Chris Kirby on How He and His Hunting Friends Manage Deer on Small Properties
Editor’s Note: Chris Kirby has been wearing Mossy Oak most of his life and is the president of Quaker Boy Calls. Through partnering with Mossy Oak, he produces the Deer Thugs line of deer calls. Although Kirby lives in Orchard Park, New York, he hunts all over the country and helps manage several small farms in his area - some as small as 25 acres and others as large as 200 acres. Kirby says, “You definitely can manage deer to produce mature bucks on small properties. Here’s how we do it with 15 members in our hunting club.”
Although I hunt in the South, the Midwest and the Northwest, I spend a good deal of my hunting time in the Northeast near my home in Orchard Park, New York. We have a 15-man hunting club and seven farms that we hunt during deer season. For many years, deer hunters were told that to effectively manage a deer herd you needed at least 1,000 to 2,000 acres. This may be true in the South. But in the Northeast, very few blocks of land that big can be affordably leased for a hunting club. So, we lease small farms and manage our deer on those small farms. When I mention managing deer on 25 acres in a seminar or to other hunters, they’ll often look at me and laugh. However, we've been hunting these same small farms in upstate New York for about 18 years. Now for us, good deer management produces a 2-1/2-year-old buck that has 8 points or better outside the ears.
If a new hunter joins our club or comes as a guest, we allow him or her to take whatever deer is legal when they're hunting. But after he takes the first deer, he then must become a part of the same management program that we’re all following. We want to keep the fun in deer hunting. If deer hunting isn’t fun, why do it? Not seeing deer and not taking deer is not fun. The average deer that we harvest every year will score 90 to 120 inches on Boone & Crockett. But this past year on our property, one of our hunters took a buck that scored 165 inches on Boone & Crockett.
The land we hunt is in a community where deer hunters historically have believed, “If I don’t shoot any buck I see, another hunter on another property will take that buck.” This is possibly true. However, we also know that if a 1-1/2-year-old buck is taken, he never can become a 2-1/2-year-old buck. When our neighbors started seeing that we were taking better quality bucks than they were, they began to ask us what type of deer management program we were using. We explained that we let the 1-1/2-year-old bucks survive to be 2-1/2-year-old bucks. Also, we planted Mossy Oak BioLogic to give our deer sanctuary until the last week of hunting season. All the neighboring properties decided they'd rather take bucks the same size bucks we were harvesting instead of only harvesting button bucks and spikes. So, they started protecting the 1-1/2-year-old bucks around the properties we hunt.
If we have five, 2-1/2-year-old bucks on one of the farms we hunt, and we harvest two of those bucks, and one of our neighbors harvests one of the five bucks. We still have two, 2-1/2-year-old bucks that will be 3-1/2-years-old bucks the next year. Because none of the hunters on our hunting leases will have the opportunity to take those two bucks, each one of our seven farms should produce one to three, 3-1/2-year-old bucks. If each one of the properties that borders each of our farms is under this same type management system, then we all can take 2-1/2-year-old bucks, and some of us will be able to take 3-1/2-year-old bucks.
Every year now, our club is harvesting 10 to 12 bucks off the seven farms in our lease. The real proof of our management system was when we took a 4-1/2-year-old buck that we’d been watching for 3 years, and he scored 165 on Boone & Crockett. We didn’t take that buck when he was 2-1/2- or 3-1/2-years old, because he continued to get smarter and found better ways to dodge us. He was definitely on our hit list for 2 years, before one of our hunters was able to successfully harvest him when he was 4-1/2-years old. So, we absolutely learned we can manage small properties for better bucks. When our surrounding neighbors got on the same management program, all of us harvested more deer than we ever had before. Here’s another thing we did. When we first started hunting this property, our herds were made up of 20 does per one buck. So we really began an intensive program to harvest more does.
If you're reading this, I know you're saying to yourself, “Why don’t Chris and his hunting club manage their properties for 3- or 4-year-old bucks?” The answer is quite simple. Hunters buy hunting equipment, lease land, build club houses, plant food plots, spend a lot of time trying to take bucks and want to see bucks. All of our hunters are satisfied when they have the opportunity take a 2-1/2-year-old buck every season, and they may see a 3-1/2- or 4-1/2-year-old buck. Let’s be honest. Going hunting and not seeing deer isn’t very much fun. Going hunting and seeing a good number of bucks on every hunt is fun, and going hunting every season and filling your tag with a nice buck is the most fun. We set-up our management system, so our hunters see bucks almost every time they go hunting. We have a lot of 1-1/2-year-old bucks running around for everyone to see. Our seven farms produce enough 2-year-old bucks for just about every one of our hunters to have an opportunity to take a 2-1/2-year-old buck that’s 8 points or better with antlers outside of his ears. Usually, our hunters will see a 3- or a 4-year-old buck during the season, even if they don’t get a shot at him. We want deer hunting to remain a fun activity, and we want to keep the hunters who are a part of our club. We've found that this system for our group of hunters, our landowners and the hunters on neighboring properties makes deer hunting fun for all of us. It’s a backyard kind of fun. By that I mean we’re all hunting close to home without having to drive a long distance to have a chance to take a buck. Here’s what I know for certain. If deer hunting isn’t fun and deer hunters aren’t taking deer, the sport of hunting will lose more deer hunters than it gains.