If you have the ability to do land improvements on the property you hunt, you may be able to give yourself an increased advantage when season rolls around. Although I’m not a property consultant by any means, we have been planting food plots for over a decade, and going from rocky, abandoned pastures with incredibly wet, acidic soil to small fields of clover, corn and brassicas has taught us a few things, (mostly through failure). Although weather and soil conditions from year to year may differ in our location so drastically that the success of food plots can be extremely variable, over time we have learned what plantings can sustain the level of browsing the plots will receive and what species are hardy enough to do well in the conditions and parameters we must work within.
The way I see it, there are a couple different kinds of food plots; namely, hunt plots, and destination plots. You can throw ag fields in there somewhere, too, however, they often serve the same purpose as a destination plot, i.e. keeping deer fed (usually after dark), and in the general area. Most of what is on our property would be considered a destination plot. Although a few plots are secluded enough to give deer secure feeding in daylight hours, they aren’t close enough to buck bedding to be productive as hunting locations. To that point, in all the years that we have hunted this piece of ground, I believe one buck has been killed off a food plot. The pressure these deer receive and the locale of our current food plots is just not conducive to hunting success. The purpose they serve for us is keeping doe family groups in our area, making the rut a good time to be in the woods close to those does’ bedding areas.
Because of our lack of huntable food plots, I made plans for some projects this year. One of those projects is to attempt to create a food plot that is huntable in early season, while bucks are still on a bed-to-feed pattern. For this reason, this blog is going to be more focused about the location selection of a hunt plot than the actual installation process. While I’m not a huge fan of hunting over food plots, my plan is to create a secure plot within a bucks transition area between bed and food. A buck choosing to use this plot will have to travel less than 100 yards from his bed.
To accomplish this, I first needed to determine where deer were bedding in the timber on the south facing slope of the property. I suspected there to be some doe bedding lower on the hill, closer to the existing destination plot, and hoped to be able to locate some buck beds as well. I assumed I may find buck bedding higher on the ridge. A subtle point created an advantageous bedding location and I was able to locate a lone bed along this higher elevation with several decent rubs leading into it along the side hill. Slightly lower and to the east of this location was a doe bedding area with multiple beds facing in varying directions. Both of these bedding areas were positioned in a way that the deer could take full advantage of both a North wind coming over the top of the hill and daytime thermal activity bringing scent up from the valley below.
Because of the terrain, the two options for food plots are either at the base of the hill, or on the flat at the top. In time, ideally, I would like to position a food plot above the buck bed on the top of the hill. This will require some additional planning, and possibly some heavier equipment than I have available to me at this time. So, for this summer, my plans are to position a hunt plot between the bedding area and the larger destination food sources located to the South and the West.
With the proposed location of the new hunt plot, in picture above, I will be able to gain access to the stand location in the evening while staying completely undetected by the deer I am hunting. It is very important when getting below deer in hill country on evening hunts than you are waiting to get into your stand until the thermals have shifted and begin to drop off the side hill down into the valley below. When these thermals begin to fall I will be able to come off the road and approach my stand silently and scent free. Because of the thick vegetation, any deer bedding on the side hill will not be able to see my approach. One of the most important considerations when planning a stand location is how you will go about getting into it without pressuring the very deer you are attempting to hunt. Waiting until later in the evening is imperative when hunting a spot like this.
My other main concern when hunting this location is how the deer move through this area. Typically, the deer bedded on the side hill will drop down after leaving their beds and travel along one of the lower trails in the evening to be able to take advantage of falling thermals. For this reason, I have chosen a tree on the south side of the plot. Greedily, I would like to chose a spot on the north side of the plot so as to be able to shoot a few yards into the timber and thus cover an additional trail when hunting with archery gear. In doing so, I would risk my scent blowing over the plot and any deer looping to the southeast corner of the plot, (to use this lower elevation to their advantage), would smell me without ever giving a shot opportunity. By selecting the tree marked by the red X, I will have a 35 yard shot to the bottom edge of the woods, and less than a 20 yard shot to either of the other trails. Because of the potential for the deer to approach from the East, it will be important to hunt this spot on a NNW wind. To further ensure that no deer walk below my stand location and catch my scent or cross my access trail and ground scent, I plan to pile all of the brush that is cleared from the area to make the plot in a row along the southeast corner of the clearing in a in order to funnel deer up into the food plot from this lower trail. The falling thermals and the manipulation of the deer travel will enable this spot to be hunted a few more times than other typical stand locations on a food plot.
The last consideration is the shape of the plot. The shape I’ve laid out here creates a natural funnel for any deer who enter the plot to move through on their way to the destination food source to the West, giving the hunter an easy broadside shot. Because I don’t expect the deer to spend a lot of time in this plot, but rather move through it on their way to the larger food plot, an evening exit becomes easier. There is enough of a vegetation buffer between this micro plot and the large plot to the west that a visual barrier will keep deer from seeing a hunter leaving the stand. This will also help this stand to stay good for a couple more hunts than usual. Because a vegetation screen is both critical for entrance and exit routes, I expect to only hunt this plot a few times during early archery season.
Monitoring the plot is the last piece of the puzzle. Because of the small size of the plot, one trail camera is enough to monitor all of it. Putting the camera on video mode will help me determine the direction of access the deer use to enter the plot. Correlating camera data with weather history will also give me a good indication of how and when the deer are using the plot in conjunction with the wind and thermals. Checking the camera will require the same careful entrance and exit as when hunting and I will be careful not to contaminate the plot with human scent during summer monitoring. Keeping tabs on the deer activity in the plot through the use of a trail camera will let me know when the time is right to move in for the kill.
Even with a game plan in place, staying open minded is key and if the trail camera shows deer entering the mirco plot just after sundown, I will know I need to push into the timber and get a little closer to the beds, within the bucks staging area. This becomes an additional challenge and a higher risk, higher reward type of hunt. It is unlikely that more than one or two hunts in this location, per season, will be possible if this becomes necessary. The stand on the micro plot will be beneficial from an observational standpoint, with the ability to also produce kill.
Hopefully I will have good things to report in 9 months about this new property improvement project. I would love to hear about your successes or challenges with implementing food plots into your hunting arsenal. Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org