Bigger Bucks: 5 Food-Plot Pointers

plant plot

One: Design Before You Dig

On an aerial map, look for strips and pockets of open ground toward the interior of your property, and plant those first. This keeps your plots—and the bucks they attract–away from roads and the neighbors’ fence lines.

Also, the closer you plant to thick bedding cover the better your chances that mature 8- or 10-pointer will pop out into the plot to grab a bite one evening this fall.

Think back to past hunts on the land. Whitetails are habitual animals that come and go in the same places from year to year. Where have you seen the most deer and found the found the most trails, rubs and scrapes over the years? Plant your plots in and around areas of established deer traffic.

Two: GPS Your Plots

“Use a GPS receiver to measure the exact area of every food plot,” says Bill Gray, an Alabama wildlife biologist.  “Knowing the precise acreage of your plots will prevent over applying seed, fertilizer, lime and herbicide. Better crops are always produced when the correct amount of seed, fertilizer and lime are applied.”

Three: Plant North to South

“Configure plots to run more north-south than east-west,” says Dr. Grant Woods, one of the top deer managers in the world. “Growing plants will get adequate sunlight each day, but they won’t bake in the summer.  The northeast corner of a slope generally has the moistest soil and is a particularly good spot for a plot.”

Four: Get A Top Soil Sample

Dig 5 or 6 six cups of dirt from various spots around a plot area, mix the soil in a bucket and come up with one representative soil sample. Have it tested at your county extension office or by a seed company for recommendations on liming and fertilizing. Bonus tip: Ideally your dirt would have a pH level of seven, or neutral. But usually it’ll test 4 to 6. Keep in mind that it takes a ton of lime per acre to raise the pH one point, and it takes lime months to work most efficiently. Plan well ahead of time.

Five: Plant Clover

You have a bunch of seed choices, but you can’t go wrong by planting a 60/40 mix of a perennial like Imperial Whitetail Clover and chicory in spring. By mid-May the clover is producing major tonnage, and the chicory kicks in soon thereafter to provide a steady food source for lactating does and bucks putting on new antlers.

The great news is that the clover will last 5 years, and the chicory about 3 years, so this minimizes your work and cost big time.

Scout Deer In Spring Turkey Season

scouting trackWhen we scout and hunt a property for deer from September through December, we poke around and look for rubs, scrapes and tracks. But we are reluctant to walk around too much or penetrate too deeply into the woods for fear of bumping deer. That’s good, but trouble is, by working only the perimeters of a hunting area, you only get a glimpse of how and where the deer, and bucks, live and travel.

But in the spring, you can walk freely in the woods and investigate every ridge, bottom and thicket for signs of deer. Why not kill two birds with one stone and combine your scouting with your turkey hunting in April and May?

At daylight, listen for a gobbling bird and go get him if you can. Midmornings, when the turkeys go quiet, start walking. Cover every ridge, draw and creek bottom on the land. Check out every edge, thicket or swamp. You’ll bump a few deer, but who cares? You won’t be back to hunt them for another 5 or 6 months.

As you’re walking along pause every few hundred yards and cast a few yelps and cutts, hoping to strike a gobbler whose hens have left him for the day. If no luck with that, cut every deer trail you come across, follow it a ways and see where it goes. Trails the deer use now will be fresh and muddy, but old worn trails they used last fall and winter will still be visible. Those old trails are the ones you need to find and follow, since those are the ones a buck used back in hunting season, and the ones he’ll use it again this fall.

Main trails will fork into secondary trails that link more food sources and cover thickets. Walk those too, and key in on pockets of deer sign. When a trail cuts across a creek, veers around a ridge point or drops into a ditch, take note because those funneling points are great places for trail cameras and tree stands next fall.

As you hike, look for feeding areas you might have missed or never knew about—white oaks on a ridge, a patch of greenery near a swamp, persimmons, old apple trees… Same goes for small or large thickets, cutovers, weedy ditches and the like that serve as satellite or major bedding areas.

Rubs and scrapes from last October and November are easy to spot in the spring woods. Look for “signpost” rubs–large, scarred trees that mark some section of a buck’s core living area. Missouri whitetail scientist Grant Woods points out that while mature bucks blaze the big rubs, many deer interact with them. “They act as communal pheromone wicks and are located in areas with high deer traffic,” he says. That would be an obvious spot to scout further and hang a stand this fall.

Woods has found a correlation between the number of rubs in an area and the number of older bucks that live there. On a management property in Tennessee, he’s observed an amazing 5,000 rubs per square mile, or 7.8 per acre. If you find a piece of woods lit up rubbed trees like that, start looking for stand sites for this fall.

Whitetail bucks are habitual, and scrape in the same general areas year after year. As you walk and turkey call, look for three old scraping patterns, and make a note to come back and check them again as bucks start rutting this October:

–A cluster of scrapes at the intersection of 2 or 3 trails, with big rubs nearby. This is a “rut junction” and a great spot for a trail camera.

–A scrape line on the edge of a linear honeysuckle thicket or a row of pines or cedars. Bucks run these edges frequently in late October and early November. Another good spot for a trail camera.

–A heavily scraped spot on a ridge 100 yards or so off a corn or bean field. If the acorn crop is good again in the fall, bucks will stage and scrape there again.

I hope you get your turkey this spring, but if not all is not lost. The more you roam and learn the woods, and the more old buck sign you find, the better you’ll hunt this fall.




What Are The Odds of Shooting A Record-Book Whitetail Buck?

Milo hanson WR 1993How likely are you to shoot a buck that qualifies for the Boone and Crockett record book in your lifetime?

It varies depending on where you live and hunt of course, but according to B&C your overall odds are approximately 1 in 20,000. Some 10 million deer hunters enter about 500 whitetails a year into the B&C records.

Keep hunting and keep the faith. While your odds of shooting a book buck aren’t great, they are a lot better than your chances of winning Mega Millions!

Deer Management How-To: Build A Mineral Site

30 06 minerals

Now is time to build new mineral sites (or start recharging old ones) on your hunting land.

“Licks” are easy and relatively inexpensive to build and maintain, and they serve 2 purposes: 1) provide trace minerals and vitamins for all deer, from bucks growing new antlers to does getting ready to drop fawns; and 2) they are top spots for you set trail cameras and monitor growing antlers all summer as you prepare your 2018 game plan.

Scientists note that whitetails use mineral sites most heavily from late summer until the first frost next fall. From personal experience and observation here in Virginia, bucks start hitting minerals whenever we set them out in early spring through the first 2 weeks of August, when our camera images of mature bucks at licks begin to taper off.

How many mineral sites do you need? Research shows that one site for every 50 to 100 acres of hunting land is about right. We maintain 8 to 10 licks an 800-acre Virginia farm every year.

Locate mineral sites strategically across your property. Twenty to 30 yards back in the woods from the corners and edges of crop fields and food plots are good spots. Most of our licks are located close to main deer trails, where bucks can veer over to check them with minimal effort. Two of our best sites are near creek crossings back in the woods.

To build a site, clear a spot 4 to 6 feet in diameter (or larger if you like) and rake away the leaves and grass down to bare soil. It helps to break up and loosen the dirt with a shovel.

There are dozens of minerals formulated to attract deer and to provide vitamins for better deer health. We began using Imperial Whitetail .30-06 from Whitetail Institute last year with great success, and now use them exclusively.

imperial minerals

Dump and scatter minerals into a lick. Whitetail Institute recommends you use at least 5 pounds in a new site.

We use 10 pounds to an entire 20-pound bag the first time we re-start an established mineral site in the spring, and then use half a bag in each lick after that.  We refresh our sites every 3 weeks to a month throughout the summer.

Look for a good tree for a trail camera within 10 feet or so of every mineral site you create. Start running your cameras in June and watch the bucks’ antlers grow. By August you’ll have thousands of images of deer at licks, and a good inventory of the size and age class of bucks on your land.

Side note: It’s fun to watch how the most active mineral sites grow. As deer dig for minerals in the same sites year after year, the holes get bigger and deeper. I’ve seen licks deep enough to hide half a buck!

I end with this important note. Here in Virginia, using minerals is legal during spring and summer, but not permitted from September 1 through the end of hunting season. State laws vary, so check your game regulations.