When I talk with other hunters about deer sanctuaries, they raise their eyebrows in serious skepticism when they find out I only own 60 acres and claim that my sanctuary is successful. To top if off, my property is located in a heavily pressured hunting area.
One of my friends has a sanctuary that is 150 acres by itself, surrounded by hundreds of acres he owns. Yes, he does very well, and he and his friends take big bucks most years. It would be nice if I could afford to own a large tract of ground, but I can’t, and I’ll bet there are more small land owners like me who just want a place to call theirs, and dream of taking deer on their own land.
Of my 60 acres, 20 acres is the actual sanctuary, but I believe it could be much smaller. How? With small acreage, success is in the details.
Food plots are important for keeping the deer on your land. I keep clover in a couple of spots year round, then stripe my bigger food plots with milo or wheat. I plant milo before the 4th of July and 15- to 20-foot rows the length of the food plots. I skip a row, then plant another stripe of milo, skip another row, plant a stripe, etc. Then, around the first week in September, I come back and plant wheat in the strips between the milo. This gives the deer cover and something to eat until the end of the season.
Later, when the rut is over and the cold weather sets in, the deer pour into the field for the milo. This gives you a second chance at the big buck you wouldn’t connect with during the rut.
My food plot strategy has worked well for me for years. In 2008, one evening there were so many bucks eating on my plot that I had to wait for some of them to get out of the way before I could arrow a 150+ class 9-pointer. My longtime friend, Norm Warmbrodt, was hunting that same season on one of the food plots when a monster buck entered to feed. Norm made a perfect shot and arrowed a 210-grossing buck.
Never put a food plot on your property line because in a heavily pressured area your neighbor could hunt your food plot. Leave a buffer between your food plot/sanctuary and your neighbor’s property line. Plant switch grass, cedar trees, or other fast-growing, thick cover to help hide the area. My sanctuary is in the middle of my property with my food plots next to it.
I have built huts or “shooting towers” in my food plots where I can watch the deer without being detected. They are also great for keeping you dry in rain or warm on cold, windy days. Even better, you have added scent control. These 6x6x8-foot metal-roofed enclosures stand about nine feet up supported by 6x6 treated poles. I used a cheap 4x8-foot siding or metal to enclose the structure. Cut into the sides are 7x21-inch glass windows that swing open to the inside. I used a table saw to cut slots for the glass to slide into and used cheap cabinet door hinges.
These structures were very easy to make. This may seem like a lot of work, but for me it is all just fun.
In addition to my hut, I set treestands up around the food plots in a positions that favor the mostly north to northwest winds.
Hunting pressure is one of the negative things about hunting small acreage! Hunting two or more people in a small, tight area is difficult, to say the least. Entering and exiting can be your downfall. The deer tend to pattern you toward the late season.
We avoid hunting the food plots in the morning. My feelings is that when you walk into or through the food plots in the early hours and run the deer off, there is not much chance of them returning. This also causes deer to go nocturnal. I know this is not the case for other properties, but it works that way on mine.
We hunt mostly the weekends, which tends to help us because we’re gone more time than we are there. We don’t hunt any of the gun season, which also helps to lessen the pressure.
We never use ATVs, as the deer can hear them throughout the property and it definitely scares the big bucks.
Being surrounded by heavy hunting pressure, my sanctuary works because the bigger bucks learn quickly where they are not bothered. If you combine a safe bedding area and then give them great food plots, you influence them to stay. Yeah, some will stray during the rut and some will be killed, but other bucks will also discover the sanctuary in their travels and may return.
I have used these strategies on several properties of different sizes, and they have worked every time. For serious deer hunters, between the huts, food plots, and strategies, this is a labor of love in the quest to improve success. In return, sometimes the sanctuary and food plots reward early. You might not even make it to the rut.