10 Ways to Improve Your Deer Hunting Land


(Photo: Matt “Flatlander” Cheever)

Scatter food plots of about one acre across your ground. Design and build them to take advantage of thick cover and the predominant winds in the area in fall deer season. The closer you plant to a thicket where a mature buck can pop out to feed with his nose in the wind, the better the chance you’ll see him in daylight hours.

Give deer a salad bar. Plant 60 percent of your plots with a perennial like a clover/chicory mix that will provide a steady food source for three to five years. Plant the other 40 percent with a fast-growing, tasty annual like oats or wheat.

Planting 1,000 yards of logging road is like putting in a one-acre food plot. Old roads are already open and easy to access, so it’s a no-brainer. Clover tends to grow best on north-south roads that get 3 to 4 hours of sun each day, but plant and fertilize as many sections as you can for maximum food and edge for deer.

Check sunny road edges for blackberry bushes and other briars and brambles. Deer love ‘em! Fertilize the browse once this year with 10-10-10 to make it even sweeter.

Mow your plots (and planted roads) two to four times this summer to stimulate new clover growth and to help kill grass and weeds. Mow when the plants get about 12 inches high. Don’t cut too low, just clip off a third to half of the plants.

If you’re in a hot, dry region, plant some of your plots up against a western edge of tall trees so they won’t burn out. Also, leave three or four large trees out in the middle of a plot to provide some shade and cool the field down.

Scour old farm fields and clear-cuts for hidden fruit trees, like wild apple, persimmon, etc. Open up the trees by clearing away tight brush; prune a few limbs and pour some fertilizer over the roots. A tree should make some soft mast just in time for bow season, and you’ll have a new honey-hole.

For a long-term investment, plant a double or triple row of pines along a county road and on the western edge of a field or food plot. In a few years, the pines will shield deer from cars. The taller and thicker the trees grow, the safer the does and especially the bucks will feel moving and feeding in daylight. The pines will give deer shade in summer and a wind break in winter.

One of the best land improvements doesn’t take a drop of sweat. Study an aerial photo, pinpoint some of the thickest, roughest cover and terrain, and designate it a buck sanctuary. No hunting, no walking, no nothing in there year-round! A good sanctuary is so gnarly a buck feels safe and hidden if you walk or drive an ATV by at 50 yards. Leave 20 to 30 percent of your total hunting land as a sanctuary.

Strap a chainsaw to your ATV, hop on, and ride the property lines. Stop and saw trees and logs here and there 20 yards or so inside your boundary. Establish a trail that wends the entire perimeter. Use the trail for 90 percent of your access when planting and mowing, scouting, and going to and from your tree stands. By not driving and walking all over the interior of your ground, you’ll hold more deer and more big bucks.

Trail-Cam Monday: 2016 Deer Season Weeks Away, Good Bucks Showing Up!

cam monday pa

From longtime blogger and friend of BIG DEER Terry “Big Daddy” Murphy: Mike, here is a picture taken from my ground blind on one of my food plots last week. I have been after him for two years, this will be my target buck this season here in PA

zach 3 bucks

These 3 bucks have a great story. Our friend Zach set a camera in a 3-acre block of woods where he had never put a camera before, “but I had always wondered what was in there,” he said. Well, he got these images of the impressive trio in just a few days. LESSON: Set a cam in a spot you have never scouted or hunted before, you might find a new hot spot!

cam monday ks bucks

Pair of great bucks from Kansas, on or near a ground where I will be hunting in early December. While I would love to get a crack at one of them, the 4 months between now and when I wil be out there is an eternity. But at least I have a good idea of the buck quality this area can produce, and the 2 shooters tell me it is gonna be a fine rack year in the Midwest and all over.

cam monday alberta

alberta sheldon synchro feed bucks

My buddy Sheldon is growing and attracting some killer bucks on his farm in Canada. The 2 bucks “synchronized eating” is one of the coolest cam shots I’ve seen in a while.

va cam bucks 1

cam monday va 2

cam monday va 3

After a slow early summer, these bucks started showing up at our mineral sites in late July. “High and Tight” 10-point approaching the Ani-block is a cool deer. I expect a few bigger deer to appear on the scene as late summer and fall progress.

Now that we have a good idea of  what kind of rack year 2016 will be here in VA (good if not great) we’ll start tracking the bucks with cameras moved to food plots, ridge points, edges, funnels and other spots where bucks will travel on natural movement. By law here, you must pull all minerals and attractants out of the woods by September 1 prior to each hunting season. LESSON: Read and know your state regs.

cam monday big bear

Back in July we had this big boy stake claim to one of our mineral sites. Not surprising, because of the 12 cameras we checked one day, 10 of them had images of 12 different black bears! Three cameras had been played with, bumped and pulled on, as evidenced by the picture below, but not bitten. I believe curious bears are attracted to your scent when you set and check a camera, another reason to spray your hands scent-free and maybe wear rubber gloves.

bear eye

The bears did not surprise me though. This summer I have hiked and rucked more than 200 miles in Shenandoah National Park, which is only 30 miles or so from this hunting farm; on at least 75 percent of those walks, we have encountered bears, and most days multiple bears.

The black bear population has exploded in Virginia and I see a potential problem looming, especially in very busy Shenandoah Park. In fact the problem is already here. Several trails were closed temporarily in the Park this summer because of aggressive bear behavior, and just 2 weeks ago on Dickey Ridge Trail a female bear w/cubs killed a dog on a leash that a guy was walking. (I hiked 10 miles on this same trail one day last week and saw 3 bears.)

Nobody enjoys observing bears in the woods and along the trails more than I do; I am not scared of them, but I respect them and give them space. Like all predators, black bears must be controlled. While there is obviously no hunting in the National Park, the surrounding lands and counties should offer bear hunters good to great opportunities this fall. I predict maybe a record-breaking bear harvest in 2016.


Deer Racks: What Causes a Weak-Side Antler?

md dan uneven rackOur friend Danny from Maryland sent this picture and asked this question:

Is there any chance this deer’s antlers will eventually even out? Or will he most likely always have an uneven rack based off his genes? He doesn’t appear to have suffered any injury to cause this.

The vast majority of whitetail bucks grow even or largely symmetrical and typical antlers. Although the buck in this picture may not appear hurt now, there is a strong likelihood that he sustained some injury earlier this year.

“I think the buck in the picture was injured,” says QDMA biologist Kip Adams. “His left antler looks normal, just minus a brow tine.  His right antler has a good-sized brow and then 3 stubby points, which are very common from an injury.  I’m guessing the injury was to his antler but it could have been to the body.”

Kips notes that the pedicle, or base, of the weak side antler looks fine “so I’m guessing the injury was to his antler, and that suggests if he survives to next year he will not carry the injury with him. He’ll be easy to follow this fall with his unique rack. Good luck in the woods.–Kip


How To Build Cheap, Awesome Food Plots For Deer

velvet buckToday’s guest blog from Wisconsin hunter Kim Redburn, a good friend of BIG DEER:

If you own a lawn tractor and have some small and accessible clearings on your land, putting in some food plots does not need to be expensive or physically taxing.  I am 52 years old and have some physical disabilities, and I was able to make a few plots for under $150.

Other items you will need:


–A tow-behind lawn spike aerator; this Brinly 40” model (about $80) works great.

–Seed. For ease in planting I use seeds that do not need to be covered with soil: clover, chicory, brassica, oats, beans and peas. Antler King No-Till Mix ($14.99 Amazon) is great, and I also like BioLogic Winter Peas ($19.99). One bag of either of those covers 1/4-acre. I seem to spread the seed a little thick and usually need to purchase a second bag.

plot mix

Keep in mind that most places need a PH soil test, and then possibly lime spreading and/or fertilization. This is a simple application and not expensive. I didn’t do any PH testing, as I have extremely good soil thanks to the glaciation thousands of years ago in my area of northwest Wisconsin. Heck, here the deer even consume it and its diatomaceous nature.

First step in your plot build is to watch the weather. Look for a forecast that will bring a couple days of rain. It is tough to sit and hope for rain, so just wait until a forecast is favorable.

Second step is to mow your clearing as short as your mower will allow.

Third, connect your aerator to the back of your tractor, place weight upon the aerator (cinder blocks, etc. which help to push the aeration spikes deeper into the earth). Now go back and forth and across your small clearing until it is well aerated.  The clearing should be mostly cut up soil when finished.

Fourth, simply hand sow your seed, or you can use one of those hand-crank seeders if you’ve got one.

My camera caught the eager buck above shortly after I planted a plot, and I also had several waves of turkeys come through. The peas I planted were easy pickings, but I over-seeded like I normally do and there was plenty left for sprouting, which occurred 5 days after the planting with the 3 days and nights of rain we got. Another food plot success!—Kim

Have you shot a big deer with a unique story? Seen something weird and wild in the woods? Got an awesome trail camera image? Have some great how-to advice like Kim’s that you’d like to share with other hunters? Send your stories and pictures to: mikehanback@yahoo.com and if we post them you’ll receive a BIG DEER cap and sticker.  

3 Tips to Age Summer Bucks

iowa buck age

From Cody: I recently put up my trail cam and captured a picture of a deer I have never seen before. I have more than one photo of this deer so I know he is continuously coming back into my area. I can’t seem to age him and was wondering what your thoughts were? I am from the great hunting state of Iowa and also wondering if this is a normal size for a buck this time of the year.


Whitetail bucks can be tricky to judge in late spring and summer when they are happy, lazy, fat and stress-free, especially in high-producing agricultural areas with great nutrition. Many people overestimate the age of a buck now.

I ran this picture by top whitetail biologist Grant Woods and asked him to provide some advice for aging summer bucks (Grant’s 3 tips in bold below).

Cody: It appears this buck’s neck merges with his chest well above his brisket.  His chest doesn’t sag below where his legs meet his shoulders and his back and belly appear straight.  These are all signs of a younger buck.

I estimate this buck is 2 years old, but wouldn’t be surprised if he was a great yearling!  If he is 2, he has normal antler and body development for a buck that lives where there are plenty of quality groceries.– Enjoy Creation, Grant