If you turn on the TV any given Saturday morning and find a hunting show where they are bowhunting deer, chances are you will see some guy hunting over a lush green food plot that is the size of a football field or even larger. You will also see a buck come out into the open in broad daylight and get shot. That is the way it goes on TV. For the rest of us the picture is often different. Most of us don’t even have enough land to plant such a large plot or the money it takes to turn a 50 acre field into a green buck magnet. That is O.K… If you are a die hard bowhunter like us, a much smaller food plot has many advantages over a large one. Below is a guide to help you serious bowhunters with limited “real world” resources know what to plant, how to plant it, and how big to make a plot that is perfect for bowhunting. Remember – not all food plots are bowhunter friendly!
What To Plant
Clover is one of the most popular seed blends planted, but according to food plot specialist and successful bowhunter Steve Gruber, isn’t always the best option. “Clover can be a great food plot, but once it comes in, the wildlife often loves the plot to death. They will eat it until it is gone. By the time the hunting season is in full swing, the clover will be gone. A better option is planting a blend that has a variety of different seeds in it that mature at different rates. Once a plot starts to green up, the deer and wildlife will have something to feed on all summer and fall. That way in the summer the plot is a great place to see deer and in the fall it is a great place for bowhunting,” Gruber added.
When choosing a seed blend, Gruber says hunters should confirm the seeds they plant compliment each other. For example, winter peas and sunflowers compliment each other – the peas can grow up the sunflower stalk. “Clover is a slow-growing perennial that doesn’t sprout up as fast as some of the annuals out there so if you have a blend that contains a clover and a fast growing annual, you could be in trouble. The annual will grow quickly and not allow sun or water to reach the clover. If hunters have questions about the type of seed blends that compliment each other, they should call the company they are getting the seed from and ask. Annual seeds are very big and perennial seeds are small. Often when a hunter is planting seed, he has the seeder set to allow for the large seed to spread. The small seeds fall out at the same time because the hole in the seeder is too big and the perennials end up all in one spot. In our mixed blends, we have a bag of perennial seed inside the large bag of annual seed. They can be seeded independently, thus providing an even spread of annual and perennial seed throughout the plot. For a harvest plot to sprout properly and grow correctly, the seed needs to be distributed properly. If not, you will encounter problems. The plot won’t be successful and the harvest plot could be a flop,” Gruber explained.
How Much To Plant
Another option is planting two small plots – a perennial like clover or an annual like soybeans so the deer have a high protein diet during the summer when bucks are growing racks and does are feeding fawns. You can have an annual plot with corn or sunflowers nearby that will provide deer with a high energy diet during the fall with the rut and the winter around the corner. “Having a perennial and annual blend going at the same time will encourage deer to feed in the perennial during the summer and switch to the annual when they need energy in the fall. Leaving the perennial for feeding and hunting over the annual is the best bet for harvesting a buck.”
Ed Spinazzola knows a thing or two about growing food plots. He grew up on a farm in Michigan and knows the challenges of growing crops up north. According to Ed, one of the best fall attractants is sugar beets. “Sugar beets can thrive in northern climates like Michigan and provide a great food source for deer. The later in the season it gets, the sweeter the beets get. Usually about the time of the first frost in Michigan, sugar beets get really sweet and the deer can’t leave them alone. If does are in a plot eating during the middle of November, the bucks won’t be too far away, which is why sugar beets make the perfect hunting plot especially for bowhunters.
When designing a plot, Gruber suggests going small. “As I discussed earlier, I like having a few different plots going at the same time. This gives the deer options. Having a few smaller plots costs much less than large plots,” Gruber explained. Gruber likes hunting over small plots because they’re easier. “Most hunters have a tendency to build large square plots or large circle plots. This works fine if they are building them to watch deer. If their intention is harvesting deer with a bow, a hunter stands a better chance of harvesting an animal over a small plot because they can control where the deer enters the plot,” Gruber added.
A plot that is several acres in size can be hard to maintain and deer can enter it from several places. With a small plot, Gruber says hunters can restrict where the deer enter and exit the plot. “It is no secret; the best-shaped hunting plot is shaped like an hour glass – wide at the ends and narrow in the middle. The best place to hunt the plot is in the middle where it bottlenecks. With a large plot, deer may pop out in the middle of it and not be within bow range. With a small plot, if a buck comes cruising through the bottleneck, he is often within range,” Gruber said. To further predict where the deer are traveling, Gruber said it is not uncommon to put rows of brush around the perimeter of the plot so they can only enter where you leave an opening. Blocking the perimeter of a large plot is impossible, which is another reason that small plots are just the ticket!
Where To Plant
Finding a place on your property to build a small plot is much easier than clear- cutting and making room for a large field. Big bucks will likely prefer feeding in a small plot. “When planting a small plot, I prefer to utilize a secluded place that is away from houses and roads so a big buck will feel more comfortable coming to it. By making it small, bucks feel secure. I often notice that does will come out and feed in large plots during daylight, but bucks rarely show themselves until after dark. They feel more comfortable with a small plot and are more comfortable coming out in the open because thick cover is only a couple leaps away,” Gruber explained.
When building a harvesting plot for bowhunting, Gruber pays clized after the fact that they didn’t have anywhere to hang a stand because they didn’t have large trees or because the trees they had would send their scent to the area the deer came from if they had a stand in it. Hunters nlose attention to the prevailing wind direction. He only plants a plot if he has trees to hunt from that favor the most common wind direction. “I have worked with many hunters who planted plots and reaeed to plan everything out ahead of time before breaking ground,” Gruber stated.
When deciding where to place a stand, Gruber reminds hunters to put a treestand on a runway near a plot. “Once a plot is planted and deer are used to feeding in it, they will develop new runways that lead right to the plot. Hanging a stand fifty yards from the plot on a runway is a great place for a stand, especially because bucks often approach a plot and stay on the perimeter of the plot before stepping out into the open.” Leaving a tree in the middle of the plot for hanging a stand is another option. “My son and I recently built a plot on the edge of a swamp. We left one large tree in the center of the plot to hunt from. That tree helped my son harvest a large buck last fall. With a food plot, the person planting it is the architect. By cutting certain trees, leaving others and building it a certain shape, a well-placed plot can become a hunter’s best friend,” Gruber noted.
Gruber is quick to point out that just because a food plot is built on a piece of property does not mean that bucks will stay on the land. However, by building a plot that offers different things to eat throughout the seasons, you will increase the amount of time the buck spends in a certain area. “A buck can travel several miles each day, especially during the rut. However, if a person does his homework and plants a few seed blends that mature at different rates and builds a plot in the right location, it might become a bucks’ favorite place to hang out – especially if they come all summer and fall and don’t get bumped out. When the rut rolls around, he won’t have a clue that a hunter is perched twenty feet in a tree waiting for him,” Gruber explained.
Building a plot designed for harvesting whitetails with a bow takes a little bit of work and some extra work but in the end the plot could be just what you need to put a buck on the ground with a stick and string.