in the same plot.
Wheat is a great crop for a small plot because you give the deer an almost year round food source. Deer will consume it in the spring, fall, and the winter providing protein levels as high as 25 percent. Wheat is generally planted in September in the North and October in the South.
Another great way to provide a food source to deer on a small property is by planting trees. Oak trees and the acorns that they produce are a great deer attractant. However, they are relatively slow growing. Mast producing trees such as apples, pears and persimmons are great as well.
Small plots have a tendency to get eaten quickly by deer. It is recommended, if you want a late season food source, that you use some sort of electric fence to keep the deer from destroying the plot early in the growing season.
Small properties and small food plots present a whole new set of challenges for whitetail managers. The good news is that you can still have a great whitetail hunting property, it just takes a bit more planning and thought. The key is to plant and implement strategies on your property to make your property different and better than your neighbors which will attract and hold more deer on your small food plot.
Coyote Management For Deer
Predator Management: A Second Look
By Brody Vorderstrasse and Whitetail Instinct
For one reason or another the predators in an ecosystem always take all the heat from conservationists and whitetail deer and wild turkey managers. Maybe it's because they are carnivores or that they are just low hanging fruit. But whether it is reintroductions or just trying to figure out what is affecting deer and turkey population declines, they often get most of the bad publicity. Now don’t get me wrong, the predators in an ecosystem have a dramatic impact on the surrounding wildlife and need to be managed correctly, but is it always the right answer?
Many whitetail and turkey biologists as well as hunters have been asking this question about the coyotes that share habitat with these animals. My opinion on this subject is still fairly open minded, but it seems almost every time a coyote walks under my treestand I nock an arrow. I just can’t seem to trust them. Recently, however, many biologists and researchers that understand this relationship better than I do, have given us whitetail and turkey hunter’s a reason to pause and take a second look at the predator management on our property. The rest of this article seeks to outline some of the new understandings about predator management and what hunters can do to effectively manage the coyotes on their properties.
ARE COYOTES A PROBLEM FOR DEER AND TURKEYS?
The first thing a land manger needs to do is find out whether or not predators are actually a problem on their property. Just seeing coyotes on your property doesn’t mean that they are a problem. As whitetail and turkey managers we need to determine if the predation from coyotes is hurting our deer herds and turkey flocks. There are two ecological definitions that can help explain this, compensatory and additive. Compensatory predation is when the predation doesn’t affect the overall survival rate of the species and additive predation is when the predation decreases the survival rate of the species. With compensatory predation it is assumed that the predation takes the place of another factor that may have caused the death of an animal, like disease, hunting, or poor nutrition. Compensatory predation will not greatly affect the number of species in a population and the population should remain fairly steady. Additive predation, however, will cause the number or species in the population to decrease.
The main thing you can do to determine if predation by coyotes on your property is compensatory or additive is to perform a trail camera survey. This allows you to get accurate information about the deer on your property and get a fairly good idea of the health and abundance of does on your property. It also allows you to gauge the number of coyotes because they are also going to show up in some of those trail camera pictures. If you follow through with the trail camera survey and see that the deer on your property are healthy and have the appropriate buck to doe ratio you may not need to immediately consider predator management because having healthy herds allows you take a few losses. It goes without being said that these surveys should be done every year and monitored closely so that if predators become a problem, management can start right away. Building off the trail camera survey is the fact that predator management needs to be looked at individually. Your friend a couple counties over may be having a problem, but it doesn’t mean you do. That is why the trail camera survey’s can be so helpful. If you see a low population of deer you know that every fawn counts, but if you see a high population it may not be quite as big an issue.
The final thing to remember is that there are numerous other factors that could be causing a decline in your deer herd. Things like disease, food, and weather can all affect the deer population from year to year.
WHAT IF YOU DO HAVE A COYOTE PROBLEM?
If you have determined that predation by coyotes is a problem on your property then you have several options. They include things like cover, nutrition, a scientific approach, hunting, and providing alternative food sources. For me this is where the fun begins because the strategy, planning, and offseason work can be a deal breaker when it comes to managing coyotes.
The first thing you should think about is cover. Coyotes are opportunists and they hunt by scent. So if they need to get fairly close to fawns to find them and if they stumble upon one they will take it. So providing adequate cover will make it harder for them. To provide the proper cover a lot of off season work is going to be needed. Depending on how many does are using your property for fawning, you may need to provide a lot of fawning cover. The good thing though, is that many aspects of fawning cover are also beneficial during different times of the year. Obviously, does will prefer areas that have thick cover to hide their fawns in and areas that are separate from other does. A way to maximize your cover is to perform some hinge cutting. This creates denser habitat that does prefer for fawning and during the rest of the year. Although it may not be to appealing, adding food plots of grasses instead of clovers or beans is also an option to improve cover. You can either use a few food plots you have to spare or you can take some of the locations on your property that don’t have good winds for hunting or good entry and exit routes and make those into a few grass plots. As far as the types of grasses go, the warm season grasses in your area will work, as well as, any type of tall grass species or native grasses. Creating early successional habitat will also provide good cover. Another, sometimes overlooked, aspect of cover is that it provides good nutrition for does. The added cover can provide nutrition throughout the year and adequate thermal cover to help does make it through the winter in good condition. It is important that does go into spring healthy, which will make fawning success better.
THE ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO COYOTE MANAGEMENT
You can also look at coyote management from a scientific and ecological approach. Having a proper doe harvest each year and maintaining a good buck to doe ratio will help ensure that the natural ecological processes work in your favor. Breeding takes place relatively the same time each year and this means that fawns will all drop in the spring at about the same time as well. This isn’t just pure coincidence, but an ecological strategy that deer use to help ensure the success of their species. It is known as the saturation principle. There is such a large increase in the population of the deer herd that coyotes can’t respond quick enough. For example, if all of a sudden you got a years worth of candy bars that you had to eat in two weeks, you wouldn’t be able to eat them all. But if you had the whole your to eat them you could more effectively accomplish the goal. The same thing occurs with the coyote population. There are so many fawns all of a sudden released into the environment that the coyotes simply don’t have enough time to get to all of them. The natural process for the coyotes would be to increase their population, but biologically they can’t respond quick enough to take advantage of the increased food source. So it is important that when we manage whitetails we do what ever we can to help nature, simply, just do its thing.
IS COYOTE HUNTING WORTH IT
The approach many hunters use to control predators is hunting them. But is this an effective strategy? A lot of research has been done on this and most of it suggests it’s not. Coyotes are territorial, thus this means that certain coyotes that use your property will be dominant while others will just be passing through. Biologist refer to this as residents and transients. Resident coyotes will occupy a much smaller range and will search harder for fawns because they won’t travel long distances outside their territory to find food. Transients will be almost the exact opposite of that and will travel continuously through a much larger range and search less (being more opportunistic). So if you could somehow target the residents that search harder for fawns you might be able to manage coyotes successfully, but this is almost impossible to do. The main reason hunting coyotes may not be a successful management strategy lies within the dynamics of the resident and transient relationship. Most transient coyotes are the population founders and territory starters. So if something removes a resident coyote from a territory a transient will most likely take its place fairly quickly. So if you use hunting as a way to remove coyotes you might just be opening the door for more to move in. The random hunting of coyotes basically opens up holes that are quickly filled by transient coyotes. So unless your coyote hunting is fairly constant, you will probably only see temporary results. This is not to say that you shouldn’t hunt coyotes. Most whitetail hunters probably do a few times a year. It is a fun hunt and allows for lots of excitement, just know that it is probably not the best method to use to manage coyotes.
THE ALTERNATIVE COYOTE FOOD SOURCE THEORY
This method of predator management is a fairly new concept and at first glance seems like an easy solution to your coyote problem. Just make it easier for them to get other food sources and it should make them less likely to search out fawns, right? Maybe not. There are three outcomes that could occur if you implement this management strategy. The first is that managing for other species and providing alternative food sources like mice, rabbits, snakes, and grassland birds will allow coyotes to prey on other species instead of fawns. Second, is that this strategy will just support and attract more coyotes to your area. The final outcome is that coyotes prefer fawns because of the nutritional value they get versus the time spent searching. In a broad sense they would prefer fawns because they get more bang for their buck. The number of studies regarding this topic still remains fairly small, but the conclusion this far is fairly simple, coyotes are opportunist. It was stated earlier, but coyotes will eat whatever’s easiest and if that’s fawns during the spring time then that is what they will eat. At this point the alternative food source option remains fairly neutral. It may provide some buffering capabilities that can help fawn survival, but it might also have no impact at all.
CONCLUSION TO COYOTE MANAGEMENT FOR DEER
Coyote management remains fairly complicated with many potential solutions. There is no doubt that coyotes take deer fawns and turkeys. They are after all predators, it is kind of what they do. But to what extent this has on deer and turkey on your property is very individually based. The key, I believe, is active management. Most hunters today run trail cameras almost year round. Use those pictures to your advantage. When you are finished creating that awesome list of hit list bucks, take a few moments to look at the health of the deer and turkeys using your property. If you have a coyote problem a couple simple steps like not taking as many does and providing better fawning cover can help you manage the problem. As far as other methods are concerned, hunting should most likely be replaced by trapping coyotes whenever possible and managing for alternative food sources may not have much of an effect. Predators like coyotes are part of the ecosystem and have an important role in it. The most important coyote management tool is to stay active in the management of the whitetails and turkets on your property. If you do this you should be able to have happy and healthy deer and turkey for years to come.
If, like me, you are fortunate enough to be able to hunt quality public land for whitetail deer throughout the Midwest and other areas throughout the country, you know the excitement and thrill that it can provide. I’m sure you are questioning my choice of words for the opening statement. I assure you I meant what I said. “Fortunate” and “public land” do not find themselves in the same sentence very often. Public land gets a bad rap, sometimes it is deserved and other times it certainly is not. We are certainly fortunate to have such a valuable resource available to us sportsman. Those who have taken the time and put in the work that’s required to hunt public land know this first hand.
Public land can make any hunter want to put down his bow for the season and call the bank to take out a loan to purchase a fancy hunting lease for the next year. In an era of immediate gratification some hunters have lost a true sense of what the hunt is really about. Just because the land isn’t managed 365 days a year, or you’re not the only person hunting the property, it doesn’t mean the hunt isn’t worth the effort, but it takes that effort. Many things in hunting, much like life, are all how you look at them and where some see public land as a last resort or something to be looked down upon, I see opportunity. With a different outlook and philosophy, along with these few tips and you too can put your tag on a dandy public land whitetail.
The archery hunter and the rifle hunter have two very different philosophies when it comes to deer hunting. I’m not saying that gun hunter’s are wrong and bowhunter’s are right, or the other way around. I’m just encouraging hunters to think outside the box and use what they know to their advantage. Rifle hunters can simply take the information given in this article and information they have gathered elsewhere and do the exact same thing. For those who bowhunt public land during rifle season, those who hunt after their states gun season ends or those who hunt heavily pressured land, we can learn from these different philosophies and use that knowledge as bowhunters to our advantage.
The nationally agreed upon argument against whitetail hunting on public land is too much hunting pressure. This is the Achilles heel of public land and an argument that someone always tries to point out. They all say, “There are too many gun hunters on public land spooking all the deer.” In some cases they might be right, but they are wrong in most cases. With research you can find public land that is not heavily hunted. Where others see a problem, some see an opportunity. If you didn’t know this already, guns are not the only weapon you can hunt deer with! Just because the masses may take to the field on opening day of gun season in November, it doesn’t mean the woods will be standing room only come September. Bowhunters on public lands are only a fraction of rifle hunters that hunt public land. In many states archery hunters have two full months of hunting free of gun hunters. This is a perfect opportunity to get in the woods and tag an early season public land whitetail. If you are currently a gun hunter, I would encourage you to try your hand at bowhunting. It’s a great opportunity to learn a new skill and it will no doubt make you a better hunter.
Every hunter knows that bullets fly farther than arrows and because of this, hunters using these weapons hunt deer in different ways. Both with different ideas about how to go about tagging their buck. An archery hunter needs his buck to be within close range in order to shoot, but a rifle hunter has much more room to play with. Distance is such an important issue for bowhunters that it requires much more preparation than hunting with a rifle.
Since a deer must be so close, scouting plays a huge role in determining an archery hunter’s success. Every detail must be planned out and every scenario thought through. Scouting on public land is best done in January or February after the season has ended. Deer you may encounter will have forgotten the intrusion by the time next season comes around. Also, in most states during this time, public lands tend to see less traffic. This gives you the opportunity to have the property all to yourself, while not disturbing anyone’s hunt. You need to look for the typical deer sign. Trails, rubs, scrapes, funnels, pinch points, and food. But the most important piece of habitat to look for is cover.
Being that public lands may receive high hunting pressure throughout hunting season, cover becomes very important to public land whitetails. They need to find that place where they feel comfortable enough to bed down. As we think about hunting pressure on public land we need to rethink our typical thoughts on the topic of pressure.
The saying, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” is spot on in this situation. We need to stop complaining about other hunters and as I said earlier, use what we already know. Gun hunters need open land. They like to be able to see farther for several reasons. First, in order to be able to get a shot they need a bigger gap in the available cover because of the scopes on their guns. Second, they like open areas because they have the ability to shoot farther. It makes sense that if you can shoot farther, you want to see farther. Open cover gives you the ability to see and shoot deer farther away. Because of this, rifle hunters will typically choose stand locations that give them the ability to see quite a distance. I mentioned earlier that we needed to look for cover when scouting. We need to do this because gun hunters will not typically hunt thick cover, being that shot opportunities are fewer and farther between. This means that there is less pressure in those areas where cover is thickest. This is perfect for bowhunters because we can hunt thick cover and still have plenty of shot opportunities. Archers only need small shooting lanes. Public land may have pressure from gun hunters, but not every single square foot of public land may see the same amount of pressure.
Now that we have found the thick cover, and know why we should be hunting it, we need to know how to hunt it. Deer use this thick cover to hide from gun hunters and other archery hunters. More often than not, whitetails are using this cover as a bedding area. It is a place they feel secure. Because this is a bedding area, we do not want to disturb this area. The deer currently feel comfortable enough to remain on the public land and we don’t want to do anything to change that.
The best strategy in this situation is to hunt the escape routes the deer are using. When the deer feel hunting pressure or are bumped by other hunters they use trails they are familiar with. These trails lead right to the thick cover you have found while scouting in the off-season. You want to find the deer highways that lead right to the thick cover. Find the edge of the thick cover and set your stand far enough away that you won’t spook any deer that may already be bedded down inside while you are walking to and from your stand. When choosing a stand location, or which stand to hunt, remember to predict where the deer are coming from. This way you know where the deer will be and where they are going and you can play the wind accordingly.
A setup like this allows other hunters to drive the deer towards you. When hunting a stand similar to this on public land, remember staying on stand longer often pays off. When other hunters get restless during the mid-morning, they leave their stand. During this time they may startle deer on their way out. When they spook these deer, you can bet they will be running a trail straight to the thick cover near you.
On the surface high hunting pressure on some public lands from rifle and other bowhunters may seem like a kiss of death for public land success. But if you think out of the box and use what you already know to your advantage you can put your tag on a public land whitetail buck.