Every year I interview dozens of potential consulting clients and over time I have noticed some trends in the way typical deer hunters think. Sometimes these common thoughts are a bit misguided and can cause a deer hunter to have a mindset that holds them back from reaching higher levels of success. One of those misconceptions involves quality deer management as it relates to a particular property’s opportunities for improved success.
Lets back up a bit; whenever a potential consulting client contacts me, I ask to see an aerial photo of their property and pose a series of questions to them. This allows me to get a good feel for the property as well as the client. It also allows me to address obvious issues before I take anyones money. For example, I have had potential clients tell me their goals and after reviewing their answers to the questions I ask and the aerial of their farm, I determine that their goals are likely unachievable on their property. I then discuss my concerns and allow the person to then make a better-informed decision regarding whether they still want to hire me. I would simply rather give a potential client a free and honest appraisal of their situation and have them decide not to hire me than to take their money and have them mad at me later.
One of the questions I ask concerns the hunting pressure on neighboring properties. This tells me a lot about a property’s likelihood of being able to produce bucks that are older and bigger than what are currently found in the area. Some clients are looking to grow bucks that are bigger than what is currently found on the property and the surrounding area while others just need me to help them kill the bucks that are already in the neighborhood. There is a HUGE difference in these two goals! I want to know from the start if a client wants me to help him kill the bigger bucks that are already in the area or is looking to crank things up by growing and killing bigger bucks than he currently sees in his area. Often the second option is just not possible and if that is the case I want them to know it from the start.
When I ask about hunting pressure in the area, many times a potential client will excitingly describe how their property is in an area where “everyone practices quality deer management” or they will gleefully describe properties around them as having zero hunting pressure. The general consensus seems to be that no-hunting areas and neighbors practicing quality deer management are both great things. Welllll not so fast!
There is a lot more to a well-designed whitetail management plan than just an aerial photo marked up with what the consultant thinks are “good ideas”. A consultant should bring a fresh set of eyes and fresh ideas to a property and the final plan should be constructed with much thought and purpose based on years of experience and success.
One of the first things I tell a client when we meet to walk their property is that we need to make their property the best property in the area in the eyes of the local whitetails. Their property needs to offer the best and most secure bedding cover as well as diverse food sources during every week of the year. This sounds simple enough, right?
If your property is in an area where everyone is trying to grow and hold mature bucks, it is going to be a lot tougher to make your property stand out from those around it. Unless a property is located right next to a well-established no-hunting sanctuary, I prefer to see some hunting pressure on the properties that surround it. (Fence-sitters are another matter!) This just helps push deer onto the property I am trying to manage. Let’s face it, most deer hunters put way too much pressure on the properties that they hunt and mature bucks just won’t tolerate it. They move to a more secluded property. If your property is properly managed it can become the destination for those bucks that get bumped from other properties in the neighborhood.
So let’s suppose you have a neighbor that does not hunt and does not allow hunting or basically any human intrusion on their property. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how your property and that neighbor’s property lay out. (This is why I want to see an aerial of potential clients properties) If they lay out good then you can utilize your neighbors property as a bedding sanctuary while discreetly hunting the deer as they filter onto your property. If the lay out or your hunting approach are poor, then those deer are likely to simply stay on the neighbor until after dark.
Don’t get me wrong; I practice and support quality deer management but there are both negative and positives that come with it that every land manager should consider. The more landowners practicing QDM in an area, the more mature bucks that should be found there, however those bucks will have a lot more places to hide making it tougher to kill them as it is going to be a lot more difficult for you to set your property apart from your neighbors.
There are also both negatives and positives when there is a property where no hunting is allowed in your neighborhood. I actually like to see no-hunting properties in the areas I hunt as they will produce mature bucks and those bucks will not live out their entire lives on a single property. Also, any property is only going to hold so many mature bucks. If there are too many mature bucks on a property, some will move off and take up residence elsewhere. When they wander I have a chance to pull them in to a property I manage and kill them. On the negative side, a no-hunting property can be your competition when a buck is seeking security. Clearly a buck that resides on the neighbor who doesn’t allow hunting is going to be a lot tougher to kill than one that lives on your place.
I have consulted on hundreds of properties across the Midwest including some that were located in the most famed regions of southern Iowa where everyone is practicing QDM and some that were located in the mismanagement nightmare that is Michigan where every buck alive is in danger of getting killed before it grows its second rack. Through these experiences I have seen this topic firsthand from one extreme to the other and everywhere in between. Every region is unique, every property is unique and every deer hunter is unique. That is why I insist on seeing an aerial of a property and asking numerous questions before accepting new clients. Most of the time I am looking at things from a completely different angle than the potential client. This is what helps my clients take their success to the next level and what keeps my phone ringing this time of year.