Much of the deer hunting strategy and advice out there is geared toward properties that are 50+ acres. And that is great, but smaller properties require a more nuanced approach, especially when you get down under 10 acres. These small parcels are less forgiving and afford fewer opportunities to attract and hold deer. But the truth is, you can hunt deer effectively on tiny pieces of land, even as small as 1 acre. And this article will help you make the most of those small land opportunities, be them public or private.
This will usually be private land, you almost never see public land areas this small, however you will occasionally find challenging or baren public land that only has a few acres of decent deer habitat in an area. So many of these same tips will help you hunt public land too. If you are new to hunting, then be sure to also check this other article I put together for you as well: How To Start Hunting As An Adult Without Help – Easy 15 Step Guide.
Why Hunt Small Properties?
Years ago I started hunting small properties because that was all I had available to me. There may be 5 acres here or 8 acres there that I could get permission to hunt from friends or family. I had no connections and no success when out on my own trying to get access to 50+ acre areas. Other hunters had those permissions long secured before I came around.
Public land near me proved problematic as the few acres near me were overrun with an endless see pedestrians wearing orange and carrying arms who were calling themselves hunters. My early forays into suburban located public land were both fruitless and dangerous. I have since found many more locations where I could hunt more safely and effectively, but I still mostly hunt small private land properties, though it is for a different reason.
After years of developing strategy, learning the land, improving the habitat, and learning deer patterns, I find unparalleled success hunting on the small properties that I have access to. I have shot 3 nice bucks on my last 3 sits over the last couple seasons. I don’t know anyone in my half of the state who has that kind of an average on any size property, public or private.
But it didn’t start like that, it wasn’t until my third season that I even shot a doe. It would be two more seasons till I finally even saw a legal buck. But once I learned and implemented what I am going to share in this article, things improved quickly and rapidly. In fact, I had 660% more deer activity on one property after just 1 season. In fact, I did a whole podcast episode just on that: How To Get 660% More Deer On your Property Next Season.
Can Small Properties Be Better Than Big Ones?
The short answer is no. larger properties will generally have more opportunities and potential than smaller ones, as well as more margin for error. You will have to work harder to get comparable results on small pieces of land. And your results will be more impacted by your neighbors. But often you can outdo your neighbors if you work smarter and more strategically.
Your neighbors are not likely going to diligently pursue sound whitetail habitat strategy and will not have the same level of discipline that you can by not over hunting. In fact, you can use your neighbors as a mechanism to push deer on your land. You can become the safe place that the deer run to. But while bigger is generally better when it comes to acres, small properties do provide some advantages you will want to exploit.
Small Property Advantages
Learning Every Inch Of The Land. A benefit of small land is that you can walk, scout, and learn every part of it. And not just learn it once but learn how deer use it year-round. An early season hotspot might be gone by rifle season, and swamp may get no use until late rifle season when the safe places are few. If you can keep an eye on land year-round, you can maximize your hunting potential.
Fewer Trail Cameras Needed. Many of people with big land need a lot of trail cameras and only have them out for part of the year to minimize wear and tear and battery use. But if you only have two or three cameras on 10 acres, you can save a lot of money and time on camera maintenance and checking. You can then leave your cameras up year-round and learn how deer use the land at all times. Here is a good entry level trail camera that I use.
Mastering The Wind. When your land is small you can become intimately familiar with how the wind effects every stand location, blind, travel or access area. You can know exactly where to hunt during certain winds, and even use the wind to blow your scent off the property and better preserve the little slice of heaven you have to hunt. You can not just learn the wind but master it.
Save Money On Stand Locations. Fewer spots means less investment. Instead of 10 tree stands or ground blinds you may only need two or three. You need each one to count through. And you may opt to build some more permanent structures that require less maintenance after you finish optimizing your land and find the areas that produce the best results.
7 Things Deer Want
- Food – Above all else, deer will come for food. If you have, find, or can add food to your property you can multiply your land’s potential. And it often does not require big food plots, heavy equipment, or major investments. I’ll talk more about this later in the article.
- Cover – Deer must have cover, they will limit their time spent in open areas during daylight, especially as the season wears on. Bucks especially thrive on cover, even when moving. The more cover you have and the longer it lasts through the season, the greater the advantage your parcel can have.
- Bedding Areas – Whitetails must have bedding areas. Does are more tolerant than bucks, and mature bucks are pickier still. But they will want cover, security, and freedom from human scent, sounds, and sights. If you have bedding you will be able to predict daylight movement much better.
- Water – Deer usually get most of the moisture they need from their food, but as you get into the rut when deer movement increases and green vegetation becomes scarcer, they will be drawn more and more to water. A stream, pond, or waterhole can be a hotspot for activity at certain times of the year, but only if other sources of water are limited or far away.
- Browse – This is a food source, but it is more of a casual food source that deer will munch on around their bedding. This is most often woody shrub tips, briars, and other things they can snack on while waiting for evening to head to their choice feeding areas. If you have browse you can hold more huntable daylight deer.
- Safety – Whitetails gravitate to safety. Sometimes this means areas without traces of humans, other times it means areas they are not being shot at that moment. It will almost always include cover with minimal human intrusion. You can often give deer safety by hunting less than your neighbors and staying off the land during the hunting season except for strategic hunts.
- Travel Corridors – Just like us, deer like to travel the path of least resistance. If you have travel lanes that cut through your property and enable deer to navigate through or around thick areas, elevation changes, impassible areas, fallen trees, etc, then you have a habitat feature that can bring deer to you and funnel their movement. Learn more with this podcast episode: Defining Deer Movement Patterns.
What Kind Of Property Do You Have?
No small properties are going to have all 7 things, in fast most larger ones still do not have all 7 in a meaningful way. But if you have at least one, you can significantly impact deer movement and have a disproportionately high number of deer on your property. If you have 2 or 3 of them, you can do better still.
There are properties that are nothing more than a thin strip of tangled mess between two much larger properties, but they can function as a major travel corridor between the properties. Create a few pinch points and even wasteland can become prime hunting land for when deer cross over.
If you can identify the type of property you have, and the kinds of attractions there, you can develop a solid whitetail hunting strategy.
Scouting & Picking Spots
It is much easier to scout fewer acres and find the best spots. But to pick those couple spots you need to identify how deer are u sing your land. They will likely on be on your land at certain times of the day, maybe only during certain parts of the season. More on that later. But to pick a spot you need to scout.
Trail cameras can help a lot after you’ve identified high potential areas. You want to look for significant movement patterns. Not just a few deer tracks here and there, but evidence that deer are frequently in an area. Lots of tracks, droppings, rubs, beds, etc. When you find a high potential area for a stand or blind you should setup a mock scape in the middle of the movement area to help focus the movement and put a trail camera on that spot.
Monitor when and how many deer use the land and use that info to decide if this is a good hunting spot. For more on mock scrapes here is a video: How to Make Mock Scrapes and a podcast episode: When To Setup Mock Scrapes & Trail Cams that I did.
Also consider what the most common wind direction is BEFORE you setup a stand. Ideally you want 2-3 spots on a property that work with different winds. This way you can have at least one spot to hunt no matter what the wind is doing if all other conditions are right.
How To Sweeten The Land
If you have strong factors that draw deer to your property then perfect. If not, add them. You can add food, water, cover, browse, travel lanes, even safety with relative ease. Bedding areas are not so easy on small parcels, but that is ok. You do not need all 7 draws, just one or more.
The single biggest thing you can do to make a difference is adding food. Cover is second. adding cover can be as simple as taking down some trees so that sunlight can reach the ground and cause growth to spring up. Taking down a few trees and letting some time pass may do the job, and the fallen trees can provide cover in the meantime.
You can also plant switch grass or let parts of fields overgrow. You want cover that does not fall down after the first frost. It should be robust enough to help deer hide through the heart of the hunting season in your area.
I do not view mock scrapes as a way to sweeten a property and attract deer. They work to focus deer movement in an area and help get them where you want for trail cameras and shooting lanes but they are not going to cause deer to go hundreds of yards out of their way. They might go 20 yards out of their way. And that makes them a very handy tool, but the impact is limited.
Micro Food Plots
If you have a small property then you only have room for small food sources. I am a big fan of micro food plots, maybe 1/2 acre or less. Something very small, even 1/10 of an acre is enough to make a difference. And depending on your area it can be a big difference.
I often recommend people use white clover because you can plant it easily, without any heavy equipment, and it grows back year after year. So, effort today turns into years of payoff. Here is a podcast I did focusing in on that specific subject: All About Planting Clover For Deer & Turkey Hunting.
Not everything makes a great micro food plot, and a lot of factors can impact what is best for you. But often clover works really well. Imperial Whitetail Clover is maybe the best clover seed I’ve ever used or heard of, it makes up the majority of what I plant. You do not need much for a microplot, $20 or less is often more than enough.
Planting some fruit trees may also be valuable for your area. Late dropping apples can give you a couple weeks of strong deer draw in areas where competing food plots makes clover or other smaller plantings less impactful. The bottom line is that it does not take alot to make a meaningful difference.
The 3 When’s Of Deer Hunting
When is the best time to hunt deer? That is not a hard question to answer but there are several dimensions to it.
Weather. The best weather is immediately following a drop in temperatures. Anything more than about 5 degrees can be helpful, but the bigger the drop, the more the impact. If the morning low is 10 degrees lower tomorrow than its been, that is a great morning to hunt. The reason is that the drop in temperature is refreshing to deer, especially after their coats start to thicken up. They can move around more in daylight without overheating. Here is a short podcast episode with more: The Best Weather Days For Deer Hunting
Time of Day, This changes as the year goes on. In the early season, evenings are generally better. When hot days begin to cool in the evening, deer start to move. In the pre-rut, mornings are generally better because bucks begin to cruise looking for early estrus does. During the rut, all day is a good time to hunt because deer are constantly moving. And in the late season, evenings are usually best because pressured deer often will move little during the day until it starts to get dark, and they go looking for food.
Season. Your property will likely have more deer activity at one point of the season. If you have lots of greenery and soft cover that goes down with the frost, the early season may be better for you. If you have dense hard cover, later in the season may be best as deer have fewer places to hide. You need to find out when your land is at its peak and make sure you focus your time and energy then. I hunt one early season location that is best the first 3-4 weeks of the season. After that, its draw reduces drastically, so I hunt it hard early on and almost always leave with a deer.
Managing Hunting Pressure
One of the biggest mistakes deer hunters make is overhunting their spots. When you are dealing with smaller properties and fewer spots, this happens much more easily. If you want to have a higher percentage of successful hunts, then you need to hunt less. That sounds like a contradiction but if you hunt a spot more than 2 days in a row, your chances of taking a deer, especially a buck drop dramatically.
Pressure is applied to a property when deer can see, hear, or smell you in a place they do not normally detect people. By a trail they walk, on a food plot, or near a bedding area. Even if you live 200 yards away, they may be perfectly content with moving all around your house, yard and shed. But step 50 yards into the woods and you’ve entered their domain where they do not expect you. Even something that small can impact deer habits. Too much pressure will push deer away from your land or push their activity into the safety of the nighttime.
The best way to manage pressure is leave as little scent behind as possible, use the wind to keep your scent away from deer, and do not be seen or heard in an area. In other words, do not be in the woods near your best hunting spots often.
I never want to hunt the same stand two days in a row. I prefer to not hunt the same location more than once a week in these situations. What will help you doubly here is hunting the weather. If you wait for temperature drops. you will naturally hunt fewer days because only a few days are ideal every couple of weeks. This both gives you the best chance to hunt deer on high movement days, and also helps you keep from burning out your spots on poorer days. For more you should watch my video: Should You Hunt Deer All Day From Dark To Dark? Long vs. Short Hunts.
If you want to hunt more, you need to have more locations. Hunt the weaker locations on the poor weather days and save your prime spots for ideal weather and wind conditions.
How To Ask For Permission To Hunt
People often struggle with getting access to private hunting land. And people with 100-acre farms may get a lot of requests to hunt on their land and just do not want to be asked any more. However, folks with 15 acres may not get many requests at all and may be more approachable to letting someone archery hunt on their land in the early season.
When asking for permissions do not try to ask for lifetime access to a parcel, or even a whole year of access. If you can ask for something smaller, like perhaps a month, you are more likely to gain some consideration. And do not ask empty handed. Offering to pay may or may not be viable for you but offering to help maintain the land is often more valuable to the landowner. See if there is a project you can assist with or do for them. This builds relationships, and relationship can get you more access in the future.
Then be sure to follow-up by sharing venison, a pie around the holidays, box of donuts in the summer, etc. Build relationship, show you are not a freeloader, and you may end up with a permanent place to hunt and the landowners blessing to plant food or modify the habitat to some degree.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Having hundreds of acres to hunt deer is nice and a small parcel does start you at a disadvantage, but you can make up much of the difference if you hunt smarter and with more discipline. You can turn a small property into a bustling deer habitat that gives you great levels of success season after season. It will take more strategy, more study, and more planning. But you can actually spend less, hunt less and still have great success if you play the game well. Check out my video on the subject to go even further.
Be sure to listen to The New Hunters Guide Podcast and check us out on YouTube.
Till next time. God bless you, and go get em in the woods!
George Konetes Ph.D. – Founder and Host of the New Hunters Guide.
The New Hunters Guide is simply what George wishes he would have had when learning how to hunt; a single place to get practical hands on knowledge about different kinds of hunting, gear, strategy, and tips that can improve your comfort and fun factor in the woods.