Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Evaluating Land for Deer Hunting

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This past weekend I took advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday and the long weekend afterward to head out to the deer lease and scout out the situation, repair some blinds and stands, and work on some feeders. I'm lucky to have a decent-sized lease this year with abundant water and natural forage. But not everyone is as lucky. When searching for a good deer lease or hunting property, there are a number of considerations to be taken into account other than the cost of the property or lease.

So: what should you look for when evaluating a piece of land as potential hunting property?

Photo Courtesy JSmith Photo, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

First is food and water sources. The main attractants for deer are forage and water, and your hunting property should ideally have both. Does the land have food plots or field crops? Are there edible mast type foods such as nut-and acorn-bearing trees and bushes? What about water? Water is almost more important than food availability, especially in more arid regions. Ponds, streams, creeks, rivers and lakes will all attract deer seeking hydration.

This brings us to the next thing to search for: game trails. Scout around water sources and forage areas for game trails leading to and from the water and food. Active trails with fresh deer tracks are the best, but deer may change the areas they browse depending on what crops are abundant and whether water is fresh, so bear this in mind when you come across older tracks. For example, areas with deep and large lakes or rivers may have abundant deer during droughts, while areas with field crops may only harbor deer until the crops are harvested.

Cover is very important to deer. Dense cover from hardwoods, tall grass and thickets provide secluded areas where deer can bed down to rest, or find safe areas to breed. Cover is also a great way to keep an eye on how the yearly rut is progressing. Keep an eye on trees for rub lines and scrapes.

The size of the property will play a defining role, but even small tracts of land can bear trophy bucks if they are surrounded by the right environment. Evaluate the value of the land to deer by identifying what assets the land has to offer deer. Some tracts are ideal for cover, but offer little in the way of food or water. Others may simply have critical travel routes deer use to move between bedding areas and forage.

Another important aspect to consider is hunting pressure. Is the land you are considering surrounded by areas that are heavily hunted? If so, it may only be good hunting for a limited time, such as the first weekend of bow season.

Finally, consider the huntability of the land. If the land is nothing but open fields or thick cover with no game trails, you may not be able to find a good spot to set up. Blinds set up along frequently traveled game trails, or on the edge of a field with the wind blowing in from the field are ideal.

My scouting expedition turned out to be fortuitous, as I snuck up on an unwary doe and filled one of my doe tags, ensuring at least some deer meat in the freezer. While scouting your hunting property, keep the above tips in mind while deciding where to set up your hunt, and you will benefit from the increased likelihood of taking a nice trophy buck this season.

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