By Erik Barber
It’s early November and the rut is in high-gear. The buck you’ve spent your time daydreaming about finally appears and cautiously steps into the small food plot that a handful of other deer visited throughout the day. As he scent checks the plot and gazes into the timber, you release an arrow and the game is over.
We’ve seen this exact scenario time and time again on TV or one the web, but is something like this possible if you don’t own land and don’t have access to a tractor?
I say yes.
If you’re hunting on permission and have access to a small piece of land, property enhancement might seem overwhelming. But it isn’t as difficult as you may think. Keep in mind, you’re not creating a picture-perfect food plot. In some cases, you might not be creating a food plot at all. When it comes down to it, all you need to create are small kill zones that are nothing more than a focal point for deer activity. Whether that means making a 1/8 acre food plot or sinking a plastic kiddy pool into the ground to create a waterhole, a little sweat-equity and $50 or less can help you kill a great buck this fall.
The importance of understanding deer movement in relation to the property you hunt is magnified when the tract of land is 80 acres or less. You’re confined to a small piece of land, so you need to locate your focal point in an area that you can hunt effectively without spooking deer, yet is close enough to high-travel areas so the deer will be inclined to visit the new change in habitat. Prime areas to create your focal point are near trails that parallel a creek or river so you can blow your wind over water, or on a saddle that connects two ridges between bedding areas. In areas where movement is difficult to predict, you can influence travel corridors by raking paths upwind of your stand location and tying limbs and branches across trails to prevent movement on the downwind side.
Waterholes or Micro-Plots?
Waterholes and micro-food plots are the easiest focal points to create, and determining which best suits your needs is easy. If you’re dealing with an area that receives direct sunlight, a small food plot will flourish while a waterhole will quickly evaporate on hot, summer days. The opposite is true if you’re locating your focal point deep in the timber where direct sunlight is hard to come by. Waterholes work best in this situation, as the limited sunlight slows down the evaporation process.
Tools of the Trade
The minimalist approach to creating whitetail focal points requires nothing more than a hand-sprayer filled with RoundUp to kill the weeds, a sickle to chop the dead growth to about ankle-height, and a landscape rake to remove the debris. You’ll be much more efficient if you have access to a weed whacker and garden roto-tiller, but these are not necessities. It’s best to plant either clover or winter wheat in these small openings, and the time of year that you create the plot will dictate the seed you choose. Clover is great for spring and early summer, while winter wheat thrives during late summer or early fall plantings.
If you decide to go with a waterhole, you’ll need a shovel and a plastic kiddy pool. Its best to locate your waterhole in an area that you can drive to, allowing you to transport water without much effort. If you don’t have access to a water tank, simply fill up a pair of large, 40-gallon garbage cans and fill up your pool. It’s important to locate your waterhole in a low area so rain can naturally refill it, reducing trips to keep it full and keeping your impact in the area low.
If your property is 40 acres or less, you probably have a limited amount of stand locations that don’t interfere with one another. Rather than blindly hunting the area with hopes of crossing paths with a mature buck, monitor a trail camera over a scrape on the property that is easy to access. The reason for placing your camera over a scrape and not your whitetail focal point is to keep your impact in the area as low as possible. You can rest assured that if a buck is showing up at night on a scrape a few hundred yards from your focal point, he surely isn’t far away from your manufactured social hub in daylight hours.
Now that you’ve pinpointed your target, its important not to jump the gun on your hunt. If your schedule allows, wait for a cold, high-pressure day after an extended period of stagnant, warm weather in late-October or early-November. You can be confident that your target will be on his feet, and hopefully the first place he hits is the area with the most concentrated activity – your focal point.
Don’t think that just because you don’t have access to a big piece of land that you’re out of the management game. Managing properties for whitetails comes in many variations, and setting up one small property, keeping the pressure low, and playing the waiting game can be your ace in the hole. In an ideal situation, you would have at least two or three small properties set up like this going into the season. But if not, you can explore public land and figure out a new area while you wait for the conditions to be just right on your killing spot.
– Erik Barber