My initial reaction was “No. No, no, no.” This couldn’t be happening. The posted signs read “Hunting Club”. The neighboring parcel had new orange, plastic signs and the news didn’t seem good. There was already enough hunting pressure in the valley during gun season, did this mean even more tags were coming into the neighborhood? In an area where is it not uncommon to experience between 80-90% buck exploitation, its easy to get discouraged with the prospect of more hunting pressure. The knee jerk reaction is to freak out and start developing a grand plan to hunt harder than ever, invest in twice as many trail cameras for property surveillance and become more secretive than a CIA Black Site about your own hunting tactics, movements and successes. Still, while a hunting club moving into the neighborhood might change the dynamics of the area, and a few more bucks might fall to the neighboring pressure, the outlook for the future isn’t all bad, and here’s why.
- New Opportunities- When land changes hands, or a more formalized hunting organization is formed, it is a great opportunity to share your management goals with the new occupants. New lessees or property owners probably have high hopes for the land they are investing time, energy and money into. Chances are they are looking for a better opportunity than what they came from and may be the most receptive to the idea or the potential for managing the deer herd during that first year. First impressions are invaluable and a simple conversation might be all that is required to get the new occupants to jump on board with some management initiatives. Likewise, you may be able to forge acquaintances that allow you to keep track of harvest records and tally which bucks are taken and how many does are killed each year, giving you better insight into the condition of the overall herd in your area.
- New hunters don’t know the deer or the area- You have an advantage over the new guy in that you know the deer you are hunting and how they move through the area. If you are doing your homework in the off season, you should have a pretty good handle on where they bed, feed and travel, or even which bucks survived the previous season. Likewise, you should be working towards hunting them with a level of stealth that avoids unnecessary pressure, i.e. staying out of sensitive areas until the time is right, or, redefining your access to areas to avoid unwanted deer encounters on the way to stand sites. Oftentimes, leases are reserved in the Spring, at the same exact time serious hunters should be in the woods scouting the land. Many new land owners, or lessees wait until right before the season to scout and learn a property, and even then, it usually takes a few years to get a firm grip on how the deer utilize a parcel. Having your scouting done, and stands hung, well prior to the season is to your benefit as you can leave your property unpressured leading up to the season.
- Noisy neighbors equal even pressure- I’ve often caught myself in a bit of cognitive dissonance in that I see noisy neighbors as both a threat to keeping pressure off the deer herd and also assume that when a mature buck disappears it is because those same noisy neighbors shot him. Somehow, I find myself assuming that the wary deer I struggle to kill each year are being harvested with ease by the same folks who are spending far less time deciphering their movements and placing significantly less value on stealthy access to their stand locations. The reality of it is that the neighbors who take to the woods a day or two before season to check or hang stands are usually not the ones killing mature deer on a consistent basis. They may luck into one here and there but a few bucks falling on the other side of the property line isn’t typically enough to make a significant impact on your hunting goals. Often, the level of human activity surrounding hunting clubs ramps up immediately before gun season. In these situations, a deer herd which is sensitive to the slightest changes in human pressure can easily be pushed off of the neighboring parcel and onto your piece. If you have provided adequate cover, food and water, you may be able to hold bucks on your land during these times when the pressure from the hunting club is unusually high. These are the times when your carefully planned access routes to and from your stands and using the wind, thermals and terrain to hide your movements and stay undetected, are especially key. On opening day of gun season, it is imperative that we are in our stand locations 1-2 hours before daylight in our area. When the neighboring hunters enter the timber 15-20 minutes before sun-up they are pushing the deer right through the travel corridors on our property which adjoin secure areas of adequate cover. As much as pressure around opening day of gun season can push deer onto your property, pressure throughout archery season can cause the same effect. If you are the only hunter in the neighborhood entering the woods for the first 45 days of season, it is likely that there is more human scent in your piece of timber than the neighbor’s. Regardless of how careful you hunt, you are going to be burning some bridges when you dive into your better spots on those days that the conditions are just right. While this might be the best move to put you in place to arrow your target buck, you have just laid ground scent on the way to your stand and any deer traveling by your stand location is likely to know a human was present; even for days after your hunt is over. If your neighbors aren’t archery hunters, you may benefit from a deer herd that has little awareness of being hunted, while also disproportionately impacting your parcel in comparison with the pressure the deer are receiving next door. The same way pressure pushes deer onto your land prior to gun season, it can push deer off your land if you over hunt and/or don’t plan carefully enough during archery season. If the neighbors are in the timber during archery season, driving four wheelers, or accessing the same stand locations over and over on the wrong wind directions, the same deer you have found so difficult to kill will easily adapt to the habits of the neighboring hunting club. This early season pressure can make your best spots heat up more quickly and your parcel can stay hot all season long if you continue to hunt smart and choose your hunting times and plan of attack wisely.
- Brown-Its-Down leaves older bucks for you- You’re wondering how the brown-its-down neighbor is a benefit, right? Well, this one needs a little qualification in that if the hunting club next door is taking 10 yearling bucks off 100 acres, it might not be a benefit. Indeed, high buck exploitation is a liability to management efforts. But, consider the neighboring lease that holds three or four hunters on 100 acres and 75% of them fill their tag with the first yearling buck they see. That 4 year old ten point you had pictures of all Fall is still out there for you to kill and most of the neighbors just burnt their tag on lesser deer. Sure, the basket 6 pointer getting through the gun season might mean more good 2.5 and older deer in the area, but in much of North America, the harvest of a few young bucks isn’t going to be the end of your Quality Deer Management efforts. I, for one, don’t mind if the neighbor wants to burn his tag on a tasty yearling and leave the older age classes for the rest of us.
The hunting club next door isn’t all bad news. There may be a silver lining. Just as you might catch yourself thinking all the bucks are being killed on the neighboring parcel, its likely that they are thinking the same thing about you. As hunters we often fall into the false sense of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence, when in reality your grass can be plenty green if you play your cards right and hunt smarter than the other guy.
Had any experience with neighboring hunting clubs or property ownership transitions? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org