(Photo: Matt “Flatlander” Cheever)
Scatter food plots of about one acre across your ground. Design and build them to take advantage of thick cover and the predominant winds in the area in fall deer season. The closer you plant to a thicket where a mature buck can pop out to feed with his nose in the wind, the better the chance you’ll see him in daylight hours.
Give deer a salad bar. Plant 60 percent of your plots with a perennial like a clover/chicory mix that will provide a steady food source for three to five years. Plant the other 40 percent with a fast-growing, tasty annual like oats or wheat.
Planting 1,000 yards of logging road is like putting in a one-acre food plot. Old roads are already open and easy to access, so it’s a no-brainer. Clover tends to grow best on north-south roads that get 3 to 4 hours of sun each day, but plant and fertilize as many sections as you can for maximum food and edge for deer.
Check sunny road edges for blackberry bushes and other briars and brambles. Deer love ‘em! Fertilize the browse once this year with 10-10-10 to make it even sweeter.
Mow your plots (and planted roads) two to four times this summer to stimulate new clover growth and to help kill grass and weeds. Mow when the plants get about 12 inches high. Don’t cut too low, just clip off a third to half of the plants.
If you’re in a hot, dry region, plant some of your plots up against a western edge of tall trees so they won’t burn out. Also, leave three or four large trees out in the middle of a plot to provide some shade and cool the field down.
Scour old farm fields and clear-cuts for hidden fruit trees, like wild apple, persimmon, etc. Open up the trees by clearing away tight brush; prune a few limbs and pour some fertilizer over the roots. A tree should make some soft mast just in time for bow season, and you’ll have a new honey-hole.
For a long-term investment, plant a double or triple row of pines along a county road and on the western edge of a field or food plot. In a few years, the pines will shield deer from cars. The taller and thicker the trees grow, the safer the does and especially the bucks will feel moving and feeding in daylight. The pines will give deer shade in summer and a wind break in winter.
One of the best land improvements doesn’t take a drop of sweat. Study an aerial photo, pinpoint some of the thickest, roughest cover and terrain, and designate it a buck sanctuary. No hunting, no walking, no nothing in there year-round! A good sanctuary is so gnarly a buck feels safe and hidden if you walk or drive an ATV by at 50 yards. Leave 20 to 30 percent of your total hunting land as a sanctuary.
Strap a chainsaw to your ATV, hop on, and ride the property lines. Stop and saw trees and logs here and there 20 yards or so inside your boundary. Establish a trail that wends the entire perimeter. Use the trail for 90 percent of your access when planting and mowing, scouting, and going to and from your tree stands. By not driving and walking all over the interior of your ground, you’ll hold more deer and more big bucks.