Habitat plan study
The attached image is from a previous long term management client’s ground. As with many, many areas that deer call home, it just wasn’t setup well at all for low impact, high odds hunting.
The problems were multiple, but one of the biggest was that the movement was too random. Bedding was scattered all over the wooded flat and, though trails were virtually everywhere, there wasn’t that 1 or 2 spots where everything came together. The closest to that location was the crotch of the thumb (the military crest of the ridge outline looks like an upside down glove), but there was no safe wind and getting in and out undetected was impossible. Which leads to the another big problem. There was no way to hunt anything decent in a low impact manner.
Another complication was that the field is enrolled in a bird program that doesn’t allow the outer bands of the field to be planted in food plots. So, that eliminated tucking food into any of the field coves, which would have been a decent option for producing higher odds, lower impact hunting than they had.
So, here’s what I did:
Step 1 was locating tress that offered safe wind directions, that could be accessed and departed in the lowest impact the ground provided. They were the 2 stand pins you see on the photo. The north stand would blow odors into the steep valley to the north with any S wind. The south stand would blow into the valley to the S on and N wind.
Step 2 was figuring out a way to take those 2 “meh” stand locations and making them great. Sure, some deer came out by both stands, but more came out at other locations scattered along that edge.
Here’s how that was overcome. I brought a dozer in and made a 15-20 yard wide kinked horseshoe through the woods. Some of the bigger trees I cut out with a chainsaw (when doing so, I cut at shoulder height, so I could use U nails (fence post nails) to easily nail lick branches to them, as well as have the high stumps offer a little cover, yet minimal shade. I left a few oaks in the opening for extra cover and increased acorn production (removing the competing trees amps acorn production). This opening would be planted in 3 parts cereal rye, 1 part oats that first year and then frost seeded into closer that winter. As mentioned, I used a small dozer, but all of that could have also been done w a chainsaw and sweat equity.
To encourage deer traveling the horseshoe, I put around 15-20 lick branches along and right in the opening. I also included minor zigs and zags to cut down how far the deer could see down the opening (encouraging the bucks to walk the entire thing to check for does or competing bucks). Ideally, you want them to be able to see 40-50ish yards between slight corners, so they don’t feel trapped or like they are wasting too much time zigging and zagging for no good reason. Though I didn’t show it on the drawing, I also buried water troughs on the opposite side of the openings from the stands. By blockading off the back sides, they gave good shot angles at any deer drinking. I also made 2 mock scrapes by each stand, going the full 9 yards with drippers filled with Golden Scrape.
That’s all great and would help a ton, but still not good enough. to take it another step, I edge feathered (hinge cut from knee to chest level) a 5 yard band of trees along the entire field edge, following the back side of the clover horseshoe. Doing that would hide the field and clover horseshoe from the woods, helping to hide us and other deer from those in the woods (reduce social stress, as well as force bucks to bird dog harder to find does and competition).
Deer could still pop out between the stands, though. So, I created what we’ll call a tornado zone on the woods inside of the horseshoe. I hinge cut every tree inside that I safely could, only from knee to waist level. I liked the idea of does having a place to head when being chased, hide fawns and also get extra woody browse if they really needed it, but I wanted it to be a real pain to get through. In other words, you best have a really, really good reason to try to go through it, as doing so will be a big time hassle. With that, we had safe winds and extremely effective pinch points by both stands. Deer just weren’t popping out anywhere but at the entrance/exit to the horseshoe.
To further increase the bedding draw of an already good bedding location, as well as further increase woody browse production, I created the 6 hinge cut (all chest level) doe bedding areas on the W sides of the clover horseshoe, but I left the points alone for bucks. I also planted miscanthus as a screen from the neighbor’s along the field. I didn’t show it, as it’d get too messy, but I ran that Miscanthus screen (2 offset rows, 3′ spacing) parallel to the woods, just a bit wider than the Bush Hog. That way, hunters could slip between the edge feathering and miscanthus on their way in and out, to hide themselves from any deer in the woods or field.
To say it worked ridiculously well would be an understatement (vids and pics are just a few of the decent ones I captured from the openings on each end).
There are several points to all of this:
When you control the ground, don’t settle for decent-good setups. MAKE great ones.
There are a whole bunch of tools we can use to improve our ground/hunting. Don’t use just one or try to use them all. Instead, use the ones that work best for that specific situation.
Always start by selecting trees with the lowest impact that can be made to work and design your improvements around making those spots better (lower impact and higher odds) .