When Jim Gunnels decided to implement Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) principles on his property in upstate New York, he did it by the book... literally. "I got some of my best ideas by reading 'Producing Quality Whitetails', one of the early QDMA publications," he says. "And I just took what I read about and tried to apply it to my land here."
One doesn't have to talk to Gunnels very long to realize the longterm process has paid huge dividends—not only for deer, but for Gunnels himself. "In the winter we can sit in our home here and watch 30 or 40 deer come to feed in a single food plot," he says with a smile. "And when I take a friend hunting, I can almost guarantee he'll see deer. That's saying something in this country."
Saying something, indeed. Gunnels has transformed marginal deer habitat into a whitetail utopia through a series of carefully orchestrated improvements. "We worked hard to improve the food quality on this place," he says. "The property is 380 acres, and we have six different food plots. the largest is a destination food plot of about 30 acres that feeds deer all year long. The other five plots are smaller and situated closer to the timber. they not only provide nutrition for deer, but good hunting opportunities as well."
Experimenting with different plant types has been enjoyable and educational, Gunnels says. "We've used traditional row crops like corn and soybeans, as well as brassicas, clover and other seed mixes. It's fun experimenting with the different varieties and seeing how the deer respond to them." Gunnels also enjoys doing all the work himself. And as any landowner knows, having a quality Side x Side like a Polaris® RANGER XP® 800 arounf is a huge benefit. With its 4–stroke, twin–cylinder 760cc engine, electronic fuel injection, independent rear suspension, and 1-ton towing capacity, the RANGER XP® can handle any duty asked of it by a deer managaer.
Jim Gunnels learned in a hurry that food plots are only part of the equation. "We've done quite a bit of timber stand improvement that has resulted in better bedding and security cover for whitetails," he notes. "We've got a lot of maples and hemlock here, and we've implemented a Timber Stand Improvement [TSI] plan that's allowed us to make some money from harvesting trees and improve deer habitat at the same time. We've made several dense timber stands that are very attractive to deer." One of the side benefits of a timber–harvest program is an abundance of firewood, and the RANGER XP® 800 is ideally suited to this practice. its 12–inch ground clearance allows access to rugged spots, and the generous cargo box (36.5"L x 54"W x 11.5"H)* can handle up to 1,000 pounds of cargo capacity.
Gunnels has probably planted as many trees as he's cut on his New York property. "We've put in a bunch of Japanese Larch near our food plots in the last decade or so," he says. "They're a fast–growing tree that serves as a screening cover for food plots that are near roads. That live barrier provides cover that helps deer feel more comfortable when feeding, and it protects them from poaching. We've also planted a bunch of apple trees over the years, and five seasons ago put in some sapling–sized oaks. They're 14 feet tall now and will drop their first acorns soon."
Jim Gunnels has put literally years of hard work into his property, but he insists it's been a labor of love—and not just because the farm is now producing the "quality witetails" he read about in that original book. "Sure, the hunting is beter, and that's great," he says. "But it means more to me than that. It's just fun to see more deer, bigger deer, healthier deer. I like knowing this farm is a little better than it was when I bought it, and that I had a hand in that."
*Models approved for sale in California are limited to 600lbs. cargo box capacity (rear–payload capacity per CARB classification), and 1,100lbs. total vehicle payload.
The Polaris Sportsman® 850 XP
Sportsman XP Facts:
- 850 SOHC Twin EFI Engine
- Available Electronic Power Steering
- Legendary Smooth Rolled Independent Rear Suspension (IRS)
- Superior Ergonomics
The Polaris RANGER 800 XP®
Ranger 800 XP Facts:
- New! 800 Twin EFI Engine
- Available Electric Power Steering
- Dual A-Arm Front Suspension
- Legendary Smooth Independent Rear Suspension (IRS)
Deer Management Archive
- How to Judge a Trophy Buck's Potential
- Kick-Starting Your Management Plan
- Mapping Your Whitetail Hunting Paradise
- Conduct a Herd Monitoring Profile
Deer Population by State
Weekly QDM Tips
Prep for Winter: One quality many properties lack is an absence of prime winter cover for deer. Plant conifer (evergreen) trees like pine, spruce and fir to provide the thermal cover whitetails love during the cold months. State game agencies usually sell seedlings of such wildlife-friendly trees for a very nominal cost, and they can usually be ordered in bulk quantities.