One Man’s Journey to Big Bucks on Small Properties

By: Mathew D Beitz

Let’s face it, in today’s day and age the average hunter does not have six hundred acres of unpressured land to hunt, or the extra income available to lease land. Instead, the majority of us are hunting properties that we got permission from a relative, a friend, or through a work colleague. Unfortunately all too often several others have permission to hunt these same properties. It makes targeting a specific deer very difficult to accomplish. After many unpleasant encounters with other hunters on these parcels, who were lacking in the ethics department, I decided enough was enough. I was committed to finding my own piece of heaven on earth. A few months later I was able to find a small property, about sixty acres in size, on the edge of the suburbs. I knew that I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to be successful in my endeavor of harvesting mature bucks consistently on this property. Here’s a look at one man’s journey to big bucks on small properties.

A Commitment to Scouting

Before I was able to make any improvements to this property, I needed to learn the topography and the way that the deer were using it. I immediately put my boots to the ground that March with high hopes of finding a few shed antlers. I did not find any sheds there that spring but I did find an abundance of sign that told me that the deer were using the property in fall and early winter.

Multiple trail cameras showed me that there was little to no deer activity in the latter months of winter. But this came as no surprise to me due to the lack of late season food and cover from harsh winter conditions. I had invested many hours and miles of scouting. Because of this, I was now able to begin improving the habitat on my parcel.

Glassing, trail cameras, and topo maps...scouting is always key to pinpointing big bucks.

Glassing, trail cameras, and topo maps…scouting is always key to pinpointing big bucks.

A Deer Motel

If you were at home asleep in your bed and someone walks into your bedroom and starts shooting, common sense says that you are not going to continue sleeping there. Deer are no different than we are. They require a sanctuary from predators both human and natural. And they also need to be protected from unpleasant weather conditions. I accomplished this by designating twenty acres of the property into a sanctuary. It is to have no human interaction. The only exceptions being to recover an animal, or make it more secure and attractive through hinge cutting. This property had little to no bedding, so I fired up the chainsaw and began dropping trees with little timber value. This opened up the canopy to the sun allowing for new undergrowth. The timber consisted of many maple and poplar trees that really only served as shade trees and no value to the deer. I opted to hinge them at chest height to create bedding areas. Cutting at this height allows the deer to get in and out of their beds with ease. My goal was to create diversity and low stress within the sanctuary. I accomplished this selective tree harvest and created conditions for a higher stem count per acre which resulted in a lot of natural browse within the bedding. The herd now has protection from all elements of weather and the ability to browse while bedding. The daily movements of the deer on my property are now much more predictable being that I know exactly where the deer are bedding, which makes it much easier to choose stand locations. Since then I have far less encounters with deer while attempting to enter or exit my stands, resulting in more encounters while in stand.

The author used several strategically placed micro plots in the middle of thick cover to draw and hold big bucks.

The author used several strategically placed micro plots in the middle of thick cover to draw and hold big bucks.

A Buffet

Steak is my favorite food but that does not mean that I want to eat it every day. I’ll admit it, the fact that the neighboring property consisted of ten plus acres of standing corn was a bit intimidating. Factor in my property had nothing but a few white and red oaks, I knew that I was going to have my work cut out for me convincing the deer to feed in my plots instead of the neighbors. I selected two different locations for my future food plots both several hundred yards away from the bedding area. I began by clear cutting a quarter acre plot in a thicket and the other plot a half acre located in the hardwoods. After clearing all debris from the forest floor, it was time for a soil test. I knew that I needed to improve the soil quality so I could get optimum tonnage per acre out of my micro plots. It’s simple really, the more forage my plots hold the longer I can attract deer throughout the season to these locations making them easier to pattern and to hunt. I needed to plant something that would be palatable during the hunting season and do well in less than desirable soil conditions. I chose a mix that consists of tillage radishes, dwarf essex rape, and purple top turnips. This combination offers attraction from September to early spring. It took me a long time to accept the fact that I would not be able to realistically hold deer on my property year round. But I figured it’s okay to let my neighbor’s agriculture fields feed them during the majority of the year, allowing my plots to reach maximum growth potential before becoming palatable. I keep my does safe and their stomach full. By providing a false sense of security to your herd the big bucks in the area will call your property home when it matters most – during hunting season.

The author has killed  wall full of nice bucks by taking advantage smaller, overlooked tracts of land.

The author has killed a wall full of nice bucks by taking advantage of smaller, overlooked tracts of land.

I have successfully employed these tactics and habitat improvements on several properties. With a solid game plan in mind and a lot of hard work, I am confident you can do the same. Good luck this fall, and be safe!


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  1. I have heard the ideal food plot acreage is 5% of the total land. It looks like you’re getting away with about half of that. Is there some reason that rule of thumb doesn’t apply here?



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