We’ve got a great guest post today from the acclaimed whitetail writer and author Steve Bartylla. Steve originally wrote this post on the QDMA message board, but was gracious enough to share it with us today here on Wired To Hunt. In this article, Steve discusses the tough topic of balancing recreational use of a property, while not over-hunting it so much as to hurt your chances of hunting success. In Steve’s opinion, setting up your property properly can significantly negate this risk. Read on, and enjoy! – MK

By Steve Bartylla

There seems to be a misconception amongst some that controlling pressure and growing big bucks means you have to kick everyone else off and only you hunt the property.

In a perfect world, if you really want to suck in deer and help bucks grow old, you would do improvements, but never hunt the property. IMO, that would be the best way to approach it, IF your only goal was to help get bucks as old practically possible. I’m guessing there are a few here that have that as their only goal.

I get why many would come to the conclusion that the only way for them to make their property consistently produce the big boys is to essentially do that. After all, look at the Lee and Tiffany type shows out there. These people have way more land than they can hunt and essentially don’t hunt it. They also rarely go into the woods, but they really do few other things to control pressure. That’s just not practical and, frankly, doesn’t make a lot of sense for many, even if it was. (Try sitting only on the edges of fields in PA, much of MI, WI, MN & IN and see how many big bucks you see…Even smaller 1/2 acreish kill plots often don’t cut it for all but those getting really lucky early, late and during the rut).

That said, there is another way of pulling it off, while still being able to hunt it with family and friends. Here’s how …

Sanctuaries: In my opinion, most hunt way more of their property than they should. Frankly, I setup 70-90% of deer cover as sanctuary on most properties, while nipping at the outside. Now, I use a hybrid definition of “sanctuaries.” For one thing, I go in them a time or two during the off season to scout. I want to know what deer are and aren’t doing inside, as well as how they are accessing and departing them. There’s also the journeys in to improve cover. Also, I need to go in to loosen and then later trim stands. Add it all together, and I enter them 5-6 times a year, mostly in the off season.
I’m sure you noticed I mentioned loosening and then trimming stands. I setup every WOW spot in sanctuaries. My hope though is that I never have to hunt them, and probably average NOT hunting them two years for every one I do. They are my ace in the hole, for when everything is absolutely perfect (timing, weather, being able to sit all day) AND I just don’t believe I can get it done from the outside. Even then, I’ll never hunt a specific sanctuary stand more than twice a season, and rarely more than once. The number of cumulative times I’ll hunt a sanctuary at all is based on how big it is. For an 80, no more than twice a season. For a 300, maybe 4 times, tops.

Setup: How a property is setup can be as important as how often it’s hunted. Every improvement can be made to both help deer AND help hunting at the same time. Whenever improvements are made, one can try to do so in a way that provides/creates/promotes low impact, high odds stand sites.

Screening: Screening is talked about a lot, but I rarely see it put to use. It’s great for creating low impact access and departure. At the same time, it can be used to create privacy fences dividing up larger, open food sources. Doing so helps segregate doe groups and bucks fighting for dominance. At the same time, during the rut, Mr. Big must then check each area for does and competing bucks, as opposed to checking the entire area with one glance. It helps him waste time on your property, as well as increases the odds of him walking by your stand.

Hunting the outside: If the core of your property’s cover is sanctuary, you can often/generally hunt the outside a lot harder, without kicking deer out or encouraging them to move more after dark. The more safe they feel inside, the more likely they’ll mess up and you can pick them off from these ambushes. Look for spots that naturally create these setups. Stupid example, a field on top with a sharp erosion ditch running down to the bottom. This often creates setups that one barely has to enter the timber to hunt, as in a couple steps, but hunts like a deep cover setup. When they don’t occur naturally, layout improvements to help create them by taking advantage of natural features that push deer more to the edges.

Make your own funnels: When natural features aren’t enough to encourage deer to pass low impact stand sites, make them. Some folks talk about creating berms, others mention using fences, I tend to create them by hinging trees as blockades. There’s all sorts of ways to skin this cat, so long as you use a little creativity.

There’s more to it, but I hope this at least gets the point across. Few properties are naturally setup to allow low impact hunting. When they’re not, one option is to not allow anyone but yourself to hunt it, and then hunt it only on perfect days. Another option is to setup the property so it offers numerous, low impact stand sites.

Though I’d never recommend that one “overhunts” a property, one actually can, while greatly minimizing damage, IF you set it up to allow for it. When deer feel safe in the majority of the cover, you can get away with a lot more sins. When you take it a step further and create ample, high odds/low impact stands, those sins become minimized further.

– Steve Bartylla, food-plots-for-deer.com