Anybody ever use a habitat consultant?


Anyone ever used a habitat consultant? If so was it wort it? To sum it up I am on the fence about it. Ihave alot of reservations and doubts about it.
Before you go that far, have you ever had a "field day" at your place with some local trusted habitat "gurus" like the guys on this site. I have been to a few "land visits" and there are always a ton of good suggestions thrown around. There is something to be said about a "fresh set of eyes to think outside the box". You wouldn't actually have to act on any of the suggestions if you didn't think they fit your needs, but it would give you a good idea of what other guys might do in your situation.
Let me toss this back at you then. Some ya-hoo is asking for help with his habitat plan. He is looking for folks willing to come to his property to review and discuss possible changes and ideas. The only thing this guy has to offer you for your assistance is to look at his property and take away the observations of the day (maybe cover lunch). You really think this would work?

My issue is the most trusted resources I know of regarding habitat work is via the inter-webs (or cost a grand or more for a visit). Most are not even remotely local. I don't have a local "you-know-who" chapter either - my entire state only has 3! I like the idea - I just am not confident about the actual result. I fear I have little to offer, no "tricks of the trade" or "guru" to disperse wisdom, no smoke, no mirrors, no show. Just a guy on a corn/bean farm trying to improve habitat and shoot nice deer.
On any of the visits I have been on it was just as you say. Nothing to offer in return but throwing on some ribs(or whatever) and a few beers for lunch and the chance to see how someone else's habitat improvements might help your own. In a nutshell, that is it and for some, that is enough to get them to come out for a visit. It seems to work for the Minnesota guys, as some of them have just recently spoke of some visits. Maybe you have some acorns or apple scions to offer to those guys in the future. Since you are on a farm, you may have some resources that others do not know of or haven't thought to use. From your posts, it seems like you have enough wisdom to offer the same service to the folks who visit your place and could reciprocate a visit to their farms to give your thoughts and suggestions. As far as you not having anyone local to you, it sure seemed like there were a bunch of Indiana guys on the forums, look at their locations and see if it is someone you think could help you in your quest to make your property better. You don't know unless you ask.
Thinkin out loud but might be a workable alternative. Steve does, as I understand it, an off site property review based on photo and topo maps. I would think you could combine that with all of dbltree's info over at outreach outdoors and put a pretty comprehensive plan together outside of setting herd management goals.
I would never consider paying someone like a private consultant. Im much to tight for that:). Im lucky to have a great resource like the MDC for property/habitat consulting free of charge. I guess in a round about way I pay for it with my tax dollars!
My experiences have been just like stu's. You always learn some things and make great friends.

I got some great ideas from a small group of us that met over a year ago.

I also learned a lot when a larger group met at my place.

Even one guy is a new set of eyes and new ideas.
Having done a bunch of one day property consults over the years, seeing a bunch of other consultant's plans and based on the feel I've gotten from your posts, I'm recommend you not hire one. I've never once asked for them, but I've been sent a bunch of plans for review that the clients of other consultants have been given over the past handful of years and it's REALLY soured me on it. The one's I've seen are cookie cutters, all looking remarkably similar. I know I risk coming off looking really bad by typing any of this, but I now understand how some consultants have been able to take on mid summer jobs, when the only deer sign left is useless and you can't see 50 yards in even overly mature woods. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure there are some good one's left out there. As one example, I suspect Don Higgins does far more than repeat the same generic plan from property to property.

That said, you can get a photo eval/plan done for 1/3rd-1/5th the price, and I believe they are better than the plans I've seen (comment on how disappointed in the on site plans I've been for the owners' that paid for them). I know Bill Winke has done photo evals in the past, and I also do them. I suspect with a little digging you could unearth some others.

The biggest benefit, for someone like you, to a legit plan is IDing your needs and addressing them in a way that encourages deer activities/movements. You don't need to be shown how to hinge cut a tree, plant fruit trees, create thriving food plots and things of that nature. Unless I'm wrong, you want to know how to maximize the buck potential on your property and make them easier to kill. All that can be done with a photo eval 80+% as well as on onsite consults, assuming you provide the consultant with detailed info on current/historic deer activity. You may need to make minor adjustments (shift a travel corridor a few yards to avoid a ditch that doesn't show up on a topo), but you would have no issue with that.

The other option is to create an overall plan for yourself, and that is a very legit option. If you do that, be sure to begin by clearly IDing your goals. Then, plan every improvement to address what you see as weaknesses and make every enhancement increase the ease of hunting the property. As others have suggested, try to do a habitat day and get input. After it's done, consider all the input, cherry pick what you believe was the best, add in your own ideas and lay out an all inclusive plan before making your next improvement.

That's my advice. Take it for what it's worth.
Steve- Good post.

Would you suggest some variables in a plan that you make or that a land owner makes?

I'm not sure how to say this, but maybe leave room for adjustments as goals change with age of hunters, or with children becoming involved in the hunt, or with declining deer populations, or CWD?

I know that is along rambling sentence, but guess my mind works that way.

My goals have changed over 25 years, deer numbers have changed, and CWD is getting closer. I now have my daughters hunting with me and my wie as before.

I guess in short, do we need to plan for "Variables?"

If so, how do we do that.
Steve hit the nail on the head as to what I am after. I'm not new at this, I am getting resuls as well, I just want to be moving in the right direction. I realize having a piece of paper doesn't mean you are qualified to find your own butt - I just figued it would be a way to "cull" the flock so to speak. I may put some information together and see if Steve will give me his 2 cents worth. I know I will never hold monster deer (it just isn't going to happen) - but if I can maintain where I am (see my avatar photo) I will be happy with that. We have taken 5 deer of 125" or more off of my farm since 2008. I think that's pretty good considering we have a deer density of 15 to 20 DPSM and in the begining harvesting any deer was an accomplishment.
I hear ya - smsmith. When I first hunted folks just asked why I was wasting my time. My state was talking about controling the deer numbers, yet my entire county shot less than 450 deer total in 2000 (county is 373 sq miles - that 1.2 deer harvested every 640 acres). We are now pushing 800 for the county. It was funny becaue it was so easy on TV! Boy was I stupid! Now I tell people - go hunt in wal-marts parking lot and see how much luck you have! Still hunt the same property, but I have alot more deer now (habitat, habitat & more habitat).

I send a 3.5 page questionnaire/request for info to each client, just to try to ID all those variables. I don't know if this will all come through, but I'll try to paste it below, in hopes it answers your ?. Looks like the format is messed up, and I don't have the time to fix it, but it gets the gist across.

Photo Based Evaluations and Plans
  1. The client will fill out our questionnaire to provide us with a better picture of their goals, abilities and limitations.
  2. The client returns the questionnaire along with three photos of the property, a topo map and a check for the agreed upon amount. The images may be emailed or sent through the postal service with the check.
  3. After review of the questionnaire, photos and topo map, I may choose to conduct a phone interview to follow up with any questions and concerns any of us have.
  4. A photo based plan and written report addressing both habitat improvements and hunting strategies is formed and emailed to the client.
  5. A follow up interview is conducted to address any questions and comments the client may have.
Please answer the following questions as accurately and in as much detail as practical. There are no wrong answers and almost always more than one way to accomplish goals. The answers you provide will merely help ensure your satisfaction and that our plan will more accurately fit your goals, desires and limitations.
What is the primary contact’s name, the best phone number to reach them at and address of property?
What is the size of the property in acres?
Are you color blind and, if so, which colors can and can’t be seen easily?
What are your primary goals for your property?
What deer seasons will be hunted on this property, how many hunters for each and what is the maximum number of hunters at any one time for each season?
How often is this property hunted and by an average of how many (i.e. Generally 3 bowhunters per weekend and a single hunt or two during the week, up until gun season. If I haven’t filled my tag, I may bow hunt a few times late season, but generally no one else. For gun season, five hunters opening weekend, no one until 3 on Thanksgiving and generally two the last weekend. No one muzzleloader hunts, but I’m considering it in the future)?
Are there any special considerations for any of these hunters (i.e. afraid of heights, physically handicapped, require easy access and so on)?
What activities occur on this property, outside of deer hunting?
How much does each of the neighboring properties get hunted, referring to each by last name?
What is a realistic budget you can spend on making improvements to the property each year, over the next 5 years?
What is a realistic amount of time you can spend on making improvements to the property each year, over the next 5 years?
How big of bucks typically come from the area each year compared to the general size taken from your ground?
As it applies to your own hunting satisfaction, do you feel your deer numbers are high, about right or low on your property?
Which is more important, having the ability to shoot the largest bucks or seeing the most deer? Place your answer on a 1-10 scale. Choose 5 for the best balance between the two, with one or ten rendering the other nearly irrelevant.
Deer Numbers Biggest Bucks
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Do you run trail cameras on the property? If yes, how many and during what portions of the year?
What government programs is your land enrolled in, and what limitations do they place on your grounds and the improvements that can be made to them?
Are the aesthetics of your woods an important consideration in what can and can’t be addressed in an improvement plan?
Are you comfortable using a chainsaw or in a position to be able to hire out the work?
Which is more important to you, future timber values on the ground or maximizing deer hunting opportunities?
If your property is already being actively crop farmed, how many acres of currently farmed grounds would you be willing to dedicate to either deer food or habitat creation?
Are any future plans already made for the ground that must be taken into consideration (i.e. a building location for a future home, large fishing pond planed and so on).
Do you foresee any future events that should be accounted for (i.e. would like an area set aside for the growing children or grandchildren to be able to small game hunt, build forts and generally be kids in)?
What balance are you most comfortable with between recreational activities not related to deer hunting and practices that benefit deer, such as staying out of the woods, not driving ATVs, small game hunting after deer season and so on.
Focus on Deer Focus on all Outdoors Rec
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Are there any other considerations that you feel we need to be aware of to provide you with a plan that best fits your needs, abilities, limitations and goals?
What do you hope to achieve from my services?
Please provide us with 3 high resolution images of the property, including a quarter to half mile buffer of neighboring lands. If you do not already use a source for the aerial photography of your property, Google Earth is acceptable ( The first photo should be left blank, for our use. If the property is too large to see in detail from one photo, several may be used, assuming they are all the same scale. Sending me a link to the location would be helpful.
A topo map of the property will also be required, and can be gotten free of charge from USGS’s site ( If you have difficulty with this step, we can get it ourselves, after getting the property location and photos.
On the second photo, please mark the following as accurately as possible. If you don’t feel you can accurately document something, just skip it. Please do so on the neighboring properties as much as possible, as well. You may either color code these features, providing a key for what each color represents or simply label them:
Food sources, including food plots, ag fields, areas of heavily used natural browse, meadows, concentrated feeding on mast crops (acorns & apples), bait piles and so on.
Water sources, such as ponds, water holes or locations on flowing water that deer tend to drink most often.
Bedding areas, differentiating between doe and buck bedding areas, when possible
Heavily used deer trails
Large concentrations of rubs and historically consistent scraping areas
Any funnel features (deer crossings on low spots in otherwise high banked creeks, rivers & ditches, brush lines your deer commonly use as connecting features, peninsulas of drier land jutting into swamps, erosion cuts deer wrap around, benches, saddles, anything deer commonly use on your property that encourages concentrated movement)
Outline areas of woody cover as Thick (generally can see 30 yards or less at ground level when leaves are present), Intermediate (generally can see between 31-99 yards when leaves are present) and Open (generally can see 100 yards or more)
Areas void of deer activity (i.e. a bog deer refuse to cross)
Property boundary lines for your and your neighbor’s properties, labeling each with a last name
On the third photo, please mark the following as accurately as possible. If you don’t feel you can accurately document something, just skip it. Please do so on the neighboring properties as much as possible, as well. Again, you may either color code these features, providing a key for what each color represents or simply label them:
Existing stand locations, noting the general success or lack thereof for each
Access and departure routes to each stand
If applicable, note which neighbors will allow you to cross their lands for access
Existing human trails/roads and their level of use (For example, an ATV trail. The photo should be clear enough to see the roads open to the public)
Any specific areas used for other human activities that will continue in the future (i.e. one of the children’s dirt bike course, horse riding trails, the area you and the wife go for morning walks in and so on)
Property boundary lines for your and your neighbor’s properties, labeling each with a last name
The key is IDing those potential changes BEFORE they occur. It's almost always easier going from a very tightly trophy managed property to modifying it to be more family friendly...Doing the reverse is a lot harder. Still, the short answer to your ? is, yes, and you will see that in some of the ?s on the post above (again, sorry for the format mess..didn't paste well)
steve-thank you for the post. You are very thorough and I can see you take your job very seriously.
Thanks, Art, I try. I add a few ?s every year and am sure I'll add more in future years. I guess the thing that has ultimately soured me so much on consultants recently (and some of the "how-too" experts in years past, is that you really do owe it to people to take this stuff seriously. It may sound cheesy, but they're placing their trust in you. That's a pretty big responsibility and should be treated as such. When I see other "experts" spewing pure BS to sell things &/or slapping out cookie cutter plans that I could train my 13 yr old to do in 30 mins, it really bugs me, as I could have been that "client" just as easily as anyone else, and I know how shitty I would have felt about it, once I eventually figured out I'd been sold a Walmart product at Pottery Barn prices (you have to be married to understand that one :) ).
Your evaluation questionnaire is awesome Steve. Many of the questions you listed I would have really had to think about on our old place. I think it is because when you are there for a while, you become complacent and some of the things we should think about regularly, we start to take for granted. I hope you don't mind me using some of those questions to do a "land purchase" evaluation in the future when I finally decide to pull the trigger on a piece of ground. I think many of those questions are valid when looking at a new property, and maybe the current owner can answer some of them for you regarding the neighbors and their personal usage.
Good to have a non- biased opinion from someone on the outside looking inward....with their thoughts, experiences and inputs from another property.

We use the Noble Foundation....a free consultation/cooperator program for landowners within 100 mi of Ardmore OK.....they have absolutely give some great advice which helped our land be more productive without considerable expense! You can google.....'deer management in the cross timbers' and 'quality of native plants for deer and goats.....for some good free reading. Remember this......much of the deer research they have done is the most extensive in the US 48.

It won't answer all questions but it is a good base for the foundation of a solid land management program.
I wish I had a resource like that at my disposal. Closest thing I have is my DNR - don't get me wrong they can be alot of help, but laying out a property really isn't their thing. Sounds like Steve is going to help me out.
Jbird, you mentioned in an earlier post you would never hold "monster" bucks. The farm I hunt is the same way. I want to kill trophy bucks as much as anybody out there but my definition changed a few years back. I now try to shoot 4.5 or older regardless of score. Our avg 3.5-4.5 bucks will be8 pts that score from 115-125. Sure we can throw some better ones every so often but they are the exception. I think a critical part of every plan should be understanding what the land and herd are capable of and setting expectations accordingly.