It was excellent news. A friend had purchased a 360-acre farm and said I could hunt it. But my first scouting trip revealed that the vast majority of the property was given over to corn and soybeans, not deer. The only significant cover was a 2-acre stand of hard-woods in one corner and a 5-acre overgrown pasture in another.
I was a little disappointed but not surprised. Small hunting areas are becoming more and more a fact of life for deer hunters, and this sort of segmented woods on agricultural land is just one example. Most suburban bow-hunters are limited to tiny lots and hobby farms. Even large wooded tracts are becoming increasingly fragmented as landowners sell off parcels. Here in the Midwest, a growing number of hunters are buying them in whatever increments they can afford, often as small as 10 acres.
It's very possible, however, to have quality hunting on such tiny tracts. I put my dad in front of a nice 8-pointer at that corn-and-soybean farm just last year. But you need to use a delicate approach so that you don't run off the deer. Here's what to do:
LEARN THE LIMITS The first step is to figure out how deer use the area to determine when you should hunt it and when you should stay away.
The small patch of hardwoods on my friend's farm is a perfect staging area for bucks waiting for nightfall to feed on the corn and beans. Because it's surrounded by feeding fields, I can't go near it in the morning without potentially bumping deer. So I hunt there only in the evening. Conversely, I know of a small creekbottom hotspot on a different farm that's perfect bedding cover, and I can use the creek to sneak in silently. I only hunt this spot in the morning, to avoid spooking deer off their beds.
SET UP AND WAIT It's difficult to hang a tree stand in these areas without alerting the deer. If possible, get yours in place well ahead of the season. If not, do it when you can, then rest the area for a couple of days. It may actually be best to simply hunt from the ground, which eliminates the noise of attaching a seat to a tree.
WATCH THE WIND If you show up to hunt your spot and the wind is wrong, turn around. It's not worth taking the chance of your buck's catching your scent. Go fishing, do some early Christmas shopping, or hunt someplace else.
HAVE A BACKUP (OR TWO) The upside of lots of small parcels (as opposed to only a few large farms) is that it usually means lots of individual landowners, any of whom might let you hunt. Try to gain access to several proper-ties. That way you can rotate your efforts between them, which will allow you to rest each spot and will improve your chances at all of them.
A TIGHT SPOT: The rub tells you a buck stopped here. But the limited cover means an evening hunt is your smartest option.