10 Summer Hunting Ground Improvements on a Budget
Photo by North American Whitetail
Breaking news: You can make improvements to your hunting property while on a budget!
Yes, you read that correctly. Summer deer and land management projects are not reserved for the wealthy hunting professionals alone. Those of us who wear blue jeans and blue collars can still engage in management practices, and we can do it without massive amounts of money being spent on heavy equipment and products.
Believe it or not, we can also achieve similar results to the big-shots. As Dr. Grant Woods mentioned several times in the podcast he did with us, you don't have to go crazy to make a difference on your hunting ground. Anything positive is better than nothing at all.
You may not even realize that you are just a couple of projects away from swinging things in your favor. One of the simple, budget-friendly projects we're going to list below could be the deciding factor that switches that big buck's preference from your neighbor's property to your property this fall.
These are simple, attainable projects and ideas that can be implemented by small property owners, a hunting lease situation, or even if you're hunting on permission alone.
1. Promote Edge Habitat/Cover
You might be surprised how much harm can be done by getting overzealous with the heavy equipment we all dream of having access to. Owning a big tractor with a brush hog is only a good thing if you are making positive changes. Tearing up valuable habitat on field edges and transition zones is usually a bad thing. When in doubt, let that habitat grow! Deer love thick cover and healthy edge habitat, so one of the best things you can do is promote that cover instead of chopping it down. Talk about budget-friendly! Sit back and let nature take over.
2. Trail Cameras Over Mineral Stations
Observation is going to be the ultimate key before you can pinpoint exactly what your hunting property needs. In my opinion, there is no better tool than a trail camera for getting that done. Trail cams today are very reliable, affordable, and they get scouting done around the clock with minimal intrusion. Up your odds of getting great pictures by establishing mineral stations in front of a couple of your cameras, if you're allowed to do so by law. It's really a double-whammy if you can provide valuable trace minerals to the deer while snapping pics of them and gaining some intelligence. All of this can be done with a $50 trail camera and a couple of $15 bags of minerals or a mineral rock.
3. Travel Trails
This may seem counterproductive to the first bullet about promoting valuable cover and edge habitat, but deer will travel the path of least resistance. If your neighbor has solid habitat and a beautiful network of well-maintained travel trails, you can bet that the deer are going to move on that property. You can give the deer some travel avenues with an old lawnmower, an ATV, or with a tractor and brush hog. It's not hard to obtain something to cut with, even if you have to rent equipment for a few hours. A simple mid-summer trail mowing can provide several months of easy travel for your deer herd. Just make sure to mow in travel zones and not through that valuable habitat in bedding areas and on edges.
Timber management is really intimidating for a lot of hunters, but it's incredibly simple. If you have control of your timber or permission to alter it slightly, hinge-cutting is an invaluable tool for a deer manager. Simply stated, hinge-cutting is putting a half-cut into an undesirable tree with your chainsaw and allowing the tree to slouch to the forest floor. The tree is still attached to the root system, so it will continue to provide tons of forage on the forest floor. At the same time, precious sunlight begins to hit that forest floor to promote more vegetation and habitat. All of this with a simple chainsaw and some know-how when it comes to making proper cuts on the correct trees. You can provide another double-whammy of habitat and forage for what amounts to a few hours of work and some gas in your saw.
5. Hidey-Hole Food Plots
When we mention food plots, people immediately get some idea of huge tractors and big budgets. In reality, food plotting was created by average folks as a measure to level the playing field. Before hunting pros and wealthy guys were planting entire farms for the sole purpose of hunting, average guys and girls were planting small plots to simply do something positive. We don't have to go crazy when it comes to planting food plots. You can plant what Dr. Grant Woods calls "hidey-hole" food plots. Plots that measure no more than 1/2 of an acre and under. You can establish these plots with some Round-Up, a rake, or even a garden roto-tiller. ATVs, UTVs, and small tractors also do the trick. If you are willing to work, you can start making hidey-hole plots for very little money. Providing food and a great spot to hang a stand. Another budget-friendly double-whammy.
6. Encourage Variety
This point is directed more toward those of you who may have the ability to provide serious food plots. When you have the ability to plant things like corn or soybeans, it can be easy to go overboard with one or two things. All as the deer in your area are heading to a neighbor's land to get something simple that you forgot to provide. That could be trace minerals, clover, or even simple native browse. Find out what your neighbors and surrounding properties are providing the deer with and simply make sure that you have variety. Deer are the ultimate browsers. Variety can come very cheap, especially if you focus on things like mineral stations and native browse.
7. Watering Stations
As most hunters focus on the cool things like food plots and hinge-cutting, we tend to forget about the simple necessity of life. That would be good old H2O. Water is often the limiting factor on hunting properties, and hunters often fail to realize that. Think about where the deer in your area are getting the bulk of their water. Unless you have a nice creek or a pond on the property, the deer are heading off of your land to get their water. That means it's time to establish watering stations. It can be as simple as digging a nice hole in the right location, or you can purchase some cheap plastic pools at Walmart and dig them into the ground. Watering holes are deadly hunting locations during the rut and at all times when you get toward the southwest regions of America.
8. Supplemental Feeding
Thanks to the spread of CWD and some goofy regulations in other areas, supplemental feeding or "baiting" is not always allowed. If you can't establish feeder locations, you will have to focus on food plots. For those of us that can use feeders, it's a no-brainer. This takes us back to variety. Whether you're throwing corn or your favorite deer-specific feeder pellet, you can provide a different food source at every feeder on a property. Feeders are generally affordable and easy to keep full. If you want to provide food and you are struggling to get plots going because of your equipment or poor soil, feeders should be the first step this summer.
9. Scout on Stand
We're going back to observation for this point, but it really is quite important. Trail cameras are great, but they can't tell you everything. Things like your access to and from the stand can only be observed from getting in the field. It may only cost you a couple of hours battling bugs and sweating in the blind or stand. Far too many hunters shy away from on-stand scouting. I'll refer back to Dr. Grant Woods on the AO Podcast when he mentioned sitting in his Redneck Blind and simply watching as one of the things that the average person can do to improve their hunting. When you are able to observe deer movement with your own eyes, you will be better at implementing the strategies we have discussed. It will only cost you a couple of hours and some gas if you travel to your hunting spot.
10. Limit Intrusion
Want to talk about something simple that every single one of us can do? When in doubt, stay out! That may seem like a conundrum after we just talked about scouting, but there is a happy medium to be found. It is far easier to go overboard and put pressure on your deer than to under-observe, so keep that in mind. Do what you need to do and get out. You don't have to walk on eggshells or anything. Just avoid busting through your hunting spot all summer long, riding ATVs around the clock, and shooting guns every day. Summertime whitetails will tolerate a lot, but you have to be super careful once they shed that velvet. More harm can be done by intruding than you may realize. Low pressured whitetails are going to provide the best hunting once fall rolls around. Simply avoid bumping deer as much as you can, but don't think that you have to be perfect. Just be smart and do what you have to without doing too much.