Good deer hunting land is getting more and more difficult to locate and secure. Much of the time, if it is a proven prime whitetail property with a well-established reputation for producing quality deer, the place is out of the price range of the average hunter.

However, good hunting lands still exist and are available. Hunters just have to know what to look for in terms of basic habitat features.

Given adequate time and dedication along with prudent background work, time on the internet, cell phone dialing and cruising back-country roads, a serious hunter will eventually find a piece of property that can be fashioned into a quality deer hunting site. The big question is what to look for once you have locked a property down in terms of the land layout, but also in terms of what enhancements need to be made.

"I'm from Clinton and have hunted all over Central Mississippi," said Kyle Sandidge. "I know for the most part which areas carry more big deer than others. The first step a hunter needs to take is to determine what kind of hunting they want to do, either a meat hunter, trophy hunter, dog hunter or a weekend warrior. The next step is to determine how much money they have to spend. A lease or land does not stay on the market long, so you have to have your facts straight and money ready.

"After deciding these factors, do research on the areas that you are interested in. By doing research on the area first, you can take that out of the equation when you do find land.

"Once you key in on an area, get land maps with owners' names from the county courthouse, and start calling. This is a difficult process, but with persistence, you can find a place or the person who can get you in touch with someone who might know of an available place for hunting."

Then comes the job of determining exactly what the make up of the property is.


Whitetail habitat requirements

From a simple definition standpoint, a deer-hunting property ought to have five essential components to cover the basics that deer should have to dwell, survive and thrive. These include food resources, available water, suitable cover, open terrain and arrangement.

Food and water resources pretty much speak for themselves. Most of Mississippi is habitat-rich with ample natural food sources for deer to do well. It is the same for water in a state that is crisscrossed with rivers, creeks, drainages, lakes, ponds and swamps. Also, most of the natural wildlife habitat in Mississippi offers plenty of hiding, bedding and fawning cover with an ample mix of arrangement.

"Most properties have the ability to produce deer habitat that will provide a quality hunting opportunity," said Lann Wilf, deer program biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. "However, this habitat must be maintained by adequate harvest and management techniques in order to sustain its quality. These techniques include prescribed fire, herbicide treatment and control of invasive exotics like cogongrass and Chinese tallow tree."

If you can find a property with most of these elements already in place, then more than half the work is done. If something is missing, then over time habitat alterations or additions can be accomplished to complete the ideal profile. But first, hunters have to identify that these elements actually exist on the land they are intending to hunt.


Low-tech approach

When it comes to deer hunting, there is nothing wrong with tradition. In fact, a movement has been afoot for several years now to encourage hunters to get back to the basics of hunting. So is it also the way as a hunter approaches a hunting property to assess its potential for deer hunting.

Old tried-and-true methods still work, although these days adding a little technology to the mix sure enhances the evaluation process. Even so, it is hard to beat some classic non-invasive techniques as well as using some traditional invasive tactics to confirm everything.

"Once I have obtained a property, I do extensive research on aerial photographs and topographic maps," Sandidge said. "By doing this, I can get a lay of the land and how it is set up. I look for thick areas that deer might bed in, and I look for good funnels where the deer will be traveling to eat. If you can figure out where the majority of food is and then find out where the deer are bedding, the hard part is over.

"After I get all my facts, I start scouting the designated areas where I think a good ambush spot will be to catch a big buck going or coming from feeding to bedding."

The strategic approach that Sandidge suggests is a time-proven way to start nailing down the essential habitat features of the land, and then start calculating a hunting plan. As each piece of the puzzle eventually falls into place, the whole picture opens up.

Every in-depth property assessment should begin with a comprehensive study of topo maps along with quality aerial photos that can be overlaid. Fine-detailed maps can show the big picture, but nothing adds a complete understanding of the land layout as well as a high-definition aerial photograph. Try for high-quality topographic maps.

When relying on aerial photos, be sure to obtain the most current flyovers available. Some of the government secured satellite photos are starting to get dated. They don't always show current activity on the land such as timber harvests, new roads, commercial developments or current residential housing in the area.

Ideally, a flyby conducted with the aid of a local pilot is the best situation, especially shots taken in winter when most timber foliage is gone. Visit a local rural airport one day, and ask around for somebody who might be interested in the flying time if you pick up the fuel bill.

Once you have spent sufficient time at the kitchen table studying maps and photos, then it's time to put some boots on the ground. Look over those funnels firsthand. See exactly what those habitat arrangement edges look like, all the while noting viable food resources, water and buck-hiding cover. Mark these on the map. Also start figuring out ideal spots to put stands.


Computerized assessments

What used to take hours or even days of walking a piece of land to discover its features can now be accomplished in a matter of minutes at the keyboard of an internet-connected computer.

A considerable amount of technical resources are available these days. These involve such applications as global positioning or GPS, geospatial technology known as GIS, ArcView, planimetric information, spatial decision support systems, GeoData Imagery, high-resolution digital orthoimagery, or HRDO, that produces precision multispectral images, among just a few emerging technologies that can assist deer hunters in assessing hunting lands.

"Here's a sampling of what these technologies can offer deer hunters: highly detailed habitat mapping, geographic land profiles, forest access, road planning, natural resource inventories, soil type determination, plant species composition, water resources management, water flow, shooting lane locations, identification of habitat diversities and a whole host of data management capabilities for harvest information, observational data, herd analysis, hunting schedules, and on and on," said QDM consultant Mark Thomas.

Some of these tools can be used by virtually anyone who possesses elementary PC computer skills and knowledge of internet surfing. Speaking of which, if interested, the best way to learn about these technologies is to Google them for compete details and explanations.

Initially peeling back all the layers of assessing a hunting property might seem like an arduous task. However, using traditional approaches coupled with cutting-edge technologies rolls back the layers revealing the fruits of your labors.

Remember information is power, and power in the hands of a deer hunter means upping the odds of trophy buck success.