Close Quarters – Hunting Small Tracts
As I started the 150-yard trek back to the cabin from the gate, I noticed something standing up on the small hill. It couldn’t have been more than 40 yards from the house. As I focused, I saw a racked buck – a rare sight on this piece of property. Realizing that just moments ago I must have passed right by him lying in the brush bordering the yard area, I stood there amazed. The buck, though not real mature, looked to be a slick 8 pointer sporting long tines. I estimated him at three years old. He was too young to shoot but had enough positive traits to make him a nice buck in a year or two. I watched as he darted across the road into a neighbor’s brush line. Being an avid bow hunter, I continued to think of the buck throughout the week. I rarely hunted this property, but perhaps I should rethink it.
Our modest 30-acre tract in the Texas Brazos Valley was typically set up as a recreational property – a place to get away with the family. For years I occasionally kept feeders up, monitored trail cams, and even hunted. There were deer on the place but certainly not a lot. Though it is rural, there are quite a few small tracts around me and pressure from people. Further, there was evidence that the area had its share of poachers and night hunters. Bucks are all-too-often shot well before maturity in these parts, which makes it even worse.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the vision of the promising buck. After all, with the current cost of hunting properties, the prospect of hunting this little diamond-in-the-rough started to seem like a no-brainer. Yes, I now was invested.
Deer Sign and Hunting Potential
If I was going to hunt there in the fall, I needed to survey the property and come up with a game plan in short order. I needed to determine the tract’s deer hunting potential. I was familiar with it but decided to cover it more thoroughly to search for bedding areas, traffic patterns, rubs, and other signs. I also studied satellite views of not only my property but neighboring ones. Overhead views can reveal a lot of useful intel, such as possible sanctuaries and funnel locations.
Like many small parcels, this place mainly serves as a transition area with groups of deer intermittently traveling through. Nonetheless, there were plenty of signs throughout the area. I had roughly two months before bow season started, so I filled the feeders and dusted off the game cameras. Additionally, I erected a tree stand and built a ground blind near the feeding area. I would ultimately choose which set up to hunt based on the direction of the wind. I started putting out minerals and other deer attractants to further maximize traffic. I would limit my entry into this area as much as possible – at most, every three weeks. In this case, I had little time to prepare. However, there are many things to take into account when considering hunting a small piece of property. Here are a few more basic tips:
Try to Stay Optimistic
Don’t be discouraged if your scouting indicates that bucks very rarely live on your property but travel through it at times. This can be an advantage, as they will be harder to spook than resident deer. This can change in a hurry, and you may be glad to have an abundance of does the closer you get to the rut.
Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome
Sorry to insult your intelligence, but making the deer that visit your property feel secure is integral to success. To the extent possible, keep it quiet. If the property is used for activities other than hunting, such as walking the dog and 4-wheeling, so be it. Know that it will likely be detrimental to your hunting success. Just remember that, unlike on larger properties, whitetails don’t have the needed space and buffers on small tracts. If you keep pushing them away, they may not return. You might even consider asking neighbors if you can enter your land from their property. Depending on wind direction and the layout of the land, this might help to avoid spooking your prey. If your goal is to shoot deer, that’s fine. However, don’t forget quality deer management. Overhunting small tracts will ruin them fast.
Put Eyes in the Woods
Though we’re talking about micro-property here, you still can’t be everywhere at once. Embrace technology and use trail cameras. When well-placed, cameras will not only inventory your herd but show and verify travel patterns. At a minimum, this will pay huge dividends regarding stand placement. Like with all trips to the field, keep pressure to a minimum by limiting your frequency and being as scent-free as possible. For example, carefully take wind direction into account, use scent eliminators, and wear rubber boots.
As mentioned, it’s hard to maintain deer on small properties. This is largely because, from a habitat perspective, it’s challenging to provide everything the deer need. Though your small property may not offer it all (e.g., water and good cover), you can at a minimum provide a food source. It stands to reason that you need every edge possible to draw deer to your little piece of the whitetail woods. If possible, provide food that is not found anywhere else in the area. A well-placed food plot is always a good idea. Also, if legal in your area, put out free choice or automatic feeders, roasted soybeans, or protein blocks. This will not only attract free-ranging deer but will provide valuable nutrition for your herd, whatever the size.
Once you’ve scouted your property and have at least a rough idea what deer are around and their travel patterns, it’s important to remember that deer activity on a small place can be extra fragile. Don’t forget to employ the basics you’ve learned in the past such as not over-pressuring your hunting area and controlling scent. With patience, proper planning, and common sense, your “ranchette” just might yield a buck to be proud of.
No, I didn’t harvest a buck that season, but I enjoyed several enjoyable hunts complete with deer sightings. I could certainly do a lot worse with my time.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His articles cover a variety of topics about hunting and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. He was introduced to hunting and fishing at an early age and has been enjoying it for 40+ years. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.