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.

Oklahoma 20-Point Buck

Robert Nichols, who creates the best amateur deer-skull art I’ve ever seen, says:

Ok nichols 2016

Hey Mike: Just wanted to share. My youngest son, Ethan Nichols, shot this buck on 11/23/16. The rack has 20 points total! Ethan had been watching this deer since early August and had a lot of trail cam pics of him. I’m super proud of him. You did a blog on Ethan’s first deer 2 years ago, and it made his hunt even more of a success to him. Thank you for that, and thanks for checking this one out.—Robert from Oklahoma

Clyde Roberts: Oldest Hunter In the U.S. Shoots His Biggest Buck

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Photo by Meghan Marchetti

Last year I posted on Mr. Clyde Roberts and the buck he shot from a tree stand during the 2015 Virginia deer season. Still hunting strong at 103 years young, Mr. Clyde shot his biggest buck ever during our state’s 2016 muzzleloader season.

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He was hunting in Bedford County that afternoon with his granddaughter, Christin Elliott, who told the Virginia Game Department:

I (saw a deer and) held my hands out in front of me to describe antlers and he just smiled. I knew things were going to happen quickly, so he got the gun up and ready. Papa was so calm when the buck walked out broadside. I knew he was a great buck and time literally stood still for me. I never heard the gun go off, never saw the smoke, just watched the buck fall with one well-placed just shy of 100 yards.

Papa likes to tell everyone that I got so excited after that. Of course I did! Not only had I been able to hunt with my 103-year-old grandfather but I had witnessed him take the biggest buck of his life. Most importantly, I had the hunt of my lifetime with him! It was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my hunting career. I will never forget it. Papa is still on cloud nine and I have relived the hunt every night since.

Interestingly, Mr. Clyde was not always a hunter. He started hunting in his retirement years at the urging of his son Mike—40 years ago.

“I bought him a rifle when he retired to keep him busy,” Mike said. “My father is a very simple person and a devout Christian. He says the secret is ‘hard work and living for the Lord.’”

As I blogged last year, this story makes me proud to be a Virginian, a Christian and a deer hunter. Mr. Clyde Roberts, you are a great man and an inspiration to all of us.

Side note: Our producers are planning to be in touch with Mr. Roberts and his family, and we hope to visit Bedford County and film a TV segment with him soon for an episode of BIG DEER TV to air later this year on Sportsman Channel.


Where to Hunt Shed Whitetail Antlers

first shed 2 jon massPick up a deer trail and follow it for a half-mile or more, until you come to a thick and obvious bedding area. In late winter that might be a brushy southern exposure that gets midday sunlight, or the east side of a grassy ridge or swamp where deer hunker out of a northwest wind.

Last hunting season if you were smart, you would have stopped, tested the wind and worked the outer fringes of such a sanctuary so as not to spook deer. But now, plow right in.

Montana artist and shed-hunting fanatic Dick Idol told me one time that he finds 60 percent of his sheds in and around thick covers where mature bucks hide in late winter. So dive in, go slow and look close.

While you’re in there, analyze all the rub/scrape lines and trails you’re apt to find. Get an idea of the easiest and best-hidden routes a mature buck would use to enter and exit the cover according to various winds. That info will help immensely when you come back to hunt the area next fall.

If you find a good-sized shed in and around a thick cover for several years in a row you know within a few acres where at least one good buck and probably a couple of big ones bed in the winter, and perhaps earlier in the rut or late season as well. Hang a tree stand along a trail that leads out to a nearby food source and good chance you’ll get a shot at a big deer there next fall.

Whitetail Deer w/Hernia: South TX Big Buck

Got this email from James D. on January 8:

texas deer hernia

Hello Mike: I have a place down in deep South Texas in Webb County. I have one particular buck that appears to have a hernia. I was doing research last night and trying to find images of something that matches the growth/tumor that this deer exhibits. I found the article on your website about hernia and it looks almost exactly like the one you posted.

I have been watching this buck for over 3 years and am assuming he is at least 6 1/2 years old now. He has never exhibited any abnormality the past few years.

This picture was taken this week. His neck is still swollen and he appears to be in very good health aside from the obvious growth. There is one week left of buck season down here and I really would like this deer to continue to run doe if he can still mate.

I really hate to take this buck because he is one of the best bucks on the place with very good genetics, especially brow tines. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

On January 9 I wrote back:

James, based on my research and talks with biologists I would say this is likely a hernia but it is not so large as some of the other growths I have seen that inhibit a deer’s movements. This buck might be able to survive if this growth does not enlarge.

If you do decide to shoot him cut into the growth. Biologists say that is the only 100 percent way to determine if it’s a hernia or some other type tumor or nasty infection. I’d bet hernia. Did the deer just develop the growth this year? Keep me posted, thanks.

Later that night James wrote back:

Mike, he did not have the growth last year. I went out yesterday and observed him. Normally here in South Texas, the bucks’ tarsal glands are pitch-black with a black line running down their legs at this point in the rut. But his glands were only slightly tanned with a small area about the size of a quarter that was black.

I am assuming he was injured early in the rut and has not been fighting or chasing does since. I had a 3 1/2 year old, much smaller 8-point walk up to him yesterday and move him off the corn. Without even bristling up, he just turned and walked into the brush. This tells me the deer was hurting, so I did take him yesterday afternoon.

Sending you a picture of his rack and the hole in his abdominal wall that we discovered while skinning him. Thank you very much for the info.–James D.

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Fascinating all the great hunters I communicate with and the stories they tell, and thus the great whitetail information I am able to share with you. Nine years of it and counting, all stored right here in the database of Big Deer. Thanks for your continued support.