Steve Bartylla Sample Habitat Plan
Sample Habitat Plan
I think you have a really nice property. Frankly, I see no reason why you can’t consistently take decent to very good bucks off it. You have the cover and, assuming you are willing to work on access, can make it so you can hunt the place hard, without blowing the place up at all.
On the down side, you lack pinch points, a flow to the property and food. Right now the deer can and no doubt do travel everywhere on the property. You have what appears to be an evergreen thicket in the SE corner and a ridge point in the NW. Add in what appears to be another evergreen thicket just off your existing food plot and that’s about it for any kind of structure or edge features.
The food plot is good, but at about 3.5 acres, you don’t have enough to stop them from hitting the neighbor’s grain fields. In fact, I fear that more deer than not traveling through or living on your property are skipping that plot all together and heading straight for the grains. Odds are one, MAYBE two doe groups dominate it. Also, as it sits right now, that plot just doesn’t fit the “flow” of the property.
On the bright side, that’s fine. You don’t have to compete with the area farmers. All you have to do is slow the deer down on your place, encourage them to follow a beneficial flow, try to get them to stage on you and pinch their movements some, to make them more killable. All of that can be accomplished pretty effectively, and most of it with sweat equity.
Sample Habitat Plan
It will take some time and effort, but I see no reason at all that you can’t get to the point of dragging 3.5+s off that ground more years than not. Depending on how much of this you do and can get done in the first year. I see this being a 3-5 year project. By the end, you should be taking the big boys as more years than not.
For priorities, I’d do the black access trails first, the blockade screens second and food plots third, adding the water holes with the plots. I’d next get the tree plantings done and create the two blockades through the timber. Finally, I’d make the hinge cut bedding areas and wrap up by creating the “sidewalks.” From that point on, it’s all maintenance. None of your blockades are going to last forever. They will require yearly maintenance to effectively encourage and discourage deer movements. Your “sidewalks” will require the same, as will the food plots and such. I laid out a fairly ambitious plan.
Now, before I get into specifics, I must stress that I’ve historically been able to get someone 60-80% of the way home with photo evals. I base this off of always doing photo evals before any on site consultation. The clients never realize this, but I always have a tentative plan before ever stepping foot on a property. When I’m on that property, I’m trying to prove each aspect of my plan wrong, while also trying to pick up on anything I may have missed that could be taken advantage of.
Sample Habitat Plan
Even if I don’t change a thing, I always subtract 20% off the top in the grading formula I give myself for photo evals, as it’s generally not possible to pick individual trees off of a photo, only areas for stands. At the same time, I can’t account for subtle shifts to pick up a little extra movement or go over how this tree needs cover added or needs to be oriented in this direction to maximize concealment and such. In my book, not being able to address those issues results in an off the top 20% hit. So, even worse case, I’m not saying 40% of what I tell you will be wrong.
However, and I can’t stress this enough, your feet are on the ground, not mine. I can make educated guesses off of photos and contour maps and be pretty accurate the majority of the time. Still, about half the time I do the onsite consultations, I change something I had in the preliminary photo plan. It is up to you to determine if each aspect of the plan makes sense. If you believe something doesn’t, trust yourself, as you know far more about the property than I, based off of studying your answers and images. My job is to make educated guesses, based on the intel you have provided me with. Your job is to make sure each one makes sense before you implement each of them.
At the same time, don’t be the least bit hesitant to make minor adjustments to account for things I may have missed. For example, I tried to stop the access along the south about 20 yards before the creek you have drawn in, as deer most likely already naturally follow it. The creek is supposed to make up the north side of the food plot, where I have you planting apple trees, with the “sidewalk” and bedding areas on the north side of the creek. If the creek doesn’t have a hard bank, and is a little swampy instead, don’t hesitate to push that food plot south to get to solid ground. Virtually everything can be shifted one way or another, without hurting the overall plan.
Currently, your access isn’t good. It’s one of the main problems I see. However, with the way the property lays, it can be greatly improved.
One of the first things you’ll probably notice are the black access lines running mostly down the West and East sides of the property. I envision you bringing in a dozer operator to do it. Anywhere in the Midwest, I can get someone to run a dozer for me for between $70-$100 an hour. For a skilled operator, he can get those roads, food plots and pond in, in less than two days’ work. It’d probably take me four days, myself. When renting a dozer to use myself, I can get them for between $50-$75 an hour.
Assuming you have this done, have the operator push everything to the blockade side. That will help create the blockade and reduce your work.
Now, if the dozer just isn’t an option, you most likely can clear the access trails with a chainsaw. That will really take a lot of time and a ton of effort, though. If you feel your time is worth anything, you’d be money ahead getting a dozer.
This access one of the biggest keys. It will allow you to drop down the East side with winds coming anywhere out of the West and West side with winds anywhere out of the East. Yes, this will blow your odors into your neighbors and may possibly spook deer on them that may have come on you. In my book, GREAT! Left your neighbor’s deer get spooked. That happens enough, while almost never blowing odor into your ground, and it only takes so long for them to decide to move to where it’s “safe,” and that’s on you.
Follow that approach religiously. Always hunt the side the wind tells you to. I made a “fun little place” to hunt on your north end. That’s a throw away spot where you can just have fun hunting and slip in when you are short of time. It also works well for south winds.
You also may want to try to get in good with the Carlsons. It’d be REALLY nice if you could convince them to be able to use their road to access the SW corner of your property. If it was me, I’d even be willing to offer them some pretty serious $ to grant me a legal easement (It’d be worth 2K to me, personally, but that’s your call). You could then put in a gate at the SW corner and be able to have killer access for that south plot and stand off the end of the access road/screening blockade.
Speaking of which, you’ll notice I stopped that access road and the one on the East side, preventing you from having a complete route. I also left that SE quadrant unimproved. I did so for several reasons.
The first is that it already appears to be in moderate to thick evergreens. I’d just as soon leave that alone, as it offers good diversity on its own, decent to great holding power and thermal cover for winter.
Also, your trespassing issues came from that area. One way to help stop trespassing is not to gift wrap opportunities for them. Food plots and access roads rarely discourage trespassers. Since they’ve been on you down there before, odds are that they’ll do a little exploring and find any improvements in that immediate area. At least as it is laid out, they have to work harder to get to where you’ve improved, and they would be pushing deer deeper onto you to get there.
Finally, if you don’t do it already, I’d suggest taking odor control very seriously. Doing that helps make up for a few sins.
First, I’m not pretending I marked every good potential stand on the property. No doubt there are more. What I marked are the ones that jump out at me or I wanted to create to take advantage of access and funneling. Don’t disregard other potential stands, just because I may not have a dot in that area. Also, just because I have a dot somewhere doesn’t mean it will be a great spot. They “should” be, but should and reality aren’t always the same. Feel free to shift the dots a bit to take advantage of anything I can’t see, as well.
I’m confident that the improvements I suggest will improve access, IF you have the desire and ability to do them. Still, they’ll only do so much. I’d put it something in the area of taking access from a 3 to an 8, on a scale of 1-10. That jump is huge and, in my opinion, well worth the effort. However, it isn’t a cure all.
The trick to making that work will be how you hunt the property, as I already laid out in the access section. No matter what you do out there, if you are going to hunt the place, you are going to spook some deer at times. As I said, when the screening matures it will help significantly, but you will still bump some deer.
Also, by far your highest impact stands are those I put on your existing food plot. I would only hunt them in the afternoons and would hope the deer move off by dark. I’d also save them for when things are rocking and the weather is prime or when your scouting cams tell you a big boy is there and ripe for the picking.
Speaking of the existing food plot, the stands in the SW corner should be good all day sits and are the only two I’d consider hunting in the morning on the existing food plot. With the way I ran the “sidewalk” near that SW inside corner, you should get cruising activity there, as well as deer coming to the food plot (the stands off the ends of the access roads are also prime for cruising activity). I also envision the north stand on the northern most new food plot on the West side and both stands on the southern most plot to be positioned to cover both the plots, as well as the “sidewalks” paralleling the plots for cruising.
Also, each stand should be good for both bow and gun hunting. That said, for firearms stands, those two on the power line could be a lot of fun.
You take the outlined approach and having an 8 rating on access is definitely workable. Also, by setting aside most cover as sanctuary, you are further telling the deer they’re fine if you bump them. After all, they take a couple jumps into cover and they aren’t ever getting pushed around in there. It won’t take them long to start feeling safe. Everywhere that doesn’t have access or stands is a sanctuary.
I wouldn’t worry much about disturbing things when running cams. So long as you are only doing this once every 2-3 weeks and time these trips for late morning, after the deer have left the food sources. They will tolerate the sound and odors of your truck or ATV just fine, assuming you stay out of the cover. After all, they’re back where they now feel safe.
Speaking of cams, the little watering holes should be very good locations for keeping tabs on your deer, as should the food plots.
What to Plant:
I’m going to leave what specifically to plant 100% up to you. I put all the new food plots in as white, the color I use for clover, but I wouldn’t put them all in clover. You already know what works best for you in NY. I don’t. I can sure give some suggestions when we talk, but they will be based on what works best in the Midwest and I can’t/won’t promise they will be best for you.
What I would suggest would be to diversify your plantings. Based on your belief that you have too many deer, about the only place you could probably get grain to work would be in the existing plot, and even planting the entire thing in grain may not be enough, though over seeding the grain with brassicas, cereal rye and bin oats may make it workable, or would at least help. If you go that route, I’ve had good luck with 3 parts cereal rye to 1 part bin oats, broadcast at about 50lbs an acre, with 1 lbs dwarf essex rape, 1 lbs purple top turnips and 1 lbs tillage radish per acre.
We can discuss this and come up with a good rotation.
Red dots = stand locations.
Thick Black lines = access roads, also used for stand access.
Thin Black Lines = 28” wide paths cut through screen blockades to funnel deer.
Black dots = “planted” scrape trees (see extra pictures), 20-30 yards from stand, depending on comfortable shooting range. Be sure to dig at least 2.5 feet deep, 3 being better, and pack the dirt around them good and tight. Point licking branches toward stand. It’s good for the tree to be “bushy,” but don’t hesitate to cut limbs on opposite side from stand that will liking be used for licking branches. You are trying to position deer for the shot as much as draw them to that location. Hardwoods hold up better and longer than softwoods. I’ll be sending images showing the planting and use.
Blue dots = water holes. One can use rubber tubs used for watering cattle, buried snuggly to lip, with about 3” of dirt in bottom and place a stick in each for rodents to use to climb out. You can also use a dozer or backhoe to dig small water holes (about 10’ in diameter, 3-5’ deep). Positioning either to collect runoff helps, but sure not 100% necessary in your case. You seem to be in a generally wet area and likely have a very high water table. They may dry out every once in a while, but that’s OK. You can even haul in water to fill them, if you’d like. I suspect you are questioning why you even want little water holes, with water already on the property. Trust me on this one. You won’t be disappointed.
Thick light green lines = hinge cutting for deer travel corridors. During dormancy, cut around waist height, at a 45 degree angle, between 40-70% through. The less you cut the better the odds of the trees living. On small trees, you can often cut 40% of the way through and pull them over, which is great for their survival rates. However, on larger trees, don’t stop cutting until the tree begins to fall. Always wear chaps, helmet with face shield, leather/hide based gloves and steal toed boots. Also, never try to get a tree of any real size to fall away from the lean. If you don’t feel comfortable cutting a tree, don’t do it. Always error on the side of caution and follow all chainsaw safety recommendations. It’s just not worth the risk.
This is the approximately 28” wide “sidewalk” I have been referring to. It provides the deer with both cover and easy walking. Beginning at the center “sidewalk” drop all trees for 10’ out on both sides. When possible, drop them perpendicular to what will become the center 28” wide sidewalk, but, again, NEVER fight the tree lean or cut trees that make you the least bit uncomfortable. If they fall across the “sidewalk,” you can always cut a path. When some fall parallel, no worries. One just wants a good share perpendicular to encourage walking on the center “sidewalk,” as well as to allow them to have numerous on and off ramps for this “sidewalk.”
When done, the swat should be about 22.5’ wide, with a 28” trail down the center. The trail can be created and maintained through pruning and a backpack spray filled with Roundup or a generic equivalent. One may even use a gas powered weed eater or mower to create/maintain the trail, if they so choose. The real trick is just to simultaneously supply the cover to provide the illusion of safety, while also making it as easy walking as on a “sidewalk.”
Thin green lines = two blockades running generally East/West. These blockades should be just wide enough to successfully discourage deer from crossing. Hinge trees from chest to waist level to accomplish this. Try to drop them along the blockade, but don’t fight tree lean.
Green Ovals With Grey Dots = hinge cut bedding areas. I try to make these a third to a half acre in size. The grey dots are ten-fifteen yard diameter openings inside that are at least fairly open. Does prefer to bed in the openings within hinge cut areas. Just play the tree lean hinge the trees at chest level, allowing them to fall where ever. At chest level, there’s plenty room for them to walk underneath them. You can try to make a ring with the trees around the openings or just remove the trees from the opening. It’s up to you whether to make them a third or half acre, as it doesn’t matter. I just tend to put one opening in the third acre areas and two in the half acre areas, but you rarely hold more than one family group in each anyway. I didn’t mess with any buck beds, as the only time I use them is when trying to shift a buck from one location to another, and I see no reason to here.
Thick green lines = spruce plantings for screens around “fun” northern plot and dividing existing plot. Space spruce 12’ apart and offset rows. I’d suggest 3 rows. I’m dividing your existing plot to encourage more deer use. With it all being open, dominant bucks or individual family groups of does don’t play as well together. Also, once they grow up, bucks will have to inspect all three areas, instead of checking the plot with one look, increasing the odds of a shot.
Red bands on food plots = Apple tree plantings. I suspect you’re already comfortable planting fruit trees, due to the great threads regarding that on the QDMA forum. So, I’ll just suggest that you make sure to get at least 3 varieties of apple trees: early, medium and late dropping. That way you extend the period of time you have apples on the ground.