Habitat Improvements to the BowstandJune 25, 2014 - Whitetail Habitat Solution’s Jeff Sturgis
The average parcel size of the client’s land I visit falls somewhere in the range of 80-100 acres. However, during the past 10 seasons of parcel visits I have scouted over 100 whitetail habitats from 8 to 40 acres while completing my site visits. One of the strategies that I feel is critical for a small parcel is to develop a design that allows those acres to appear much larger than they really are. A 20 acre parcel can feel like 40 acres, by creating multiple layers of diverse habitat improvements, long linear food plot creations and maximizing the efficiency of the overall % of acres working to house, move and feed deer. At the end of the day, using as much diversity that can be sandwiched into a small package of complimentary improvements is an outstanding strategy to employ. But there is another important piece of the puzzle! The improvements that you create, should encourage deer to travel within your parcel borders, and not off of them.
In 2010 I had the privilege of visiting an outstanding Midwest deer parcel. Fields of native grass, food plots, and high quality bedding areas filled the parcel but as the visit turned towards the North border the landowner’s mood suddenly shifted from pride and excitement, to frustration. A neighbor’s deer stand could easily be seen within 30 yards of my client’s fence-line, and he was clearly taking advantage of a well-worn deer trail that headed directly to him.
*Great bedding areas (orange), native grasses (yellow) and a high quality food plot (green) all combine to create a hotspot of deer movement! The only problem, the most central and important source of attraction is pointed directly at the neighbor’s stand. When deer exit from the bedding areas on either side of the food plot, they have a 50% chance they will feed in the wrong direction, placing them directly under the neighbor’s stand location that is positioned within a quality funnel of deer movement
Depending on the State I visit fencesitting is sometimes common, and other times it is completely despised of in favor of a more neighborly unwritten buffer. But sometimes you have to consider, “are the improvements that I am working so hard to insall, re-inforcing my own stand locations or my neighbors?” There are 3 basic practices that I would like you to make sure are included in your own whitetail designs so that you not only keep the deer moving towards your own stand locations, but within bowrange as well!
1. Long and Narrow Food Plots
Food plots, in particular have the ability to offer a high source of attraction. Often, food plots become over-hunted and begin to establish a reputation by the local deer herd that encourages them to only appear under the cover of darkness. But even if the deer only appear after dark, they still appear. If you establish a quality food plot that offers a consistent food source throughout the hunting season, the fact that deer will eventually arrive is a given. However, managing that attraction is the most difficult part of food plotting.
One of the most important aspects of managing the attraction of your plot is reflective of the overall shape and size of the plot that you install. Plots that are round, square, large and open can be a great attraction but typically that attraction can come from anywhere surrounding the food source that bedding cover is present. However, when you take that same amount of food plot space, narrow it down and then lengthen it you can create both a highly defined attraction and definition of movement. When a deer approaches to feed on a food plot that is long and narrow they have a choice of moving right, or left. At times a deer will feed down and back, but often instead deer will exit or enter the end of the plot while traveling to or from a high quality bedding area, a larger food source, or even a deer travel corridor.
When you “aim” your food plot towards another high quality attraction of food, cover or travel the deer will follow the line of deer movement that you have defined. The more that you define movement, the easier it is to choose a stand location, as well as how you as a bowhunter will access that stand location without spooking deer.
*By using long, narrow food plots you can offer a very high definition of travel. The more narrow and less open aspect of the plot will also help you to hide deer from your movements while hunting, as well as to give mature bucks a greater sense of security while traveling during the hours of daylight.
2. Definition by Corridor
It is hard to find a greater habitat improvement for defining deer movement for the bowhunter than a chain-sawed travel corridor! I like to use the saw to form a gentle encouragement, by creating waste-high hinge cuts of small to medium diameter trees perpendicular to the deer trail. By “gentle” I mean subtle and porous, so that a deer can escape through either side if needed, without having to crash through a cattle shoot of logs and debris. If you really want to take your corridor to the next level, a DR brush trimmer can be used to keep the corridor clean, and herbicide can be applied to make sure that the deer trail is firm, clean, and highly recognizable to the local deer herd.
* Hinging trees away from the deer trail and clearing all logs, brush and debris along the corridor can define deer movement in a hurry, especially when it connects daytime bedding to food. The addition of a waterhole or mineral station (where legal) can greatly enhance the value of the movement.
3. Complimentary Habitat Positioning
Narrow food sources and chain-sawed travel corridors are great habitat features that you can create to help you narrow down a location to hang a bowstand. However, when you combine both techniques together to form long lines of deer movement, you can effectively build the potential for multiple stand locations on your own land, and not your neighbors. The resulting deer travel and use will often flow parallel to your borders, instead of perpendicular, which greatly lowers the value of a neighbor’s oportunistic stand location
*A simple rotation of a long narrow food plot, along with the addition of chainsawed travel corridor (yellow) can effectively set the table for several stand locations (red) that can be used with a variety of wind directions, as well as both morning (away from food) and evening (closer to food) stand set-ups.
A collection of improvements working together can create a complex, but highly defined level of diversity that gives your small parcel the appearance of being “big”. No improvement should be random on your parcel, but instead should work within a coohesive movement that facilitates movement across and within your entire parcel, and not off of your parcel. And what about your potentially oportunstic neighbor? Sometimes the best compliment that he can give to you is, “where did all the deer go?”
Jeff Sturgis has been hunting whitetail deer without guides or outfitters in several states, on public and private lands, since 1985. In 1996 Jeff planted his first food plot and began making habitat improvements in pursuit of quality herds that included mature bucks. In 2004 Jeff received the Al Brothers Deer Manager of the Year Award from the Quality Deer Management Association, and in 2005 he founded Whitetail Habitat Solutions, LLC. Jeff is a full-time whitetail habitat and hunting designer, writer, and enjoys the challenge of teaching dozens of clients each year throughout the country how to experience their optimum level of whitetail success. Learn more at http://www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com/books/