Now that my 2011 season is through, my thoughts have immediately shifted to planning for 2012 and let me tell you what, I’m excited! In August of this past year I moved to my new home/farm and immediately went about preparing for the 2011 season. But with only a month or so to prepare, I really didn’t have much time. Now with a full year ahead of me, I feel like the sky’s the limit.

Over the coming months I’m determined to make my 90 acres the best it possibly can be for the wildlife in my area and more specifically, to be the best possible ground to grow and hold mature whitetails. But can you do that with only 90 acres? Can you truly make a difference and practice quality deer management effectively on a property this size?

I say yes, and I aim to prove it in the months and years to come. But this is obviously a long journey that must still begin with a few, small steps. So in 2012 I’m setting out to accomplish several goals on my farm that will hopefully help me grow, hold and hunt some great whitetails this fall, while also setting a strong foundation for the future.

 Food Throughout The Year: My number one concern on my farm for the 2012 season is food. About half of my 90 acres is leased to a farmer and this year he’ll be planting soybeans. This will be great for providing stellar nutrition during the summer months, but I know once hunting season arrives in October those beans will be turned and my resident deer will be searching for new food sources. If I want to ensure that a handful of good bucks stick around, I better have the food they’re looking for on my farm. So with that goal in mind, I’m right now trying to plan how and where I might be able to squeeze in any new food plots. These plots will definitely be hunting plots, but I also need enough food to hold deer in the area, so I’ll be looking to put in some decent acreage. I plan on going into my 2012 food plot strategy in further detail down the road, but I can say now that I plan on planting a variety of different crops that will be very palatable from October – December. I am currently considering some combination of Imperial Whitetail Clover, brassicas such as Whitetail Institute Tall Tine Turnips and Winter Greens,  and possibly some cereal rye or oats.

Improving and Expanding Cover: While late fall food will be incredibly important to my hunting success this season, I know that improving the available cover on my property will be just as important in the long run. Food is great, but mature bucks are going to want areas they feel very secure, and I want to make sure that the best cover for a long way around is on my farm. With about 40 or so acres of my property in crops, that doesn’t leave a ton of acreage for cover, so my goal is to make sure that whatever possible ground I have that could be cover, is as thick and secure as possible. The hunter before me had already begun some timber management on the property, and it’s helped produce some very thick and nasty areas of downed tree tops and thick undergrowth. So my plan this year is to continue what he started. About 20-25 acres of my timber is a good swamp, but the remaining 15-20 acres is tall grass and open timber. I’m hoping to use the chain saw this spring to thin out some less desirable trees, hinge cut a few others and hopefully get a little more under-story in my timbered sections. Additionally, I have some CRP type grasses growing in a few areas directly within view of my house and currently these parts of the farm only get used during the night by deer. I’d like to eventually make this part of the farm more usable and secure for deer during the day, and my plan is to start that by planting young cedar trees throughout the grassy stretches. Hopefully over the next few years this can grow up to be some great, thick bedding cover!

Preparing Better Access: Having the best food and cover in the area will hopefully make my farm a popular destination for big bucks, but if I hunt it recklessly, I most certainly won’t be able to reap the fruits of my labor. On small farms like mine, you have to be incredibly careful about putting too much pressure on the deer, especially if you’re targeting mature bucks. One way that hunters often pressure deer, and I’m still very guilty of this, is by spooking them on the way to or from the treestand. The layout of my farm makes it a little difficult to access certain areas, so my goal this early spring is to plan out some trails that will make good access/entry routes and carve these out before green-up. Hopefully with a few stealthy routes into and out of my hunting locations I can put as minimal an amount of pressure as possible on my deer.

90 acres isn’t a ton to work with and I know I can’t expect to be all of a sudden hunting giant Iowa class bucks like you see on the Drury videos, but I do think that I can take steps to improve my farm and hunting possibilities. While practicing quality deer management on a small piece of property isn’t easy, it’s certainly better than not trying at all. By passing on young bucks, and providing the best food and cover possible, I’m confident that more deer will reach maturity in my area and more often than not, they’ll spend some time on my farm. For a dreamer like me, that sounds like a pretty good start.