By Bill Cooper
Food plots have become a mania among deer hunters. It seems that everyone who deer hunts and has access to land, owned or leased, is into planting food plots to both feed and hold deer on their property. The latest craze has been the increase in pint-sized food plots. Often referred to as poor man’s plots, these micro-plots are the fastest growing trend in deer hunting.
The one factor of deer behavior on which you can consistently depend is the that they are going to eat every day. The better the quality of the food and availability, the more deer will use it. If left undisturbed, deer will soon develop the habit of dropping in often to munch on tender vegetation in a food plot.
I’ve planted small food plots on my place for well over 30 years. Deer love them. I began by planting only clover and winter wheat, but know plant at least a half dozen plant varieties, including wheat, clover, oats, turnips, radishes, sunflowers, soybeans, and chicory. Biologists tell us that deer may take two to three seasons to fully adjust to a new plant variety. It takes time for old does to teach their offspring to feed on a particular plant. So, it may take a couple of generations for deer in your area to fully utilize a new food source.
Micro-plots are especially effective for bow hunting for several reasons. First, they are small enough, from tennis court sized plots to a half-acre, that when deer feed in them, they are within effective bow range. Bigger plots can create a lot of frustration for bow hunters, because deer can easily be out of range. The usual occurrence is a game of cat and mouse as hunters move stands around a large plot trying to get close enough for a shot.
Secondly, micro-plots can easily be planted close to bedding areas, reducing the travel distance for your herd from bed to breakfast. With plots nearby, deer often can’t resist feeding in the plots during daylight hours as well. Many times these small plots are the last thing a deer visits before bedding in the morning and the first place they visit upon leaving their bed in the afternoon. It’s like humans running from the couch to the fridge for a quick snack.
Micro-plots easily become the focus of deer activity, especially during the rut. Almost every buck in a given area will swing past a micro-plot at some point in the day to check for estrous does. At that point the plot becomes the center of the deer wheel, with spokes, or deer trails, leading to it from different directions. Bucks tend to make plenty of scrapes near micro-plots as well adding to the deer holding potential of these magic micro-plots. They essentially become a regular meeting place for deer in the area.
Third, deer feel far safer in micro-plots than larger openings, because they are only a bound or two away from the safety of thick cover. Plots surrounded by thick woods or undergrowth also tend to attract and hold deer throughout the daylight hours.
For bowhunting purposes, narrow plots are better than wide ones. When a buck enters a narrow food plot, it will often walk the entire length of the plot, both checking scrapes and checking for hot does.
Placement of micro-plots is very important. Take a good inventory of your property before you plant. Micro-plots should be placed within 150 yards of deer bedding areas. If planned further away, it become difficult to pull deer into your plot in daylight hours. Deer will get up from their beds several times a day to feed. Good food sources that are nearby will get utilized far more than distant sources.
Creating funnels to direct deer to your micro-plots is another tool you can use to improve your deer hunting success. Small trails through your property is one such funnel you can easily create. I cut wood on my property each year and have created a network of trail than I can easily travel with my pickup truck, or tractor. I utilize some of these trails as micro-plots as well. However, I do not plant these min-plots as thick as I do my main plot. I utilize them as a teaser to pull deer in the direction I want them to travel. I maintain three of these trails, which lead directly to my main mini-plot of 3/4 of an acre, surrounded by woods. The vast majority of deer that enter this food plot follow the established trails through the woods.
I generally plant my mini-plots in early August. Often it is very dry, but I’ve had tremendous good fortune over the last 30 years. Only twice have I had to replant, because of dry conditions. This year rains came steadily during August and early September. The wheat, sunflowers, turnips, hickory and radishes I planted quickly grew into a thick, healthy stand. It didn’t take long for deer to discover the new food source.
An added bonus to my food plot this year is the fact that it is surrounded by white oaks and they produced heavily this year. Deer have been hanging in the white oak stands in the afternoons to gorge themselves on acorns, and then drift into my food plots to enjoy the succulent plants found there. It’s the best combination of food sources I’ve ever had on my place. An added bonus is the fact that once the greenery in the food plots are decorated by deer and mother nature, there will still be plenty of radish and turnip bulbs for the deer, as well as an abundance of acorns in the woods just a few steps away.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.