In the fall of 2014, Mike Chamberlain killed one of the largest bucks tagged during the Minnesota season. The rack of the behemoth whitetail stood in stark contrast to the size of Chamberlain’s hunting property: The buck scored 198 B&C, yet Chamberlain arrowed the giant on a 5-acre chunk of timber that bordered his backyard.
Whitetail aficionados share a common fantasy—hunting a massive farm crammed with prime habitat, abundant food, and giant deer. Reality paints a different picture for many of us. Due to a number of factors (urban sprawl, rural development, a challenging farm economy, etc.), the large acreages that once dominated rural America are now parceled up. More and more of us are forced to hunt small, or not at all.
The good news is that it’s entirely possible to have excellent hunting on relatively tiny tracts. In fact, I’ve come to view a parceled-up plat book as a blessing, not a curse. With more landowners to visit, the chances of gaining hunting permission actually increase, and given my druthers, I’d rather hunt ten 40-acre parcels than a single 400-acre block. Each of those smaller parcels will contain differing habitat that shines in different situations. Plus, hunting multiple parcels allows me to distribute pressure and alarm fewer deer. Here’s a four-step plan for making the most of a micro estate.
1) Analyze the property. First you must decide exactly what it offers for deer and, consequently, when they’re most likely to use it. I sort properties into one of three categories: feeding, bedding, and transition (travel). Feeding areas are typically open (like ag fields, or clearings that can be planted to food plots) but may also be an oak ridge where acorns will drop. Bedding areas contain thick cover—clear-cuts, swamps, marshes, or brushy hillsides. Transition areas are travel routes between feed and bed. When you’re analyzing a transition area, check aerial photos or Google Earth to see how your property relates to others in the neighborhood.
One of my most memorable rut hunts was in a transition tract just a few falls ago. The 15-acre oak stand that I had permission to hunt was the perfect corridor connecting corn and beanfields to the south to a thickly tangled bedding area on the north. Though I was in the stand at dawn, I didn’t see a deer until nearly 11 a.m., but the wait was worth it. The tall-tined 10-point walked within 10 yards of my stand as he cruised through, searching for does. He never completed his journey.
2) Improve your property’s assets whenever possible. If there are openings, plant food plots. Bedding areas can be tweaked by hinge-cutting or timber management. Transition areas are prime candidates for mock scrapes. Remember, since area deer aren’t using your spot exclusively, you want them to choose it from among dozens of other options.
3) Pick the conditions when your property will hunt the best. This means not only the time of day but the phase of the season, too. For example, a bedding area would only hunt well in the morning, but it might be best to use it only during the pre-rut when bucks are more active and will be searching such places for does. Transition routes will shine morning and evening and can offer outstanding midday hunting during the rut. Equally important is to know the wind condition that’s perfect for your stands.
4) Hunt your stands only when the wind and conditions are right. Sometimes the toughest thing to do during a hunting season is to not hunt but instead work on your honey-do list or go fishing when things aren’t right. One of the keys to long-term success on small tracts is minimizing your footprint on the place, because your shot at a monster soars if he has no clue you’re using that little slice of heaven.