So many guys are planting food plots nowadays. Its crazy the level of interest and it is a very good thing. The quality of forage in deer habitat today is incredible! I love the craze…and I love when my neighbors get into planting plots!
Its hard not to notice some hunters experiencing great hunting while managing food plots at the same time. The common and understandable thought process is…I better get some food plots so I can do the same. I want to throw a thought out there that more often than not, food plots can hurt you, more than they help you.
Food plots are great…they attract deer to the neighborhood, they provide for the potential of much higher nutrition levels, and they can give the deer a boost in many categories of health. However….its the “attraction” portion of the equation that often becomes the problem. Basically…attract the deer/spook the deer typically becomes the norm. That’s where weighing the food plot risk and rewards comes in.
Food plots carry with them a very high level of risk/reward for the hunter and/or land manager. The higher the potential level of attraction…the higher the potential level of risk. As the level of risk increases, so does the potential number of deer in your neighborhood that can be educated, negatively. I love when my neighbors plant plots because as someone who does this for a living, I get to see a common food plot problem across a very wide range of whitetail hunting habitat. My neighbors (maybe yours too) attract more deer to the neighborhood, including, mature bucks, and then they educate those deer that although the food plots are a great place to dine…its not a safe place to dine. So where do those food crazed deer go when educated…especially the less tolerant number of mature bucks? They go to the nearest patch of adjacent cover that offers a much lower potential of risk. If that adjacent patch of cover also has high quality food sources…they stay, at least during the daytime. I have never cared where the local mature bucks are during the night time…or even for most of the year, but when it comes to “prime time”, I believe you can easily plan for food plot success.
At one time I had over 30 food plots in 3 states totaling 18 acres for my own hunting purposes. The following tips are some of the methods I use to make sure that my food plots are offering more “reward”, than “risk”:
Accessing Through Food Plots
1. Walking through a food plot during daylight hours isn’t a bad thing…as long as you are not spooking the adjacent bedding areas at the same time. Paying attention to scent, and the positioning of bedding areas are both critical aspects of hunter access.
2. Walking through a food source during the hours of darkness is a bad practice to take, UNLESS high winds and/or poor weather is present such as heavy rain or snow. In that case I walk right through the food if it is the quickest route to a stand that will really heat up after the front passes.
3. Develop safe passage ways for you as the hunter. Create hunter trails with quiet access and a low % of weeds or debris that can hold your scent for hours after your access. Often you will need to use 1 access on the way in, and another on the way out as you seek to avoid food sources during the feeding hours…and bedding areas during the bedding hours.
4. Consider bedding area pre-developed hunter trails that allow you to take a back door exit after the deer herd has left their daytime bedding cover in the afternoon to dine on your plots. This is a much riskier practice in the morning because bedding/feeding activity is much less predictable compared to the evening hours.
Hunting Food Plots
1. Very rarely, is a “hunting plot”, a hunting plot. The easiest thing to do? Just don’t hunt the food plots unless you can access a stand without spooking deer, sit on a stand without spooking deer, and get out of that stand without spooking deer. Its not a hunting plot no matter the size or shape unless you can predictably use without spooking deer. Again, its a shame to attract them…only to educate them.
2. Consider food plots for gun hunting, at a distance that allows you to get in and out of stand locations without spooking deer while they are feeding on the plot. This requires the right distance…as well as a quiet and scent free approach.
3. Except for late season mass harvest efforts…shoot does somewhere else. In my experience shooting does on 1 plot, can raise the risk level on others. Similar conditions = similar threat levels no different than a large square, unhidden hunting shack from one property to the next. Deer can and do recognize similar conditions of threat.
Hiding Food plots
1. Screening food plots from hunter movement is critical. Egyptian wheat is probably the #1 screening annual you can plant and even at broadcasting rates, a 50# bag that costs $100 with shipping, will cover roughly 3 acres. By planting only a 10′ wide strip…that’s 1000s of feet of screening in 1 bag and on good soil you can have a thick jungle of growth that will stand up to heavy snows and be well over 10ft high. On poor soils…its hard to get it to grow less than 5-6′. For long term spruce are hard to beat…and constructing a burm is a great solution as well. Using the lay of the land to your advantage through elevation change is another great “screen” for your food plot.
2. Hide all plots, and let the deer feel that when reach a plot…they are safe! Let them feel just as safe in the food plot, as they do in their best of daytime bedding cover. If you want to take a poke at them with a firearm from 150 yards…that’s pretty cool, but just let them feel that once they reach that hidden food source, they are completely safe.
3. Hiding deer while on a food plot is one of the best food plot tips I can give. A food plot shouldn’t have a level of threat, but instead safety. When you can hide deer in the food, in their beds, and while they travel back and forth…WOW, it is a thing of beauty. Better yet, when you DICTATE exactly where those deer hide while they eat, sleep and travel you have accomplished what very few accomplish.
When a food source is hidden and relates to an entire daily pattern of secure deer movement; it can be an extremely powerful tool. When a food plot features a high level of safety and security it becomes one of the most social gathering locations for both bucks and does in their range. You are better off having a safe and hidden food plot with poor forage than a high risk plot with the best forage available. In the same way that a food plot can be a powerful tool…it can also be an extreme disadvantage.
I was at a client property earlier this year and the client was extremely worried that his neighbor with high quality food plots would ruin his hunting. And that’s a common thought; that having quality food plots is all it takes to shoot the big bucks in the woods. Instead my client had nothing to worry about! His neighbor had very little cover, his neighbor hunted the food plots often, and my client was blessed with owning the adjacent secure cover. To top it all off…he also had room for food. That particular client is very fortunate to have the type of neighbor that he does.
Ask yourself this question about your food plots, “Are my food plots one of the safest locations in the woods for the local whitetail herd”? If the answer is “No”, then consider changing your own use to insure that it is, even if that means removing the food plot itself. By taking the “risk” out of your food plots, you can be the neighbor experiencing great rewards!
By Jeff Sturgis, www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com