Managers of small properties (80 acres or less) will most often be lacking the space necessary to house many whitetails. Because of both biological and social carrying capacities, you just can’t fit that many animals into a small area without putting stress on them or causing degradation of the habitat.
Densities vary widely throughout the country – anywhere from 5 or 6 deer per square mile (PSM), on up to over 50 animals PSM. There are even some pockets where the density has been known to be higher, but that usually never lasts for long.
In 2009 Missouri, as an example, was estimated to have approximately 22 deer PSM state wide. So let’s use a generous sample of “30 deer per square mile.” In this model that means; with 640 acres in a square mile, and 30 deer in that square mile, your 80 acres is likely to house 4 deer. If you do things right you most certainly can hold many more, but you can see the point to the question; “Are you better off devoting ground to bedding or to feeding?”
Providing ground for food rather than for cover would be the choice of many wise gamekeepers - let the deer bed on nearby properties, but then come to your place to feed. A wiser gamekeeper, however, might strive to provide everything (or as much as possible), even though it’s a small property. If you do have to sacrifice “cover” for “food,” or vice versa, IF there is adequate bedding opportunities on adjacent ground, then you would likely be better off with the food.
What can often happen is a condition I have seen on numerous properties where too much emphasis is put on food and not enough on cover, water or sanctuary. If the deer are coming from off of your property, if they have too far to travel, then most/much of the activity will be well after legal hunting time is finished for the day. Add in a little hunting pressure and you’re going to need “lots of luck” to harvest a mature buck during daylight hours.
So even if you do put more emphasis on food than the other elements, striving to provide all their needs nearby will almost always result in better hunting.