If you don't own a place to hunt deer now, it would be prudent to take necessary action to secure a place to hunt as soon as possible. Since people are not created equal when it comes to wallet thickness, not everyone has the capital to buy hunting land and leasing is the affordable alternative.
Larry Savage, who coordinates deer club activities for the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, warns that the future is now.
"The prime Mississippi bottom lands are leased solid," he points out. "The next best place to lease land is the northern hill area and, if the last three years are an indication, the availability of that land is not going to last long."
Land for deer leasing is a dwindling resource for all hunters in all states, but because of the special needs of the bowhunters lands suitable for the archers are in shorter supply.
Savage, a bowhunter himself, lists some basic requirements for bowhunting leases.
One of the primary needs is a place with a low disturbance factor, he says.
"There should be no activities on adjacent lands that would disturb the normal daylight movement patterns of deer." he notes. "Bowhunters wouldn't want to be hunting land that backs up to land where they hunt with dogs, for instance.
"Also, you should look for a location with limited access to reduce the chance of people disturbances. You wouldn't want a lease with black top roads on two sides.
"And you don't want too small of an area because the deer may not be using it during the hunting season. Remember deer don't recognize property boundaries. They are going to go where the food is.
"A long term lease of at least three to five years is a must. Besides not wanting to spend the time looking for a new lease, you want to manage the area to develop the deer herd. Even with our intensive deer management assistance programs it takes time to manipulate the herd for trophies or quantity."
Another important factor in selecting a lease site is the deer food available, especially the food that the deer will be feeding on during the season.
The deer that roam your lease during spring and summer could abandon the property with the first frost unless there is something for them to eat. The reason for this is that deer rely on forbes when they are available.
During October, the most important food sources are persimmons, honey locust and acorns, particularly those of the white oak in his part of the country, Savage pointed out. While this a good list for Louisiana, the most important foods available where you hunt could be, and probably are, different. Your state deer manager will know.
"In addition to the persimmons, honey locust and white oaks, you will need a good diversity of understory plants, particularly honeysuckle," Savage says. "During drought or poor mast years, deer rely on browse, primarily honeysuckle. Other types of understory plants to look for are newberry, poison ivy and wild grape.
"Another thing you should look for is property where you have hills coming together with creek bottoms. When you have uplands dropping into creek bottoms, a natural edge is produced. You have a maximum diversity of plants. In these edges you will have a more diverse overstory that could have six of seven kinds of oaks. Some of them are white, southern red, water, shumard, bottom willow, overcup and striped oak.
"Where the bottoms and hills meet are good for native sweet pecans, not the commercial pecans, but a wild variety; honey locust, sometimes called a bean pod tree locally and persimmons, the No. 1 soft mast tree. Another tree that attracts deer and will be found in these areas is the hawthorn, a small native crab apple."
The importance of food patches in selecting a lease should be obvious. The ideal way to take a deer with bow and arrow is to shoot it while it is leisurely walking to or from a feeding area or to shoot it while it is feeding. By nature, deer will return to the same food on a regular basis until the food is gone or it is disturbed out of its normal routine.
In addition to a varied and ample food supply, Savage advises bowhunters to look for a lease with a permanent water supply to take care of drought situations. He has killed two deer in two consecutive days when they walked a dry ditch and put their head in a water hole.
While these are the foods that are important for deer in Savage's state, you should learn what foods are important at different times on the land you are thinking about leasing.
Savage says that deer can usually get along without water because of the moisture in their food, but they will drink surface water in the late summer and fall.
Another benefit of permanent water is that the browse plants around water have soft tips, which the deer like. He also points out that deer will eat semi aquatic plants and has seen them eat alligator grass in drainage canals.
Size is a pertinent consideration when considering a lease, according to Savage. This is particularly true if you plan to do some serious deer management to improve the quality of the hunting. To manage a herd, you need to control the land that contains the three essentials food, water and cover. You also have to cover the travel routes between the three essentials.
Setting an acreage limit on the size is difficult because it will vary from one location to another. However, it is unlikely that a lease as small as 300 acres can be managed.
Another important consideration is getting involved with the right people. Look for hunters who have the same goals to join in deer hunting to join in your lease. If trophy hunting is the goal and the recommendation is that a certain number of does must be removed from the herd, you need hunting companions who will work towards the desired kill even if it requires the taking of does with a gun. You need hunters who will hunt well together, respecting stands or territory of others or at least be able to agree who is hunting where and when.
The number of hunters involved in the lease is also important. It is obvious that the more hunters involved the less the strain is on the pocketbook. However, too many hunters can dilute the pleasure to the point that it is not worth the cost even though it is low. At the same time, the number of hunters should be large enough to effectively hunt the area without putting stress on the deer population. Normally, a lease will support less bowhunters than gun hunters. A reasonable guide might be one bowhunter for every 30 to 50 acres.
Scouting a piece of property before signing a lease is important.
Finding the essential habitat is easy if you can identify deer cover and the kind of plants they use for food. The other important consideration in scouting is the number and quality of deer on the land. Estimating the size of a deer herd is a littlemore difficult because they move around.
I was involved in a lease involving 1,000 acres several years ago. I was a little skeptical because the price was too low for a tract of land that large, especially in an area known for its number and quality of deer. However, a friend who had offered me a chance to join the lease said he had seen deer tracks all over the tract of land. Without looking the land over, I took my friend's word and joined in the lease.
Because of the press of business, I was unable to do any preseason scouting. I figured with a long season, there was plenty of time to locate the deer. I spent the first day of the season still hunting and looking. My friend was right. There were deer tracks all over the land. The problem was they were the tracks of the same three deer a doe and two nearly grown fawns. In a long dry spell, three deer can leave a lot of sign.
I wouldn't bet the ranch on those being the only three deer on the lease, but I was so convinced that I never hunted the lease after that opening day. The only deer seen before everyone became disgusted and quit where three deer that fit the description of the deer mentioned.
Unless you do some hard looking ahead of time a lease can be a waste of money, but by going about it the right way it can mean years of rewarding hunting experiences.