This is not news. Most deer hunters know that we are affected by what happens on neighboring farms. We often cringe when we hear a gunshot from nearby, wondering if that was the demise of the great buck we were after. We become possessive of bucks we’ve seen or photographed on trail cameras, and we sometimes become secretive about large bucks because we don’t want someone else hunting for them. I have a different solution, and it might even outweigh the habitat improvements you’ve made for deer. The best thing you can do to improve your local deer herd is talking. Communicating with neighbors can make a huge impact on what you see during your hunts.
I have had the privilege of working in Macon, Randolph and Shelby counties as a private land conservationist for the Department of Conservation for the past eight years. I have seen a lot of different farms and visited with many different landowners. Each farm is unique in its soils, cover types and the ground that it borders. In the same way, the management of each farm and the farms around it is unique.
While farms across the state vary widely, the people who own them have a lot in common.
Sure, there are tall, short, young and old landowners, and they come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, but their interests and reasons for owning a farm are often similar. Most recreational landowners want plentiful wildlife for hunting or viewing. While there are a lot of landowners who are driven by small game (such as quail and rabbits) or natural community management (such as prairies or savannas), most recreational landowners are primarily motivated by white-tailed deer. This common interest can be a valuable tool. Even if your neighbor has a completely different philosophy of deer management than you, just knowing that you both have a keen interest in deer is a good foundation for moving forward. So introduce yourself. You don’t even need to mention deer if you don’t want to—just be friendly. It will take time, but your goal is to foster a good relationship between neighbors so that you can discuss farm management and hunting successes.
Once you’re talking, it’s easy to identify common goals. Just don’t expect everyone to have the same ones (especially not at first). When everyone is working toward those common goals, we call that a conservation cooperative. I call it better