LAST UPDATED: May 8th, 2015
The art of taking a whitetail with archery tackle is a continually evolving sport. As bowhunters, we are constantly on the lookout for strategies, gear and information that can tip the odds of arrowing a mature buck in our favor. It’s hard to believe, in fact, that hunting from treestands was once thought of as unethical because it would make harvesting whitetails too easy. We’ve come along away since then; however, many hunters still struggle to get within bow range of a mature whitetail buck during daytime hours. In recent years hunting over, around and near food plots has become an increasingly popular hunting strategy. If you’re looking for a new avenue in which to increase your chances of putting down a big bruiser buck this fall, read on for food plot hunting strategies and information!
It’s a common misconception that hunting over food plots is easy. Some hunters have a very twisted idea that hunting over, or around food plots is no different than hunting over bait. While that may be a great topic for a later article, I’ll preface this article by stating that hunting over food plots is not easy. Food plots offer a variety of different hunting opportunities, so I’ll do my best to cover each option.
Food plot hunting is a great way to practice Quality Deer Management because you usually have ample opportunites to harvest adult does.
Retreat to the Timber
If you’ve incorporated food plots into your hunting strategy in the past, you probably quickly learned that the further away you get from the food plot, the better your chances of success can be. This is true for both morning and afternoon hunts. Setting up shop right on top of a food plot can be a great way to kill a deer, and it’s a topic I’ll touch on later in this article, but hunting back in the timber off the food plot keeps your very flexible as a bowhunter. I’ll use my property as an example.
On my 260 acre hunting property in the mountains of Virginia, I have two destination food plots planted. Each food plot is a little over an acre in size with one being planted in clover, and the other in alfalfa. Both of these food plots are located in the center of my property strategically placed in areas that require deer to move past my stand sites when going to and from their bedding area.
By hunting off of these food plots, back in the timber, I am giving myself a better chance at seeing a mature buck during the daylight hours than if I were simply sitting right on the plot. Don’t let television shows and magazine articles fool you. Mature bucks know what it takes to see another sun rise, and feeding in food plots during the day light is a sure fire way to ensure that doesn’t happen. As a result, mature bucks aren’t likely to visit food plots during the daytime.
For afternoon hunts during the early season, I like hanging my Lone Wolf stands about 50 yards or so back in the timber in order to catch bucks, or at least a mature doe, taking thier time getting to the food plot. Temperatures in Virginia can vary greatly during early October, and if the mercury rises above 80 degrees, the deer aren’t likely to get to the food plot until after dusk. I don’t want to get too close to the bedding area for an afternoon hunt, however, because I risk the chance of bumping a buck that may have gotten out of his bed earlier than normal.
I harvested this beautiful 127″ 3 year old buck in late November, 2011. I intercepted him on his way back to his bedding area after feeding in one of my clover food plots the night prior.
Many hunters don’t associate morning hunts with food plots. While I certainly don’t advise sitting over a food plot during the morning (unless trail camera photos give you reason to), catching deer coming off the destination plots on their way back to bed can be a great big buck strategy. In fact, my brother and I both used this method to shot our biggest bucks during the 2011 season.
It’s been my experience that bucks will often times use the same trails when returning to their bed in the morning that they used to access the food plot the night prior. This knowledge gave my brother and I the confidence to hang our stands on these trails and harvest both a 148” and 127” buck. After field dressing the bucks we found each of their stomachs to be full of clover.
My brother shot this 148″, 15 point bruiser in early November. He was set up on a trail that this buck used often to access our clover plot from his bedding area.
For morning hunts off of food plots, I like to be closer to bedding areas than if I was hunting the same food plot in the afternoon. If you hunt to close to the food plot in the morning you run the risk of educating deer to your presence before the hunt even begins. Also, you could climb your tree and get ready for the hunt well after the deer have exited the food plot and walked past your stand site. Hunting close to bedding areas in the morning, with respect to food plots, eliminates both of those problems.
Hunting OVER a Food Plot
As mentioned before, hunting directly over food plots can also prove to be a very successful option. However, sitting directly over a food plot, or any food source for that matter, opens the door to several possible problems. For one, I’ve always preferred bowhunting whitetails in transition areas; that is, in areas where they are moving, and less likely to look up and spot me in a tree. When hunting over a food plot there are usually several eyes, ears and noses on the lookout for danger. Also, when deer feed in a food plot, they usually feed well into the night; making getting down from stand undetected a very real concern.
All that being said, sitting on a food plot for an afternoon deer hunt can be an effective strategy, and it’s one I utilize often. There are two important factors to keep in mind, though, to ensure your hunt is as efficient as possible. For starters, as is the case with all things deer hunting, pay special attention to the wind direction, and if your hunting in hilly country, the thermals as well. There are few things as painful as sitting in a treestand looking over an empty food plot because the deer winded you.
Obviously, you don’t want to hunt with a wind that blows your scent back into the timber in the direction in which your deer are traveling. However, a wind that blows your scent directly out in the food plot isn’t ideal either. If the deer that feed in your food plot are anything like mine, they prefer a certain area of the plot. This is usually an inside corner. A strategically placed Stealth Cam can reveal which inside corner your deer prefer, and you can hang your stands according. Hunting inside corners is also beneficial because you can hunt cross winds that will keep you from being smelled by the deer.
Be sure to pay attention to wind direction when hunting around food plots. Deer are usually on high alert just prior to entering a food plot, so keep this in mind when hanging stands.
If possible, layout your food plot locations with wind direction in mind, and if possible, construct multiple food plots to accommodate different wind directions. On my property, my two primary hunting plots are laid out to accommodate an east wind, and a west wind for afternoon hunts. During the deer season, it’s very rare for my property to receive a due north or south wind, so if the forecast is calling for a west wind, I have a stand hung on a clover food plot specifically for that wind. However, if a tricky east wind blows in, I have a Lone Wolf sitting over an alfalfa field.
Find an Exit
The single most important factor that can make or break your hunt when sitting over a food plot is your entry and exit route. Obviously, you don’t want to bump the deer on your way to the stand, but an effective exit strategy takes top priority. If you don’t harvest a deer during an afternoon sit, chances are there will still be deer feeding in the field when it’s time to get down.
There are a few simple solutions to this problem. If you’re hunting with a partner, you could have he or she pick you up with their ATV or truck. Deer are usually very tolerable of a motorized vehicle, and being pushed out of a food plot by one isn’t a big deal. I’ve also had a lot of success with “blowing” at a deer. That is, mimicking the alarming sound a deer makes when it senses danger. I usually do this after dark when it would be harder for a deer to pinpoint my location. I can remember specific instances when I have blow a family group of does out of a food plot, only to have them return the next afternoon relaxed, calm and unaware of my presence. I have also heard of hunters mimicking a coyote yelp or scream. I’ve never done this and don’t question its effectiveness, convincing the deer that a coyote was on a field edge watching them is not a situation I’d like to mirror.
Food plot hunting isn’t as easy as it sounds, but if you follow the tips and information provided in this article then you could very well walk up to your biggest buck ever this fall when hunting food plots!
Not as Easy as it Sounds
Hunting over food plots sounds like an easy hunt, right? The deer walk aimlessly out in a lush clover field, and you casually draw your bow back and send a Carbon Express right through the lungs. Heck, if you’re lucky, another deer might make the same mistake. While that may be true for the fortunate hunters who get to relive their hunts on national television, that isn’t the case for the most. In fact, I sat overlooking a food plot roughly 10 hunts this past year and I only drew back once. I couldn’t catch a break, nor could I figure out why, but I think it has something to do with me being a bad bowhunter.
Food plot hunting is one of my favorite hunting strategies. I usually see a lot of deer, and watching them interact with one another in a food source I created is a very rewarding feeling. However, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t expect to shoot a deer each time I hunted over or around a food plot. Their ability to concentrate deer to a certain area makes for awesome bowhunting opportunities. If you’ve struggled to find success hunting around food plots in the past, then hopefully the above article provided you with some insight that can help you put down a food plot buck this fall!