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The Back 40

Big antlers and small properties

Wed, September 11, 2013

Hunting one small piece of property is often difficult when it comes to letting a buck walk. 

Sure, we would all love to own or manage a large farm, or at least several small properties.  Hunting larger pieces of land allows you to manage deer much better.  It also allows you the luxury of passing up 4-1/2 year-old bucks to see if they hit that magical 170” mark.  In my experience, I’ve learned that most bucks in the Central Illinois area want to be about 145”…even as a 5-1/2 year-old.  That said, we all know that a few will reach well beyond that.  You can usually see signs of the great ones at 2-1/2 and 3-1/2.  Unusually large or funky looking antlers are the obvious giveaways.  But what are you to do when you only hunt and control 40 acres?  Passing up a 140” 3-1/2 year-old can be more than difficult when you know the chances of your neighbor passing on him are slim to none.  Here are a few tips.

First, keep quiet.  If you have a potential giant using your property regularly, tell no one. 

Second, don’t push him.  He likes it at your place, that’s why he’s there.  Don’t give him any reasons to leave.  Pushing a giant on your 500 acre farm means you still have a good chance that he’s somewhere on your property, especially in the early season.  Pushing a giant on your 40 acre farm means he’s probably on your neighbor’s property now.  If you have to be on your property to check trail cameras or whatever, use a tractor if you have one.  Recently, I got pictures from trail cameras only minutes after I switched out the SD cards.  That tells me that they were nearby when I made the switch.  I certainly wasn’t quiet about it.  I left the tractor and mower running, got off, made the switch and drove off.  Just farm activity as a deer sees it.  Had I used my ATV, I can almost guarantee you that these bucks would not have come in for a picture as soon as they did.  Getting pictures so soon after I put the blank SD cards in the cameras also confirmed their bedding preferences to me.  I know they didn’t walk 400 yards in that short amount of time.  My guess is that they were bedded within 100 yards of the cameras.  Now I know where they feed and where they bed.  If I could only figure out a way to guarantee they stay put till October 1st. 

What to pass up and what to shoot?  That’s the million dollar question to the small acreage hunter.  In my opinion, shoot what makes you happy.  Always keep herd management in mind, but don’t let others’ egos dictate what pleases you.  I can remember a time when a basket rack would rock my world.  I miss those days.  As many hunters do, I’ve graduated myself into the next level of hunting.  Now I love seeing what a buck can turn into from one year to the next.  However, if a 3-1/2 year-old 140” buck walks by me, no promises that he’ll get a pass.  If I get that feeling, that awesome buck fever feeling with my heart pounding out of my chest, there’s a good chance I’ll be taking the shot.  I won’t make any excuses either.  I won’t refer to him as a cull buck or a management deer.  I’ll refer to him as my latest trophy.  I’ll call my wife from the stand with the same excitement I always have.  If he’s a trophy to me but not to you, please exercise your right to remain silent.  I don’t want to hear, “He’d have been a great buck in another couple years.”  He’s as old as he’s ever going to get and I’m going to think about the hunt every time I look at him on my wall.  Your decisions are just that.  Your decisions.  If you have a 140” 2-1/2 year-old on your farm, I’d urge you to let him go.  He certainly has potential to be your first Booner.  Beyond that, this isn’t a team sport.  Don’t keep score, and don’t compete and compare with others.  To date, I have not yet shot a Booner.  I do believe that someday my time will come.  Until then, I’ll enjoy every hunt and continue to do what I do. 

October 1st is almost here.  Be safe and have an outstanding season!

John Soehn


Great article John - especially the ‘what to pass and what to shoot…’ paragraph.  I couldn’t agree more!!!!  Best of Luck to you this fall - hope that 170 gives you a nice standing 20 yard chip shot….

Posted by RiverRat on September 11


Totally agree with your tractor comment.  You wouldn’t believe the deer (including mature bucks) that wander all around our equipment as we do spring and fall farm work. I’ve even had coyotes act as if I wasn’t even in the field.  I figure that A) the animals have grown somewhat accustomed to it and B) the repetitive motion (back and forth across the field) lets the animals feel your actions are predictable and therefore safe.

Posted by mountain man on September 11


I could not agree with you more.  Shoot the buck (or doe) that makes you happy.  Passing the buck you would be proud of is certainly your choice.  Be safe and enjoy the time you have in the woods.  We all have our own personal standards and I feel that one mans trophy is another mans dream.  Stay safe in the woods this fall and have a great time pursuing your dream hunt.

Posted by GalenaBob on September 11

While switching out cards the other day, I smelled that distinct rotting corpse smell by my creek.  As much as I want to stay out of the woods now, I think I may check it out tomorrow to see if it was one of my shooters.

Posted by Treehugger on September 11

Great read as always John!  Couldn’t agree more even though I’ve been guilty of a few comments in the past myself.  Antler envy and trying to live up to the unrealistic standards of the horn porn industry can ruin your season and more.  Enjoy the hunt for what it is ...  The experience!!  A good buck on the wall is just a bonus in my book.

Posted by Andy Meador on September 11

Yup.  I think it’s about time to get back to our roots.  Back to why we all started hunting in the first place.  I’m going to keep chasing the big ones, but I will not be consumed by them.

Posted by Treehugger on September 11

For me, it’s a lot about peace I find when I climb atop my perch and sit down. The solitude is very calming to me. At the same time, it’s alot about the thrill of the hunt. Nothing gets my adrenaline pumping like closing the distance with whitetails. I get a great senes of satisfaction from all the hard work I put in. Hunting public land, hiking miles upon miles, setting up and taking down my stand everyday, dragging the deer to the parking lot(up to two miles away), and taking the deer from the field to the table bc I process my own deer. So yes, it is all about the experience for me. The overwhelming highs and the soul crushing lows. Antlers/big bucks are just icing on my already sweet cake bc they are so rare, elusive, and smart.

Posted by Illinoisbassnbucks on September 12

John, very well written and stated, couldn’t agree more on all accounts!, Good luck to you this fall !!!!  great blog!!

Posted by Flatlander on September 12

Now that is a well written blog, and some darn good comments to follow.  This article seemed to awaken some of us from the dog days of summer!  The friday night forcast of mid 40’s as a low ought to get us fall lovers pumped up as well!!

Posted by CCHUNTER2024600 on September 12

Love the great article and very much agree. IlBASSNBUCK I feel your satisfaction and hard work. I too work hard like you do on public land and love every minute of it. It’s all about the love of the game!!!

Posted by Deer Opps on September 16

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