Not every hunter is afforded the opportunity of thousands of acres of land to hunt. The rest of us have to do our best with what we have access to. Fortunately, this does not necessarily mean that we will have any less success than someone with more land. With hard work, patience and a little luck, any hunter can achieve success with deer hunting.
Small tracts can offer very good hunting, but there are special considerations that improve your odds.
1. Basic Needs
Make your property offer everything deer need to survive. A deer needs food, water and shelter. Therefore, your chances are best if your property contains all three of these. If not, consider working to offer them. Plant food plots to provide deer with food, or use a deer feeder (where it is legal).
Consider hinge-cutting some trees if your property does not provide adequate bedding cover. Hinge-cutting works great with sweetgums. Cut through a small to medium-sized sweetgum just until if falls over, leaving a section of the tree trunk connected. A sweetgum will continue growing vertical shoots straight up off the section that has been felled.
If water is needed, consider a watering trough. Burying a tough where it will collect additional run-off can help keep it full during times when rainwater isn’t enough. The work you put in to providing a water source will pay dividends in regards to holding deer on your land. If your small tract already has a creek, pond or swamp, there’s no need.
If you hunt an extremely small property, it won’t always be possible to provide all three of these. Given the choice of only one, I’d opt to provide food over bedding cover and water.
I had three mature bucks routinely visiting a food plot on a 2-acre tract last season. I never connected on that property (although I did kill one of the bucks roughly a mile away on another tract), but the opportunity was there. I got trail-camera pictures of these bucks in daylight several times all throughout the season.
Deer do not see property lines, and they will visit your property regardless of size if it helps them meet their basic needs of food, bedding cover and water.
2. Understand the Big Picture
It is important to understand that a deer’s home range is almost always larger than a small piece of property. That said, you need to know how your property fits into the grand scheme of things. Is it primarily a travel corridor, bedding area or a food source? Studying satellite images or driving around the surrounding area can aid you in answering this.
For instance, I discovered that the small strip of woods behind my home and a neighbor’s tract separates a large, grown-up thicket from several acres of white oaks and other acorn trees. This makes that section of the property a perfect pinch-point, and I have killed several large bucks from there, and I’ve seen many more.
3. Monitor your Neighbors
Your neighbors’ hunting strategies, or lack thereof, can have a significant impact on your success. It is extremely important to know what is happening on properties that neighbor the small tract you are hunting. Knowledge of what’s going on around you can help you make adjustments accordingly.
For instance, if your neighbors don’t hunt, you will need to be extra cautious to avoid causing deer to spend more time on the unpressured tract next door. If your neighbor is shooting small bucks, and your goal is to kill big ones, it is extra important to let immature bucks walk.
Also, keep in mind that one bad neighbor can have a seriously negative impact on the quality of your hunting, so it is important to keep tabs on that as well as you can. I had a situation where a homeowner in the neighborhood next to my lease was baiting deer and shooting them at night. They killed two big bucks before I found out, but I was then able to stop it before any more damage was done.
4. Hunt Low-Impact
If minimizing your presence on a large piece of land is important, doing so on a small piece is absolutely essential. Compared to a large piece of land, there are less deer to spook and less woods to stink up with human scent before you have severely damaged your chances of killing deer.
On a small tract, it is important to pay attention to the wind, establish a scent-control routine and have good entry and exit routes to your stands or hunting areas. Small holes sink big ships—anything you can do to improve your scent-control system makes a difference.
Consider asking neighbors for the privilege of accessing your property from their tract. Having different access points into your land will allow you to hunt with different wind directions without spooking deer, and it allows you to get to places on the property that you would typically not be able to reach without spooking deer.
5. Be Persistent
While success is achievable when deer hunting a small tract, it won’t always come easily. The important thing is to be persistent. It is easy to get discouraged sometimes, but, as the saying goes, you can’t kill ’em on the couch.
Remember, in the whitetail woods, anything can happen at any time. That monster buck on the 1,000-acre tract up the road will be more than happy to visit your 20-acre tract when one of your resident does go into heat. If you have favorable conditions established for deer, it is only a matter of time before you connect.
Have fun, don’t give up, and eventually you can have success hunting deer on a small tract.