Whether this is your first hunting lease or one of many, you have more than likely already started the countdown to opening day of whatever season you hunt. For most, that day cannot come soon enough. Hopefully you have enough time between now and then to truly try and optimize how successful you will be when that opening day finally happens. Below are a few tips on things to consider as you prepare for the hunting season on your new hunting lease.
A good first step is to establish good communications with the landowner. Make sure you understand what they want, what is important to them and how they want you to conduct yourselves. You may learn that the landowner has had a few bad experiences with people in the past who they let hunt their property. Reassuring the landowner that you are not like them can help establish trust and begin to hopefully build a relationship that will last for years to come. It is important to realize that leasing someone’s property for hunting is a great privilege. Yes, we pay for that privilege and both sides have a role to play, but leasing a property is not the same as owning the property and the landowner has generally only given up the hunting rights, not the right to use their property in other ways. Gaining their trust generally relates to an enjoyable lease and one where privileges can be maximized. There are no guarantees to this and thus if things don’t work out one has to consider if this is the long term situation you were looking for, but more times than not this can be an important factor in a successful lease and an enjoyable hunt.
Another important step that too many hunters forget to do is reaching out to the neighboring landowners. Introduce yourself and try to establish things like retrieval of game on either your lease or their property. Do they practice QDM and if so, to what degree. There are no guarantees that every neighboring property landowners will be the easiest to deal with, but the time to find that out is not on opening day. Establishing property boundaries can also be better understood when talking with your neighboring property landowners. Putting up No Trespassing signs is your right, but generally it is best to try and talk with the neighbors first before doing so. One of the quickest ways to get on the bad side of the landowner whose land you lease is to cause problems with their neighbors. We as hunters might only be on the property a few weeks each year but the landowner lives there year round and most likely has grown up with their neighbors, thus trying to respect their property and wishes as much as you do your landowners are important aspects to consider.
Next comes the harder work but what can also be very enjoyable and rewarding once you fill your tag. Scouting the land, setting up tree stands, establishing food plots and setting up trail cameras will certainly take time but pay off big time once hunting season finally comes. The time to do all of these is an early in the season as you possibly can, and not the week before your hunting season starts.
In regards to stand placement, pay close attention to things like game trails, old rubs, bedding areas, food sources and direction of prevailing winds. Also consider ease of entry into any potential stand location in order to minimize spooking of game. In some locations, you may want to put up several stands in order to be able to hunt the same location with multiple wind directions, possibly one on each side of a major trail. Pay close attention to any old stands that may still be up on the property from previous hunters, even if they appear to have not been hunting for many years. Another useful tool is to study aerials of your property and those around you. Try to think like a deer – when the hunting pressure starts, where would you go and how you would get there. It can sometimes take a couple of years hunting a property to fully understand how best to hunt it. Sometimes it just seems that all the sign and all the past lessons learned just don’t seem to hold true on this property and one cannot let their ego prevent them from adjusting how they hunt this new property. Don’t be surprised if you have to move stands, adjust how you come into and exit a property and best times to hunt each stand. Be versatile, willing to learn and most importantly have fun.
Trail cameras can be a great tool. It can be almost as exciting as the hunt itself when one goes to retrieve a chip and look to see what has shown up since the last time this was done. In States that allow you to do so, placing your cameras on salt/mineral licks is a great way to gage what is on your property. Typically at some time during each month, the deer living there will visit the lick and be captured on your cameras. In a State where that is not allowed, find well used trails to food or water sources as potential locations for these. Lastly, try to place cameras in locations that are easily accessible without inadvertently letting the deer know humans have invaded their home. There is nothing as wary as a mature whitetail buck or even an old doe with fawns. They like their home and prefer humans keep their distance from it, so if at all possible place trail cameras in locations you can minimize your presence into the property and try hard to not go check them every other day. Resist the urge to do this and instead try to retrieve your chips less often than more, especially the closer you get to hunting season. When hunting season starts, plan your chip retrievals to be the same day you are hunting and then only those cameras close to that days stand location. No sense making a trip in to just check your cameras when you will be hunting the same spot a few days later.
In summary, establish good communication with landowner of lease and those around you. Respect the property as if it was your own but always remember the privilege it is to be able to use someone else’s property. Know your property boundaries and what to expect from your neighbors. Scout, establish stand locations, food plots and trail camera placement as soon in the year as you can. Don’t be too proud to use old stand locations from previous hunters as a guide as to where you may want to start and be willing to change how and where you hunt a property the more you learn about it. Try to minimize presence on the property as much as you can, especially the closer to hunting season you get. Adapt your hunting style to the property you are on and learn more with each day spent in the stand. There are some things that are universal to hunting no matter where you are, but don’t be surprised to learn that each property can hunt differently than ones you have hunted before. Lastly, don’t give up on a lease too quickly. If you have a lot of sign and good numbers of deer on your cameras but did not have as much success as you had hoped during the hunting season, that is most likely related to many factors and the property is worth keeping for another year. It can take several years to learn a property and how to hunt it properly so don’t give up on a lease too quickly if all the signs tell you to stay.