Do you hunt The Spot?
By Bob Coine
How much land is necessary for a reasonable opportunity at harvesting a mature buck? I have asked this question many times to both the frustrated and highly successful hunters. Typically, a large amount of acreage is the answer from the less successful sportsman. Further follow up with the frustrated individual discussing hunters who are consistently successful anchoring mature bucks invariably leads to the statement "John Doe is lucky, he's got the spot". I have heard this dismissive statement so often I almost feel as if I am Pavlov himself, spending quality time with his pooch doing stimulus-response research!
Let's examine what constitutes the spot for our uninformed friends. Typically, the spot is a mystical geographic location that for whatever reason always produces a wallhanger. It is usually located fairly close to this person's hunting area, and someone else always occupies the spot. It's that simple, you need the spot, otherwise you might as well shoot the first, second or third yearling buck that happens by, because this individual just doesn't have the spot.
Funny thing though, sometimes the spot follows certain hunters no matter which piece of property they happen to be hunting at the time.
Let's also listen to our typical successful hunter as he replies to the identical inquiry. The response is fairly simple on its face, but also extremely complex as we dissect and probe for further responses. The typical response is not as much land as you would think.. In the words of a young lady I once knew, "it's not what you've got, but how you use it". How right she was... This statement was never intended to be applied to hunting property, but it is right on the mark. Incredible amounts of acreage aren't the answer on this side of the fence, but how you use it is.
Just what does "use it" entail. Well, first and foremost envisioning the big picture is where it all begins. Most parcels of land are but a speck on the local map. And since we no longer are making land, these specks are getting smaller and smaller, as land gets sold in ever shrinking parcels to increase the return to the seller. As a larger parcel transforms into several smaller parcels, hunter density usually increases. In most cases initially this situation breeds trepidation among the resident hunters.
But is it really something to be feared? I guess it depends on how small the parcels are. In the case of ¼ acre lots and five hundred houses, yes it is devastating. However when large farms becomes many small farms the answer in most cases is no, provided like minded individuals occupy most of the land. Notice I said most, not all. Let's take a closer look a real world example in my neck of the woods, Whitetail Paradise.
One of my neighbors who has seen parcels become smaller over time is Lane Adamson. Now understand his landholding consists not of vast acreage, but slightly more than 80 acres. Lane put it this way. "The biggest change in the twenty years I have been here is there are a lot more hunters. There are a lot more hunters than ever before, but the herd keeps growing and getting better." I asked Lane why he believes our little speck on the map, Whitetail Paradise, produces the number of quality deer each year that it does. Lane replied, "One reason I believe is some people take the time to manage it and help the deer along, and I think that's a real plus."
Whitetail Paradise is the name I attach not just to my farm, but to all of the properties adjoining or very close to mine where individuals apply portions of the QDM philosophy. Please note I have qualified the previous statement with the word portions.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of getting to know my neighbors, and have found that most share the same passion for wildlife as I do. Some are hunters some are not, but they do allow hunting on their properties. Topographically we all have property with similar traits, slightly rolling land along with some flat bottomland. Scattered woodlots are the norm, with few timbers exceeding 100 acres in size. A few of us are habitat loco, diligently working to improve our properties for the benefit of wildlife in the off season. Grain food plots are planted, legume stands are nurtured. Additional security cover is provided and maintained through the planting and burning of native grasses. Timber stand improvement is a priority on but a few properties.
So why wouldn't the moniker Whitetail Paradise apply to all neighboring properties if the land itself is so similar and no high fences are maintained? It all comes down to in my opinion the most important tenet of the QDM philosophy, hunter management. You can do habitat work, plant food plots till the cows come home, and still end up with disappointment for results without hunter management.
I have mostly non-deer hunting neighbors who do allow hunting on their properties. Now these are absolutely awesome looking parcels of varying sizes. Several of these properties host non-selective hunters and will shoot button bucks or yearlings without a second thought. Some have very high hunter density. On one property with the most hunters, vehicles are driven across the property in lieu of walking to and from a stand. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with a disabled or elderly hunter driving to a stand, or hunting from a vehicle with a proper permit, but young able bodied men? Combine these and other factors, and the concept of Whitetail Paradise fades in a hurry on these parcels.
There are occasions that we use vehicle traffic to actually help our hunting though. Occasionally we will call for a "pick-up" when there are deer feeding close to an occupied deer stand, with the belief that a "bump" from a vehicle is less of a threat to the deer than a hunter getting busted upon departure.
Friends and neighbors who have actively participated in building Whitetail Paradise hunt the balance of the lands adjacent. Some own the land they hunt while others do not. Some have performed habitat work, while others have not. Some put effort into planting nutritional food plots while others don't. However, the folks who buy into the Paradise concept share a deep and abiding passion for not just deer, but wildlife in general. Let's take a closer look at the commonalties these hunters share as part of an informal cooperative.
First and foremost, all allow young bucks to pass in favor of patiently waiting for a mature buck. This clearly is critical, but also is not the total answer. Most also actively target does, harvesting more antlerless deer than bucks. This also is critical in so many ways. These two portions of our strategy are in my opinion the most important things any hunter can do to improve his odds of harvesting mature antlered deer and do right by the herd itself.
But are these two strategies enough to warrant consistent success? Nope, not even close. Although each of these properties host multiple hunters, they are never overrun at any given time with an extremely high hunter density. Taking turns and keeping each other informed as to chosen stand location actually aids each other in remaining undetected. Cooperation is a key.
Stand selection based upon wind direction is a self-imposed cardinal rule, as well as undetected entry and exit routes. These routes are left to be as scentless as possible through the utilization of knee high rubber boots, and being careful not to touch overhanging vegetation. Preseason trimming of access routes takes extra effort, but is a big help in this regard.
Should the wind change while on stand despite the inconvenience locations are changed. I could go on forever with many other small things we pay attention to, but collectively the above short list will make the most difference. Don't allow the deer to be aware of your presence. Heck they are wary enough to begin with aren't they? Letting them know they are being hunted makes your task exponentially more difficult.
One other item also plays a key role in our strategy, and this is the absence of deer drives. When hunting land that you are able to control access to, especially smaller parcels, why have indiscriminate neighbors make your management decisions for you? We also choose not to "push" deer because a running deer is much more difficult to judge and ground shrinkage is often the result. Button bucks are difficult if not impossible to judge on the run. These miscues are avoided by the absence of this legitimate style of hunting.
Our informal cooperative may not all be gung ho doing habitat and food plots, but we all have strict hunter management ideas. Deer really do not know they are being hunted on our properties. Entry and exit routes are pre-planned based upon topography and wind. If the wind isn't right, we don't hunt the stand. If the wind switches we move, now.
We delight in watching young bucks, patiently waiting for a mature deer. By observing instead of shooting we learn the habits and tendencies of these rascals for future use as they mature. We actually get to know individuals as they age.
With the use of remote cameras, we can not only visually inspect the various antler configurations and guestimate maturity of our bucks, but by sharing this information we each gain a clearer understanding of what inhabits our properties. This really helps foster patience on stand, knowing we can possibly do better by allowing immature bucks to pass.
Does all of this guarantee success? Hardly, but it does stack the odds in our favor. Using the earlier analogy, it's not what you have but how you use it really does apply to your hunting property.
In fact, I'd venture to say most if not all of my successful neighbors have taken their largest bucks within the past few years, despite the increase in hunter numbers and the shrinking size of the properties in our corner of the world. How can that be? It must be the spot... right? A lot of folks around the country write it off to the blessing of being in Illinois. Well, we are in fact blessed to live in Illinois however the vast majority of resident hunters do not consistently kill high end bucks, if they have killed any at all.
Look at your state or province, and locally the area you hunt. Are mature bucks being harvested! Note I am not asking about record book animals, but mature bucks. The deer that have reached their genetic potential. All deer don't have the genetic potential to become a Boone & Crocket, but they in fact do have the potential to grow to maturity and are as great a buck and as difficult a quarry to pursue as any buck residing anywhere else.
In our corner of the world, with the ever shrinking size of our average farm size, and the inevitable increase in hunter density, we as managers have adapted and succeeded in building Whitetail Paradise. Through the formation of a very informal coop we choose not to be discouraged, but rather hopeful for the future of deer hunting in our collective backyard. Seeing is believing, and I will endeavor to include the results we achieve in most installments of the Building Whitetail DVD series, as proof that these ideas work. Quality deer and quality hunting are a byproduct of Quality Deer Management, of which the most vital aspect, in my opinion is hunter management.
It's not what you have but how you use it...