Setting goals for your land

Setting Goals

By Steve Bartylla


By now, most every serious hunter at least has a decent idea of what benefits can be derived from habitat improvement and managing the population dynamics of a deer herd. The trick is figuring out how to pull it off.  I would guess 40 – 50% of the guys in our 8,000 QDMA acres do some food plots, and less than 5% do any habitat improvement intentionally.  There is some logging done for income but by and large everyone is stuck at ‘what to plant’.  I beleive many of the land owners who refuse to talk about their hunting are doing the things we describe, and don’t want people to know how to do it.  And it works for them.

That begins with setting a goal. Most specifically, what is it that you hope to achieve from your management plan?  Where do we insert realistic expectations, (maybe cant hunt 6 guys on a 120 acre piece at once, or maybe you can?) on this page or in another?  most around me firmly believe they are at the mercy of their neighbor when it comes to deer on their land, and have no clue on sanctuaries, stand access routes etc.  if we plant the seed that you can do THIS much we will peak their interest?

Love the next examples – very real world

At first thought, one may believe that the answer is the same for everyone. No doubt it’s to see and kill more big bucks. Frankly, that’s the answer we initially her most often. However, after asking follow up questions, the truly goal isn’t that standard.

One recent client ultimately wanted to be able to shoot a deer every year with his bow. He’d hunted for five years and had yet to successfully arrow a deer. He ultimately found that to be more important than shooting a really big buck. When he shot a 2.5 year old buck that fall, you would have sworn he won the lottery.

Another client wanted to make his 40 acre property support being hunted by his family throughout the entire season, while not experiencing a drop in deer sightings from pressure. His primary concern was that his wife and three children became bored easily. They were all in when seeing deer, but two or three deerless sits in a row would discourage them. Since he found more joy in hunting with them than in his own success, them regularly seeing deer was the true goal, regardless of what the deer were.

I can provide numerous other examples. One client’s primary goal was to know he had bucks over 4.5 years of age to hunt on his property every year, regardless of rack size. Another wants to take P&Y bucks every year, regardless of age. There is the camp that’s all about recreating the most natural age and sex ratios achievable. Yet another is all about growing the biggest racks possible.

The most important step in any plan is defining the ultimate goal in clearly detailed specifics. With that defined the choices on how to proceed in every aspect becomes much more defined. Without an ultimate goal, the manager is blindly shooting and hoping to hit a target.


Critical Questions for developing a plan specific to your property

The following are a series of questions that must be answered to truly define the goals of a habitat and deer management plan. When answering these questions, it is critical to really think it through and be honest with yourself:

Which is more important, having the ability to shoot the largest bucks or seeing the most deer? Place your answer on a 1-10 scale. Choose 5 for the best balance between the two, with one or ten rendering the other nearly irrelevant.

Deer Numbers                                                                 Biggest Bucks

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10


What is the highest number of hunters on the property at any one time?


When the property is being hunted, what will the average hunters numbers be?


What balance are you most comfortable with between recreational activities not related to deer hunting and practices that benefit deer, such as staying out of the woods, not driving ATVs, small game hunting after deer season and so on.

Focus on Deer                                               Focus on all Outdoors Rec

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10


Is creating ideal deer habitat more important than having a visually appealing property?

Deer Habitat                                                                      Curb Appeal

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10


Is a quick fix or greater long term benefits more important?

Quick Results                                                       Best Possible Results

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10


When given the choice between improvements that cost money and those that generate income, how much greater must the potential benefits of the out of pocket route be before turning down the income generating route?

Save Money                                                       Money Means Nothing

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10


What is a realistic amount that I am willing and able to spend on these improvements?


Do I have the time and labor resources to be a do-it-yourselfer or must I contract out the work?


Is my ultimate goal to improve my hunting opportunities or the quality and health of deer on my property? Though the two can certainly go hand in hand, many plans that improve the quality and health of deer result in dispersing their feeding activities. Though there can be pluses to that approach, it often makes deer movement much less predictable.


Common Mistakes to Avoid

Be sure to seriously consider and define your goals. Without having a clear target, it becomes nearly impossible to hit it.


When asking yourself  the questions listed above, and any others that may impact your goals, answer them as honestly and realistically as possible. Providing answers that you wish were true, as opposed to being squarely in reality, only results in frustrations and unmet goals.


Have clearly defined goals in place before even considering what steps to take to improve the habitat or population dynamics of the resident deer herd. Every step towards improvement should be catered to achieving those goals. Not doing so can and often does result in actions that don’t fully complement or even work against achieving the ultimate goals.


Forget about what others may want or preach as the right goals. Allowing others to set your ultimate goal creates the type of property they want to hunt. This is your land, your investment of time and investment of money. The role of others should be in helping you achieve the goals you desire, not defining them for you.  Don’t allow peer pressure to force you down a path towards a destination that you find less desirable than what you truly want.