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4 Habitat Hacks to Draw Deer In

Use these cheap and easy habitat enhancements to tag more whitetails where you hunt.

4 Habitat Hacks to Draw Deer In

(Photo by Mark Raycroft)

As a Western bowhunter used to roaming endless tracts of public land in search of mule deer, elk and pronghorns, I didn’t get it. Truth be told, it drove me nuts. My goal when chasing critters out West has always been — and likely always will be — to arrow the first legal animal that presents a good opportunity. Naturally, I took this same mindset to the whitetail woods, and for a while I was content.

Then, in 2016, I started hunting whitetails with Terron Bauer, who I now refer to as my personal whitetail Yoda. You see, Bauer’s bowhunting roots are much different than mine. He grew up hunting his father’s farm in south-central Nebraska. Although the farm isn’t that big and doesn’t include vast acreage of timber, it does hug the Blue River and has plenty of corn and soybean fields — and that means whitetails.

“For me, it was all about management from the start,” Bauer said. “I wasn’t concerned, ever really, about killing deer. Instead, I wanted to create habitat, plant food plots and do everything in my power to grow and hold big deer.”

The first time Bauer invited me to hunt, I got annoyed by his approach. He sent me pictures of 3-year-old deer I would have, at the time, cut off my left arm to shoot. Along with each photo was a caption that read, “Too young. Not a shooter.” Some of the bucks had names, which drove me crazy, and I often heard about how he had “history” and numerous “encounters” with a particular buck. I couldn’t have cared less.

Flipping the Switch

On my first trip to Bauer Land, on the final afternoon of my hunt, I missed a 40-yard shot on a respectable, 3.5-year-old 8-pointer Bauer had greenlighted for me. I was sick. At the time, the buck would have been my biggest.

The following summer, in late July, Bauer sent me a picture of that same buck. Yikes! Though still an 8-pointer, the deer had added significant tine length and mass. This time, the caption read, “See what a difference a year makes?”

By early fall, we had a lot of pictures of the big 8. He was very fond of a mock scrape along a trail that went through a gate Bauer had purposely opened to increase deer travel. For the first time in my bowhunting life, I went on a trip after a particular deer. I didn’t tell a soul, but I even named him the Great Eight.

What was happening to me?

On the third morning of my hunt, my arrow found its mark. My buck came in and worked a created-by-Bauer scrape just in front of the open gate. It was an incredible feeling, and after the recovery, Bauer and I drove around and he showed me what he planned to do to make different parts of his farm better in the coming years. Suddenly, I saw the light — my whitetail mind had been transformed.

1. Rubbing Posts

Between 2016 and 2020, I became consumed with all things whitetail. I spent oodles of time on the phone with Bauer, and during spring turkey trips to the Cornhusker State, I learned all I could about what this whitetail mastermind did to enhance his properties. Why? First, because it was fun, and second, because I planned to take a break from my Colorado mule deer pursuits to chase whitetails along the Arkansas River near my home.

Author Jace Bauserman has found that adding rubbing posts in tandem with licking branches and mock scrapes is a highly effective way to put bucks in front of his trail cameras — and his treestands!

The ground I’d gained permission to was perfect. Mostly ag (corn and alfalfa), I had 70 acres of sprinkled timber and a 5-acre section of native grass to hunt. Things started small. First, I visited the canyon land south of my home and cut three cedar posts. Based on map study and knowledge of the property, I placed each trunk in areas I figured to be popular travel corridors. Each post was buried three feet in the ground, and then, using a flag-pole attachment system or by drilling a hole through the center and using a cord, I attached an overhanging licking branch. I blazed the cedar with a saw to simulate a rub and let the cedar aroma waft. Last, I made a mock scrap under the licking branch. Terron has these post/licking branch systems set all around his property, and they are great for several reasons.

“Putting in a post/licking branch combo takes minimal effort and is super inexpensive,” Bauer said. “Plus, they work exceptionally well. Pine and cedar posts are great options — deer love the softness and aromatic nature of them — and they hit them year-round. Anybody can add these. They are not as complex as putting in a food source and are great for getting pictures for inventory. Plus, they’re a signing location bucks can’t ignore when passing through.”


2. Strategic Water

I knew things weren’t going to happen overnight. The plan was to keep enhancing and adding while hunting other ground, and I didn’t want to slip up. Though I was killing mature deer in Nebraska almost every year, I still had an itchy whitetail finger. The last thing I wanted to do was go against the plan and shoot a Colorado up-and-comer.

Bucks need to drink four to five quarts of water each day, and installing a strategically placed water source in your hunting area can pay big dividends during the rut.

Next, I added a pond. Terron had taught me the importance of water, and though my ground hugs the Arkansas River, I decided to give it a go. Like the posts, my initial investment was small. I found some heavy-duty plastic barrier at a farm auction; then, I dug a hole that would hold 55 gallons of liquid. After bedding in the liner and sloping the edges, I used 5-gallon buckets and an ATV to fill it.

Not only did it work, it quickly became, from July through November, the most visited spot in the area by bucks and does alike. Sure, I had to keep it filled, but driving my four-wheeler to and from a nearby drainage ditch a few times each month was zero hassle.

“People overlook water,” Bauer said. “This is especially true when a natural water source is nearby. However, just like the posts, location is everything when it comes to a water source. A whitetail buck must consume three to five quarts of water per day, and during the rut, when he’s chasing, knowing where to slake his thirst is critical. Putting in a small water source is a great way to enhance any property.”

3. Control the Travel

The next significant addition I learned about was on a spring 2021 turkey trip. Bauer had used a small tractor and brush-eating implement to cut travel paths that connected stand sites with bedding, food and the like. We walked several of the trails, and the deer were pounding them.

You can do a lot to control deer movement in your hunting area by working to improve access in the places you want deer to go and block access in areas you don’t. The author has had great success by mowing preferred trails and blocking others with brush.

In July, I traded a day of farm labor to use a friend’s tractor and brush-hog unit. After studying my property on an aerial map and labeling stand sites and other features such as rubbing posts, ponds and bedding areas, I worked. In less than an hour, I’d swathed 8-foot-wide paths through my deer ground, and all it cost me was one day of farm labor. In addition, I located river crossings and went the extra mile to make a few — ones that would drag deer past one of my stand sites — much better. All this took was a little elbow grease. I used a pair of landscaping loppers and a scythe to clear and widen paths through the heavy brush and tamarack. I also used a chainsaw and dropped some small cottonwoods to block travel. The basic idea is to make deer walk where you want them to and stop them from going places you don’t want.

“Anybody can better their property quickly by enhancing travel,” Bauer said. “If I could do nothing else, this would be my top tactic. Deer will take the path of least resistance, and when you provide manicured trails, even if all you do is go pick up sticks and cut out log jams, you can steer those deer where you want them. Blocking travel is equally as effective. I block just as many trails as I create. When deer have too many travel options, they will get downwind of you and you won’t see them at all.”

4. Put ’Em to Bed

I haven’t quite got to my bedding enhancement yet; it’s in the works for this year though. Bauer, however, is a bedding area master. He hinge cuts trees at a 45-degree angle and lets them topple. A downed tree provides browse and immediate cover, which does love. In addition, Bauer creates “buck beds,” and I’m positive my 2017 Nebraska buck came off one of the beds we’d created.

Building buck beds will not only help hold more bucks on your hunting property, it will also allow you to use trail cameras to pattern buck activity over the course of several years. This will reveal patterns that will help you be in the right place at the right time during various portions of the season.

“The hinge cutting is easy,” Bauer said. “Get a chainsaw, and I do recommend a habitat hook, which keeps things safe and allows you to pull trees down where you want them. I like to position rut stands between hinge cuts. Bucks cruise my hinge cuts hard starting in late October, and the action gets nuts during the rut. Put the does where you want them, and the bucks follow.

“As for buck beds, they are a bit different. I look for elevation — a small hill or rise in the terrain — and then I create an entrance and exit in the existing cover. Use a hand or chainsaw to clear branches away from trees so bucks can lean against them without getting poked. Give it a try this year, and then, during the spring, go and look at those buck beds. I bet you’ll find white belly hair.”

What About Food?

It’s kind of crazy that I’ve gotten almost to the end of this article without ever mentioning food plots. Well, Bauer’s plots look like something out of a Mossy Oak Gamekeepers magazine. They are beautiful, and of course he has an excellent selection of perennial and annual plots — clover, soybeans, rye and brassicas, to name a few. Though the plots are small, each is set in a prime area. The annual rainfall in Bauer’s neck of the woods is double that of my geographic location, and the soil is black as coal.

Although the author doesn’t have extensive experience with food plots, he has learned that even a small plot planted with the right food at the right time can be highly attractive.

Adding food, for me, was difficult. I tried several times, but the lack of rain mixed with sub-par sandy soil thwarted my best attempts. My biggest problem, though, as it applied to food was that I didn’t first consult my doctor. After my failed attempts, Bauer quickly pointed out I needed something extremely drought tolerant that would grow on concrete. His idea was to plant a small rye section mixed with winter wheat near the pond. He also told me to plant it in September. I heeded his advice, and though small — created with a four-wheeler and attached plow and planted when temps were cooler — the green was over four inches tall come early October.

“Everybody wants to plant a plot,” Bauer said. “I love them, and while food is excellent, it’s not 100 percent necessary. Don’t fret one bit if you can’t add groceries to your small property. Things such as rubbing posts, water, enhanced travel corridors and boosted bedding will do you just as much good. Also, it may be possible for you to spray and kill your brome and plant native grass. In some locations where native grass already exists, you can kill the brome, and the native (grass) will come up, making incredible bedding and allowing browse to grow.”

The Result

My property was ready to rock going into the 2021 season. During October’s second-to-last week, I’d identified three shooters on the property. All were on the kill list, but my main target was an old 8-pointer my cameras had captured the previous two years. I had a history with him, and he was very mature. As you can see, my entire mindset has changed.

On the evening of Oct. 24, I hunted my tiny slice of Colorado whitetail heaven for the first time. With 10 minutes of legal light remaining, I turned to my right and spied my 8-pointer walking down the trail I’d created. He came and slurped water out of my pond, and at 18 yards, I put a SEVR-tipped Easton through his lungs. A first-time-in kill on the deer I was after. Yep, I’m hooked for life!

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