You have to be a low impact hunter to consistently take deer on or around food plots.
Kill plots are not in any way similar to the large feeding plots or crop fields designed to attract and hold deer on your property.
They are small unobtrusive stopovers designed to offer deer an out of the way place where they can grab a few mouthfuls of food during the daylight hours or perhaps a safe place for deer to congregate as they make their way to or from the 12 acre alfalfa field they spent the night in.
Everything about a kill plot is low impact, in fact, in some hunting camps; they often take on the identity of a "secret spot."
Kill plots are typically small (1/3 to 2 acre) plots tucked in out of the way places. They are often placed just off of a major travel route or near a major feeding or even bedding area. The key to kill plot is they are small irregular shaped interruptions in the normal landscape of a property.
A 1/2-acre of clover or brassicas located near a brushy draw or a hardwood flat is very attractive to a big buck looking to kick up a hot doe or grab a few mouthfuls of food to hold him over for an hour or two. You're not going to see twenty deer each evening on a kill plot but if hunt smart, but you might just catch Mr. Big; so long as you keep it low impact.
Don't Over-Hunt the Plot
If you saw ten deer the first time you hunted a kill plot, then five, then one, then none. You have burned the plot out by over hunting it. It happens all the time. Your only remedy will be to let the plot rest for a few weeks or wait for the crazy days of the rut.
A big buck will know you've been there no matter how careful you are. He may not catch you in the stand but he will find you out in a day or so. He will either catch your in/out track or catch your sent in and around the stand.
My son Neil kills a good buck almost every year on our home property. He locates the buck weeks before he hunts him. When conditions are right, he makes his move and will kill him on the first or second sit.
This usually occurs around the rut when bucks are moving 24-7 and acting a bit crazed. It might also occur when bucks are still in their summer relaxed feeding patterns.
He will only hunt that buck when the wind and other conditions are perfect for an ambush. Neil recently watched a great buck through most of bow season before everything was right to make his move — he killed it the first evening.
Neil feels he has one, maybe two chances at a good buck. After that luck and rut related SDS (Stupid Deer Syndrome) enter into the equation pretty heavily. The rut makes great hunters out of us all. If the rut has already come and gone, Neil will try to re-pattern the buck all over again, and this time he will take advantage of a post-rut bucks need to feed.
Beat the Wind
Big buck killers know that hunting the wind means more than hanging your stand on the down-wind side of a trail or food plot. The big buck guys park their trucks on the downwind side of the property and never, ever let the wind carry their scent across the property.
Walking 200 yards upwind of a bedding area will tell every deer in the area that the bad guys are at it again. A slammed door or broken branch will do just about the same thing. Smart hunters know that unusual sounds in the woods alert all kinds of critters to your presence and put the smart old boys over the hill in a hurry.
A Wisconsin bowhunting mentor of mine once fast-walked me into the woods at 0-dark thirty one morning. The trek took an hour or so and left me soaking wet and almost exhausted. We had a great morning and passed up more than a few bucks, but man was I beat. We met at 10:00 and decided the fun was done for the day. I wasn't looking forward to walking back to the truck.
Surprisingly, the walk back to the truck lasted all of 10 minutes. "Hey Tracker, what's up with the death march this morning? You about killed me, you trying to prove what great shape you are in," I asked.
"You saw deer didn't you, he said with a hint of disgust. "The deer were between the truck and the stands, if we marched right in. The wind would have killed us. We'd have blown every deer out of the country. You think I like walking around in the dark for an hour every day I come out here," he offered with more than a hint of sarcasm. "You gotta beat the wind." Another lesson learned from a great hunter.
I learned right there and then that sometime you have to do a little extra walking to beat the wind, or you might have to change stands mid-sit or even take a day off now and then — but beat it you must. And beating it also means when coming and going from your stand, not just sitting in it.
The wind is especially critical on small properties. You can ruin a small property for an entire season by allowing your scent to drift across the entire place for a couple of consecutive days. Wind matters.
Hang Plenty of Stands
Hunting a single stand repeatedly is the kiss of death (yours not the big buck you are after). You need to hang multiple stands if you plan on hunting the same food plot repeatedly.
Stands for different winds is one obvious approach, but have you considered multiple stands for the same wind. Stand #1 allows you to kill anything using the plot. The trouble is big bucks often work the plots from afar. So rig stand #2 fifty yards down wind of stand #1. Finally, set another stand a hundred yards downwind of stand #2. This 3-stand approach will allow you to fall back each time you think the deer have figured you out.
Dropping back is one strategy, but having a number of options is hard to beat. As I mentioned earlier, a buck will typically know you have been in an area within 48 hours but he won't know where you are, if this is your first sit. Neil rigs almost 60 stands on our property. Most get hunted once or twice each year. Some never see any use at all. The trick is to keep everything fresh and never let them figure you out. Low impact all the way.
And while we are on the topic of stands, lets not forget ground blinds. I have personally killed many deer from ground blinds and they are the most comfortable stands you never fell out of.
If there's an ice storm on the only day you can hunt, hit the ground blind and stay out of that ice coated accident waiting to happen. I like to have a ground blind ready and open for business, which will allow me to keep an eye on every kill plot we have.
Getting In and Out
I've already mentioned not allowing the wind to pollute the area you hunt, but I need to mention the importance of getting in and out of your stand undetected.
As mentioned, a good buck will know someone has been snooping around his woods within 48 hours of the event. We've seen it time after time on our cameras. A deer is quietly feeding and suddenly goes on alert. The morning or evening before a hunter came through the plot looking for a deer or taking a side trip through the plot. That deer was responding to the hunter being where they shouldn't have been a day and sometimes two days later.
That said, you don't have to tell them you're hunting them. Some time around early summer, get those stands out and hang them, cut trails into them and rake away all the ground debris.
Set the trails downwind of the prevailing winds so you can get in and out as quietly as possible. Trade your noisy pack pout for a stealthy one and sound proof your stands. Nylon washers between all the nuts and bolts works wonders. A good buck will almost ignore normal woods noise but the slightest "clang" will tell him to choose another restaurant for his evening meal.
You have to get out as unobtrusively as you got in. And this is a real problem for most hunters. For starters it is either dark or almost dark at quitting time. Unless you have a well defined trail, you are liable to be stumbling around in the woods coming out or worse taking the easy way out directly through the plot that will have visitors any second now.
Don't climb down into a plot full of deer. Deer can hear and see and smell at night just as well (especially hear and smell) as during the day. And whatever you do, don't climb out of your stand with deer in front of you.
Sit down and send a "pinned down" text to your buddy or waiting wife. Have someone come get you in a truck or four wheeler if you must, but never, ever pop in on a herd of deer unexpectedly. There is nothing low impact about that kind of approach. Eventually, the deer will move on and afford you a chance to leave undetected.
We traded in our smelly four wheelers for electric carts and wear wool to keep things quiet. We don't "scout" the weekend before the season and use cameras that text us photos to keep an eye on what the deer are doing.
We "scout" from a mile away with high-power spotting scopes and threw away those noisy walkie talkies years ago — all in the name of low impact hunting and turning our food plots into deer killing plots.