Eighty-Acre Bucks: Part 1

A friend of mine did something very nice for me two years ago. This friend knew that I lived for bowhunting deer and especially big bucks. My friend had a friend with whom he had gone to school who owned a farm in one of the best areas in our part of the world for growing big bucks. My friend asked his friend if I could hunt on his land. And that is how I came to hunt on Jim and Mary’s little Wisconsin farm.

Jim and Mary and their two small children live on a house on the land, but both Jim and Mary work in town. Jim pastures a small herd of beef cows on the farm in the summer and takes enough hay off of the two small alfalfa fields to see his cows through the winter months.

A small stream, which holds a smattering of trout, both brookies and browns, courses through the center of the property. Hardwood, mostly oak, both red and white, studs the sidehills, ridges and cuts on the farm. Adjacent to Jim and Mary’s little piece of ground is a much larger farm on which I do not have permission to hunt. I’ve never seen another hunter on the other farm, but I know that someone hunts there because I hear his ATV moaning up and down the hills sometimes.

Gary Clancy

When my friend Tom first told me about the farm I was like a kid with a big package under the Christmas tree… with two weeks to wait until Christmas! I could not wait for Tom to join me, so I got directions to the farm and drove over one morning to do some snooping around.

I hiked fast, sticking to the easily identifiable fenceline boundary and then began criss-crossing the interior of the property. By early afternoon, I had seen it all and to tell you the truth I was disappointed. Not only was the farm small, just 80 acres, but every inch except the homestead and the two alfalfa fields was heavily pastured.

If it would not have offended my friend Tom, I would probably not even have bothered to hunt the farm. But I knew that Tom had gone out of his way to arrange for me to hunt the farm, so I vowed to hunt the farm as hard as I could.

Hunting Too Hard
And I did. In fact, I hunted that little farm too hard. I put too much pressure on such a small piece of ground. I hung too many stands and moved those stands too often. I bumped deer feeding in those alfalfa fields on so many mornings as I hiked into my stand and again in the evenings as I returned to my truck, that they got so that they just kind of moved out of my way instead of running off. I hunted that 80 acres like it was 800 or 8,000. I hunted stupid that first season and I’ll be the first to admit it.

And even with all of my mistakes, I still saw lots of deer including some nice bucks, one of which I missed by a whisker when my arrow deflected off of a single strand electric wire fence between me and the buck. I could not hit that fence again with a thousand arrows if I tried!

I also saw a monster buck. I saw him three times in fact, but he never came close enough for a shot. All three times I saw him he was on some neighboring property. One of the times I saw him, he crossed the county road and after I was done hunting I went to where he had crossed and studied his track. I often found those tracks on the little farm I hunted, so I knew that the big boy was snooping around some of the does, which called the little farm their home.

All that winter, after the first season on the little farm was history, I scolded myself for being in such a rush, for overhunting the property, and for not hunting intelligently as I knew I was capable of doing. I vowed to hunt smart the next year.

I did a better job of it last season. Not perfect perhaps, but better and sometimes improvement has to be enough. I took what I had learned that first season and put that information to work for me. Although I had set foot on nearly every square yard of turf on the farm, I did not kid myself. Oh, I knew the farm well, but not nearly as well as the deer, which called that farm home.

A whitetail knows the 200, 300, 400 or 500 acres it calls home with the same familiarity an over-the-road trucker feels in the cab of his Peterbilt. I will never achieve that degree of intimacy with this piece of land, no matter how many years I am privileged enough to hunt the farm. But I know it well, and the reason why I know it so well, is because it is a small piece of ground.

Usually Hunts Big Tracts
Most of my whitetail hunting is on big tracts of public land or large private farms and ranches. I like hunting these larger places, but I realized after two seasons of hunting that little farm, that I hardly know the larger places I hunt. Oh, I know them well enough so that I can find my way back to the truck in the dark or if a fog rolls in.

And I know something about where the deer like to bed, where they eat and where they go when disturbed. However, even though I have hunted some of these places for many seasons, I do not know them as well as I know that little farm in Wisconsin after just two seasons. That’s the big advantage of hunting the same small piece of land season after season.

What I realize after those two seasons is that when I hunt larger tracts of whitetail habitat I tend to take in only the general features of the land. I don’t get a real handle on how any individual deer conducts its day-to-day business. And when I’m hunting property where I’ve got room to roam, I find it much more difficult to stick with a stand when things are slow. I find I’m always thinking that I should be over the next ridge or down in the swamp or out in the pine thicket. I end up moving way more than I should when I’ve got the luxury of doing so.

Conversely, on my little farm, because my stand options are limited, I tend to stay put and give the stands time to produce. The result is I see more deer.

Please read more how I adjusted my strategy on the 80-acre farm in Part 2.

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