Little Lands, Big Bucks

Score big on a small piece of ground near home.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Chad Hane, a firefighter from Stillwater, Okla., watched the four bucks swagger toward his cedar blind. He drew his bow, shot the lead deer, walked up to it and nearly fell over. The buck sported more than 200 inches of antler. Hane didn't have to drag the monster far. It was little more than 100 yards back to his house, which sits on the same 10 acres where he was born and raised.

Ten- to fifty-acre properties in fast-growing suburbs and on the outskirts of rural towns are sleeper spots for mega bucks. Many of the tracts have top-end habitat: hardwood blocks dotted with fields, browse thickets, cedars, pines, creeks and a lot of edge. Add to that the fact that many of the lands are inaccessible or posted to hunters, and you've got a lot of deer that live to at least 3½ years and grow gnarly antlers.

If you can get access to a prime spot, you might not kill a new state archery record like Hane did (the giant non-typical turned out to be 2144/8 inches), but there's a darn good chance you'll tag a rack in the 130- to 150-inch range.

Start Knocking
It's not too late to put on civilian clothes and a smile and start knocking on doors. Naturally, some suburban deer lovers will tell you to scram, but more people than you might think will let you hunt this fall, especially if too many deer are gobbling up their gardens. When possible, work from leads provided by family, friends or coworkers, and get them to pave the way for you by introducing you to their contacts. Try to obtain access to two or more places, so you can move around and not hunt any one spot excessively. When possible, secure the exclusive rights to hunt these properties so you can better manage the amount of pressure placed on the local herd.

Map It Out
Study an aerial photo of a new tract. (You can get one on the Internet at terraserver-usa.com or mytopo.com.) The interior of the property is obviously important-ridges, thickets, oak trees and the like-but so are the outskirts. Check surrounding properties for fields that might be planted with corn, alfalfa, soybeans and similar plantings. Those crops will dictate when, where and how deer will move through and around your small spot. Look both within and beyond your boundaries for pine thickets, grassy swamps, weedy ditches and similar bedding spots. These covers (black slivers or blobs on your map) might be small, a quarter acre or less. It doesn't take much to hide a big deer. Bucks hopscotch from one cover to the next as they check does and come and go to feed.

[pagebreak] **Spot and Score **
On August 10, 2003, Hane looked out a window and spotted four bucks, including the giant he killed seven weeks later, chowing down in his backyard. His wife grabbed the camcorder and they excitedly filmed the deer until dark. From that observation, Hane knew that some big deer were nearby. (The two eight-pointers and the non-typical 12 running with the giant were nothing to scoff at.) And Hane had a good idea of where and how this bachelors' club moved across his property.

You might not be able to film bucks in your backyard, but you can glass them wherever you hunt. Even when the season is already open, it pays to sacrifice a few days of tree-stand time for a little long-range, low-impact scouting. Drive to a tract, play the wind, climb a hill and simply sit and watch deer moving in and around fencerows, fields, power-line rights-of-way and other open areas that they typically prefer. You'll learn a ton.

Let's say you spot a thick-beamed eight-pointer strolling off an adjoining lot to browse and mingle with does on the west side of your land three evenings in a row. You know a shooter is right there, and you can surmise that his pattern will stay fairly predictable, at least until the rut blows up next month.

Better yet, you've also learned that most deer on your propety enter and leave on the west end. That's huge. On a little spot, your biggest challenge is to get to and from your tree stand each day without scaring deer away. In this case, you would know to sneak in from the east or south and hang your stand on a day when the wind is blowing out of the west or north. You shouldn't spook any deer, and your chances of seeing and shooting that big eight-point buck are very good.

Tract Stands
Most days you're better off sitting in a tree stand than roaming around and pushing deer off a small property. Try these three setups.

  • Inside any woodlot there are draws, ridge points, creek crossings, etc., that funnel deer within range. Hang a stand downwind of such an "inner terrain."

  • As they carve roads and clear home sites, developers create a maze of edge cover that often sprawls across 10 or 20 lots. Deer love to browse these fringes, so they're great stand sites if you have permission to hunt them.

  • Scout for a well-trampled doe trail that cuts all the way through your block of woods from adjoining properties. When the rut pops, a lot of rank bucks will prowl that trail in search of does.