Good Things in Small Packages Hard Work on a half-acre paid big dividends for the author and his family

By Bob Humphrey

 You’ve probably heard those claims that you can successfully hunt deer on the smallest parcel, if it’s the right parcel. This story is about one such parcel, though it didn’t start out that way.

I own 100 acres, part of a much larger (about a square mile) area of undeveloped land that, like most of southern Maine, is characterized by very poor and extremely acidic soils. Further, most of my land is saturated throughout much of the year. All, that is, except a tiny bump of scarcely more than a half-acre. I recognized it as something special when I bought the land more than 25 years ago, but it was some time before I did much with it. Back then, nobody in New England had ever heard of a food plot. I released a couple of small apple trees on one side and trimmed the brush a bit to keep the area open, but then left it largely untouched and un-hunted. Trail camera results showed little to warrant further attention. Two years ago, I decided to get serious, so I turned the ground over, added soil nutrients, planted Imperial Whitetail Clover and prayed for rain. The rains came, but so did my neighbor’s carpenters, to build his new house just a couple of hundred yards from my new plot.

First year growth on the poor soils was marginal, but I ran trail cameras just the same, limed it again in fall and never bothered to hunt it. During October and November, I only managed two photos of racked bucks, which was about par for the course in my neighborhood. With the disturbance of house building subsided, I turned my sights again on the plot the next year, expecting I would have to re-plant. To my pleasant surprise, I found a lush, green carpet of clover already in place, and the best was yet to come. By mid-summer, does and fawns were using the plot daily. The first sign of something really special came in late August, when two shooter bucks showed up on camera. In more than two decades of hunting there, I’d never photographed more than two shooter bucks in the entire square-mile area.

Now I had two on my plot. And things got better when, by October, I had identified at least five bucks on the plot, including three shooters. It might not sound like much to you, but it was unprecedented in my neighborhood. I tried hard to temper my enthusiasm, knowing the area received heavy hunting pressure and patterns often change with the onset of gun season. To hedge our bets, I encouraged my son to take a doe during bow season. He was successful on his third attempt, and our plot had proven productive. Being busy hunting other stands, I had failed to check the food plot cameras during the first week of firearms season, which nearly proved a big mistake.

Then, a last-minute change of plans found me hunting the plot one afternoon, which wore on uneventfully until I was mentally preparing to call it a day. With only moments of legal shooting time left, I heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching deer. I expected it to stop short in thick cover until daylight passed, but it came at a steady pace, stopping only after entering the plot. The decision to shoot was instantaneous, and the action almost as quick. As I later admired the fallen buck, I reflected on all that had contributed to my success. Taking a nice deer is satisfying enough, but the reward is enriched when it’s on your own land — land that was enhanced through your own efforts. That success encouraged me to build another plot.