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Sanctuaries: Are they Worth the Hype?

Sam Ubl

While no two sanctuaries are the same, the theory behind them is. A sanctuary is a section of land that is left alone to provide a haven void of human intrusion. Property owners typically establish a zero-tolerance policy for access into these designated utopias, but is that really the best use of the land? Or are they stopping short of opportunity by leaving the best section of land alone?

I first read about sanctuaries in a magazine article more than ten years ago. The article was written so well it sold me on the concept, but looking back I may have let my guard down. I didn’t think beyond the title of that article – Create a Sanctuary, Kill Bigger Bucks. Was it really that simple?

I addressed this topic several years back on a large forum website, The Hunting Beast. Since then, hundreds of opinions on the subject have poured in from hunters all over the country. I devoted back-to-back seasons testing theories and logic on 125-acres of privately owned diverse habitat consisting of wetlands, meadow, and agriculture – here is what I learned…

Mature bucks are mobile creatures, rarely bedding in the same place from one day to the next. While it’s fair to say mature bucks have core areas they tend to frequent, these areas could be spread as far as a couple of miles around. Of the 125-acres I was hunting, 90-acres was left as a sanctuary and I did my best to stay out.

I hunted the fringes and minded the wind on my entries and exits. I saw big bucks, but always out of range. I would watch them emerge from the cattails, rise from their beds in the sawgrass, and suddenly appear on the edges of tiny tag alder islands surrounded by sawgrass. They would stage in the immediate areas where they had first caught my eye, then slowly make their way to the food sources as the sun cast its final glow across the land.

If the wind was right I would return and observe from a distance, but there was rarely a rhyme or reason between the activity from one night to the next. Sometimes I’d see the same buck as the evening before, but he wouldn’t always emerge from the same area, and other times I’d see a buck I’d never seen before, rise from a bed that a different buck had risen from the evening before.

I learned how the deer were using the land by observing from a distance for two long seasons, but to capitalize on those lessons I would need to exploit my observations and infiltrate the red zone (aka sanctuary).

I went in during the spring after the second season and found a big buck bed in a dogwood thicket I had seen a split G2 buck use during the first season. I don’t know what it was that drew me to that spot, he was absent throughout the second season, but I decided to hunt close to that bed on the second day of my third season occupying the land. I ended up killing the split G2 buck sixty yards from his bed on that first hunt (the buck I’m holding in the feature image). His G2’s had lost the forks, but they were bladed and heavy.

By getting aggressive and moving in on the ground I had left alone for two full years I was tagged out in a matter of days. The following year I killed a different buck, a large six-pointer, on the fourth day of the new season. I had moved inside of forty-five yards of a large bed I had located during the summer and killed the buck at twelve yards as he staged around his bedroom. Had I waited on the fringes of the thick cover like I had done in the first and second season I would never have gotten a shot before dark. It should be noted that those first two years did not go to waste, as the time I spent “hunting” aka observing, ended up telling me a big part of the “sanctuary” story.

The big 6

Through the years I’ve been invited to hunt some large tracts of land, many of which had specific areas I was asked to stay out of. It was okay to hunt the edges but stay out of the distinct area with the invisible “DO NOT ENTER” signs around it. These forbidden layers are usually small, often between five and ten acres, much too small to provide a calming sense of security for a wise old buck to trust to keep him alive.

In my experience, small acreages like a back forty, are far too small to consider blocking off a section as a sanctuary. If the greatest sense of security a deer can feel comes from hiding out in those places that keep them alive, how can several acres surrounded by hunting pressure provide that sense of relief?

While I agree that minimal intrusion is paramount to keeping the upper hand on unsuspecting deer, leaving it alone completely might be shooting yourself in the foot. In the end, it may just come down to how much time you are willing to spend scouting. If you know exactly where the beds are, then you can systematically work around and hunt those areas. If you’re simply looking to label a chunk on the map because it “looks good” and call it a sanctuary, then you very well could be missing out. What are your thoughts when it comes to designating sanctuary areas?

About The Author
Using a canoe to deer hunt unpressured areas | Big buck in a canoe

Sam Ubl

Sam Ubl is a Wisconsin native with a passion for outdoor writing, videography, and film production. He balances a 50/50 trade-off between time on the water and spent in the deer woods. If he’s not casting for musky in the summer, he’s off chasing giant whitetails in the places most aren’t willing to go. Sam is a freelance writer for a long list of print and online media publications and is a co-founder of the Huntmore App and Fishmore App. Sam is also the owner and co-founder of Chase Nation, the reality hunting YouTube and CarbonTV film series, along with his partner, Brad Werwinski. Check out the Chase Nation web page here and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

  Fisherman with a big musky in Wisconsin

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