This is the number one aspect in deciding where your management plan will take you. Depending on your individual goals, your property may already be providing you with everything you desire, making an actual management plan all but completely unnecessary. Say for example that your main objective for your property is to have a place where the family can come and have fun while also providing some hunting opportunities for you. In that case, you may already have the property you seek. Being concerned with the size/age of deer and how many deer are there really doesn’t play a big role. However, if you are looking for a property dedicated to deer hunting that will consistently attract and hold mature bucks, then your management plan will be very different than the guy looking for a family recreation property. That may seem obvious, but time and again we as humans tend to dive in to things before fully thinking them through.
Where are you starting?
The first step in formulating a whitetail deer management plan is to figure out where you are starting. If you don’t know where you are, then you won’t be able to figure out what you need in order to improve your property. This process will involve a thorough scouting mission to establish where certain features are located. Do deer bed on the property? If so, where? Is there enough food on the property? Is the food a good mixture of native browse and supplemental nutrition? When scouting the property, you will need to make extensive notes on what you find and where. Make note of all trails you find along with rubs, scrapes, droppings, and tracks. Depending on the size of the property, you may want to break it up in to several sections of land. Developing your plan will be an ongoing process, changing and evolving from year to year as you get closer to your end goal. Another big thing to consider is whether or not everyone in the hunting party is on board with the new management plan. I can tell you from personal experience that formulating a plan and following through with it is a very hard thing to accomplish without the full support of each and every hunter that uses the property. This may actually be the number one factor to consider before bothering to formulate a management plan. If you lease a hunting property and the other signers on the lease aren’t on board with your improvements, you can rest assured that some sort of conflict is going to arise. Take for example the family property that I hunt on. On the 80 acres we have, two out of the three hunters with a significant influence on property rules are in agreement with having a management plan. The final and most important hunter (because their name is the one actually on the deed) really does not see the benefits of the changes being proposed by the others. Because of this, the two of us on the same page are pretty much stuck until something changes the land owners mind. In this instance, trying to implement a management plan is very difficult. The best that we can do is control what we do and try to use the rest of camp’s unwillingness to our advantage. We are looking to make mini changes to the habitat and major changes in the way we hunt until everyone is on board with a full property management plan.
To see more on my management plan, see these articles:
Once you have done a thorough scouting mission and you have all of your notes about what can and cannot be found on property, you can finally start figuring out what your property is lacking. For many, food and cover will be the number one and two lacking aspects. If you lack food, the next thing to figure out is if that food can be completely provided with native forage or if you will also need to add some food plots. For some, the best answer will come in the form of hinge cutting. The reason being that hinge cutting will accomplish both objectives in a single action. By hinging a tree, the tree will still be alive and produce lots of natural woody browse for the deer as well as create cover with all the new leaves down around deer level.
Property size adjustments
For those who don’t have hundreds or thousands of acres, you can still create and follow through with a management plan. Let’s say you have 10 acres. You have scouted every inch of those 10 acres and have figured out that you really have nothing on your property except for trails and tracks. You can still create a plan that will add food and bedding potential no matter where the property is. There is no guarantee that any improvement you make will be used by deer no matter what size your property is, so don’t think that just because you only have 10 acres you wont be able to manipulate deer as well as someone with 1000 acres. If done properly, you could potentially attract and hold (in relative terms) a mature buck on your 10 acres. Obviously you will not be able to completely control a single deer on 10 acres and expect he won’t leave, but if you can create a sanctuary for him that is secluded and offers food, water, and plenty of cover then you have a decent chance of keeping that buck on your parcel during daylight hours. And let’s face it, daylight hours are really all that matters. For those of you with hundreds or thousands of acres, I suggest breaking the property up in 40 or 80 acre sections. Then, take those sections and make sure you provide all the necessities (food, water, cover, and bedding) in each section. This will allow you to focus on one section at a time which will benefit you in multiple ways. First off, because you want to provide everything a whitetail needs within each section, you will be able to map each section out and focus on one before moving on to another. This will also help you because you can begin to hunt the finished areas so that you can see what types of things are working well and what things aren’t for when you begin working on other sections. If you set up each section as though it is it’s own parcel, you should be able to hunt each section without putting too much strain on your property as a whole.
A good plan will allow you to set up your property so that you can hunt it efficiently. Please notice that I said efficiently rather than effectively. Anyone can hunt a piece of land effectively because all that takes is harvesting a deer. To hunt efficiently means you are entering your stands during the time periods with the highest possible odds of harvest and being able to go in and out of the property without the deer ever knowing they are being hunted. If you have even as little as 10 acres, try to set up your property so that it makes deer move in a circle around your land rather than in a straight line that will inevitably lead deer off the property. A good plan will not only cover property improvements, but also deer age structure and harvest goals as well as strategies for hunting smart (tree stand entry/exit, stand location timing, etc.). Your plan must cover everything you can think of so that there are no questions left to answer.
All that is left to do now is follow through with the plan you have created. As I said earlier, start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself because you will most likely have multiple years worth of improvements to make. Also, don’t overlook making changes to the way you hunt. Make sure you are creating a situation where you can hunt almost every day of the season, yet have so little impact on the deer that they have no idea you are hunting them. Don’t expect to have a drastic change in deer sightings and size of deer that first year. If it happens, great! For many though that won’t be the case. Expect it to take a few years before you really start seeing the benefits of your changes. The deer in your area will take some time to get used to not having the same hunting pressure as you were putting on them before. The only exception to this is if your neighbors are putting a lot of hunting pressure on the deer. If so, the deer in your area just might find the peace and solitude of your parcel a little quicker. Good luck and Happy hunting!