Many of today’s small landowners have discovered that big bucks can be grown and harvested on small acreage. What is still being debated, however, is the best way to achieve this lofty goal and what opportunities it opens up, especially for young hunters. In the past, we were taught that you needed large tracts of land, more than 5,000 acres of contiguous land, or high-fenced operations to effectively and consistently produce quality whitetails. However, many of today’s wildlife managers and biologists have realized that you can consistently produce trophy-class bucks on small tracts of land if you manage these tracts properly.
The cornerstone of managing small tracts of land effectively is to provide everything your deer herd needs within the boundaries of your property. The basics may be obvious: adequate amounts of food, water and cover. Yet most small tracts of land lack one or more of these three components. You, as a wildlife manager and landowner, must provide these three key ingredients in order to attract, grow and keep quality bucks on your property.
One of the key ingredients in producing (and harvesting) big bucks on small tracts of land is planting small, high-quality, year-round food plots. Well-planned, strategically located food plots provide a high quality food source for deer all year long. They can also serve as an effective means of concentrating and holding deer on your hunting property. Therefore, your deer will have to travel less to feed, which lowers their chances of being harvested by your neighbors. “Holding” deer with good food, water and cover also increases your chances of “managing” to produce a good population of older-age class bucks on your property.
Small, year-round food plots should not be confused with planting a few “easy” food plots each fall. First, you need to plant high quality seeds and seed blends, such as clover, alfalfa, chicory, soybeans, and Lablab, that will produce a sufficient amount of high-protein forage to increase the body weights and antler mass on your bucks. Tecomate Wildlife Systems, the leaders in wildlife nutrition and the pioneer of intensive year-round food plots, offers a wide variety of high quality seeds and seed blends. I use the Tecomate Food Plot System for my food plots because this system works.
Secondly, you need to plant lots of small year-round plots in order to provide a sufficient amount of quality forage to attract, grow and hold these older-age class bucks on your property. Then, you will face the challenge of getting to more remote areas to plant them. Traditionally, food plots were planted in areas easily accessible to tractors and large equipment. Smaller plots require an ATV and, preferably, a do-it-all planting implement that allows you to plant the entire plot using a single machine. I prefer to use a 3-foot Plotmaster™ unit to plant my small plots. Due to its compact design and ability to do everything from disc, plow, plant and cultipack the soil, it is ideal for planting food plots in rough, hard-to-get-to places. With this set-up, you can successfully plant food plots virtually anywhere on your property including firebreaks, small openings in planted pines, cut-overs, swamps and wooded areas. These remote, isolated areas are where mature bucks spend the majority of their time.
Providing an attractive, year-round food source near a known bedding area in these remote areas is the KEY to harvesting mature bucks consistently and can only be accomplished with a set-up similar to the one described above. By locating food plots near established bedding areas, deer do not have to travel as far to feed. Mature bucks tend to feel more secure and travel more often, especially during daylight hours, in these isolated places. As a result, hunting in these areas provides a better chance of harvesting trophy class bucks during legal shooting hours. In a nutshell, you take the “food” to the deer using your ATV and a multi-use implement such as the PLOTMASTER™.
One of the best reasons to plant small plots is that it’s much easier for young and/or inexperienced hunters to harvest deer, especially mature bucks, on small food plots. Trying to make a good shot on a rut-crazed buck chasing a doe in the middle of a 40-acre soybean field can be a daunting task, even for the most seasoned hunters. Young and/or inexperienced hunters in the grip of an adrenalin rush and “buck fever” have little chance of harvesting a mature buck in that situation. Small food plots can help solve this problem by providing relatively short yardage shots at calm, standing deer. My son and daughter both harvested their first deer on half-acre plots. Both deer were taken within 75 yards and both were standing still, feeding.
When hunting with youngsters, it’s best to choose a type of enclosed stand or box blind if you can. Kids are full of energy, and deer hunting can get old quick, so it helps to pack a favorite game, iPod or book to help pass the time. Anything that keeps movement to a minimum dramatically increases your chances at harvesting a mature buck. Perhaps most important, enclosed stands keep you and your kids out of the weather and will make their outdoor experience much more pleasurable.
Spend some quality time in the great outdoors with a youngster whenever you get the chance. Whatever the circumstances, small tracts, small plots and young hunters seem to go hand-in-hand and, if you ask me, that makes all the work worthwhile. Protect the future of our great sport and take a kid hunting the next time you head to the woods.
Blaine Burley, President of Woods-N-Waters, Inc.and inventor of the PLOTMASTER™, has been growing and harvesting big bucks on small plots and tracts of land for more than two decades. While filming for “The Bucks of Tecomate” TV Show in 2007, Burley harvested one of his largest bucks ever on a small 80-acre hunting tract in Central Illinois. Plotmaster Systems, Ltd currently distributes a complete line of PLOTMASTER™ products through Independent Territory Distributors and is proud to offer USA members a 15% discount on purchases made by Sept. 15, 2010.