By Bill Cooper
The annual Missouri bow season begins September 15. Many bow hunters will harvest their first deer of the year on opening day. For scores of hunters their quick success will be in part due to their having planted food plots which attract deer early in the season. You can do the same.
With the advent of social media and the information age, tons of information became available about food plots; when, where, how and what to plant. However, just in case you missed it all, following are a few tips to get you on the path to success for early fall bowhunting success.
Anticipation - Every bowhunter anticipates the upcoming fall bowhunting season. I can’t wait for it to arrive and am well prepared. Long lists of need-to-do things are worn to shreds from going over and over equipment lists, practice routines, scouting efforts, trail cam placements and actually visualizing the first shot of the season. However, many archers may have failed in properly preparing food plots to maximize their opportunities for shots on the first stand sit of the season. If that is your case, vow to anticipate getting it right next season.
Plan plots - So, what should you plant to maximize early season shot opportunities? Perennial plantings are certainly a must. Clovers and alfalfa will draw deer in during early season and should be a foundation of any management plan. Additionally, annuals must be taken into consideration. Decades of food plot management experience has taught us that two types of annuals have proven themselves, brassicas and cereal grains. They may be planted in separate plots or mixed together in a single plot.
Brassicas may include several varieties of rape, kale, turnips, radishes and the true brassicas. Cereal grains as a deer attractant should include wheat, oats, rye and triticale. Combinations of brassicas and cereal grains provide heavy nutritional value and flavors that deer relish. Too, both plant classes can be eaten down to a nub, and still provide new growth. Additionally, they can survive snow and extreme cold, providing much needed food supplies throughout out the winter and into early spring.
The above mentioned combinations for food plots are also relatively easy to grow, and the brassicas provide the greatest tonnage per acre of food mass available.
The seed source - Biologic offers every kind of seed, or combinations you could ever need to bring your food plots up to par. You can purchase single varieties of seeds or the perfect combinations of mixture to meet your needs. For a few small food plots, go with combination blends. They offer a variety of plants that will peak at various times making your plots a draw for deer over a longer period of time. Too, if one type of seed doesn’t do well in your situation, others most likely will.
The buffet - For larger plots, a broader approach may be taken. Plant some plots with mixtures, while planting other single species plots, such as wheat, oats, or radishes. The buffet approach is deadly. Last season, I planted a pure stand of deer radishes dead center in the kill zone I had established in front of my ground blind. It grew thick and tall. Deer demolished much of it before the September 15 archery opener.
I sat in my ground and watched the first day of the season as a dozen deer, all within bow range, munched away on the oats, radishes, turnips, clovers, brassicas, and chicory I had planted throughout the season in order to be prepared for my first sit of the season.
Sweat trickled down my back in the afternoon heat. I feared the deer would pick up my scent and bolt. However, wind was absent and my blind held my scent fairly well. I watched the hungry herd feed for well over two hours before they faded back into the shadows of the woods as darkness fell.
Simply for practice I placed the crosshairs of my crossbow scope on the vitals of several deer without my slight movement being detected. The afternoon provided not only a large measure of satisfaction with the success I had experienced of so many deer utilizing the variety of food sources I had planted. In addition, the practice of remaining calm in the presence of several deer gave me a much needed confidence booster. I felt certain that I could make a lethal shot on one of a number of deer which were likely to visit the plot over the next few weeks.
Two evenings later I returned to my well-hidden blind. Air temperatures had cooled noticeably, increasing my likelihood of taking a shot if presented. I much prefer bow hunting in cool weather. Heat and bugs are less of a problem. Too, the cool air carries sweet wafts of scents from the fall woods as photosynthesis is ceasing and the aromas of decaying vegetation are exuded.
A mere 30 minutes into my second sit of the season, a yearling doe bounded into the food plot and immediately began feeding on the abundant radish tops. Between bites of the luscious vegetation, the small doe glanced over her shoulder from the direction from which she had come. Obviously more deer were coming.
I prefer a small doe for my first deer of the season. I checked my rangefinder. The doe stood broadside at 25 yards. I slowly raised my crossbow and settled just behind the doe’s shoulder. The bolt made a clean pass through and the doe dropped in its tracks.
I recovered, skinned and processed the deer before darkness fell. For dinner the next evening I prepared small deer tenderloins in gravy. I easily cut the fresh deer meat with my fork.
The great enjoyment of hunting and providing my own meat for meals was a direct result of my having planned and planted food plots which attracted deer early in the season.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at www.facebook.com/ outsidealways.