Position and design are possibly the most important details in the makeup of a good hunting plot that consistently produces results. Where is the plot in conjunction with where the deer are bedding and will they feel comfortable about accessing the spot during legal shooting light? Obviously you must also have an attractive crop for them growing in the plot and you should not pressure the site by "over-hunting" it. However, there are several ideas you can implement to any harvest plot that may increase your odds for success.
Out of Sight…Out of Sight
Let’s say you have a pristine plot that hasn’t been hunted all season long and the deer are piling into it. We’ll say the "attraction power" of your plot is at 100 percent. If you get down out of your treestand while there are deer still in the plot and they detect you, in one fell swoop you have just brought that down to 50 percent. If you kill a doe in the plot and need to deal with field dressing and chores associated with the kill, you bring it down even further. Be sneaky and strike when the time is right!
For the purpose of the article, we’re just assuming you are only going to hunt the site when the conditions are in your favor. Even so, you must still be stealthy. You can have the hottest plot in the county, but if you alert the deer to the "dude in the treestand"…good luck. Create screens to aid in stand approach and getting out of the area without being detected. Planting tall native warm-season grasses or annual grasses like corn or Egyptian wheat can create fast visual barriers whitetails cannot see through. If it’s a site you’ll have for years, you can even plant conifer trees or fast-growing bushes.
Often keeping your set ups just off the plot’s edge will produce better results. Even 10 to 15 yards off the plot can make the world of difference in how much pressure is applied each time you hunt. Observably every situation is different, but, if you wish to hunt the same plot often, I would highly recommend placing your treestand off the plot’s edge.
After early-season, bucks will start to make rubs and scrapes. Visiting the scrapes around the edge of your food plots is often the first thing a buck will do when he gets to the plot. The "origin" of a scrape is not on the ground at all, but instead several feet above - the overhanging interaction branch, often called the "licking branch," will be found over almost every scrape made. When a buck works over a scrape he will usually interact with the licking branch first by rubbing his forehead and preorbital glands on it while also chewing and/or licking the branch (hence its name).
My brother-in-law taught me this trick a few years ago. He had a couple of mature bucks showing up to this four-acre plot almost every afternoon. The edge of the plot was riddled with scrapes and twice while hunting the plot he was forced to watch the bucks work over scrape after scrape, but they never got to scrapes within range of his treestand. We removed the licking branches from all the scrapes out of range and left the ones closest to his treestand. He killed one of the bucks the next day while he chewed on a licking branch 10 yards from his tree.
Since then we have used this trick numerous times. In fact, we will sometimes take the licking branch off one tree, saw it off and move it to a tree within range that doesn’t have one. I also love to use Magnum Scrape Drippers in addition to rigging a licking branch in a spot favoring my stand location.
Making a "mock scrape" is another tactic I’ve had great success with. If there isn’t a scrape there, make your own! Sometimes I’ll use more than one dripper and create a cluster of fake scrapes, using Active Scrape or Trail’s End #307 in the drippers.
When the Suspicious are Sheltered in Safety
Having security cover nearby is extremely important if you wish to coerce whitetails into a food plot before the sun goes down. This is especially important if you want mature bucks to show up regularly. Using ecotones to buffer a food plot and give mature bucks a feeling of safety when entering the plot will pay dividends. Simply planting a strip of annual grasses like corn, Egyptian wheat or millet around the plot can be all it takes. Or you can create a more semi-permanent buffer with native warm-season grasses like big bluestem, Indian grass or switch grass.
I like to do some chainsaw work around my plots, usually during late-winter or early-spring. It’s amazing how thick an area can become during one growing season just by letting the sunlight hit the soil. A whitetail is more apt to venture out into the open if he is only a couple hops away from thick cover. Besides planting ecotones, I like to create small thickets adjacent to my plots. Often all it takes is to down two to six mature canopy trees to create a small ¼ acre thicket. All you need to do is saw the trees down; Mother Nature will take care of the rest.
It all depends upon the size and shape of the plot, but I will usually create two to four such areas (small thickets) in different locations around the plot. They use these areas to stage in before entering the plot, so they also make great spots to use when setting up an ambush. By gathering trail camera information and keeping records, you can determine which areas/thickets they favor under which conditions so you can develop a plan.
Hunting plots tend to be smaller than those designated a destination feeding plot. In smaller plots, one acre or less, you don’t have enough acreage to "do it all." Many managers lose the game by planting crops not palatable when they want to hunt the plot.
When will you hunt the plot? Most come back with – "I hunt it all season." My reply would be "you simply don’t have enough ground to plant the variety necessary to keep them coming all season…so pick a time." With small plots, especially those in a big-woods area where there is no agriculture around, you must be specific about when you want the attraction to happen and thus what you will plant.
No single planting will attract whitetails all the time. You need to familiarize yourself with when or under what conditions whitetails favor certain foods. Variety is the key to consistent attraction, but, with the smaller size of hunting plots, you must time your hunting to when your chosen crops are the most attractive.
Back to the Chainsaw
When you’re doing your woods-work creating your thickets during the late winter, use the chainsaw to create approach funnels. If you plan things out, you can dictate to your herd where they will travel. It depends upon what you have to work with, but I like to restrict access in certain areas and "open the gate" where it gives me the best advantage.
Hinge-cutting trees can create a barrier whitetails won’t cross unless they are forced to. Whitetails are just like most creatures and will take the easiest path they have. I like to create an "hourglass shape" by hinge-cutting trees and creating a barrier so they use the same path in and out of the plot. Reduce their access options. Make their easiest entry path the one giving you the best advantage.
Having a great hunting plot that consistently produces results for you has more to do with position, pressure and design, but these simple common sense tips should help make any plot more "huntable."
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.