Sanctuary Areas

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The Importance of Sanctuary Areas to Grow Big Bucks on Your Land

For years I have preached the use of sanctuary zones created or already existing on my clients’ properties that exist of natural bedding areas or thickets where the woods receive little or no disturbance.

This year, while hunting in New York, I had a front row seat to see what sanctuary zones can do for deer herds.

After a morning of opening day fun, my daughter and I decided to take a break and go back to the camper to warm up. As we arrived, we heard several volleys of gunfire that defined the obvious path of some deer that were running through the pastures. Suddenly, we spotted several deer running across the opposite pasture. The sun shone on the hillside, accentuating the nice rack on one of the bucks in the group. The pressured deer were headed directly for a patch of woods this farmer used as a sanctuary. He never entered the area with his ATV and did not hunt it. The deer entered the thicket and the big buck hesitated at the edge, then disappeared into the cedars. These deer knew right where they needed to be when they were getting shot at and they made a bee-line for it when they were kicked out of wherever they had ended up after feeding the night before.

The evening before, we had stood and watched several deer, including one really big buck and two smaller, but respectable bucks come out and feed in the pasture. These deer were relaxed as if there had not been any hunting seasons going on at all, even though there is great pressure during archery season and through gun season. The two lesser bucks began fighting and put on quite a show of natural deer behavior rarely seen in daylight.

To top off the lesson, the next morning, a neighbor with a small piece of land shot the biggest buck anyone has ever seen around there just over the hill on the other side of this sanctuary area. It was a tremendous deer that was pushing Boone and Crockett proportions.

If you have an area on your land that can provide some food and water, but mostly undisturbed bedding and escape cover, it is wise to make this area off-limits to human activity. A buck will grow old by being in the habit of using this area to hide out. If the buck is shot, another dominant buck with take it over. It will always be an attractive place for a buck.

In contrast, I created a thick bench of 50 acres by performing a regeneration harvest on the bench and fencing the deer out to let the plants grow thick. Deer love to bed down here. While hunting next to it on the neighboring property, hoping to catch a deer coming from feeding areas, I noticed a pickup truck driving down the middle of it on the logging trail. The hunters got out to set up for a drive. Then drove the thicket. Interesting tactics. Too lazy to hike up the hill on the downwind side, they drove a pickup through the middle of it. Then drove it out. Any smart deer were long gone before they started the drive. If left completely alone, the area would always have a big buck or two in it. It could be hunted by setting up between it and feeding areas, either toward the agriculture if acorns were scarce or anywhere that could be approached without bumping deer and staying with a favorable wind.

About the Author:

Wildlife habitat manager and consulting forester from Central PA. Studied environmental Agriculture specializing in wildlife management and Forestry. B.S. Agriculture, Masters degree in Forestry. 30 years experience in land investment, forestry and wildlife habitat improvement. Currently working as a Farm Bill Forester for Pheasants Forever on Game Commission and Golden Winged Warbler Initiative.