With just a bit of work on the weekend, you can create a sanctuary that will draw older bucks onto your property like a magnet—and hold them there year-round. And if you don’t make such a security area for deer, or don’t already have one on the land you hunt, they’ll find one elsewhere when the hunting pressure builds. They know their survival depends on it.
No single habitat improvement project can compare with creating a sanctuary for making a piece of property attractive to mature bucks. Chances are good there’s somewhere on the land you hunt that almost fits the requirements already for a sanctuary. It may just take a little extra work to put the final touches on it.
If you’re not so lucky, you may have to build it yourself. But it’s not a hard or expensive project in either case. As a rough gauge, one sanctuary is adequate for about 100 to 200 acres. For larger parcels, you may want two sanctuaries or just a big one. Anywhere from five to 50 or more acres could be involved. It all depends on the topography and thickness of the vegetation. To complete the job all you need is a chainsaw and safety equipment, a shovel and some pine seedlings or other young conifers.
The first step is to locate the best spot. The most useful sanctuaries are in remote, hard-to-reach areas where rough or swampy habitats discourage humans from entering. Study topographic maps, satellite images, and aerial photographs of your land to find these potential buck hideouts. Then scout on foot to get a complete picture of the area to make sure it fits a deer’s needs as a location to find an escape from humans.
It should be located as close to the middle of the property as possible, and never near a boundary of your land. And the more low-growing, natural cover it already has, the better. That means less work for you to do creating it. Heads of draws, mountain benches, brushy hollows, and overgrown marshes are great spots. Shrubs, bushes, saplings, and plants such as greenbrier, honeysuckle, plum, olive, and blackberry that offer food and cover make the spot even more enticing to mature bucks.
If the area offers a veritable jungle of cover, it may serve as a sanctuary already. Signs or sightings of big bucks will tell you if that’s the case. Chances are, though, a little habitat work will improve it. Do this work in the innermost isolated core of the area you are designating as “off limits” to human traffic.
The next step is to cut some trees. Find a number of low-quality trees in the area for bucks to rest against and create more visual security. That gives them bedding cover, protection from the wind, and also tender branch tips they can browse on. Cut some of these only partially through at waist to chest height. Cut them just enough so they fall but remain attached to the stump and roots (hinge cutting). These will live for another year or two in most cases, providing even more browse and cover.
Also fell several trees in clusters, so they fall at angles on top of one another. This provides high-stacked cover so a large buck can hunker down in the jungle and have his tall rack hidden.
The third step is to plant evergreens. Depending on how much cover is present, you may or may not need this step. Putting in some fast-growing pines or other evergreens, though, will provide a windbreak and shelter from storms during winter, drawing more bucks to your sanctuary. They’ll also offer a cool, shaded spot where bucks can escape from summer’s heat. Plant them 8 to 10 feet apart in clusters of one-half to two acres.
The final step is simple: Do Not Disturb! The main thing that makes or breaks a sanctuary is whether you actually respect the meaning of those words. Stay out except to retrieve a hit deer or maybe to search for sheds in spring. You want the biggest buck in the area to feel this is the most secure spot around, the place where he needs to be to survive.
Give him that and he’ll stay put. Then next fall, when he’s even bigger, and you catch him outside the sanctuary chasing a doe, you’ll get your chance. Be ready.