Heath Wood turkey hunterMost turkey hunters have been in a situation where a gobbler is responding well and making his way in, yet just as we assume that it’s a done deal, hens start to make their presence known by sweet talking Mr. Tom, thus pulling him in the opposite direction. It is easy for a hunter to get discouraged when this happens. After all, if a gobbler has 4 or 5 hens with him, he most likely will not want to leave them to pursue one hen that he is hearing from a distance. Getting a tom to leave a group in order to chase a single hen can be difficult, however, it can be done.

As humans, we sometimes have to put a turkey’s way of thinking into terms that we can relate to and understand. For example, a guy (Mr. Tom) is at a party. He is only at this party to check out the ladies (hens). A lady (the hunter) shows up to this party and she has a great interest in getting with the guy. She sees him from a distance surrounded by several other girls all biding for his attention. If she really wants to get with him, she is going to do everything she can to lure him her way. If she plays her cards right, he will fall for her and leave the other girls behind. The same goes when trying to call a mature gobbler who is already with hens. If we play our cards right using these techniques to attract the attention of a mature gobbler, the hunter will never worry about them be “henned up” again.

Card # 1 – Start A Fight With The Other Ladies

hunter calling turkey with slate call

One of my favorite and most successful techniques to calling “henned up” gobblers is to imitate the same sounds that the real hens are making. On many occasions, I have had a hen start increasing the sounds that she is making when I am trying to call a gobbler away from her. Once I begin imitating the same sounds as her, it tends to rile up the dominant hen, which in turn makes her start looking for me. If the hen yelps 3 times, I will yelp 3 times. Eventually the hen will get so worked up that she can’t take it anymore. Which means she is leaving the gobbler behind or even better, leading him along with her. Either way, he most generally will come to see what the fight is all about, hopefully bringing him within gun range. To give the same example with humans. What girl doesn’t get mad when another girl is mocking her, while she is trying to impress a guy? She is not going to ignore the situation, she is going to retaliate.

Card # 2 – Create Urgency and Jealousy

Another great tactic that can be done when trying to break a gobbler away from a group of hens is to create jealousy. When I am calling to a gobbler who has been responding well, only for him to go silent on me, it is most likely because he has other hens with him and doesn’t need or want to gobble at a single hen who is in the distance. This is when I like to use a shaker-style gobble call. It is important to remember safety first when using this type of call, especially if hunting on public land. By using a gobble call, I have caught the attention of the gobbler by thinking another tom has slipped in to steal a hen while he is occupied with the other hens. Especially with a dominant gobbler, this creates urgency to run the other tom away, making him leave the hens to do so. Again to put it in our own experience, a guy doesn’t pay much attention to a girl in the distance, unless another guy slips in and starts talking to her first.

Card # 3- The Immature Teenager Is Trying To Get My Girl? Please!placing turkey hen decoy

The last effective tactic to bringing in toms who are already with hens is by having a great decoy setup that consists of a hen and jake decoy. Let’s go ahead and give our own personal example first. It is bad enough for another guy to slip in and start talking to one of our girls. However, when it is an immature teenager who is doing the flirting, the fight is on. It is easy to paint this same picture by using a hen and a jake decoy.

Some of my favorite setups include placing an upright hen in an open field with a half strut jake a few feet behind her. This simulates the jake chasing her for breeding purposes. By placing the decoys in open areas, other turkeys can see from a longer distance. However, one of my favorite setups is placing a hen on the ground or using a decoy such as the Avian-X LCD Laydown Hen who is already in a breeding position. I take a half strut jake decoy and place it directly over her, which imitates the jake getting ready to attempt to breed the hen. Another tactic is to place the jake a couple of feet away as if he is watching over his shoulder, making sure the dominant gobbler is not coming after him. This type of setup is another way to create jealousy and urgency as well as anger, which makes them come in fast and ready to fight.

I have had a gobbler on the opposite end of a field who had 3 to 4 hens with him, and he had no interest in my calling until he spotted the decoys. The tom lost all of his attention for the other hens and came running all the way in to beat up on the jake decoy. This is a great tactic to do mid-morning, if the hunter knows the terrain and knows where turkeys go to strut mid-day. If the hunter can be there and have the decoys already in place, this tactic will work almost every time.

The wild turkey can be one of the smartest animals that is hunted by man. One never knows what they are going to do next to mess up a perfect plan of attack that has been made by the hunter. However, as with most wildlife, if one will get to know the animals natural instincts, the chances of carrying a mature gobbler over the shoulder on the way out is better than ever. Even when most hunters think there is no way to break them away from the real thing, all one really has to do is think like the real thing.

By Heath Wood


Once I turned 55, I started going to the doctor every year for a physical exam.  I am now in my 70s and fortunately, can still climb a tree to bow hunt, canoe, hike and wade to fish.

When I go to my doctor, usually in the spring, he has certain criteria that he checks. He does this exam in a consistent manner and follows the same protocol each year. If there is something unusual that he has a question about, we address the issue while the problem is small. So far so good.

To summarize the exam, we basically do the following:

He checks my temperature, my pulse, my heartbeat, my urine, my blood chemistry, and my reflexes.  He then walks across the room, opens a drawer, starts stretching on a latex glove and reaches for the Vaseline.  Then those dreaded words, “Bend over.”

Lake owners should also have a standard protocol that they follow each year to maintain the health of their lakes.

The first thing you should do is go to the lake in early spring (March in most areas) and check the water temperature.  You want to do this so you have an idea as to when you should to start fertilizing. Fertilization should begin when the water temperature approaches 60 degrees F. Please note: fertilization is usually not necessary in most northern lakes and ponds.

Next, pull a water sample and check the water chemistry: total alkalinity, total hardness, and ph. The total alkalinity is important because it will tell you if you need to add agricultural lime in order to make your fertilizer react.  Total alkalinity should be 20 ppm or higher. If it is less, add 5-6 tons of agricultural limestone per acre.

When you pull the water sample, look at the clarity of the water.  If it is muddy, it may be cleared by adding 200-300 pounds of cottonseed meal per acre along with some high phosphate fertilizer.

Usually the water will be clear since the cold winter temperatures will knock out plankton blooms.  You need to look for submersed aquatic vegetation, especially filamentous algae or “pond moss.”  If this is present, take a sample and have it identified and get a recommended treatment.  Most herbicides will not work until the water temperature reaches 60 degrees F.  Do NOT fertilize until vegetation is gone. I would also suggest that you go one step further if the water is clear and no vegetation is seen around the edges.  Get your tackle and tie on a jig, spinner bait or sinking lure and pull it slowly across the bottom.  Often there will be vegetation off the shoreline that you can’t see and this will need to be treated.

Many lake owners now have automatic feeders on their piers or on a grassy point. Take the panel off the feeder and make sure the battery is charged, check inside for dirt, wasp nests, old clumps of feed or any other obstructions. Put in some fresh feed and run a test cycle.  Once the water gets to be 55-60 F, start feeding once a day in the afternoon when the temperature will be the warmest. As it gets warmer, you can feed 2 to 4 times a day.

Bass will start becoming aggressive when the water temperature begins to warm in the 50-55 F range. Take your tackle and catch several and examine them carefully. If you are catching a lot in the 10 to 16 inch range, then these should be removed. The bass you catch this time of year should be fat, if they are not you have too many. Don’t worry about over harvest.  Get some friends and ice chests and wear them out.

Approximately 20-30 lbs. of small bass per acre should be your harvest goal. If your bass are not crowded but are nice and fat, you can examine them to determine sex.  The males will flow milt if a little pressure is applied to the abdomen. I suggest you remove all the males you catch.  Females get larger.

Once you have addressed any issues that you have found when following the steps above, you are ready to start fertilizing.  Use a quality pond fertilizer like BioLogic’s Perfect Pond Plus and you can triple your fish production.

Physical completed. No Vaseline required.
For more from GameKeeper, read “Controlling Weeds With 6 Easy Steps.” A weed free food plot tucked into the woods somewhere is a beautiful sight. So how do you keep those pesky weeds out of your favorite spot? BioLogic’s new Weed Reaper Grass Control is designed to knock out all those unwanted annual and perennial grasses that are so common in food plots.

By: Don C. Keller


I don’t depend on the solunar tables, because many times the solunar tables will tell you that the deer are most active at a time you can’t go hunting. If I’m going hunting anyway, I don’t want to know that my chances are lousy for taking a deer on the day I plan to hunt, because I won’t hunt as intensively if I believe the solunar tables. Many factors determine when and where deer move – only one of which is the information found in a solunar table. I want to go into the woods anticipating that the buck I’m trying to take will come within bow range on the day I’m hunting. By thinking like that, I’m much more likely to see, hear or be aware of a big buck in my region. In other words, I can hunt more alertly every day I hunt if I’m expecting to take an older-age-class buck.

Most hunters think the best days to hunt an older-age-class buck are during the peak of the rut. In Iowa where I live, the rut is very predictable. For instance in my section of Iowa around October 25, bucks start making scrapes, however, most of those scrapes and rubs are being made after dark. From the first or second day of November until about November 10th, Iowa bucks will be  cruising, looking for that first estrous deer, or they’re searching for another mature buck that has moved into the area to possibly breed. If the bucks find another mature buck in their area, and the bucks aren’t tending the does yet, they’ll want to fight. So for me, the best time to take a trophy buck is during the pre-rut. I believe this time is when bucks move the most, and your chances are greatest for seeing an older-age-class buck. During the rut or especially during the peak of the rut, when a buck finds an estrous doe, she may take him into thick cover and stay in that thick cover for 2-3 days. So oftentimes, the peak of the rut can be the worst time to hunt a mature  buck.

Here in Iowa, we have what’s known as the October lull. Even though bow season for deer may be in, farmers are cutting their crops and running their tractors, and hunters are moving in the woods. Deer know that danger is present. Although I’ll hunt all season long, that October lull is probably when I see the least number of older-age-class bucks. So, I really start looking for mature bucks from Halloween through the first 2 weeks of November, which is usually the pre-rut in my region.

Another factor that I key in on is that before the pre-rut starts, we usually get a lot of wind that blows green leaves off the trees. When a lot of green leaves are on the ground, the deer still have plenty of selective green leaves they can feed on – even after crops are harvested. The deer will be scattered. Certain kinds of green leaves that blow off the trees are like candy to the deer, and I’ve noticed that I’m less likely to see an older-age-class buck when numbers of green leaves are on the forest floor. In my area when that October lull is over, this time tends to be when bucks are looking for a fight or searching for their first estrous does to breed.

If I’ve found a big buck that I want to take, I’ll spend the most time trying to take him. I may hunt from daylight until dark, because I feel that’s when my chances are best, especially in the middle of the day from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., when most hunters have returned to their trucks or camp houses to eat lunch.

By: Gene Wensel


Your knees begin to shake, emotions let loose and you reach up to give your cameraman a fist-bump because you just arrowed the biggest buck you have ever seen — let alone killed — and you just got it all on tape! However, your videographer doesn’t seem to be as ecstatic as you, so you review the footage and see that your arrow hit a little high and back. When you get down out of the tree you find your arrow coated in dark, burgundy-red blood with only a few sparse drops on the ground. Now what? This is where tracking deer blood comes into play.

A good pass-through, double-lung hit or heart shot is what every bowhunter wants. If you achieve it, oftentimes you’ll watch your quarry topple over after a short distance, or at the very least you should have a very easy to follow trail. But what happens when your hit is not immediately fatal? What you do next will have a huge influence over whether or not you recover the animal. After a good double lung hit tracking a deer is usually very easy. After a less-conclusive shot you’ll need to master the skill of “blood-trailing” and finely hone your talents of observation and deduction if you hope to recover your reward.


This is why “young eyes” and bringing your kids can be helpful. Oftentimes all you’ll see is a tiny fleck of blood to keep you on the trail and youthful eyes can be valuable. Kids love the anticipation — it teaches them where their food comes from and they truly are useful.

After you “drop the string,” watch and listen intently. Make note of the last spot you saw the animal. Pick a landmark so you can identify and pinpoint the exact spot you last saw the animal. Choosing an identifiable landmark is important because once you get down from your treestand or out of your blind, things will likely look much different. Seeing your arrow in flight and where you hit is valuable, but with the fast arrow speeds these days it can be difficult. Lighted arrow nocks and bright-colored fletching will help. I like to fletch my own arrows and will almost always use two white feathers and one brightly colored cock-feather. A white or bright-yellow “arrow dip” can also help. A lighted arrow knock like a Burt Coyote Lumenok will also make the arrow much easier to see in flight…and for that matter, afterwards when trying to recover your arrow.

Make several reference points to where the animal was standing when you shot and where you last saw it. Watch the reaction and listen carefully as your quarry bolts — if they bolt at all. Pay close attention to sounds that might reveal the direction or heading. Listen after you cannot see the animal any longer — can you hear branches breaking, water splashing or a wire fence squeaking? Sounds can give you further clues as to the direction of travel. Listen for general sounds, but also for specific noises that might lead you to a unique spot. Keep listening for several minutes after the shot. Often you’ll hear the animal change direction or crash and kick as it expires. Make reference points to where you heard these last sounds.


Every now and again you’ll shoot a deer that just stands there as if nothing has happened even though they’ve been skewered with an arrow or lead projectile. With surgically sharp blades on your broadhead, and if you don’t hit a bone, an arrow can slice through a whitetail like “a hot knife through butter” and they may not react at all — until they topple over from blood loss. Consider yourself lucky. If they do bolt, mark the exact spot that the animal was standing when you took the shot. If you can’t find “first blood,” use it as a reference point and line it up with the last spot that you saw the animal. This can save loads of time when you’re trying to pick up the trail.

Next, try to recover your arrow. If you can locate the arrow, examine it carefully. The color of the blood, hair samples, or the smell on the arrow can often tell you exactly where you hit. Dark-red blood (like our videoed hunter in the opening paragraph) typically means a liver hit. Pink, frothy blood almost always means a lung hit. Bright-red blood may be heart, arteries, or muscle — in this case, the volume of blood you see is a good indication of which. If you suspect a gut shot, you should easily detect a foul smell on the arrow. If the arrow is still in the animal this could lead to other important clues down the trail.


Unless you saw the animal expire, I suggest leaving it for at least an hour. In fact, unless I’m far from my vehicle or someone else has dropped me off, I purposefully don’t bring my camera or field-dressing equipment with me so I have an excuse to return to my vehicle to get it. This helps me avoid the temptation to get on the trail immediately, which usually isn’t wise.

Many other places on a whitetail offer lethal hits. It’s not humane to try for those shots, but sometimes it happens. With a gut shot, back out and give the animal at least six hours. It’s usually a lethal hit, but if you push the animal your odds of recovery decline precipitously. A liver hit, characterized by its dark-red blood, is also lethal, but again, you need to give the animal time — I suggest at least three hours.

If you give the animal that time, more than likely you’ll find it dead in its first bed, which should be less than 200 yards from the hit. The blood on a muscle hit often resembles heart or artery blood but there will be much less of it. You’ll know if you hit a major artery or vessel. The occasional drop of blood can also resemble a gut shot where fat or intestines can plug the exit hole.

Again, this is NOT a shot we’re ever going to attempt, but a glance off of a branch can happen to the best archer. A hit in a hind-quarter will depend upon precisely where you hit, but all you need is to nick the femoral artery and the animal will likely bleed-out within sight. Otherwise, you’ve created a huge problem and possibly a very long trail. If you expect a hit in the “ham” there are two ways you could go ¬ if the animal can bed comfortably — if you don’t push him, the first bed will likely be close. However, as you can imagine, this could be very uncomfortable and you may see them switch beds often as they try to get comfortable. You MUST follow all trails until you exhaust all possibilities or you’re confident the animal will survive.


If you can find your arrow after the shot, it can offer you many clues. The color of the blood, hair samples, or the smell on the arrow can often tell you exactly where you hit.

My theory on a muscle hit differs from some. Normally, you would want to let the animal bed down and bleed to death. With a muscle hit, if the animal beds down, chances are the wound will start to heal. With this hit, I suggest hitting the deer blood trail to pursue the animal fairly quickly. Don’t let up, be steady and ruthless. Keep pushing until you can either finish off the animal or you know it will survive.

Another exception to the “give the animal time” rule is in cases of inclement weather. /our-Obsession/blogs/deer/problems-following-blood-trails-in-the-heat If rain or snow is moving in, I’ll scratch my usual wait time and take to the trail immediately. Only if I bump the animal out of a bed do I retreat and wait longer. Fresh sign is so much easier to track than that which has been diluted and wet or covered by snow.

Carefully Examine Clues

Another exception to the “give the animal time” rule is in cases of inclement weather. /our-obsession/blogs/deer/problems-following-blood-trails-in-the-heat If rain or snow is moving in, I’ll scratch my usual wait time and take to the trail immediately. Only if I bump the animal out of a bed do I retreat and wait longer. Fresh sign is so much easier to track than that which has been diluted and wet or covered by snow.

On tough trails, examine every tiny clue carefully. If a track is not evident, inspect blood splatters for the direction of travel. Remember that blood sign may not only be on the ground, whitetails brush up against many objects like trees, brush, and tall grass while they travel. An extra set of eyes and different perspective can yield huge results when you’ve run through all other options.

One thing I have learned after being on hundreds of wounded-deer trails — they almost always “head home” after being wounded. If an animal suffers a wound that’s not immediately fatal, he’ll almost always head toward his primary bedding area. Scoutingtrail cameras and knowing the buck you’re hunting obviously helps here.

While some tracking help is great and will help immensely, too many people can have the opposite results. Everyone wants to be the first person down the trail, after all — it’s very exciting! But in that rush of scrambling for the front of the pack you’re probably destroying valuable clues. The rule we use is the hunter who made the shot is always first on the trail or gets to choose who goes first. Just like a CSI detective that tells the rookie to get out of the area so they don’t destroy evidence, the same goes for a blood trail.

Especially on afternoon hunts when you’re tracking at night, you’re often destroying more sign than you can see. Three, maybe four people tops is perfect for tracking deer blood. Go slow! If you get to the point where you’ve lost the sign and you’re going to search a grid pattern, then the more people the better. The more “eyes” you have the better your odds, but if you have sign on a trail more people often extinguishes fresh sign.

Technology has come a long way with the Game Vector Deer Recovery System. This product has a miniature transmitter housed in a small module called the “HideRider” which is attached to the arrow. Upon impact this transmitter is released from the arrow, attaches to the animal and triggers the unit to begin transmitting.

If you’re on a difficult-to-follow trail, carry small pieces of ribbon, toilet paper, or something else visible you can use to mark new sign and keep you on line. If you lose the blood trail, lining up those markers and following the same heading will usually put you back on track. It all depends on how easy the trail is to follow — if you can go at a constant walking speed, you can simply have your tracking buddy stand by the last sign. When the sign is harder to come by, marking the trail with ribbon or paper can be very helpful.

If you’re on an afternoon hunt and dark is approaching, you’ll have to be the judge of how good your hit was. Unless you’re confident in a lethal hit, it’s almost always a good idea to back out and come back at sunup, especially if you’re on a tough trail.


I’m confident that a whitetail, especially a mature buck, knows when it’s being pursued and trailed. I’ve seen them accomplish some amazing feats that I swear were done specifically to throw me off of the trail — like walking down a creek or through extended areas of water, backtracking down the same trail and then heading off 90 degrees, circling multiple times in a small area, or laying tight to the ground and waiting for me to pass by.

Technology is truly amazing. What if you could electronically track your quarry after the shot? Enter the Game Vector Deer Recovery System. This product consists of a miniature transmitter housed in a small, aerodynamic module called the “HideRider” which is attached to the arrow. Upon impact the “Hide Rider transmitter” is released from the arrow, attaches to the animal and triggers the unit to begin transmitting. The hunter then uses the compact receiver to hone in on and recover the downed game. It can be used with any arrow design or any type of traditional or expandable style broadhead and can transmit for a distance of up to two miles.


When you’re on the trail of a wounded animal, remain unrelenting and open-minded. Kids have amazing eyes — bring them along, besides being able to see what I often cannot, they bring a different perspective and it also teaches them the facts of life and where our food comes from! If the trail doesn’t lead you to the animal, you can always search a grid pattern in a last-ditch attempt to find it. Persistence and effort will lead you to just as many downed animals as a deer blood trail will.

Todd Amenrud | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine


I never completely put my bow down and take only my gun. I designate the properties I have to hunt into either rifle or bowhunting lands. I’ll pick up a rifle and go hunt larger properties where my likelihood of seeing a big deer is greatest at more than 30 yards. Some of the places I’ve named for bowhunting only are where I just enjoy hunting with my bow. Other areas the landowner may restrict as bowhunting only due to the smallness of the property. Or, if I’m hunting close to a subdivision, I’ll designate it as a bowhunting only.

On the larger lands I hunt, I’ll rifle hunt. My general rule for designating whether I’ll hunt with a bow or a rifle is the size of the property, and whether or not the county allows rifle hunting. However, I tend to prefer to hunt my bowhunting lands rather than my rifle lands. Another reason I set up these properties this way is because when I’m asking a landowner for permission to hunt, I’ve found getting permission to hunt somewhere is easier if you tell the landowner you’ll only bowhunt his land. With this approach, I can get numbers of small properties to hunt that other hunters won’t even think about hunting or never can get permission to hunt.

Remember that the mindsets of most deer hunters is that the larger piece of property they have to hunt, the greater their odds are for finding an older-age-class buck. But I’ve discovered that the smaller lands I hunt often produce the most big deer. Generally over the years, no one has hunted those small places, making them sanctuaries for older-age-class bucks. If someone has 5 acres, and you’re bowhunting, you even can hunt in someone’s back yard.

One of the biggest bucks I’ve ever taken was in a neighborhood. I had permission to hunt about 20 acres that backed up to a subdivision. This 5-1/2-year old buck was a 129-7/8 inch 8-pointer. When I’d previously driven home late in the afternoon after work, I’d see two big bucks crossing the road to feed on an apple tree in a lady’s front yard. Once a friend of mine bought that nearby property, he gave me permission to hunt those bucks on his land. Then I got a call two weeks before bow season arrived and was told the big buck (scored in the 160s Boone & Crockett) had been hit by a car and killed. The people who hit the buck, picked him up, put him in their trunk and took him home with them.

Land in suburban areas can be great places to hunt. It’s important to be mindful of those nearby.

Forty-one-year-old Alan Benton of McDonough, Georgia, is a 9-year veteran of the Mossy Oak ProStaff.  

“Mossy Oak is more than a camo pattern. Mossy Oak is a lifestyle with which I associate,” said Benton. “I like what Mossy Oak represents. Toxey Haas, the creator of Mossy Oak, and his family are hometown people. I like the conservation organizations that Mossy Oak is a part of and supports and the charitable contributions the company makes to help people and wildlife. I feel if I’m going to put my time, effort and money into hunting, I need to be wearing the best camouflage on the market, and I believe Mossy Oak is that camouflage.”


Each year as early summer rolls around, the thought of deer season preparation begins to lay heavy on a hunter’s mind. Hunters will begin hanging tree stands as well as placing a few ground blinds. The excitement level is already building, however, don’t let the excitement get the best of you just yet. There are a few things hunters need to take into consideration when placing ground blinds.


This is the main factor when placing ground blinds. Mossy Oak’s Cuz Strickland likes to find spots that connect popular food sources, such as soybeans, to bedding areas. This is especially true during early season when deer are the most patternable. This is mainly due to the breeding season, which has yet to cross the mind of bucks, as well as the weather still being warm.

Basically, deer feed through the night into the morning and once the temperature starts to rise, deer will go to bedding areas. Catching deer traveling from bed to food is a great way to score on a buck early.

Try to set blinds in areas that would best suit certain wind directions. For example, if hunting evenings, it is most likely that deer will go from bedding areas and head to the food source. If the wind direction is in the direction of the bedding area, do not hunt it. Try to keep the wind direction in the hunter’s face; this will eliminate deer smelling human scent when trying to sneak through.

Setting blinds up in the early summer is a great way to get ahead of the game. If you take the time to scout, set up blinds and even go as far as to brush them and spray the entire blind with a scent eliminating spray far ahead of season, you will reap with benefits as hunting season approaches. Doing your homework early will give deer time to adapt, allowing them to be on a natural movement when ready to hunt. Spraying a scent eliminator after assembling the blind will ensure that the blind will remain “invisible” due to the fact that a scent eliminator will hide human odors that may be contaminating the area.

Early season is a great time to hunt using ground blinds. However, once the rut progresses, hunters can adjust to deer movement. When bucks start scraping at the edge of fields or particular travel routes, one can move ground blinds into place to catch bucks checking on those scrapes as the rut continues. Another great time to use a ground blind is during late fall, when rut activity has ended and deer are back to a heavy feeding pattern to begin storing food for the winter. Having a ground blind at the edge of a food source allows the hunter to take advantage of this feeding pattern as well as to stay out of the cold elements and be able to play the waiting game as deer feed throughout the evening.

There are several ways that a ground blind can be effective. By scouting with game cameras, one can find what time the best deer movement occurs. This will help determine when the hunter needs to be in the blind.

Begin early, scout often and prepare to adjust with the deer throughout the season. The task of staying concealed, hunting no matter what the conditions, and being able to make a successful shot will be easier, allowing the hunter to be more successful.

By: Heath Wood

Courtesy of Mossy Oak

NC Land and Farms Hires New Brokers in The Lake Gaston Area

We have recently added two new members to our team of brokers and realtors at NC Land and Farms. Zach Antill joined our team in May. He was a former North Carolina Wildlife Officer for Halifax and Northampton Counties. He earned a degree in Outdoor Ministry from Montreat College. After working with our team for a few months, his wife Beth Antill decided to also join our team after she had earned her real estate license. Beth graduated from Radford University with a degree in Tourism and Special Events. She has since spent time working on Lake Gaston at a local youth camp and teaching high school Bible classes.

Zach and Beth met each other as kids at their local church in Lake Gaston, NC. After many fishing and hunting dates they decided to remain hunting and fishing buddies forever by getting married. In their free time they enjoy hunting, fishing, and boating on Lake Gaston, Roanoke Rapids Lake, and the Roanoke River. Their combined backgrounds bring a unique perspective on land, home, family, and the outdoors to the Mossy Oak Properties Team.

Zach works primarily in land sales and has an extensive knowledge in wildlife and timber, making him a great addition to our team for our buyers who are seeking hunting and recreational properties. Beth works primarily in residential and rural residential properties. From Lake front homes on Lake Gaston to homes on acreage in the surrounding counties.

Zach and Beth bring a unique dynamic not only to our team but also to their area of coverage. They’re honest, ethical, and knowledgeable of the real estate market in their area. We are excited for their futures at Mossy Oak Properties as well as the relationships they have built and will continue to build with our buyer and seller clients.

Zach Antill –  (252) 676-0888

Beth Antill –  (804) 720-1587


It’s now possible to plant trees with success any time of the year. Generally speaking, the traditional planting time for folks in the South is February through mid-March, and folks up North have to wait for the ground to thaw in the spring. These still remain safe and reliable tree planting times. However, with the advent of containerized, air-pruned seedlings, such as those from Nativ Nurseries, seedlings don’t have to be dormant to be planted.

Why is fall a better time to plant containerized seedlings?

1) Root Growth

Fall planting allows the seedling several more months of root growth before spring green-up and the summer swelter hits. More roots in the ground ensures higher survival and better first year growth.

2) Less Watering

Fall planting will save hours upon hours of dreaded watering the following summer. Once again, the tree will have all winter and spring to get used to its surroundings and put down roots. When the summer heat wave hits, a fall planted seedling can, in most climates, make it through the season without supplemental watering.

3) More Time In The Spring

Fall planting allows more time the following spring to handle other important tree projects such as fertilization and weed and insect control.

If you are serious about fast growth, lower maintenance, and early and abundant fruit/seed production, give fall tree planting a try. You’ll be glad you did!

For more GameKeeper tips, read “Fall Tree Fertilization.” Put your trees to bed for the winter with a full belly. Most folks fertilize their trees in the late winter and spring. That’s a great time to fertilize, because the plants are either about to grow or are making their big spring time flush of growth and need the extra energy.


Everyone likes to brag to their buddies about harvesting a nice buck or all the deer feeding in one of their food plots. Be careful who you boast in front of…  Word of a huge buck travels fast. For some reason, “antlers” can make normally principled people do stupid things. The enticement to harvest a big, mature whitetail buck can trigger certain people to break the law, so the less people who know, the better.

When you catch someone on your property during hunting season who isn’t supposed to be there, what do they always tell you? “I’m tracking a wounded deer.” They say this because in most states it is legal to follow a wounded animal across a property border to try and recover it. The problem is that habitual trespassers have learned this defense and use it for an excuse to go wherever they please. On the chance that they’re telling the truth the first step is to debunk the claim. But once they’re exposed what should you do? Besides releasing the hounds, land-mines, booby-traps or mortars (which I must admit, sound appealing at times) what can we do that won’t also land us in prison? Protect yourself from this and prevent trespassing from ever happening in the first place.

If I actually catch someone I’m usually so angry that the “intelligence center” in my brain just shuts off – I want to tell the trespassers what I think of their unethical actions and get them off the property as fast as possible!

This past fall my brother-in-law and I rounded the corner on the road to our property and saw “blaze-orange” people posted along part of our west border. We pulled up to the closest hunter and in a very happy, nonchalant voice I asked, “Whatcha doing’?” She answered in a neighborly voice, “We’re making a push.” “Really,” I said, trying to keep my composure, “are you having any luck?” “We shot at a small buck,” she said. Then I asked if she had permission to be there. She said “yes.” I couldn’t believe it! The little regulator in my brain that controls my demeanor “tripped the breaker” because I went off on this lady with a rant that that “word-smiths” Dennis Leary and Dennis Miller would be proud of. It lasted several minutes and will go down in property owner history. In a long comprehensive manner, I first told her she was a liar and then what I thought of unscrupulous types like her and her cronies and for her to get the “bleep” off of our property…NOW!

Then she changed her tune. When she heard it was “our land” she said, “But we’re tracking a wounded deer.” I replied, “If that’s true – OK, but for now you get your entire crew off of our property, pronto! We’ll go check the trail and come back to sort things out in a few minutes.” We opened our gate, cut their track in the fresh snow and tried to verify whether or not they were telling the truth. There wasn’t a speck, drop, fleck or microscopic particle of blood anywhere to be found. By the time we got back out to the road, they peeled-out around the corner retreating as fast as possible and we never saw them again.

I made several mistakes – I had a video camera in a case on the front seat of the vehicle within a few feet of me and my rage caused me not to reason clearly. I was more worried about verbally lambasting this crew than thinking ahead and what should have been done. I should have videotaped the entire confrontation. We should have also gone to their vehicle and taken down the license plate and description. Calling the DNR or police should have also been on our list, but the main thing was we should have never left the scene. Rather than thinking about evacuation, we should have been thinking about prosecution.

You need to prosecute every trespasser you encounter! Obviously, exceptions need to be taken for the occasional neighbor or two, but especially people like this who knew they were breaking the law need to be prosecuted every time you come in contact. Word travels fast and usually, it only takes once or twice before people learn to stay off your property.

Even if you live on-site unless you have a 120-foot tall fire ranger observation tower that’s staffed 24/7, you’re not going to catch everyone. So it’s important that you take measures to prevent trespassers from ever thinking about entering your turf.


There is absolutely no mistaking the fact that we DO NOT want people entering our propertybecause it is clearly legally posted. It is plainly posted with signs every 50 yards along our borders, which are also fenced. In fact,

I was so livid after this last encounter that I walked our boundary to bolster our markings even further and now it’s so obvious it’s almost silly. But make sure there is no excuse. These people walked directly by our signs. So every once in a while you’ll get obtuse offenders like these that are bold enough to violate your markers regardless, but that’s why it’s important to prosecute when you catch someone. There are some things to consider while posting signs to your property boundary. While we are all stewards who work toward a goal of bettering our property for wildlife, posting signs about those goals can be dangerous. Instead, taking them for what they truly mean, poachers may see them as a billboard saying, “Big bucks live here” and are even more tempted to trespass on your property.


Even if you’re not a resident where you either, own land, lease rights to hunt, or hunt with permission, nothing beats your presence on site. Your truck and signs of activity are all well noticed when hunting season rolls around. Whenever you’re not around however, the ultimate asset is a good relationship with your neighbors.

Before we purchased this property we went around and introduced ourselves to all of our neighbors. We told them what we wanted to do with the property, that we would be keeping a close eye on it, that we would respect the property boundaries and that we wanted them to do the same. After catching one young neighbor boy on camera while he was on an October grouse hunt two years ago, I believe they saw we were serious about watching over the piece and we haven’t had a problem until the group I told of above. Our neighbors know that we will ask before we enter their property and we expect them to do the same for us. We don’t believe the trespassers above were “locals,” their vehicle was not familiar to anyone in the area so we’re hoping it was an isolated incident and that they learned their lesson and will think twice about crossing our borders.

Your relationship with your neighbor is a give and take relationship; you may have to trade access through your property or allow them to cut hay on your ground, for example. Whatever their incentive is, it’s worth your time and efforts to maintain a good relationship for someone who can give you a heads-up when unfamiliar vehicles show up where they shouldn’t be and look after the place when you’re gone. While not all neighbors are ideal and some relationships can’t be maintained, it is worth it to do what you can.

Locals and friends who frequent the area and can prevent poachers from bothering your property are invaluable. While those whose job it is to protect our resources don’t often have the best reputation with some, it’s extremely helpful to know your local game warden. In all honesty, most problems with a state’s natural resources stem from much further up the ladder than your local C.O. (Conservation Officer). When you do encounter an issue and need their assistance, it’s much more likely you’ll receive a favorable response when you need that help. There aren’t nearly enough of these positions. With so much on their plates during the busy hunting season and typically one person per county (or fewer), it’s a great advantage to both of you for them to know your face and build that connection.


Plant borders so people cannot see into your property. This all depends upon your time horizon and budget, but I like to use a combination of trees, shrubs, and warm-season perennial grasses. It’s important to put some thought behind this because certain plants lose their foliage during various times of the year and as trees grow they may elevate tall enough so they are no longer a barrier after a few years. So make sure that you consider both seasonally and for the long term. Mossy Oak’s Nativ Nursery can be helpful in designing a visual screen to meet your needs.

I consulted on a property last year that had a problem with poaching along one of their borders. I asked how bad the problem was and they finally had caught one of the perpetrators who admitted killing 19 deer the prior year from the one small stretch they were concerned with! From what I was told this poacher was just one of many. So when you look at how many “shooter bucks” are available in your entire population, just one unethical person can have a huge impact on your hunting opportunities.

To take care of the problem quickly you can simply plant some annual grasses like corn, sorghum or millet, or ornamental grasses like pampas grass also grows fast and tall. Basically, you can have a visual screen in several months. However, these are “annuals” – good for one year only. So I would also make arrangements for a more permanent solution.

Native warm season grasses are one of my favorite answers. Different varieties like Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem and Indian grass can grow 6 to 10 feet tall. I like to plant these grasses in addition to various trees and bushes. Stimulating the native seed-bank by mowing, fire or turning the soil can also create a regenerating native barrier.

Trees are a must for permanent barriers. Conifers are my favorite for several reasons. Obviously, they are thick and green all of the time, hence the reason they are often referred to as “evergreens.” I also like them because only a few varieties are attractive to whitetails so if you choose the proper varieties they really don’t provide much for food value. The last thing that I want to do is plant a variety that is attractive to whitetail in my barrier on my property border. I want to keep them from being seen, not attract them to a spot perfect for people to view.

Plant a combination of evergreens and deciduous trees. Configure your barrier keeping in mind both, horizontal and vertical growth properties. Remember a few years from now your barrier may be ten feet above the ground and no longer serving as a visual screen. Stagger your plantings so people traveling along your border can’t see into your property from any angle. If you’ve been an FFW subscriber for a while you may refer back to the winter 2009 issue and an article by Kenny Thompson entitled Border Patrol for Wildlife. He suggests traveling your borders yourself with a friend and flagging the vulnerable areas. Where you have sharp hills make sure that you take into consideration where exactly people will be viewing from and where exactly they may be looking to. Where you have hills you may not need any ground cover at all, but instead fast-growing trees with thick tops.

The best species for border protection will vary from region to region. You want plants and trees that grow tall, some that grow to a medium height and some that grow short and bushy. I like a combination of warm season native grasses like big bluestem and Indian grass, short bushes like lilacs and elderberry, medium deciduous trees like highbush cranberry and wild plum, tall trees like hackberry and red oak and conifers like spruce and white pine. I understand that some of these varieties are of value to whitetail, but the characteristics they offer for barriers outweigh their minor attractive distinctiveness.

Even if you’re leasing a property to hunt, landowners will often allow you to put up a gate or some fencing if you’re willing to do the work and/or front the materials. A locked gate is a huge statement to those who might otherwise enter. Areas that have never had a gate on them now tell those who may once have visited that it is now definitely not the case.

Simple obstacles like “fallen” trees on rarely used access trails or even piles of dirt will deter the lazy poachers. Many of these types will not go to the effort if it requires getting out of the truck or off their ATV; it’s often too muchwork for them.


Everyone likes to brag to their buddies about harvesting a nice buck or all the deer feeding in one of their food plots. Be careful who you boast in front of.  Word of a huge buck travels fast. For some reason, “antlers” can make normally principled people do stupid things. The enticement to harvest a big, mature whitetail buck can trigger certain people to break the law, so the fewer people who know, the better.


My friend John Cooper, who was recently South Dakota’s Secretary of Game Fish & Parks, was a senior resident agent for much of the Upper-Midwest with the Law Enforcement Division of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for 22 years. He informed me long ago, to prosecute a trespasser all you need is a clear, identifiable photo of the trespasser in the act. The problem is coming up with an “identifiable” photo. Most trail cameras will take a clear photo during daylight hours if a person will stand still and pose for it. To take a clear photo of a person that means you need to mount the camera in a spot to see their face. That usually means if the camera can easily see them, they can clearly see the camera. Who wants to lose their $400 trail camera to a trespasser who just got their photo taken? Now because they got their photo taken they pilfer or vandalize your camera to destroy the evidence.

Here’s a tactic that I have had limited success with. I have several old cameras that haven’t worked for a while. I use these as a “decoy” and then set the true “trap” with another working camera trained on the decoy camera. I make sure the working camera is camouflaged very well. If they mess with your decoy camera you now have them for vandalism or theft which typically carries a much harsher penalty than trespassing. When they find your decoy camera it usually satisfies them and they think they’ve won this battle – on the contrary. The toughest job now is getting a positive ID on the person/people in the photos. If it’s not a local person it may be difficult to identify them.

For that reason, I have started using more cameras on the trails and access points. Concentrate on the obvious parking spots, creek crossings, pinch-points along trails or gates that people use with vehicles. A license plate is easy to see and trace as opposed to trying to make out a face in a blurry low-res photo. Make sure to set your camera on its highest resolution so when you zoom in on the license plate you can easily read the numbers.


Carry a disposable camera in your pack and always keep your mobile phone (with camera) on you. Your trail cameras are stationary monitors, but what happens when you run into someone in person? Walk straight up to them and say “hello” and snap their photo. Now you have proof! This and name or license plate is all you need to prosecute. If they won’t give up a name follow them to their vehicle to get the license plate. This is something I should have done in the encounter recollected at the beginning of this piece. My phone has a camera in it and I also carry a disposable camera in my pack. I guess the biggest detail is you need to remember to use it, something I blatantly failed at in the prior scenario. I had a video camera sitting right next to me in the truck and all I could think about is getting those unethical violators off the property as fast as possible. Find their vehicles and take photos of them also. Gather and document as much information as feasible. Then prosecute them!


Just like a good coach punishing the kid who is late to practice (I know about this), an example has to be made of anyone caught partaking in these illegal actions on your property. Word spreads quickly amongst the local community, especially those who work against everything we do as gamekeepers. Our goals are largely different and long-term compared to those who want a short-term thrill. In reality, this is nothing other than “theft” from hard-working individuals who do things the right way. If you let one trespasser off the hook, another might hear such and be willing to take advantage of your leniency the same way. On the other hand, oftentimes it only takes prosecuting one trespasser before the problem fixes itself.

There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing stories about somebody on or around your property while you were likely at work or busy elsewhere. Finding signs of their activity near your stands, carcasses with the heads cut off or a gut-pile will make you sick after the hours and sweat you’ve put into your preparation. Poachers are the lowest of the low; they’re resource thieves and greedy individuals. While all of our regulations may not make the most sense, they are in place to help us protect our wildlife populations and our futures as hunters.

It’s our duty as conservationists and hunters to raise and educate the next generation of gamekeepers. Ethical hunting and outdoor activities are as important as any experience in Mother Nature. If you know of someone who may be on the line of doing something unethical or committing acts of poaching, do your best to steer them in a better direction. If nothing else, there are several anonymous TIP (Turn in Poachers) hotlines in most states. There are even national hotlines such as Report a Poacher, which can be reached at 1-800-642-3800.

By: Bob Humphrey

This article is courtesy of the GameKeepers Farming for Wildlife publication, a quarterly wildlife and land management magazine produced by the Mossy Oak GameKeepers. For more information on subscribing or joining visit Mossy Oak GameKeepers Club.



As the Quality Deer Management philosophy becomes further anchored as the dominant mindset among whitetail hunters, achieving greater numbers of mature bucks is not the hurdle it once was. Instead, there’s another hindrance…killing them. Helping to clear that barrier is the “sanctuary,” a landscape feature that has recently become a familiar part of conversations about hunting tactics, property set-up, and small-acreage management.

There are two kinds of sanctuaries used by mature bucks. The most common is the kind hunters create unknowingly. They are the places we don’t like to go because they are inconvenient, difficult to get into, or because we perceive some other place – like a food plot or a tree stand where we had success in the past – is a better place to hunt. Bucks use these sanctuaries to avoid us, but because we don’t know they do, we can’t capitalize on them.

The second kind of sanctuary is one we hunters actively designate. Bucks use these sanctuaries to avoid us, but because we know they do, we can capitalize. We can use designated sanctuaries to shelter immature bucks we don’t want to harvest but someone else might, to encourage these bucks to spend more time on our hunting land throughout their lives, to encourage mature bucks to use our land when regional hunting pressure intensifies, and to allow us to predict the movements of mature bucks so we can kill them.

Designing and using sanctuaries is a relatively new and evolving art in deer habitat management. Questions abound, and opinions vary. I recently spoke with several recognized experts in deer behavior and land management to nail down the best.


The concept of actively creating and managing sanctuaries has only recently emerged into the mainstream of hunting thought. Little, if any, scientific research has been aimed at the topic, but a few studies have indirectly provided answers to some of our questions. Among those are studies of adult bucks wearing GPS tracking collars at DuPont’s Chesapeake Farms research facility in Maryland. Data from GPS collars have allowed researchers to illuminate the home ranges of adult bucks – and the “core areas” within those home ranges – on a hunted property with mixed woodland and agriculture.

“We saw these core areas show up in places that we basically don’t hunt,” said Dr. Mark Conner. Mark described two sites in particular that served as the core areas for several bucks wearing collars. “One is a sanctuary because it is impenetrable to humans, very dense greenbriar and other thorny vegetation,” he said. “The only way you can get into it is to find a deer trail and get on your hands and knees and go in there.”

“The other area,” Mark said, “is a designated waterfowl sanctuary surrounding a pond. Human activity is restricted to avoid disturbing geese and ducks using the pond, and the restricted area – about 25 acres in size – includes woodlands, fields and pockets of native warm-season grasses. It’s almost the opposite of the other sanctuary.” Mark continued, “It’s very open, but like the other sanctuary, there is no human disturbance. These two areas were core areas for multiple bucks, and by our definition of core area, the bucks spent 50 percent of their time in those areas.” Given the differences in the two sites, Mark doesn’t believe habitat density defines a sanctuary. “It doesn’t have to be a place a hunter can’t go,” he said. “It just has to be a place a hunter doesn’t go. Human presence defines the sanctuary, not necessarily the cover type.”


All of the experts I spoke with agreed with Mark: absence of human activity defines a sanctuary, and mature bucks end up using those areas as a result. “Whether sanctuaries attract bucks to the area because it is more secure for them, or bucks that frequent those areas just get older because they aren’t hunted that hard, we aren’t sure,” said Dr. Karl Miller at the University of Georgia. “Either way, it doesn’t matter. We know mature bucks inhabit those areas.”

With this knowledge in hand, deer managers can begin to incorporate sanctuaries into their habitat and hunting layout. But the details can be difficult to disentangle. What size? How many? Where should they be located? Answering these questions in the appropriate order can be difficult, but it helps to first define the goal for sanctuaries. One of the main goals of Quality Deer Management is to protect yearling bucks. By assigning portions of your land as a refuge, the overall herd characteristics of age structure, density and even in some cases the buck-to-doe ratio can be positivity influenced, oftentimes significantly. It will also provide security for borderline bucks that need another year of maturing, but might make the cut on your neighbor’s property. Of course when dealing with neighbors it will be much easier to navigate this hindrance with the establishment of a cooperative. A well-designed sanctuary will also increase the amount of daylight movement on your property as a whole, increasing your chances for tagging the buck you’re after and truly seeing what undisturbed movement should be like. In the context of this article, our goal is to create hunting opportunities for mature bucks.


Let’s start by trying to set some guidelines for size. Coming up with the perfect minimum or maximum size for an effective sanctuary that works in every corner of the whitetail’s range is impractical, because habitat, landforms, and land use practices vary widely. However, “seclusion” can be measured no matter where you hunt.

“It’s not the size that’s as important as the amount of seclusion the sanctuary provides,” said Karl. “One acre by a road? You don’t have a sanctuary. As a minimum, 20 acres comes to mind, but then your presence on the border of the 20 acres is functionally making that a smaller sanctuary.”

Mark Conner also said that seclusion and density play into optimal size. “If you did get near a deer that was lying down in the sanctuary, and it could get up and be comfortable enough to lay down again within that same sanctuary, I think that’s a good thing,” he said. As an example, he cited the waterfowl sanctuary at Chesapeake Farms, which is about 25 acres in size. Because it is a relatively open patchwork of fields and woods, deer can be bumped completely out of the sanctuary by vehicles or hunters passing near. “But if you had 25 acres of impenetrable cover, I don’t think you could push them out,” he said. In other words, a small patch of dense cover may provide more effective sanctuary than a larger patch of more open cover.

As for hunting strategy – our ultimate goal – size is a critical variable. Joe Lacefield is a private lands wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, and he regularly advises small-property managers to use sanctuaries to help attract and hold mature bucks. He believes that even half an acre can provide sanctuary from hunting pressure, and mature bucks will use that space, but effectively hunting around a sanctuary this small is difficult because hunters are more easily detected.

“But a sanctuary can be too large, too,” Joe said. “If you had a sanctuary that was so large it had all the components a deer needs, including food, it would be more difficult to harvest that animal. The idea is to hunt the travel patterns between the sanctuary and the other resources.”

Wildlife consultant Bryan Kinkel of Tennessee agrees with Joe. “Smaller sanctuaries are much easier to hunt, because they have fewer entrance and exit routes,” Bryan said. “You can predict the travel routes much easier. So there’s no such thing as “too big” for the deer, but a sanctuary can be too big for effective hunting. For hunting purposes, I think over 10 acres is getting too large.”


Some hunters wonder whether competition for limited sanctuary cover is a social issue for deer. If sanctuary cover is not abundant, will dominant bucks monopolize a good sanctuary and keep other bucks out? Could a group of does antagonize bucks in spring and summer, when antlers are growing, and run them out of quality cover?

While Mark Conner said he hasn’t studied this aspect in particular, he said there was substantial overlap in the core areas of individual bucks being tracked at Chesapeake Farms during hunting season. Referring specifically to the two sanctuaries on Chesapeake Farms, he said it was almost certain that bucks were using the same sanctuary at the same time.

As for competition from does, Karl Miller said, “We see some segregation of the sexes during the fawning period. The does generally, based on the research, take some of the better quality habitat for fawning. But I don’t think it’s a concern if bucks are being displaced during fawning season. And if the does are in there during the rut, that would be even more reason for the bucks to be there too.”

The advantage of multiple sanctuaries seems to be clearer when it comes to hunting strategy. For some hunters, property size is too small to allow for multiple sanctuaries, but in general, more is better. More sanctuaries allow a hunter to distribute hunting pressure more evenly across a property, and multiple set-ups will allow for hunting options no matter the wind direction.

“I personally prefer to see sanctuaries scattered across a property,” said Bryan Kinkel. “I prefer more, smaller sanctuaries than one big sanctuary.” With multiple safe zones you have a better possibility of encompassing different habitat types. For example, a ten acre thicket of early successional vegetation and a fifteen acre stand of pines can both be sanctuaries, but the habitat types are vastly different and serve different purposes. The only thing better than a productive sanctuary is two productive sanctuaries…or more! I have also noticed that most mature bucks are killed just outside these areas. The more sanctuaries you have, the more of these highly productive edges you have to hunt.

“Second, multiple sanctuaries allow deer to move across a property in a hopscotch pattern, jumping from sanctuary to sanctuary. This gives you more travel patterns, more gaps, more weak places in their movements, and that gives you more hunting opportunities.”

And, Bryan added, if social friction between mature bucks is a factor at all, multiple sanctuaries may allow more mature bucks to spend more time on the same property. As a reality check, remember that no matter the number or size of protected sanctuaries you offer, not every mature buck in the area will gravitate toward your property.

“Different bucks have different personalities,” said Karl Miller. “Some tend to be ‘home boys,’ and some tend to roam over wide areas. A sanctuary isn’t going to protect those bucks that roam a lot, particularly if they roam a lot during the daytime. However, bucks that have a smaller home range can spend a good portion of their time in these sanctuaries.”


While options may be limited on any given property depending on acreage and landscape features, there is general agreement that the first sanctuary you establish should be located toward the heart of the property. Subsequent additions should also be orbiting the center of the property and avoiding boundary lines. Many hunters allocate areas of their property to sanctuary that are unused. This is a decent starting point but not necessarily a cure-all. The reason for this is most hunters don’t trek to their “back 40” when hunting, and the areas they regularly hunt are easily accessible. It doesn’t take long for every animal nearby to realize this and become wary in areas where ATVs, trucks, and gunshots are frequent.

Don Higgins, a freelance writer and habitat consultant from Illinois and author of the book Hunting Trophy Whitetails in the Real World, believes the center of a property is the place to start. This helps pull deer farther into the property when the pressure is on, and there are other advantages.

“When the sanctuary is in the middle, you can hunt all sides of it,” Don said. “If it’s on or near a property boundary, you lose access to some of the hunting opportunities that are created, and you may give them to your neighbor. Also, a neighbor can ruin the sanctuary by hunting or walking by with the wrong wind and letting their scent blow in.”

The exception, as Joe Lacefield pointed out, is in neighborhoods with cooperative relationships or even a formal QDM Cooperatives established. “You and I can have a cooperative sanctuary,” Joe said. “We designate an area on a common boundary, and we both get a sanctuary to hunt. We’d have to be pretty good friends to pull that off, but it can be done.”

Beyond these considerations, sanctuaries should be placed in areas that make sense for existing features like food plots, roads and orchards. Predominant wind direction should also be considered to ensure logical stand sites. Placing sanctuaries near existing travel corridors will ensure use.

Bryan Kinkel also likes to place sanctuaries to take advantage of habitat features that encourage deer travel. “When habitat edges converge with a sanctuary, deer, especially bucks, will want to follow these edge lines,” he said. “Edges, ridges, any kind of terrain feature that concentrates deer movement will be used as an entrance or exit to the sanctuary.”

As a real-world example, Bryan described a pair of sanctuaries on opposite flanks of a long, narrow ridge. “The closest point where they almost touch is right in a saddle in that ridge,” he said. “The deer go between the two sanctuaries through the saddle. Multiple mature bucks have been shot in that saddle.”


Many land managers only enter their sanctuaries a couple of times a year, while others avoid them completely. This depends on the property, size of the sanctuary, landowner/hunter goals, time of year and many other details.

Personally, I venture into the sanctuary on my hunting ground twice a year. Once when searching for shed antlers and surveying the deer sign, and secondly, to enhance the habitat. As you can see, the trips I make are for the sole purpose of learning more about the wildlife usage and improving the habitat. In both cases, I am in and out as quickly as possible.

Practicing habitat management in a sanctuary is a tricky hurdle to clear. In my view, there is no need for a food plot, not even a small one. The establishment and maintenance of a plot causes too much disruption so I avoid them. This is where the enhancement of natural vegetation reigns supreme. In one afternoon you can take a chainsaw and conduct a few crop tree releases and hinge cuts to promote hard and soft mast production as well as secure bedding cover. Also, these techniques are more efficient if conducted during the late winter and spring. As a general consensus amongst most land managers, the spring is the ideal time to slip in and do as much work as quickly and safely as possible.

Despite the fact I am a “game camera junkie,” I never place a camera in a sanctuary. It will only lead to more trips back to swap out memory cards, creating more disturbances and an excess of residual scent. This is the only time I recommend not using a trail camera. The other reason I avoid game cameras in these areas is because I have found they are not necessary. The goal of a sanctuary is to ease the hunting pressure and promote the usage of daylight activity on your property. If a sanctuary is properly executed, you won’t need to penetrate its boundary to learn what is on your property. Operate your trail cameras like you normally would and thoroughly cover your property, but avoid the sanctuaries.

It doesn’t matter what you do to your property, you will not reap the rewards of your hard work if the wildlife is pressured enough to modify their movements or even temporarily move off your property onto areas with fewer disturbances. A sanctuary is essentially the icing on the cake when it comes to the hard work of dealing with habitat and wildlife management. This is the perfect time of year to take note of the wildlife on your property and what can be done in the next few months to improve your hunting grounds. If you have a sanctuary already established, try modifying it and see how it works out. If you don’t have a sanctuary, take a thorough look at your property and begin the process of establishing one. You will be glad you did!


Of course, sanctuaries don’t always have to be created. Existing natural sanctuaries should figure into your strategy. “The farm I hunt has a natural sanctuary that is a steep river bluff,” said Joe Lacefield . “There’s roughly 20 acres that no one goes in. By hunting just off that bluff and rattling, I’ve taken some pretty nice deer in multiple years. But it seems they really only go to that sanctuary area after there’s been quite a bit of pressure, after Kentucky’s youth and muzzleloader seasons when scouting for gun season has started.


Any deer hunter can benefit from creating sanctuaries, and managers of small properties have the greatest need to incorporate low-pressure areas into their plan. Most deer hunters create sanctuaries already, they just don’t know it. A diligent effort to identify existing areas with light or no hunting pressure may reveal abundant sanctuaries. If not, they are easily created, and the guidelines presented here, combined with on-the-ground details where you hunt, will help determine the number, size, location and distribution that work for you. Efforts to improve, protect, and take advantage of these sanctuaries may rapidly increase your odds of seeing and harvesting mature bucks that use the land you hunt.

For more on growing big bucks and having opportunities for harvesting them, check out Ways to Provide Sanctuary for Big Bucks.

By Lindsey Thomas Jr. and Andrew Walters 

Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine