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Bowhunting Your Food Sources at the Right Time

by John Mueller 12. October 2011 11:45
John Mueller

Bowhunting over a food source for Whitetail Deer sounds like the easiest way to kill one there is, after all they have to eat. Well, I’m here to tell you it can work, but it’s not always that easy. You can have the best looking food plots in the county and it doesn’t guarantee you will kill deer there. There is a lot that goes into picking the right food source to hunt over. The time of year, the availability of food on the neighbors, the maturity of your crops, the weather, how long the food source has been there, and I believe the deer’s mood also plays a role in what they eat.

I typically plant 5 acres of food plots on my property in IL. During the bow season I usually have a variety of crops growing to attract the deer to my property. I feel it is necessary to have this variety because no one food source will attract the deer throughout the entire bow season as it runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15 in IL. I try to have some clover growing all year, weather permitting. Deer love the tender shoots of fresh clover as long as it stays green. But clover will go dormant in the heat of the summer and the cold of winter.

Hunt the clover when it's green and growing.

For early bow season it’s hard to beat green soy beans. I plant some of them later to ensure some are still green and growing for the first few weeks of the season. The soy beans leaves are a really hot draw for the deer during the summer months and early fall before the corn ripens and the acorns start to fall. But once they start to turn yellow the deer all but abandon them for a while. However they will return to the beans in the late season once the weather turns nasty. Especially if there is snow on the ground and they can get to the beans in those pods without having to dig through the snow. A standing bean field is hard to beat on those last few sits of the year when there is a blanket of snow covering the ground.

Soy Beans are best early and late season.

Corn is another great choice to sit over. The deer will eat the corn from the time it sprouts until all of the kernels are gone. If the deer leave any for the season I like to hunt around it any time it has ripened. The deer seem to like corn all season partly because it also offers them a good deal of cover as they feed. If you’re lucky enough to be hunting the day the corn is harvested head for your stand in the corner of the field. I have seen more deer in a newly picked corn field than in almost anyplace else on one farm I hunt.

Corn is great all season while wheat shines early. Notice how much taller the wheat inside the cage is from browsing outside the cage.

Winter Wheat is one of my favorite early bow season hot spots. I try to plant it about a month before the season opens so it has a chance to put some growth on before the season begins. The deer love the tender new green shoots of the wheat at this time of the year as most plants are dying or turning brown about now. I have seen deer walk right by corn and acorns to get to the end of the field my wheat is growing in.

Turnips are another crop planted in the late summer which matures during the colder months. Deer usually don’t prefer turnips until after they have been hit by a few frosts. But I have seen them nibble on them any time they are growing. The best time to hunt over turnips however is during cold weather when there isn’t a lot of snow on the ground. The deer eat both the leaves and the bulbs of the turnips, favoring the leaves early and the bulbs when the weather turns really cold and nasty.

Turnips are favored after a few hard frosts.

So far I’ve covered planted crops, now I’ll dig into the natural deer food growing in our woods. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen deer walk right through my food plots to eat “weeds” growing alongside the manicured food plots. Deer require a certain percentage of natural browse in order to keep their stomachs working properly. After all deer were around and surviving just fine before we started planting food plots for them.

What I consider to be the deer’s most preferred food when they are available is the almighty acorn. When the acorns start dropping the deer will abandon other food sources to feast on the new morsels falling from the trees. That is why we see the deer in the fields during the weeks leading up to bow season and then once the season opens the deer aren’t visiting the crop fields any longer. The added bonus to this is the acorns are one of the best foods for the whitetails. Very high in protein and fat which they will need to survive the rut and the brutally cold winter ahead. If you can locate the first few trees to drop their prized nuts, you have a honey hole until the other tree start to drop their fruits.

Locate that first tree to drop acorns and watch the deer pile in.

I’m lucky enough to have a persimmon grove on my property. These sweet morsels are favored by almost every animal in the woods. They don’t last long after they hit the ground. Keep a close eye on your persimmon trees; they don’t all drop at the same times. Mine typically drop around the end of October, but I have seen others hang on well into November. For a few short weeks you will find me sitting near my persimmon trees. The deer will head there first to see how many the squirrels and raccoons have knocked to the ground. By the way, if you decide to try a persimmon to see how they taste, make sure it is soft and mushy. The hard ones will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Persimmons are a Hot but short lived food source.

Apple trees, whether wild or planted definitely deserve a few sits during the season also. Like many other food sources, the best time to hunt over them is when the first ones start to drop. The new food source seems to draw the deer in to check it out. Apple trees vary greatly when they drop their fruits. Some will be completely gone by the start of bow season while other trees hang on to theirs until they freeze and fall off. So know the trees you hunt and plan your sits accordingly.

Know when your apple trees drop and plan accordingly.

You might be hearing a common theme here. It’s best to hunt many of the food sources when they are new and just start producing or dropping their fruits. Another rule I like to follow for hunting crop fields is, hunt the green foods early and during milder weather and the grains late and during really nasty cold weather. I hope I cleared up a few things about hunting over food sources, either man made or natural. Good hunting everyone.

Early Season Whitetails and Food Plots

by Cody Altizer 31. August 2010 08:49
Cody Altizer

As the Dog Days of summer begin to dwindle down to the early stages of fall, so my excitement and enthusiasm for the opening day of bow season rises.  As if it could rise any higher!  Opening day for some is just weeks away, but for most of us we still have to wait until October to ascend into our favorite early season tree.  Regardless, we will all be bowhunting for whitetails before we know it.
    The early season is one of my favorite times to bowhunt.  The anticipation and uncertainty of a new season, coupled with the beautiful transition into fall, make any trip to the woods in October a successful one.  In fact, chances are that in the first two weeks, often the first couple days of a new season, we are presented with the best opportunity of harvesting a mature buck.  This year is no different with my fall food plots planted and thriving.  Also, 2010 has proven to be a banner year for many of the hard and soft mast producing species on my property.  The white oaks have produced an excellent crop of acorns which is important to my hunting success, as 90% of the 260 acres I hunt is mature timber.  Soft mast species such as apple trees and autumn olive groves have also produced a bountiful yield which can be early season hot spots as well.

Success during the early season often boils down to finding a favored food source.  Be on the look out for soft mast species, such as autumn olives, as they can be little honey holes.

      This fall I have 7 different food plots planted and all are in excellent condition heading into the hunting season.  I have two small hunting plots planted in Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Clover.  These plots have been established for three years now.  Since their first planting in the spring of 2007, they’ve attracted and held many whitetails on my hunting property without having to be reseeded.  I do, however, frost seed them every late winter/early spring to increase the tonnage.  I also have an additional food plot, about one acre in size, planted in Whitetail Institute’s Extreme.  The soil in this particular plot is marginal at best, mostly composed of sand and clay, making it extremely difficult to grow my seed of choice, Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail CloverWhitetail Institute’s Extreme, however, has performed beautifully this spring and summer.  This chicory, clover, alfa-alfa, burnet blend established quickly in the spring and has grown tall, thick and lush all summer long, despite the poor soil conditions and record heat in Western Virginia.

Imperial Whitetail Clover has been my seed of choice when it comes to food plot planting since I began using it in 2007.  It's simply the best!

    Temperatures this summer in Virginia’s Mountain Valleys were scorching.  Daytime highs averaged over 90 degrees since late May, during which the mercury rose above 100 degrees 5 times, including three days consecutively!  This type of weather is abnormal for Western Virginia.  Still, my Whitetail Institute food plots not only survived but continued to grow and are strong and healthy heading into the hunting season.

Apples are another early season food source enjoyed by deer.  If you have apple trees, or any other fruit trees for that matter, they certainly warrant a hunt during the early season.

    My fall food plot planting is what has me the most excited.  In two separate locations, totaling almost to two acres, I sowed in some winter oats as part of a “dual plot.”  Fortunately, just days after I sowed the oats, we received steady rainfall and the oats germinated and took off quickly!  I then immediately sowed more Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Clover to grow alongside the oats.  This all took place over a week and half in mid August and both plants are growing quickly.  I cannot be thankful enough for the ample, steady rainfall we have received.  Ideally, the oats will serve as a hardy, nutritious, attractive food source throughout the hunting season.  When next spring rolls around, the clover will have an established root system and flourish.  The final two food plots, totaling about 1 ½ acres, are made of turnips and rape.  Both plants, like the oats, germinate quickly and are easy to establish.  Fortunately, these plots are coming along great as well!

A close up shot of the young oats.  This food plot, which is also seeded with clover, will provide a reliable food source for the deer all season long.

    The past two seasons have made for difficult hunting for me primarily because of a lack of food reliable, consistent food source.  This fall is shaping up to be much, much different.  While the principal purpose of the food plots is to attract and hold deer while providing first-rate nutrition, they have the potential to make for exciting hunting opportunities this fall.  The topographical layout of 5 of the 7 food plots allow me to hunt downwind of the food plots with undetectable entry and exit routes.  The early season relationship between whitetails and acorns is undeniable as well.

When it comes to early season whitetails, it's hard to beat white oak acorns.  This particular tree is loaded with them!

    Bow season begins for the majority of us in just over a month and I’m eager to get in a tree with a bow.  However, I am equally excited about my new job opportunity.  From mid September through mid January I’ll be helping Todd and Justin out at the bowhunting.com office!  I’m excited about making the move to Northern Illinois.  Hopefully, I’ll make some new friends, enjoy a different culture, and help bring home some awesome footage of Todd and Justin throughout the season.  It’s going to be an exciting fall!

 

 

 




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