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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.

The Curse Continues

by John Mueller 3. January 2011 14:50
John Mueller

This has been one of the worst seasons for bowhunting luck I can remember. It started off by me having a doe jump the string on opening day and I hit her high in the shoulder neck area. I did not recover that deer, but believe my hit was not lethal. Then it seems every buck that came in range was smaller than what I wanted to take off of my property. Most were 1-1/2 years old with a few up and coming 2-1/2 year olds thrown in. The big guys were there, I just could not get them to show up at a stand while I was in it. Got plenty of trail cam pics of them although mostly at night. I did see a few in daylight but never in range.

Fast forward to my Christmas weekend hunt. I arrived on Sunday afternoon and hunted a creek crossing that leads to my neighbors soy bean field. About a half hour before dark I see some deer in the bean field. Checking them out with my binoculars I could see there were 3 small bucks feasting on the beans. They slowly made their way in my direction. They were headed for the little creek crossing. When the first one was at 20 yards I shifted the camera arm to adjust the angle and he spotted my movement. All I saw after that was tails. I wasn't planning on shooting one of them anyway but it would have made nice video.

After hunting Monday morning in the middle of a group of beds in the snow and not seeing a deer, I went to check my trail cameras. I was happy to find a group of bucks in my soy bean plot just 3 days earlier during daylight. It just so happens one of them was this guy.

 

A nice tall 8 pointer who used to have really tall brow tines. He has broken one of them in the last month. He is still a shooter. I have my Ameristep Intimadator ground blind brushed in about 6 yards behind the trail camera.

I will be there in the evening with hopes the group of bucks shows up in daylight again. This time of year the deer don't stray too far from a food source. They have to eat to maintain their bodies in the cold weather.

I'm tucked in my Ameristep Intimadator Blind a little before 2:00, figuring they won't show up much before dark. I like hunting out of ground blinds in the late season for a variety of reasons.

1. The trees are all bare and you are extremely exposed hunting from treestands.

2. I can get out of the weather hunting in the ground blind. Especially the wind, which makes some hunts almost unbearable.

3. I can get close to where I think the deer will be. There doesn't have to be a perfect tree for a stand. Plus close shots are easier with all of the extra clothes on.

4. I am completely hidden in the blacked out blind as long as I wear black clothing. You can get away with a lot of movement in a ground blind.

5. It's really cool being on eye level with the deer.

About 4;30 I peeked out the back of the blind and see 5 does/fawns heading my direction in the food plot. I t will be dark soon and I see no sign of the bucks. I decided to go ahead and take a doe if the shot presented itself. I get the camera and all of the mics turned on and pointed the direction they will enter from. The first one slips by without offering a shot, but the second one, a nice doe, offers a slight quartering away shot. I zoom in and come to full draw. I take carefull aim and touch off the release. I hear a good thump, but my Firenock fails to light. So I didn't see exactly where the arrow hit the deer. I waited a few minutes and gathered my things. I wanted to look at the impact sight and try to find my arrow while there was still a little daylight. I found some hair and a few drops of blood where my doe was standing. I could not find my arrow. I took up the track hoping my aim was true and i would see my prize just over the hillside laying in the snow. As I followed the trail I wasn't seeing as much bnlood as I had hoped for. And what blood there was is hard to see. It is falling through the fresh powdery snow and not showing up very well. Luckily she is staying on one of the many trails leading to and from the food plots. Within a hundred yards I see where she had bedded but she is nowhere in sight. By now its getting pretty dark. I try to find more blood after the bed but can't seem to pick the trail back up with my light. Since the temperature was going to be around 20* that night I made the decision to back out and come back the next day to look for her.

I had to be at work for a meeting in the morning so I didn't get back in the woods until almost noon. I stopped on the way and picked up my buddy Bob to help in the search. The trail was much easier to follow the next day. The blood in the snow had sort of blossomed like coloring in a snow cone. We found the bed from the night before. She had taken a different trail and headed down the hill instead of continueing across it. The blood was really starting to show itself now, making it easy to follow at a walk. We hit the bottom of the hollow and I noticed some fresh coyote tracks. Then Bob said, there's whats left of your doe. The coyotes had picked her clean. There was nothing left but the hide and most of the bones.

After examining the carcas I could see where my Rage had exited through the 3rd rib from the back. We figured I got liver and at least the back of one lung. All in all she traveled about 200 yards to where the coyotes found her. As the saying goes, when in doubt back out. Except when the woods are full of hungry coyotes. I know what I'll be doing once the deer season is over. Time to fire up the predator call.

I definately have plans to move some stands and clear out some new shooting lanes for next season. I'm going to reevaluate my approach and see what needs changing to be in the right spot at the right time to kill some of the good bucks roaming my woods. My luck has to change.

If you want to give ground blind hunting a try. Check out the Ameristep Intimidator Ground Blind and the rest of the Ameristep lineup here at Bowhunting.com.

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