Do You Need a Deer Sanctuary?
Yes! At least, if you want mature deer to spend any significant amount of time on your property. This is especially true for mature bucks. It’s not hard to come up with areas on your property that can become a deer sanctuary. First, any area that you can’t get in to without spooking deer should immediately become a deer sanctuary area. If you are spooking deer, then you need to find a new access route in. If the deer that you are spooking are bedded down, then you either need to create better bedding somewhere else or again, find a new access route. A bedded down deer is the worst deer to spook out. When you spook a deer that is bedded down, you are spooking a deer that lives ON your property. Those are the deer you want to avoid spooking at all costs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a doe family group, a young buck, or a big mature buck. Why? Because does bring in bucks during the rut, young bucks turn in to big bucks, and if it’s a mature buck you bumped out of it’s bed, you can bet you won’t likely find him bedded down there again.
What Is a Deer Sanctuary?
Basically, it’s simply an area that you do everything in your power to avoid disturbing, especially during hunting season. The main goal on your property is to allow the deer to feel safe. The best way to make them feel safe is to provide plenty of bedding areas that you treat as sanctuaries. During the hunting season, these areas should not be entered unless you are tracking a deer. Outside of the hunting season, you should still avoid these areas unless you are going in to make improvements or do some shed hunting. The more you can leave these areas alone, the better. Another key aspect of having a deer sanctuary is cover. You can’t take a wide open field and say “this is my sanctuary”. It’s great if that is where all of your deer bed, but most likely that’s not the case. This is especially the case during the summer months. Just like you aren’t likely to be found laying in the middle of thick grass where there is no breeze and the sun is beating down on you full strength, you aren’t likely to find a deer there either. They are in the woods where there is an overhead canopy. During the hunting season (which is when it really matters) deer are also going to be in the timber, thick timber. Find an area with a high stem count that’s next to food. If you leave that area alone, that is where you will find the does. If the area is big enough and thick enough, you can also find bucks bedding close to the edges of it.
Where Should Your Deer Sanctuary Be?
Anywhere you expect deer to be bedding is the first place I would suggest. If you have a thicket right next to a food source, immediately leave it alone for a while and does will take it over. If you continuously bump them out of there, then it’ll just be a travel route to the food source (maybe). If you have no thick areas of timber, create them. All it takes is one of a couple choices. First, hinge cutting has become very popular these days because you are able to fully control the changes made and therefore have more control of how the deer use the area. Another option (if you aren’t sold on the hinge cutting idea, or just don’t have the time) is to have a forester come in and do some TSI (Timber Stand Improvement). It’s a win/win situation for you. You get to determine what trees they are and aren’t allowed to take out, what areas of your property they are allowed to take trees from, and on top of all of that, you get paid for them to come and do it! When creating a new sanctuary, keep in mind your hunting access routes. The last thing you want to do is to start encouraging your deer to bed right next to your access trails to your treestands.
When we first started making “improvements” on our family farm, we didn’t know anything about what we were doing. Our main access road for both hunting as well as equipment is basically right down the center of our property and twists and turns all throughout it. We thought it was great because now we could get our ATV and tractor almost all the way to the other side of our (at the time) 75 acres. What we didn’t really realize is that we had essentially made it so we ruined half the property as we walked in depending on which way the wind was blowing. Not only that, but at the time we didn’t think anything of the wind when we went to hunt. But, the property was also far less pressured because it had only been gun hunted for a long time. So, deer never really had a chance during our early years, which was when we killed some of the best deer to date. When we first heard about sanctuary areas, we took a small little corner of the property and said that would be our area because it was a cedar thicket that we couldn’t really walk through anyway. In recent years with much more information out and available, we are starting to look at ways that we can take what we’ve done and make actual improvements that will help our hunting. Deer sanctuary areas are just a small part of the overall property habitat management plan. Remember, the main point of adding deer sanctuary areas to your property is to provide thick cover so the deer feel safe and you aren’t putting pressure on them. The major added benefit to this is that if you add deer sanctuary areas, you now know exactly where your deer are when the pressure gets turned up during the hunting season. If you make all of these areas in natural bedding areas, then that’s one step further to knowing exactly where your deer are when you are trying to access your favorite stand. Happy Hunting!