Sitting down with Dr. Grant Woods and discussing land improvements for hunting is like being fed by a firehose. Dr. Woods is a wildlife biologist specializing in deer management and is capable of sharing more knowledge in an hour than most landowners or hunters will accumulate in a lifetime.
In a conversation that began under the premise of reviewing all of the improvements that can be made to improve deer habitat on your land, it quickly became apparent that some of the most impactful decisions that relate to hunting land happen before you even own it.
A Bit About Dr. Woods
Before we jump into the topic of maximizing your hunting land, it’s important to understand where the information is coming from. Dr. Woods has a Ph.D. in Forest Resources from Clemson University and has run Woods & Associates, a Wildlife Management firm specializing in whitetail deer, for 32 years. He also happens to be the founder of GrowingDeer.tv, one of the most popular websites for whitetail land improvement that exists. His videos routinely garner over one million views and he does one each and every week. Grant is quite simply one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts on whitetail deer and land improvement for hunting.
Dr. Grant Woods is not in the mold of “Those who can’t, teach.” He has spent the better part of 20 years cultivating The Proving Grounds, which can be toured in aerial 3D on nationalland.com. This piece of land has become as famous as Dr. Woods himself and is renowned for what might be some of the highest quality soil in Missouri as proclaimed by soil analysts in the State. The soil management program Grant developed has led to consistent, monstrous bucks roaming his land year after year. Dr. Woods “can,” and he teaches very well.
Finding the Right Land
When we first sat down, the premise of the conversation was improving land for hunting habitats. The assumption was that the most important decisions would revolve around improvements and observations of existing properties. As any conversation goes with an expert of Dr. Woods’ caliber, assumptions go out the window quickly in lieu of expertise. It turns out that the most important decisions you can make for wildlife habitats happen before you even own a property
Note: If you already own the land, you may want to skip to the next section. There are some hard truths in here.
Like most things in life, the first thing you have to consider with hunting land is your budget and objectives. You have to find a property that you can afford that will also meet your goals. If you don’t have the budget on hand, you may have to adjust your expectations.
Next, you need to consider what Dr. Woods calls “The Fanny Factor,” which is how long you are willing to sit in a car to get to your hunting property. The national “Fanny Factor” averages around 80 minutes, so this must be considered and can have a significant impact on your objectives. Again, if you don’t want to drive very far, you might have to adjust your expectations.
Lastly, and most importantly, you absolutely must know the resources of surrounding land and if possible, the wildlife management practices on neighboring properties “See the next section for more discussion on resources.” As Dr. Woods states, “If you’re an 80-acre landowner and you want big game animals, but your neighbors don’t share that objective, it’s going to be very difficult to accomplish your goals.” This is a hard truth and there’s no way around it. As Dr. Woods sees it, it would be unethical to not highlight this. Another piece of hard truth is overall geographic location. If you are looking at land in an area that does not support consistent large game animals, it becomes very difficult to reach your objectives.
To summarize, the most important decisions you can make for maximizing your hunting land occur before you own it. First search for land in an area that supports consistent large game animals and find land that fits your budget and objectives. Then, research neighboring land, its resources, and the management practices of neighboring landowners to make sure they match your own. The hard truths mentioned above are not meant to discourage landowners, they merely set the stage to be realistic and help you better enjoy your land. For exploring land at a distance, Dr. Woods points to National Land Realty’s Land Tour 360® technology as a significant advantage to prospective land owners. This technology allows properties to be displayed in 3D with the unique ability to zoom in and view the land and resources from a “boots on the ground” perspective.
Improving the Land You Have
Not everybody has the opportunity to own deer hunting land in Iowa or turkey hunting land in Alabama and that is not a bad thing. It only means that certain geographic regions provide more consistent support for large game animals. It means that the output of big deer or number of turkeys in Idaho will probably not compete with the sheer quantity of scale tipping behemoth whitetails in Iowa or the masses of turkeys produced in Alabama. It’s all about realistic expectations. Regardless of where you live, you can manage your land to maximize its potential to produce a consistently terrific hunting habitat relative to its geographic region and the resources that the land produces. Here’s Dr. Grant Woods’ approach to evaluating land and maximizing its potential.
Food: Food is vegetation that provides nourishment for game animals. It is highly encouraged to obtain a soil sample of your land before establishing food plots. This will tell you what must be added to the soil to encourage the growth of specific vegetation for your wild game habitat. You will want to identify forage species blends that compliment each other rather than concentrate on a single forage species. Planting blends and managing for quality native habitat will provide high-quality forage throughout the year in variable weather conditions.
Cover: Cover is defined as an area where wildlife goes to avoid danger – a refuge if you will. This does not mean that the land should not be used. We routinely see deer walking around in broad daylight on golf courses and this is because deer have learned they rarely are threatened there. If you count on using the land, do so consistently so that the animals view this area as safe cover. In the case of livestock, try to fence off when possible so that livestock do not impact the wildlife in the area.
Water: Water is self-explanatory, but the type of water does need some consideration. The water source for wild game should not be disturbed by livestock and should not be too large. Prey species such as deer seem to prefer smaller water sources so predators can’t force them into the water. Dr. Woods advises making water source no larger than two pickup trucks. The water source should not be loud. Flowing rivers are challenging because they obscure the sound of predators and are not seen as safe by wildlife.
Step 1: Concentrate on the Least Provided Resource
Game animals need three things: food, cover, and water. If one of these three things is lacking, the wildlife populations in the area won’t express their potential. Because it’s rare for anyone to own enough land to include all of a deer or turkey’s home range, it’s important to observe neighboring properties. Learn what resources, such as food, cover, and water are available on neighboring properties. Once you have made these observations, identify which of these three resources is least available in the neighborhood. Your first task will be to provide the resource that’s least available to wildlife. This is the best method to help and attract wildlife.
Step 2: Build All of The Resources Needed for Wild Game
Now that you have maximized the availability of the least available resource in the area, it’s time to build up all of the resources that wildlife needs. You will want to establish the remaining two resources and hopefully do it better than your neighbors on adjoining land. By taking this approach to resources you are increasing the chances of having higher numbers of game animals on your land at any point in time. Over time, if managed correctly, this will also have a higher chance of producing more consistently large game animals.
Step 3: Plan Your Access
As mentioned above, cover is seen by animals as a safe space. Cover does not require thick foliage or the absence of people “Remember deer frequent golf courses in broad daylight while golfers cruise the greens in their carts.” If you plan on using it, do so consistently so that your activity is not seen as a threat. This might be seen as counterintuitive, but as Dr. Woods puts it, “The biggest problem with hunters is that they think like humans. To be a successful hunter, you have to think like a deer.” If game animals see your UTV often but remain undisturbed, it will be seen as a non-threat and won’t alert the deer. As Dr. Woods says, “The worst thing you can do is not use your land and then cause a lot of disturbance just before season. This happens to my clients all the time. The property remains unused until hunting season and then hunters buzz the roads and trails and alert the critters!”
We’ve mentioned above that the management practices of your neighbors will influence the quantity and quality of critters and hunting experiences on your land. If the practices on neighboring properties are counterproductive to your goals, consider developing a game management co-op among your neighbors. Doing so will get all adjoining landowners on the same page and greatly increase the chances of success during the hunting season.
Dr. Grant Woods provides consultancy for habitat improvement and hunting strategies throughout the United States. The ideas expressed in this article are only the tip of the iceberg. The actual tactics vary around geography and terrain, which requires an expert like Dr. Woods. You can find his contact information and educational videos at GrowingDeer.tv.
National Land Realty is a nationwide real estate brokerage of highly qualified and knowledgeable land professionals throughout the United States. They have developed Land Tour 360®, a revolutionary technology allowing for in-depth 3D touring of recreational and agricultural land throughout the United States, enabling viewers to interact with land from a distance. You can learn more about this technology and National Land Realty’s listings at NationalLand.com.