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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.

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