September 2008
Talkin' Huntin'

Food Plot Ambush

Scouting cameras are valuable tools in helping determine the best spots to set up for a specific buck. Here, a picture was taken of two bucks as they stop by a mineral lick on their way to the food plot in the background.  
By Todd Amenrud

Opening weekend is the absolute perfect time to set up an ambush on a mature buck with a food plot being the "cheese" in the "trap."

During many states’ early bow seasons you may still find bucks in their summer patterns. Their job during this time is filling their guts and putting on fat and weight for the upcoming rut. If you can deal with warmer temperatures and buzzing insects, early season can be a great time to harvest a mature buck.

Whitetails are typically very predictable in their summer feeding patterns. There has been no hunting pressure to make the bucks wary and even mature bucks can be viewed during daylight hours feeding on their preferred food source. Testosterone enters the picture during the end of August and beginning of September and the bucks will become increasingly less predictable. But as long as the does aren’t showing signs they will soon be coming into estrus, the bucks will stay with the task of filling their stomachs. After this "testosterone-rush" occurs, the bucks are ready to breed. It’s the does showing signs they will soon be coming into estrus that "kicks things into the next gear."

Scouting to determine preferred food sources, bedding areas and travel routes is of the utmost importance. Scouting cameras are invaluable, but there’s nothing like being able to watch a specific buck for a while.  

Preferred food sources will vary for early season depending upon the conditions. The hunting season covers a three to four month period during which many transformations are taking place - temperatures are changing, plants are changing, a whitetail’s needs are changing, etc. To do well at consistently attracting whitetail to a food plot you need to provide the variety necessary to cover their needs regardless of the conditions. Variety is a key! Great early season choices can be BioLogic’s Winter Peas, Clover Plus, Outfitter’s Blend or Trophy Oats. Scouting is very important during early season because their preferred food choice can change on a dime if the conditions change.

We are blessed these days to have cameras to help us gather valuable information. Use these cameras to do your scouting work for you. Place them at logical entrances and exits to your food plots. Physically nosing around the area is only going to disperse your human scent and reduce the chances of harvesting a trophy. Mature bucks will not tolerate much of an intrusion before they will move to avoid making contact with you. Play it safe.

Aside from these cameras, it seems the month before opening I have a Nikon Spotting Scope glued to my vehicle window. Images from a trail camera are great, but so much more can be learned if you can actually watch a specific buck for a period of time.

Between the information gathered from both of these sources you should be able to put together a game plan. Learn where the buck likes to enter your food plot and think about where he is coming from – where is his bedding area? Setting up right on the edge of your food plot may be the exact wrong place. Consider all of the possible ambush sites along the route from his bedding area to your food plot, and remember the closer you get to the bedding area the better your chances are for a shot during legal shooting time. An aerial photo or topographical map can aid in selecting ambush sites.

Once you learn where you will set up, get your treestands or ground-blinds in place as soon as possible. Ideally you would want them in place for several weeks before you hunt the spot, so the commotion made while you constructed your ambush has time to dissipate.

Don’t let him know you’re coming! Be careful not to transfer foreign odor when setting up. When I set up a treestand I will usually wear my trapper’s gloves (rubber gloves) so as not to transfer scent to the area. Just like the clothes I wear while hunting, the clothing I wear while creating my set-up has also been washed in Scent Killer Clothing Wash. Squeaky clean rubber boots are also worn to reduce scent transfer. I want the buck to be able to walk through the area two hours after I’ve made my set-up and not have a clue to I was there. That’s about impossible with a sense of smell as powerful as a whitetail’s, but I am positive reducing those odors to "trace levels" is the best guard against blowing the whole deal before you ever even get a chance to hunt the buck.

Move fast, but don’t force the issue. As I said, with testosterone entering the picture the bucks will become increasingly less predictable. If you get a pattern going, you should move to capitalize on it ASAP. However, that doesn’t mean forcing the issue and hunting a site when the conditions aren’t in your favor. If the wind direction or some other issue isn’t in your favor…don’t blow the whole deal. Pressure is the one aspect a mature buck will not tolerate. This is why I like to have multiple ambush sites for the same buck. I try to set up several spots so I can hunt the same buck under a variety of conditions.

Most hunters don’t enter the whitetail woods until closer to the rut. I guess it’s for a variety of reasons: the warm temperatures, bugs, the days are too long, whatever the reason – I say that’s just fine - then my chances are better. Early season can be the top period to predict a buck’s movement and the best time to harvest one for the trophy room.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.