How to Hunt Food Plots: 4 Maintenance and Timing Tips
You spent the summer stategically planting food plots in prep for the fall deer hunting season—now it’s time to reap the reward. When you’re ready to hunt food plots you’ve planted over the summer, these smart techniques for land maintenance and timing will help you make the most of the season.
1. Go for the interception.
As you tiptoe your way into your treestand under the cover of darkness, you’ll often run across deer that are already feeding in the food plot. During evening hunts, deer will often only enter the food plot during the last few minutes of legal shooting light, which can quickly leave you stranded in your tree in the dark with no shot. As you climb down from your stand you’ll inevitably spook the deer out of the plot, and next time they’ll remember the location and source of the danger. Deer, particularly mature hard-hunted deer, don’t expose themselves for long in open food plots during daylight hours. To turn the tables on them, try to improve your approach/exit strategies (with low odds of success) or, instead, go for an interception.
Related Reading: Hunting Season: 5 Tips for Preparing Your Rifle
During dusk and dawn, deer will often be on their feet going between bedding and feeding locations. If you can identify the travel routes between these two locations and set your ambush accordingly, you might be able to catch them off-guard while they are on the move. Expect the deer to be coming toward your food plot in the evening and back toward bedding in the morning. Set up near—but not quite in—these respective locations for your evening and morning hunts to minimize chances of spooking deer and to increase the amount of deer you see during legal shooting hours.
2. Hunt food plots based on crop choice.
Hopefully you planted a couple different offerings for the deer, allowing for flexibility and continued forage throughout the season. Early in the season, clover can be an excellent crop to choose to hunt over as deer will often prefer this perennial to all others. However, once the mercury drops, clover can start to wilt and lose its palatability to deer. After the first hard frost, switch your focus to your brassica plots as the sugar content in these types of plants will increase rapidly—and so will the deer it will attract.
The FarWide app can help you scout smarter: Mark the location of your treestand by dropping custom pins on the map to keep track of it.
3. If you’re not seeing many deer, look for acorns.
If you’re set up over a thriving food plot during the early season but you’re not seeing many deer, take a look at the oaks in your area. During years of heavy acorn or other mast crop, deer will often prefer these food sources even to a vibrant green food plot. Switch your strategy to hunt oat flats instead—but don’t worry, all that work you put in on your food plot over the summer won’t be wasted later in the season. Once the acorns have been thinned out, deer will once again start hitting your food plots.
Related Reading: 5 Deer Scouting Tips for a More Successful Hunting Season
4. Monitor browse pressure.
In areas with high deer density, the plots you’ve spent all your hard work establishing can easily been mowed down by an unbalanced deer herd. Come late season, the food plot you had plans to hunt throughout the season has become a deerless dirt pit. Some hunters approach this by erecting an electric fence across sections of their plot, progressively opening it to deer. But this treats the symptom, not the cause. A better long-term solution is to employ quality deer management on your property and re-balance your herd by increasing your harvest of mature does. Fewer hungry mouths to feed can increase your overall herd health and ensure your food plots have plenty of available browse throughout hunting season and high-stress periods like late winter.