"When should I stay off of my deer parcel", may be the #1 question that I receive from clients, readers and viewers from around the country. The answer may surprise you.
It amazes me every single year, that I run across a large supply of hunters who are fanatical about staying off their deer lands during the off-season, but then over-pressure their deer lands the first week of the hunting season, let alone the rest of the season. In my experience with the exception of the few weeks leading up to the start of the season, how much pressure you place on your land during the off-season has very little bearing on your hunting and herd management success. Why? because on great deer parcels the bulk of the resident deer herd and in particular most mature bucks, shouldn't be on your land much of the off-season anyways.
Why Stay Off Your Deer Land
Let's face it, many deer parcels are purchased by families, clubs or partners that have varying backgrounds and intentions for use of the land. While most gas ATV use, horseback riding, hiking, gun range shooting and dirt bike riding should be shut to zero during the hunting season, you can make sure to fully enjoy the off-season for such activities! Here are some important quick tips to remember when it comes to using your land during the off-season:
1. The September Deer Population Pivot Point
On great deer parcels the population of whitetails should begin increasing at some point during September and on poor deer parcels the population should begin decreasing during September. This is not only why Population Census activities before mid to late October are fairly useless, but is also why enjoying your land during the off-season can be fully taken advantage of if you desire.
2. Enjoy Your Deer Land!
Allowing kids, spouses, friends and relatives to use your deer land not only creates great memories to last a lifetime, but should have little to no bearing on the success of your hunting season or herd management goals. Think about it: If the deer aren't there to spook on a great parcel during the off-season anyways, than you may as well have some fun!
3. Experience Off-Season Whitetail Scouting
When should you be scouting your deer parcel? All season long. Whether you are paying attention on the way in and out of your stand locations during the hunting season, for in-season fresh sign or scouring your parcel the other 8 months of the year, the value of overwhelming amounts of intel that you can find all year long, is far greater than any small % of pressure that the deer will perceive, in particular during he off-season.
*Census activities conducted between October and November will give you the real picture of not only how your hunting season should fare, but about exactly what your potential influence is on the local deer herd. Are you a herd influencer? Unless your land is peaking in attraction and herd numbers during the heart of the season, you most likely are not.
Hunting Season Activities
While just about anything goes during the off-season, the exact opposite should be true during the entire hunting season as well as the few weeks before the beginning of the season. In my experience there are 3 acceptable deer activities that can take place during the hunting season:
1. Traveling too and from deer stands
This is a great time to check trail cams and scout for fresh sign. However, make sure that you don't wander off of your access trail more than 10-20 yards at best to access a camera. Preferably your trail cams are alongside your access trails or in front of your stand locations so that your can enter from behind the camera while not disturbing the habitat where the camera is set up to observe.
2. Deer Retrieval and Deer Tracking
Consider deer retrieval and deer tracking as a reward for a job well done! However, I suggest that you strictly avoid shooting does unless a buck is on the ground, during the entire middle 1/2 of the season.
3. Chasing Trespassers
There is nothing worse than a trespasser so by all means, I suggest that you pursue them with a passion regardless of what it does to your land!
Whether you should stay off your land or not really revolves around the strategy that on a great deer parcel, the hunting season deer herd shouldn't really start showing up until late during the Summer. Also, deer absolutely forgive intrusions, at about 3-4 weeks has passed. Scouting deer nearly all year long can give you great insight into your hunt and herd management activities, but at the same time you can make sure that you can fully enjoy your land -if that is what you would like to do- all season long!