4 Fundamentals for Bow Hunting Food Plots

Early Season Bow Plot Strategies

If you’re obsessed with bow hunting, we know you like a challenge. After all, hunting with a bow is much harder than hunting with a firearm – you need the animals much closer and more can go wrong with an arrow’s trajectory than a bullet/slug. But if you have private land and can plant early season food plots, you can make your life just a little easier (without totally giving up the challenge)Early season whitetails can definitely be very predictable, but they can also be very frustrating when they don’t play the game. That means early season bow hunting can fluctuate a lot depending on the weather conditions, hunting pressure, and natural habitats. By planting a few bow hunting food plots, you can bring deer in right where you need them and increase the chance of filling your tag. Here are four things that you need to consider for planting early season food plots.

Video: TJ Unger is plotting for the season. A new bow hunting plot has him excited as the 2018 deer season approaches. With a hit-list buck in the area, and a new fully thought out kill plot in the works, TJ might have just aligned his assets right for a successful year in Indiana! 

1. Early Season Attraction

If you’re primarily bow hunting in the early season, your deer plots obviously need to be most attractive in the early season, right? It’s surprising how many people miss that fact. You can control that aspect a few different ways.

Food Plot Seeds and Time of Year

You definitely need to make sure you plant the right species/seeds in an early season food plot. For example, if you planted corn or beans in the middle of the summer, thinking they would be prime for an early season hunt, you might find that a bad summer drought wipes your plot out before you can hunt it. Similarly, planting cereal grains too early in the year may mean you have dry grasses in your plot, which aren’t very attractive to deer. Here are a few seeds and strategies that can be very effective for early season food plots.

 PHOTO: The Virtue TV 

  • Clover/Chicory – planted in the prior fall, perennial clover and chicory plots are a good drought-resistant and browse-tolerant combination to attract deer. Annual clovers planted in late summer are very attractive to deer by the early season time period as they are young and full of nutrients. 
  • Brassicas/Turnips – depending on where you hunt, brassica and turnip seeds can be extremely attractive to deer. The young green tops are greedily eaten and deer may even crunch a small bulb or two if the plants get large enough by the early season. As far as when to plant turnip seeds and brassica seeds, mid-summer plantings work well if timed before a rain event or in lower areas that stay a little bit wet throughout the summer. 
  • Cereal grains – wheat, oats, and rye can all be very attractive in early season food plots. If planted before a rain event, they should germinate and grow quickly, and they are very nutritious and sought after when they reach six to eight inches in height. 
  • Soybeans/Peas – this is an odd one, but hear us out. If you don’t care about producing mature plants with beans/pods on them, young beans and peas are very sweet and attract deer like crazy – until they are browsed out, which will happen quickly with large deer herds and small bow hunting kill plots. Be ready to hunt when these plants are a few inches tall! 
  • Combination plantings – the best food plots for deer may combine all of these plants in a single plot. The higher-growing plants can act as a nurse crop and protect the lower-growing ones until they get established. Plus, planting several species in one plot helps increase the odds of attracting deer if one of the seeds fails.

2. Deer Travel Strategy

If you build it, they will come, right? That’s not always the case, unfortunately. For maximum attraction and a better chance of encountering a mature buck, food plot placement is critical.

  • Location – try to locate your bow kill plot along natural deer traffic routes. Find a spot between a destination feeding field/large food plot and a bedding area. Deer will naturally take trails between them, so plant your early season food plots somewhere to intercept them. Small food plots in the woods can be dynamite in the early season. 
  • Staging areas – just off of larger fields (50 yards or so), try planting small kill plots. Deer (especially mature bucks) tend to stage up in these areas during daylight hours prior to entering larger fields. 
  • Size – when you’re bow hunting, you don’t want to be sitting on a 5 acre field – it’s hard to shoot across that distance. Make your hunting food plots around a tenth of an acre so you can shoot from one side to the other. Smaller plots will also make deer more comfortable to enter it during daylight hours.

3. Shooting Opportunities

The danger with smaller food plots is that deer can sneak up on you, feed, and be gone before you have a chance to grab your bow, get in position, and take a shot. Here are a few ways you can try to maximize the time that deer spend in these small bow hunting plots, simply by distracting them or increasing the attraction.

  • Distraction – by scratching out a mock scrape, sinking a sapling tree trunk (i.e., rubbing pole) into the ground, or hanging a licking branch on the edge of your early season food plots, you can keep deer interested and occupied a little longer. While they’re focused on the distraction, you can move into position and watch your lighted nocks disappear behind their shoulder. 
  • Waterholes – if you’re located in a relatively dry area, waterholes for deer can be particularly attractive in the hot early season weather. Sink a small basin or tub into the ground and try to keep it filled as often as possible. Before and after eating, deer will likely stop to get a drink, which can allow you to take a shot. 
  • Other food – if you have any apple, persimmon, pear, or oak trees on your property, try planting small food plots adjacent to them. Many of these trees produce soft or hard mast precisely when the early hunting season starts. And when these trees produce, deer will hit them hard, often ignoring other food sources temporarily. It will help buy you some time for a shot, and it’s also added insurance that deer will still come there even if the plots fail.

4. Tree Stand Access

Of course, if you can’t stealthily access your tree stand consistently, even the best early season food plots will fail you. Here are some ways you can improve the access to the stand sites and plots on your bow hunting property.

  • Screened access – you can use existing vegetation (e.g., thickly growing spruces, dense brush, hinge-cut trees, etc.) to hide your access trail by planting food plots on the other side of the direction you approach. Or you can plant your own seasonal screen using tall sorghum grass species or Egyptian wheat. 
  • Play the wind – make sure your plot is located upwind from your stand site and access trail so deer wouldn’t normally smell you while approaching or sitting in your stand. 
  • Access trail – before hunting season, take some time to clear the vegetation away from your access trail so that you won’t spook deer in the area on your way in. You may even want to rake the debris off of it. Take your time walking in and use binoculars to scan your food plot as you approach to make sure you don’t bump a mature buck off of it.

This season, try a few of these methods out to increase the attraction of the early season food plots on your hunting property. If you have existing food plots, try tweaking them a bit to adopt a few of these strategies. And if you’re planting brand new food plots, take these design and placement considerations seriously. Under the best early season hunting conditions, you might not need all this help. But under the worst conditions and luck, it’s nice to have an ace in the hole.

Tips for Developing Your Bow Hunting Plot

Bow Hunting Food Plot Tips

Feature Flatline Whitetails

Bow hunting food plots can be, and most likely are, essential to your bow hunting strategy. However, knowing where to develop them, how to develop them, and how to maintain them can be very overwhelming. That’s why it’s important for you to clearly define the purpose of your food plot, set a goal, and set realistic expectations for the plot. Questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do you want to grow larger deer?
  • Do you want a larger population?
  • Are you simply looking for a spot that will help you harvest more deer?
  • When do you want to hunt the plot?
  • What species is best for your goals?
  • What resources do you have to plant the plot?
  • What food plot or design best aligns with your expectations?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you create a successful food plot. However, only you can answer these questions. A magazine, video, or blog will not tell you the magic equation for your specific situation. There are too many variables involved. You can however receive some valuable knowledge to steer your strategy. Defining your goals and expectations, and combine that with helpful food plot knowledge will help you select the right locations, seed choices, and strategies to implement with food plots. This blog will provide you with the knowledge and considerations to help you steer towards that ideal bow hunting food plot.

Picture: Flatline Whitetails

Pick a Strategic Location and Species

Once goals and resources are considered, you can begin the process of establishing the food plot by selecting the right location and species. There are normally two types of plots to plan for that influence location and seed selection:

  1. Kill plots
  2. Feeding plots

Kill plots exist to help you harvest more deer. Feeding plots allow you to monitor, grow, and protect your herd. It is important to differentiate the two, and how each are considered to be bow hunting food plots, as they both play pivotal roles in the overall strategy.

Kill Plots

Perennial plot species like clover, easily one of the best food plot species, tends to do well for both kill plots and feeding plots. Clover specifically does not require much in the way of planting, and maintenance, but it also tends to be browse tolerant and shade tolerant…ideal for small bow hunting food plots.

Clover plots are among the most popular bow hunting plots because the species make great staging area food plots. These are small areas that deer, and more importantly bucks stage in before progressing into larger food source or destination feeding plots. The idea behind staging plots is that it presents the opportunity to shoot a deer before legal light fades, as deer typically appear in staging areas before waiting for the cover of darkness to enter an intimidating larger plot. For the most part, staging areas are kill plots, a plot location, design, and shape for harvesting deer.

Entry and exit routes are the most critical factor that influences location of kill plots besides deer behavior and movement. Utilize features like creeks, terrain, rising or sinking thermals, thick brush, food plot screens, logging roads, or anything else that can give you an edge to be quiet and scent free on your entry. Shift access around or away from where deer are bedding or traveling. Your entry and exit should be on the downwind side of the stand or blind you plan on bow hunting in. Looking out for these features should steer your decision of plot placement.

Picture: Flatline Whitetails

Feeding Plots

While perennial species like clover can easily take the roll of feeding plots, annuals like corn and soybeans tend to be the species of choice for feeding plots. These, mostly large-scale food plots (3+ acres) are destination food sources that can provide enough food for continual feeding through most if not the entire year. Soybean, particularly varieties that mature early and provide high yields of grain provide summer nutrition and late season food sources. If species like winter rye and winter wheat are planted with the beans (in the fall when beans start turning) a green food source can be provided in the same plot that will provide forage through winter and spring. The location of these destination food sources are just as, if not more important than the placement of your kill plots. A feeding plot determines the direction of deer travel on a property, influence bedding areas, and determine the location of your kill plots.

Picture: Flatline Whitetails

Typically destination food sources are untouched, leaving deer unpressured so movement across a property is not hindered. This movement is in turn targeted for hunting between the destination food source and the bedding areas. This area of transitional movement is the perfect spot for a bow hunting kill plot. Whether you hunt that plot or not is determined by trail camera and scouting Intel, wind direction, and the level of pressure you want to put on the plot.

Tips for Better Bow Hunting Food Plots

Knowing the location and type of species is the biggest decision when developing bow hunting plots. Here are some helpful tips when it comes time to actually turn over the dirt!

Know the Soil

The first thing you need to do once you pick out your ideal location and choice of species to plant is to get your soil tested. The results will help you determine what you should and should not plant, how much lime and fertilizer (particularly nitrogen) may be needed, and what quality of a plot you can expect.

The best part? Soil tests are easy to get. Simply bring a sample into your local feed store, conservations district, local extension service, or if you have to, order one to take yourself. This will not only help you grow a better yield, but also save you money on unnecessary lime and fertilizer costs.

Picture: Flatline Whitetails

Plant Wisely

When it comes to the actual planting, there are numerous things that need to be considered. However, the details of each are dependent on your location, choice of seed, size of plot, and ultimate goals. In summary, these are the things every hunter should be aware of when planning their plot:

  • Kill existing vegetation
  • Try to plant before a rain
  • Use lime and fertilizer to prime the soil
  • Plant towards the sun (for maximum exposure in short fall days)
  • Know the correct planting depth (depending on the seeds you have chosen)
  • Keep up with weeds
  • Add subsequent fertilizer as necessary
  • Don’t babysit the plot to avoid unneeded pressure

Maintain the Plot

Depending on what you chose to grow, you will need to selectively keep up with the changing conditions of the plot. Soybeans and corn will need to be sprayed for weeds. This is easiest with a roundup ready soybean or corn variety. Clover and alfalfa require more selective herbicides such as a broadleaf selective herbicide (2-4D B (butryac)) and a grass selective herbicide (clethodim or sethoxydim). You can also mow these species, but mowing can take valuable food and soil moisture away from these food plots which can hurt the plot in the long run. Depending on your crop of choice, it may also be necessary to supplement with more fertilizer shortly after planting.

Avoid Too Much Pressure

Pressure on both feeding plots and kill plots has been a reoccurring point for this blog, but that stresses the importance. After putting all of the work and resources into a food plot, one of the biggest mistakes people make is spending too much time in it. This leaves your scent and presence throughout the entire area. Pushing the deer out of the food plot defeats the purpose of putting it there in the first place and the consequences could be drastic come hunting season. Therefore, once it’s planted, limit your time there. Outside of checking your trail cameras and keeping an eye on your crop, stay out! Try to stay on vehicle as much as possible, and avoid visiting it during peak activity.

Picture: Flatline Whitetails

Evaluate the Plot

Once the season is over, it’s critical that you evaluate the plot, the deer movement within the plot, and its success rate. Some evaluation points to think about and track are:

  • Are deer feeding throughout the peak activity times in your destination food sources?
  • Are deer working through your staging area kill plots?
  • Are their patterns being developed by particular bucks on the kill or feeding plots?
  • What plots are deer avoiding and why?
  • What other tactics could you employ in the plot to make it more attractive (waterholes, mock scrapes, food plot screens)?

This will help you determine its viability for future use, and possible changes you could make, whether it be location, choice of seed, stand placement, or more advanced bow hunting plot tactics that you could have engaged in.

Picture: Flatline Whitetails

Finding Success with Bow Hunting Plots

Creating and managing successful bow hunting food plots is hard work. It requires self-education, dedication, time, and labor. However, the key to success is consistency and observation. Make small changes and improvements where necessary, keep an eye out for opportunities, and keep your plots active for years to see trends and patterns develop.

Over time, you’ll see the effort pays off. Not only will you see more deer, but you’ll create better bow hunting opportunities. Bow hunting food plots eventually may be your biggest success in your overall bow hunting strategy.