"I am a current member of QDMA and I have a question about size of land for deer management. We are thinking about purchasing a 6-acre parcel of land. This land has a natural stream running through it, and it is mostly wooded. Would this be enough property to have at least one food plot and have a viable deer management program? This is a whole new adventure for my wife and I to get into."
This is an e-mail I received from Tony Rampino. QDMA gets this type of question a lot from hunters who are looking at purchasing a small, affordable tract of their own land. In fact, the average QDMA member who owns land owns less than 200 acres, and one in five owns less than 50 acres. I thought I would share my response to Tony with all of our website visitors, as I know many others wonder the same thing.
Can you have a viable deer management program on 6 acres? I'm going to answer both "yes" and "no."
Yes, you can create dynamic deer habitat on only 6 acres that is highly attractive to neighborhood deer and will allow you to enjoy great hunting on this tract.
No, working alone from a 6-acre base of operations, you cannot effectively manage the local deer population (the "Herd Management" Cornerstone of QDM). However, the "alone" part can be addressed. I'll come back to that.
Yes You Can
First, let's talk about what you can do with a 6-acre hunting tract. The general goal with a small hunting tract is to develop and offer all the things whitetails need: food, cover, water (but especially the ones that are locally scarce). This must be developed around a planned infrastructure of access that allows you to move about and hunt this tract with minimal disturbance. Hunting pressure is the most critical variable on a tract this small: It is simply too easy for deer to skirt and avoid a small tract if they come to associate it with danger. Mature bucks especially tend to spend more time where you aren't, so stealth is the key word in managing and hunting a micro-sized tract.
To accomplish this, you will need multiple potential stand sites setup and ready to go so you can choose the one that is right for the day's wind conditions. You will need multiple access routes to reach these stands, allowing you to use the right route for the day's wind conditions and to avoid bumping deer out of the attraction zones you have created (food, cover, water). You will also need the strength to sometimes make yourself stay home when wind conditions are unpredictable or erratic and you can't be sure where your scent is going, or when it's warm or raining and conditions for deer movement aren't optimal. I don't think this can be emphasized enough: Your movements are restricted to a tiny postage stamp of land, while the deer have very large home ranges by comparison, and they will avoid your land if they constantly encounter danger there. Studies of deer movements using GPS-tracking collars have shown deer do not use all areas of their home ranges equally, and there are often pockets within home ranges that an individual deer never appears to use. You have to manage your land and your hunting habits to ensure your property is a "go to" zone, not a "no go" zone.
As far as how you arrange the habitat on your 6 acres, that will depend much on what the landscape allows and on what surrounding lands look like. You want to offer the most limited resource. Is hunting pressure heavy and cover scarce in the neighborhood? Then bias your efforts toward creating escape cover and sanctuaries that you never enter. Is agriculture and early successional cover scarce? Then offering forage through food plots and early successional cover should be your goal. Yes, you can have food plots on 6 acres; the question is, what size and how many. Again, that's dictated by the landscape. If crops and forage are plentiful in the neighborhood, I would angle toward multiple smaller hunting plots (an eighth to a quarter of an acre or so in size), and I would try to offer forage that isn't readily available nearby. If crops and forage are scarce, I would want a large central plot, as big as 2 acres if that is feasible, for a central attraction feature. I would hunt the cover and access routes surrounding this central plot, but I would not hunt the plot itself.
We could talk for days about the techniques and scenarios for creating great deer habitat on 6 acres, from timber stand improvement to hinge cutting and tree planting, all aimed at attracting deer and allowing you to hunt them effectively while screening your own presence as much as possible. But the short answer is: Yes, you can do a lot with only 6 acres.
No You Can't, Unless...
As for my "no" answer, you need to understand that you will not be able to influence deer health, deer density, adult sex ratio, fawn recruitment, or buck age structure in the local population through the harvest choices you make on 6 acres. But that answer assumes you are working alone. If you can achieve a cooperative relationship with enough neighboring landowners who hunt, you can guide harvest decisions across a large enough portion of the landscape to practice QDM and influence deer population variables.
If you aren't familiar with the local area when shopping for land, predicting the feasibility of a QDM Cooperative can be difficult. You'll need to talk to one or two of the neighboring landowners to get a feel for attitudes about deer management in the vicinity. Do any landowners who hunt already protect yearling bucks? If not, would they be willing to? Chances are, there will be enough hunters in the area already practicing QDM, or open to the idea, that you will have success starting a QDM Cooperative.
This discussion could go on much longer, especially with more details available, like an aerial of the property and the surrounding lands, information about the local deer population from the state wildlife agency's wildlife biologist, and information from some local landowners. Tony, I hope you are able to secure this tract, or another that is suitable to you, because you are about to have a great time designing your own small hunting property! Good luck!