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.