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Patterning Small Whitetail Properties

Let the data reveal where and when to strike!

Patterning Small Whitetail Properties

(Mark Raycroft image)

It was my fourth consecutive year hunting the Cornhusker State, and if God has created better whitetail dirt, I’ve yet to see it.

I know Kansas, Iowa and other places are amazing too — and yes, they produce banger bucks year in and year out — but I love my little slice of Nebraska paradise. And it's only a 40-acre chunk of ground I’ll be focusing on in this article. My purpose is not to brag about big bucks or about my past successes on this hunting ground; that’s not who I am. My goal has always been to help others succeed, and if you heed the small-property whitetail advice that follows, you may be in for your best season yet!

First Time In

My good friend Terron Bauer is a whitetail Yoda. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again now: there is simply no one else like him in the whitetail game. Years ago, Terron gave me access to a 40-acre chunk of timber he didn’t have time to hunt. He told me the property was suitable and that if I put in my time, I’d kill a buck.

During that first week of November in 2017, I hunted from a 16-foot ladder stand. It was the only stand on the property, and though I did see a shooter buck from it, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. East winds blew, and temperatures were in the 70s. Despite Terron’s prediction, I didn’t kill a deer on that hunt.

Make It Better

The following spring, I returned to Nebraska to bowhunt turkeys. This is something Terron and I look forward to each year, but 2018 was different, as we spent just 10 percent of our time together trying to shish kabob gobblers and the remaining 90 percent making deer-habitat improvements on the 40 acres.

Things started simply. We put in a few cedar rubbing posts, blocked some travel routes and opened others. We also hung a few more stands, allowing me to effectively hunt the farm on various wind directions. Since the property is tiny, entrance and exit routes are crucial. So, we spent a lot of time scrutinizing how to get into and out of those new stand sites without allowing the local deer to see, smell or hear me along the way.

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The more you improve habitat on a small property, the more time deer will spend there and the easier they will be to pattern. The author’s habitat work on his 40-acre Nebraska lease started small with the installation of a few cedar rubbing posts that really helped increase buck activity.

During that week, we also found numerous rubs and scrapes in prime locations, allowing us to glean new insights about how bucks used the property during the rut.

That summer, Terron planted a small clover plot on the property and hung a trail camera on it. Summer and early-fall buck activity on the plot was sporadic. Occasionally, we’d get a shooter strolling through, along with some scrapper bucks. For the most part, however, the camera cards were filled with does and fawns. Heading into the fall archery season, we honestly weren’t sure what to think.

As it turned out, I was fortunate to kill a great 8-point buck on a different property that fall, and I ended up never even hunting that 40-acre property once. However, a picture is worth 1,000 words, and from Nov. 1-6, our trail cameras caught multiple shooter bucks there. The bucks were hitting our rubbing posts, scent-checking the clover patch for does and creating scrapes the size of car hoods.




With my tag punched, we headed to investigate during the midday hours. After all, a camera can only tell you so much. When we put boots on the ground, we found the property was more torn up than we suspected. The travel corridors were pounded with tracks, the posts were being rubbed to shreds and the clover plot was nibbled down to bare dirt. The travel paths we’d blocked off back in the spring had resulted in more deer now passing within bow range of our new stand sites. Honestly, even though I couldn’t hunt, it was hard not to get excited about the fruit of our labor!

Around Nov. 16, the action stopped. Bucks locked down with does and things never really heated up again on the 40, which was disappointing and great at the same time. Now, we had a target window of opportunity; it was a rather small window, but a window nonetheless.

Not Yet!

During the spring of 2019, Terron went wild on the habitat improvements, as he is known to do. Over the course of a single week, he and friend Rick Souerdyke ripped up trees and hinge-cut others to create more bedding area. They also sprayed massive patches of brome grass to allow the native grasses to grow. When I arrived for my 2019 spring turkey hunt, the property looked completely different. And that summer, we noticed we had more mature deer showing up on camera.

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The mature bucks weren’t living on the property, but it was holding more does, which we knew would make it better during the rut, and most of the bucks were more frequent during the summer and early fall than they had been in past years. The work was paying off, and I had every intention of hunting the property during the fall of 2019.

Wrong Wind

As much work as had been done to the 40 acres known as the Wagner Farm, we couldn’t figure out how to hunt the property on an east wind. No, we weren’t being overly cautious either. We could deal with north, south and west winds, but anything east was horrid.

Guess what wind direction Mother Nature dealt me for my Nov. 2-7 hunt? Dang it! The camera was alive with buck activity — multiple shooters showing during daylight each day — but there was nothing we could do.

Terron was generous enough to allow me access to one of his honey holes, and I killed a beast of a deer he’d named Triple Brow, which at the time was the biggest buck ever taken on that Bauer Farm.

The Wagner Farm would have to wait another year, but more data was gathered and placed in the hunting journal. Again, the action was best from Nov. 1-7 and solid from Nov. 7-16. After the 16th, buck sightings grew slim. Of course, from 2017-2019, we also recorded weather patterns and moon phases during these time frames and cross-referenced them with our trail-cam images.

Foiled Again!

Well, we all know that 2020 brought a global COVID pandemic, and overall it was a deer-hunting train wreck. Sure, I killed a Nebraska buck, but I couldn’t make it out to the Bauer Farm in the spring to hunt turkeys or work on deer habitat. Terron did what he could, but with the world virtually shut down and him a little under the weather for a good chunk of the deer-management season, few changes occurred on the farm in 2020.

Trail-camera activity was still good, and switching to a cellular camera proved terrific and addicting. Terron had converted most of his farm to cell cams, which gave us right-now intel. Like the summer and early fall of 2019, buck activity was solid on the Wagner Farm, and we noticed some real up-and-comers and several shooters. Once again, I had high hopes for the fall.

I crawled into my treestand on the Wagner Farm on Nov. 1, 2020. The sun hadn’t begun to cast a glow on the landscape, and after getting things situated in the stand, I heard a grunt, followed by a snort-wheeze, leaves crunching and, seconds later, the sound of horns clashing. I never saw either of those bucks. The battle was over before dawn’s glow, but my heart was in my throat.

Jace-Small-Properties-Field-1200x800.jpg
In the fall of 2020, the author experienced a milestone moment on his Nebraska lease, seeing and/or hearing 10 bucks from his stand on a single morning hunt. Clearly, all his hard work in improving habitat and fine-tuning stand locations was finally paying off!

For the next four hours, I experienced a buck parade like nothing I’d seen before. Four 2-year-old bucks came and destroyed the scrape 20 yards from my stand, and several 3-year-olds chased does through the now 5-foot-tall native grass. I watched a shooter bed under a hinge cut late in the morning, but despite my pleading grunts and estrous whines, he wouldn’t budge.

I was still shaking when I climbed down, and when I got back to the truck and started inputting all of my data into my hunt journal, I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d drop my string on a brute cruising through a farm that had been four years in the making.

Of course, Nov. 2 brought straight east winds, which meant no Wagner Farm. At first light, I headed to a different property and grunted in a 3-year-old buck I should have let pass. I didn’t, and my SEVR-tipped Easton blew through the buck. Once again, my fall in Nebraska was over.

Naturally, the following day the wind switched out of the northwest — perfect for the Wagner Farm — and two shooters showed on camera. Once again, I gathered more data, charted what bucks showed on what dates, and noted wind directions, barometric pressures, moon phases, etc. Everything was virtually the same, but this year’s data gave me enough intricate knowledge to identify a new trend. From Oct. 31-Nov. 4, shooter bucks that hadn’t shown on camera since late September or early October reappeared to check the area for does. Some only showed up once, while others roamed the area for three or four days. Action slowed on Nov. 7, and then, on Nov. 16, the bucks vanished.

Forecasting Success

“Every year from now on,” Terron told me during our 2021 spring turkey hunt. “From now on, you must put most of your time into the Wagner Farm. We have too much intel, and we’ve done so much to it. That place is getting as good as my best spots.”

That spring, we buckled down harder than ever. Terron sprayed more brome, entrance and exit routes were improved, and travel corridors were boosted. New stands — more comfortable Millenniums and Lone Wolfs — went up. One Millennium made the property huntable on an east wind, and the access was killer. Terron, Rick and farm foreman Trevor Taylor put in a racetrack. Using a skidder and farm equipment, the trio made a circular travel corridor around the farm’s center and planted it in rye, triticale and rape.

When I arrived to hunt on Oct. 31, 2021, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Terron was upset. Severe drought had hit, and the food plot, while still good, wasn’t up to his standards. However, the number of good bucks using the property was up to his standards, and there was one buck in particular that really caught our eye.

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In July of 2021, the author captured a lone trail-cam image of this buck, which he nicknamed the Picket Fence. Although he never saw the buck on camera again, years of experience monitoring and hunting the property gave him a high level of confidence that the buck would reappear at some point during the rut that fall.

That night, before heading into the Wagner Farm for my first hunt of 2021, Terron and I reviewed the trail-cam pics. Our main target buck had appeared only once on the cellular camera, and the date was July 26. We knew he’d be back any day. As strange as it sounds, my confidence in killing this buck was high. Yes, we’d only seen him once on camera, but all our years of collecting data told us that if he was going to show, it would be sometime during November’s first week.

As good as the morning sit was, and it was banging, I didn’t see a shooter on the Wagner Farm on the morning of Nov. 1. With heavy rain forecasted for the afternoon, I had high hopes of crawling back in the second the rain stopped.

Well, I hadn’t even gotten situated in my stand when things heated up. I’d just finished setting up my Ozonics unit when I looked in the native grass to the east of my stand. It was like something out of a dream. I still don’t know where he came from or how he got there, but the big 10-pointer from July stood 250 yards away. Terron had created room by keeping the brome sprayed next to the rubbing post and licking branch we’d put up that spring. I can still see him, standing there like a statue, when I close my eyes.

The doe he was with walked off, but the buck didn’t follow. He’d scent-checked her and determined she wasn’t yet ready to breed. After letting the doe disappear into the timber, I sent an aggressive grunt toward the big-bodied brute, and he didn’t hesitate. The buck pinned its ears back, bristled up and stomped all 250 yards straight to my tree. I shot that buck at 2:30 p.m., through both lungs, and he didn’t go 100 yards.

Jace-Small-Properties-Hero-1200x800.jpg
The author took this gorgeous, Nebraska 10-pointer from his 40-acre whitetail lease on Nov. 1, 2021. It was the buck’s first appearance on the property in four months.

Terron hadn’t even made it to his treestand when I sent him the text. To our knowledge, that was the first time the 148-inch, picket-fence 10-pointer had returned to the Wagner Farm since July 26.

It's important to learn your small property inside and out. Never stop making improvements, and use your personal observations, trail-cam images and weather and moon data to piece together a puzzle that reveals a picture of deer activity on the property. It won’t happen overnight, or even over the course of a single season or two. But in time, you will know when to strike, and you can hit your hunting property while it is red hot.

A Must-Have Digital Mapping App

As a western hunter who has fallen hook, line and sinker in love with the whitetail game, I know the value digital mapping tools offer bowhunters. When planning my DIY, public-land elk missions, I spend hours scrutinizing digital maps, dropping pins on likely glassing points, elk feeding areas, north-facing slopes, the whole nine yards. I’m a digital map junkie, and I promise you no tool has been more instrumental to my small-property, whitetail-hunting success than HuntStand.

HuntStand is a top-tier, digital mapping smartphone app that offers a plethora of features. Of course, HuntStand covers the basics such as private and public landowner info, boundaries and 3-D aerial imagery. Most importantly, HuntStand was built with the whitetail fanatic in mind. Features such as monthly satellite image updates, accurate weather forecasts for your hunting area, whitetail activity forecasts and the HuntZone wind detector make it a must-have for true deer-hunting fanatics.

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HuntStand has been a critical tool for developing and making the Wagner Farm the best it can be. This image shows the circular “racetrack” food plot installed in 2021.

As someone obsessed with land management and a never-ending effort to build the best whitetail property possible, I appreciate that HuntStand allows me to label all my stand sites, bedding areas, food plots, water sources and more. I also really appreciate the Trail Cams tab and the 40GB of included cloud storage that allows me to drop and pin photos by location, helping me better track where and when my target bucks are moving.

One often overlooked HuntStand feature is the notes section. When you drop a pin and choose a graphic (numerous marker pins), you can plug in notes. I do this for every pin I drop, and over the years this information, combined with my handwritten hunting journal, have been very effective in helping me piece together the whitetail puzzle on the many small properties I hunt.

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