Weekend Warrior Deer Camp: Welcome To Our Deer Camp!
May 06, 2013
Word of mouth is best.
"Hey. I heard Bob's uncle wants to lease out a couple hundred acres of his farm this season."
Well, we waited to hear something like that at the beginning of our search for a hunting lease in our Weekend Warrior Deer Camp project. But it never happened.
So we scoured web sites, cruised local newspaper classifieds, checked hunting store bulletin boards, drove country roads, called our local cooperative extension, talked to conservation officers, and generally told everyone we knew that we were looking for hunting land to lease.
The best results? By far, the web. Timber company web sites held the most opportunity for land to lease. They often have a real estate division within the company dedicated to managing all their holdings, and they are very familiar with what hunters want.
A handful of large companies across the South do most of the leasing. Check the web sites of Plum Creek, Forestar, Rayonier or Westervelt Wildlife Services to name a few. Each company has a different way to navigate through available lands. Call them to understand the basics, and then go on to the sites for locations and prices.
Our goals were simple: land to hunt deer, sight-in guns and provide a bit of elbowroom. The presence of turkeys, small game, and a lake, pond or creek for fishing would be bonuses. We should be within two hours from our offices and pay less than $10 an acre.
We needed a parcel that had:
1. Cover for deer to bed in and feel safe in.
2. A constant supply of water for deer to drink.
3. Food sources to keep deer on the property, or at least to give them a reason to return.
Many properties had ample cover in our neck of the woods. Recent cutovers provided thick brushy areas that could serve as sanctuaries. Hardwood draws had good understory. Water was not a problem. Streams and creek crisscrossed most properties we visited.
But food was the one part of the equation that would be our challenge.
Few available parcels contained agricultural crops or were adjacent to agriculture.
We sought out white oaks, red oaks and other mast. But we know they'd only drop acorns for a few weeks of the season. We looked for recently cutover sections where forbs and other tender plants would grow and be available through the fall. But we quickly realized that we'd have to create our own food sources in the form of food plots.
We continued visiting properties, confirming that water and cover were available on each. And we always kept an eye out for clearings where we could plant clover, brassicas, oats, winter wheat and other forage.
We visited about 10 parcels. Some we scratched off the list immediately because they were too hilly, or were manicured pine farms, or had major roads running through the center.
We decided on one parcel that had the best mix of pines, hardwoods and wildlife openings. It looked good on a map. When we walked the site, we were greeted with lots of sign: rubs and scrapes, tracks, worn trails and scat. There were thick areas, perfect for deer to bed in. Several seasonal streams ran throughout the property, and one corner of the parcel touched a year-round river.
Good gravel logging roads, where we could plant clover, and an occasional opening in the canopy for 1/2- to 3-acre food plots gave us heart that we could get at least 3 to 5 percent of the total acreage in food plots.
Before we pulled the trigger, we sought out neighbors to get their input, purchased a $25 topo map from terraserver.com and combed the land using the many tools on earth.google.com and maps.google.com.
We were ready to claim it.
At this point, it's crucial to know exactly how the company awards leases. Forestar accepts bids until a deadline. Bidders can wait to the last minute, literally, to put in their bid. You can write into the company and tell them your plans for the parcel, and that could influence who gets the bid: it's not always the highest bidder. Forestar accepted our bid and sent us a contract for the year.
Road to Success
Once we had our land, it was time for the Weekend Warriors to again sit down at a kitchen table and make sure everyone was onboard with the next stage of our pursuit: Creating a hunting club.
A hunting club unites the participants around a set of goals and defines what is and what isn't acceptable hunting behavior on the land.
Clubs often fall apart before the first season ends because everyone has different expectations of the perfect lease. Our club rules are extensive to avoid conflicts. We put on paper our ideas and searched the web to find rules we liked from established clubs. Timber companies often have their own set of bylaws that each hunter needs to sign and follow.
Our club rules and regulations included safe gun handling guidelines, information on accessing the property, a guest policy, and signing in to hunt so everyone knows who is in the woods. Each hunter signed it.
Now we had our hunting grounds for the fall. We had our club and its rules in place. We still had a few months before deer season to put in a few food plots to attract and hold deer.
Check out next month's magazine for our approach to food plots on our quest to tag mature bucks.
There is no point in growing great food plots or fixing roads if it only makes it easier for a trespasser to kill your deer. Put up new "Posted" or "No Tresspassing" signs. Check your use agreement with any landowner or leasor. There may be local or state regulations as well. Put the name of your hunt club and a contact number on the sign. Some companies want the parcel number on there, too.
The good news is, as you walk the borders tacking on trees and fence posts, you'll find all the corners and inaccessible spots that you might never know about on your property. Bring a GPS and mark food sources, rubs, potential tree stand locations and anything else that will come in handy on opening day.
Signs put the word out that this land is used for a purpose and will be defended by law.
On our land, we found that people had been using the roads before we got there. We worked in conjunction with the timber company to put a lock on the main gate, and we also put up chains and set 4x4s timbers in concrete in other the areas where there was easy access from the public road. But we found our lock cut on two occasions.
Soon after, we set up trail cams at the entrances and saw a man get out of a truck, snip the lock and drive in. We contacted the timber company, which did a search and found that a adjacent landowner had rights to use our main logging road to get to his property, which abutted ours.
Once an agreement was reached between the lease company, the other landowner and us, we all decided to put two locks on the chain so when you unlocked either lock, you could access the property. We'd all lock it back up after we left. At least we knew who was accessing it, even though we did not have exclusive use of our main road. In most leases, if you do try to control all access to your land 100 percent, you may be spending undue amounts of anxiety on an issue you may not able to fully control. Still, once the property gets used for planting, scouting and hunting, the number of trespassing issues usually decline.
Having posted the property, and reached agreement on the gate security, we were ready to work the land.
PITFALLS WE FELL INTO
A lease involves the sport you love, money and other people. There's a lot of room among those three things for things to start going south. Here are a few of the things we learned while on picking and maintaining our lease land.
Pitfall No. 1. Many potential leases look easy to get to on a map. But once you are on a country road in a new area, they're like trying to find a .348 Winchester at your local Walmart gun counter. Despite loading up our GPSs with coordinates from the company web sites, we spent hours trying to figure out which unmarked road was our unmarked road — and to realize that the GPS was showing some roads that had been long abandoned as public right-of-ways. It pays to make that call before you go check out new frontiers.
Pitfall No 2. Make sure you ask to find out if anyone else has legal access to your property. In our case, our trail cams videoed someone actually cutting our gate lock and entering our property when we weren't there! As hunters, we expect exclusive hunting rights, and even access rights, because we don't want to disturb the game and drive it from our property. If this happens, contact the leasor first. Our leasor researched it and found out that one landowner did have an easement to access his abutting property through our main gate.
Ask, before you sign the lease, if there are any other agreements allowing access to the land.
Pitfall No. 3. If you choose to have a professional evaluate your land, check around before you put your money down on an evaluation. Make sure your goals and expectations are heard. You don't want to waste money that might have gone to a few more bags of clover or a new ATV. We were lucky because we knew a local land manager, Matt Haun of Quality Timber and Wildlife Management, and Mossy Oak Properties, who helped us understand what a land manager does and gave us tips to making our land more productive.
Since this was a D-I-Y project, we stumbled through finding a lease on our own. But if you can, get a land manager, like Haun, involved in the search. A good consultant is plugged in and knows what land is available where.