Mark has been managing his property with brother Terry for seven years. It has taken hard work and money, but most important, it has taken time-time to let the deer on his property mature. You’ll never get 5½-year-old deer if you shoot them as 2- or 3-year-olds, and believe me, some of the 2-year-old bucks I saw were real dandies. But they’re going to make even greater mature bucks in a few years’ time.
Mark owns about 1,100 acres and leases another 1,000, so he has quite a large piece of property to work with. (Remember, deer hunting-manufacturing calls, making videos-is his business.) But there are many things you can do even on much smaller parcels. I asked him if he would share some of the tips he’s learned over the years in managing for quality deer. Here’s what he had to say.
Q. **You’ve been managing your land for many years. When did you begin to really see a difference in the quality of the deer?
**A. The third year. Deer were pretty much not here when I first bought the place. It’s become incrementally better from years three to seven.
Q. What do you recommend other people do to develop their property? Cull does?
A. It’s not about culling. I allow all deer to reach a certain age class. Remember, 50 percent of your genes are from does. On my place, all deer are allowed to grow to 3½ years of age. Next year, I’ll raise that minimum to 4½ years.
**Q. **What ratio of does to bucks do you harvest?
**A. **I shoot three or four does to one buck. I may take that down as I see the numbers become more of a one-to-one ratio, which is my goal.
**Q. **Is that something you would recommend to everyone?
**A. **No, that would vary depending on the piece of property. There are properties where guys may not see any deer, in which case you wouldn’t want to shoot any does.
Q. What food crops do you recommend?
**A. **I plant a huge variety of crops-grain, corn and beans. For green food sources I only plant Biologic because I want to give my deer high- protein, quality forage.
Q. **How much do you plant each year?
**A. I try to plant enough so that there’s still food left over when spring green-up hits. Deer must have nutrition from January through April to maximize antler growth.
**Q. **What can landowners do to keep quality deer hanging around?
**A. **First, you really need to minimize pressure, so the deer don’t know you’re hunting them. That’s why I’m so picky about not talking in the field; I don’t want the deer to know I’m even there. I don’t go into their core areas very much. And there are places that I will not walk through at all. I don’t hunt the same stands but use a variety of stands, so I don’t burn out an area. And I never hunt a stand when the wind is wrong.
[pagebreak] Q. **What’s the trick to managing small parcels?
**A. The key to managing any size property is that you want to make it as appealing to deer as possible. To make it appealing you need two things: cover and food sources. Switch grass, pine and cedars are all excellent cover sources. Anything thick is what deer love.
Q. Any advice on how to keep people off your land even if it’s posted?
A. Blocking crops are important to keep road visibility to a minimum. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Winterberry, thick pines and switch grass, which grows to 8 feet, are great. Corn is the fastest blocking crop I know of. It reaches 8 feet in a season and makes an excellent natural screen for your land.
Q. **What’s the key to working with adjoining landowners toward managing for quality deer?
**A. The most important thing is to get everybody on the same page. Let them know what you’re managing for. Is it 150 bucks? Three-year-olds? Four-year-olds? Set your goal,, then go from there.
**Q. **What do you do if you have 40 acres but the guys around you are not managing for quality deer?
** A. **That’s a tough situation. If there are good food sources around, perhaps you leave your property thick. Make it the sanctuary that all the deer in the area run to.
It’s also important to look at your property in relation to how deer use it in different seasons. Is it a great travel corridor during the rut? When it gets cold does it have great thermal cover on south-facing hillsides-cedars and pines-where deer can be warm and feel protected?
If your property is the one that deer run to once the hunting season starts, you can have excellent hunting in December when nobody else is in the woods. How the property lies and what cover is available have a lot to do with it.
Do you have a deep hollow that you can hunt on a north wind? Then only hit it when those elements occur.
[pagebreak] Q. **What’s the biggest mistake people make when planting for deer?
**A. The biggest mistake most people make is that they quit worrying about the deer once the season is over. For antler growth, you have to be working with the deer year round.
Second, I’ve talked my neighbors into helping in a quality deer management plan as much as possible.
**Q. **What’s the minimum-size property a person can manage effectively?
**A. **It really depends on the habitat. Ten acres is too small. Ideally you need a couple of hundred acres or more, but again that depends on the habitat. Ten acres of open land cannot be managed, but 10 acres of the thickest stuff around can be worked. It becomes even more doable when you work in cooperation with people whose property adjoins yours. Now suddenly, perhaps, you’ve added your 10 to your neighbor’s 10 to his neighbor’s 20, etc.
[BRACKET “Mark disregards fawns entirely because half of those are going to be button bucks.”]