For monster bucks.
You can imagine what people say when I succeed at producing older age-class bucks but opt to pass slam-dunk shooting opportunities just "to see if he can make it another year." I question my own sanity sometimes, but the "real-world" education is priceless and beneficial for my chosen career as a deer-management consultant. I wouldn't have it any other way.
The Story of Blade
With that said, you will appreciate why I didn't know how to react on Dec. 2, 2013, as I approached a still warm, but expired, 7 1/2-year-old buck nicknamed Blade. I have more than 1,000 trail-camera pictures of him dating back to when he was a yearling. Food plots were planted and water guzzlers were installed just for And I passed up a slam-dunk, 15-yard shot at Blade when he was 41/2 because I was "experimenting." Blade was born the year I bought the property and was the first buck we killed that was a product of my intensive, small-property management program.
I often joked that not only was Blade an AARP member but he often parked his walker on the edge of our food plots before he gorged himself with the succulent crops. I had already punched my tag in archery season on a great 4 1/2-year-old buck, which ultimately led to my friend and cameraman, Tim Kocher, slinging lead on the Pennsylvania opener. I vividly recall the lump in my throat as I walked down my newly established logging road: infrastructure methodically designed to enhance the deer-management program on my own 95 acres of "deer dirt." I'm a typical guy who fights showing emotion, but my eyes were far from dry that day. Experiences with our passions in life tend to do that.
I was happy Tim killed the buck of a lifetime, but also disappointed Blade would no longer be on the hoof, leaving surprises behind each February in the form of dropped antlers. I recall thinking that next July will be void of the excitement of reviewing trail camera pictures to see what Blade looked like this year. Treestand observations of his bladed brow tines pushing around the spindly racks of younger bucks will never happen again. Then there are some of my favorite trail-camera pictures when Blade made repeated, daytime visits to my water guzzler, confirming my hunch that guzzlers provide a much-needed source of water during the rut. All my committed clients now incorporate water guzzlers into their management programs.
As the full gamut of emotions cycled through my mind, my breathing shallowed and my chest tightened. Tim had just killed the buck I designed my entire management plan around. I would have felt the same way had I killed Blade. If you can relate to my emotions, you're reading the right article. If consistently observing and killing more mature bucks on small properties interests you, stay with me as I share what I've learned after more than a decade of effort.
Fat & Lazy
It's increasingly common to read about a hunter targeting a particular buck as he collects birthdays and begins a downhill descent beyond maturity, but it's generally accepted these stories are not the norm, especially outside the Midwest or South Texas. However, I believe such stories can be achieved in every zip code across the whitetail's range.
My approach to developing hunting properties is simple: make deer fat and lazy by swamping them with habitat diversity I don't care if the land you hunt is a 65-acre farmette, a 220-acre chunk of mountain ground or a 900-acre woodland paradise, I'm willing to wage a fairly hefty bet that your property is lucky to be running at 50 percent of its ability to consistently produce mature bucks. This has nothing to do with your huntable acreage and everything to do with property layout. After visiting hundreds of actively managed properties, I believe most are running at 30-50 percent of maximum capacity. By maximum capacity, I'm referring to the number of 3 1/2-4 1/2-year-old bucks.
It's been my experience in managing small acreage that we can maintain at least three or four 3 1/2-year-old or older bucks for every 95 acres, and I'm never surprised when my clients report consistent observations of multiple 4 1/2-year-old bucks most years.
Border Control & Self-Control
Imagine this: your best hunting buddy calls one afternoon and says he, just gained access to a new property for this fall. The land is owned by his father-in-law's business partner and has not been hunted in at least six years. The owner of the farm raises cattle and cash crops, and even if he were interested in deer hunting, the never-ending demands of a working farm operation would never allow the time.
Looking at this scenario, there are two main factors in play. First, the owners do not hunt whitetails. By default, this leads to a buck age structure that boasts a high percentage of mature animals. Second, the property never sits unattended. The owners, caretakers or hired hands are roaming the property on a daily basis while tending to the chores. Along the way, property borders are tightly controlled.
My question is, why can't we simulate this very situation on our own hunting properties? Assuming you own, lease or have exclusive permission to patrol and hunt the property, the rest is up to you and doesn't cost a dime. The first step in my micromanagement program is simply to control your borders to eliminate trespassing and control your trigger finger by passing young bucks.
Nutritious & Delicious
I can't stress enough that a well-balanced, high-quality, year-round food plot system allows the small landowner to leverage deer from surrounding areas. Simply put, micromanaging whitetails without a food plot-program severely handicaps you.
Don't be fooled; designing, planting and maintaining high-quality, year-round food plots requires a financial commitment and takes time. However, the benefits are well worth wearing your old hunting clothes and shooting your trusty "old" bow as opposed to splurging on the latest and greatest gear. Food is truly a wonderful thing. Plant it, and during the months of October through February, local deer typically don't have any other option but to pay your all-you-can-eat buffet a visit.
Several years ago, I was determined to prove my point that deer, especially bucks, will seek surface water during the vigorous rutting months. My first few years of testing everything from shovel-dug holes to landscape pond liners didn't prove anything. My inability to provide a reliable source of untainted, freestanding water was my primary limiting factor. Then I agreed to test a water guzzler of unique design that overcame all the limiting factors I faced with my puddles. After only a few months, my suspicions were confirmed: mature bucks will consistently seek my water guzzlers during daylight hours during the hunting season.
Bucks that are busy making sign and tending does get dehydrated and seek reliable sources of water. My trail cameras prove these water breaks often occur during daylight hours when does are bedded down. Since I really don't like the idea of bucks wandering from my property in search of ponds and streams, I'd much rather meet their needs with strategically placed water guzzlers. You may think you don't need a guzzler since you have a nice stream running through your property. Have you ever hunted a stream? There are any number of crossings your target buck could use while your rear end is parked in your stand. Why not gain control over where a buck rehydrates and place your stand and water source to facilitate a broadside or quartering-away shot?
Easy on the Does
After more than a decade of working for clients who want to push their properties and themselves as managers, I see strong evidence to back off the doe harvest on small properties.
Of course, we must maintain total deer numbers at a level that allows us to achieve our goals and objectives. However, unintended doe losses and natural mortality must be accounted for when managing small properties. Although predation of adult does is typically low, unintended mortality from vehicle collisions, poaching and legal harvest by neighbors is often sufficient to keep the local deer herd in check.
I urge clients to use trail cameras to survey local population trends as opposed to following the latest doe-harvest fad. More often than not, the average landowner does not need to aggressively harvest does but should instead focus on other areas of their management program.
There are situations where a well-managed small property experiences too many mouths during some or most of the year. These clients typically manage their properties intensively but are bordered by neighbors (often larger) who refuse to kill does. As a result, the larger neighbor serves as a perennial source of does that continue to feed and breed on our micromanaged property. More micromanagers give up due to frustrations of having too many deer than those who quit simply due to lack of deer sightings.
Caption: Extreme Measures Produce Extreme Results
This daylight photo of Blade (right) was captured just a couple weeks before the buck was killed on opening day of Pennsylvania's 2013 rifle season.
Hunter Tim Kocher and Grant Snavely (below) pose with Blade, a 7 1/2-year-old buck that spent much of its life on author Jason Snavely 'S 95-acre Pennsylvania property. Snavely collected numerous sheds from this buck over the years and even passed a 15-yard shooting opportunity when the buck was 4 1/2 years old.
Despite an increased emphasis on doe harvest in recent years, author Jason Snavely says small property managers should conduct trail-camera surveys to monitor deer populations and take a conservative approach to killing does.
Author Jason Snavely poses with a mature buck taken at his 95-acre Pennsylvania property during the 2013 archery season. Snavely's micromanagement techniques have been successful in holding numerous mature bucks on his land and the properties of his Drop-Tine Wildlife Consulting clients..
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|Author:||Snavely, Jason R.|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2014|
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