Buying Land? Habitat Matters.
The search for land can be a long and drawn out process. For me, it’s been years. I’ve been fortunate enough to step foot on some ground that a lot of people would consider sacred in terms of what it offers a whitetail hunter. Unfortunately, it’s just not around every corner. Finding land takes work – and above and beyond all else, you need a north star. Mine is habitat.
Each and every fall as people begin to fill up their social media pages, which I don’t pay attention to by the way, with images of big bucks, I get reminded of one simple truth in whitetail hunting: To kill big bucks you have to have big bucks. I didn’t quite understand this as a kid from ‘da burgh. I could not figure out why big deer were killed every year, just not by me. And then one day the light went on. The more I travelled the more I understood that everything is relative. So when my search for a piece of dirt began, that’s where I started – what makes good ground? The answer I found then is the same answer I have now, so here’s the formula: Habitat + Habitat + A little More Habitat x Some Habitat = Good Ground. Write that down. To keep this article simple, let’s look at this in two simple ways:
What exists now?
I look at every piece of dirt as a canvas – and a blank one at that. Sure there’s some stuff happening on any piece of dirt, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Maybe you luck out and find a piece that hasn’t already been hacked and jacked…it’s still in a fairly natural state. If so, that’s great. Or maybe, you want to be in one of those real famous areas of the country that hunters have flocked to for well over a decade now – to me that means an awful lot of time for things to have gotten screwed up. Not always, but it happens. Regardless of the above, look at the ground as it is – and understand what’s there and how it’s working. Deer? Wildlife? Predators? Food? Water? Cover? Travel? Entry and Exit? Neighbors? Weather? Pressure? The very worst thing you can do in this skin-deep evaluation phase is lie to yourself. If it’s not there, that’s ok…don’t pretend it is, because with some time, effort and money you can make a difference. If you’re not honest with your upfront assessment you’ll hate yourself down the road. And yes, I consider all the above part of the overall habitat. Different habitats to be sure, but habitats nonetheless. Personally, I go much deeper in all of those areas than I’ve illustrated, but for this blog we’re staying skin-deep here. Now for the fun part….
Imagine what it could become?
Once you feel like you’ve got a good grasp on what the land currently supports it’s time to let your mind wander. During this phase, I can only get myself so far by staring at aerial maps – I have to get my boots muddy and my fingers dirty. There’s no knowledge like first-hand knowledge. Get on the ground and start to ponder. What if I did this? I wonder if I could? If only that were this? How could I change that? When could I tweak that? Is it possible to? Why couldn’t I? These are all questions that are going to take that piece of dirt, one that has something happening on it, and it’s going to wipe it clean. It will begin to paint a picture for you – one that you’re the artist on. If there’s any limiting factors with the land, this is where they begin to show their ugly faces. Set your budget and time constraints aside and allow yourself to ponder. Why set that aside? Because the harsh reality is this, if you can’t accomplish it without the handcuffs, you’ll never accomplish it with the handcuffs.
Overall, the search for a piece of land to make your own should be a fun experience. You should learn something from every single piece of land that you look at. Whether it’s how bedding sits in relation to food, or what impacts a deer’s movement on any given piece of land. Look at them all and imagine what could be on every single one of them. The more pictures you paint in your mind over time, the more you’ll understand what you’re looking for. The more you know about that, the more you can narrow it down. When you finally do pull the trigger on the dirt of your dreams – all those hours spent pondering will be well worth it.