You had another terrible deer season. Is it time for a fresh set of eyes on your food plots and stands?
Another deer season has passed, you haven’t killed a buck, and your frustration is mounting. That track record could be the result of a lot of things: high hunting pressure, poor food sources, and mediocre tactics. It just might be time to seek outside help and hire a hunting land consultant to whip you and your ground into shape for next season.
Gauge Your Needs
Knowing when to hire a consultant can be stressful. It's never easy asking for help, but an outside perspective usually pays off. Steve Bartylla is the kind of guy who can help. He’s a passionate deer hunter and outdoor writer, and he’s consulted on land management with many clients over the years.
So how do you know if you need someone like him to look at your hunting property?
“Are you having fun? This stuff is supposed to be fun,” he says. “In fact, if you’re enjoying what you do, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making mistakes. Don’t hunt for anyone other than yourself. And shoot whatever legally makes you happy.”
If you’re not having fun, a land manager can help you reset things. And those mistakes he’s talking about can be defined many different ways, but it primarily depends on your goals. If your goal is to kill big whitetails, passing deer and not filling tags is part of the game.
But consultants aren’t just for trophy hunters. Even casual hobbyists and pure meat hunters want their deer to be healthy, right? These hunters still need to know how to effectively hunt their land, and hiring a professional is a good way to learn.
Consultants can even assist veteran hunters with walls full of big deer. A whitetail consultant with an outside perspective will analyze your land practices and hunting strategies, then offer constructive feedback. This could include advice on everything from stand locations, entry and exit routes, food plot designs, timber stand improvement and more. These are all critical components of managing hunting land, and a consultant will help in areas where your skillset is lacking.
“Half of my clients truly did not need my services,” Bartylla says, noting that they benefited anyway. “A lot of my clients were educated. They knew a lot about habitat. They just realized a second set of eyes could see things they didn’t.”
Choose Your Consultant Wisely
Bartylla urges caution as you search for a consultant. Be wary of those who take every hunting concept or strategy as an unbreakable rule. There are very few hard-and-fast laws in the deer woods. Not every property is the same, and a cookie-cutter approach is tempting for some consultants. Stay away from those who don’t adapt to each property and prescribe a unique plan of action. Ask for references from previous clients. Good consultants will happily provide such information.
A good consultant should also take the time to fully understand how you’ve done things in the past and what your current management and hunting strategies look like. With that information, they should be able to devise a new strategy for the future.
The biggest asset a consultant usually offers most hunters is guidance on low-pressure hunting. This strategy will differ for each property. While most people shouldn’t drive an ATV to the base of their tree, for instance, some landowners do this with success.
Before money exchanges hands, make sure the consultant understands the entire scope of their trade, or get them to acknowledge spots where they’re lacking. If timber harvest strategy isn’t their specialty, for instance, they should tell you this. Sure, some consultants will know everything there is to know about whitetail biology, forestry and hunting strategy, but that’s either an unlikely or expensive find. Figure out what their wheelhouse is by asking them beforehand, determine what your primary goals are, and choose accordingly.
The good news? Many state agencies and DNRs employ foresters or biologists who will come to your property for free. It could be advantageous to have them mark undesirable trees and shrubs on the property before the hunting consultant arrives.
Once you book a consultant, leave the ego at the door. You hired this person to scrutinize you, your property and how you hunt it. Don’t get offended if he or she encourages a different approach.
Help the consultant understand the complete layout of your property. Supply them with annotated maps. Show them where food sources were, are and will be. Do the same with bedding cover and water sources. Tell them about past deer encounters, how deer use the landscape, where current stands are located, how the neighbors behave, and anything else you can think of that informs your current strategy. This information helps them implement a plan for the property.
Ensure your hard-earned dollars are optimized, and milk the consultation for all it’s worth. Have a list of questions prepared and write down the responses. Ask follow-up questions about the strategies the consultant wants to implement. You’re paying for these services, but two heads are still better than one.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.