By Mark Fike
I live on the East Coast. We have to drive quite a ways to venture on property that measures in the thousands of acres and often that property is public land and either pressured by a number of hunters or due to poor habitat management as a result of litigation barring removal of timber, the habitat appears a barren wasteland in terms of wildlife. The result of this is that many dedicated eastern and suburban hunters have come to understand that the deer have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is nearby on small parcels.
In the particular county I live in, property parcels vary in acreage from tiny lots to a few hundred acres with those parcels in the few hundred-acre category getting fewer by the month, and those that remain are locked up solid for any hunting prospects. That said, the deer hunting in my county and the surrounding counties is often done on properties measuring in acreages under 50 and usually under 20 acres.
I have personally hunted on parcels that were under 10 acres and have done extraordinarily well. When I say that to people, they often think I am lying. But, let’s think about this. Do deer know or understand property lines? No, they simply go to where it is safe to eat and sleep and in the fall, breed. It does not matter to them if they are crossing eight different properties to go to the white oak tree raining down acorns.
My point is that if you live in an area where the big farms (if any are left) are locked up for hunting privileges and you feel you don’t have a place to hunt, I would encourage you to think again. One of the best places I have ever went deer hunting was on a parcel of land that was less than ten acres in size. The parcel was a no man’s land of sorts in that the surrounding property was large and hunted frequently, but not by me. One side of this property bordered a county road which meant I really had only one safe direction to shoot given the shape of the property and the size of it.
I saw deer 90% of the time I ventured onto the property and I harvest deer on this property with the same success as my sightings, and often I could take two deer at the same time or at least on the same day. I started calling the place The Meat Market. It was like going down the meat aisle of the grocery store and it had huge bucks on it too.
I did not hunt that property more than two or three times a season in order to not wear out my welcome. However, I hunted the property across the road which was broken in two parts bisected by a road too. One side had 30 acres on it and the other was 10 acres. I took equal numbers of deer on each piece and did so regularly.
When you look at a map of properties near you, don’t overlook the smaller 10-40 acre parcels. In fact, study the maps and see if there is a string of such properties that you might gain permission to hunt that back up to a stream, swamp, or river and you will then have an incredible block of properties to hunt.
My advice would be to take it step by step and work at gaining permission on one piece first and be certain to stress safety to the landowner and how you won’t take risky shots. Offer to bowhunt only the first season if that makes them feel better. Let them know you are planning on asking their neighbor for permission as well. If deer have been plaguing their garden, they may make a phone call for you. Neighbors tend to look out for each other most of the time!
For this reason, I would also not overlook subdivisions that have their parcels in blocks of 10 acres or more. Most subdivisions are not laid out in land blocks that large, but there are some and often those same homeowners are not thrilled with the deer damage to their shrubbery, gardens or flowers. Take advantage of that and help them out at the same time. Remember to try to get permission on the adjoining properties to enlarge your hunting area and head off any conflicts if you have to track a deer. I have often offered to text the property owner letting them know I was on the property and text them when I leave.
When hunting smaller properties, it is very important to be very aware of where adjoining structures are, what pets or animals the neighbors have, if their kids like to play in the woods and so on. I make a point to comment on that when I am speaking with potential landowners that might permit me to hunt. My observations put them at ease because they know I am being careful and am knowledgeable about potential situations where I should not shoot.
This is the time to start studying maps and figuring out what smaller acreages you might fill a few deer tags on this season. Remember to treat your landowner to some of the meat if you are successful and give them the best cut so they know you are appreciative. That gets you invited back again!