April 13, 2012
By Travis Faulkner
In most cases, hunters and land managers view food plots primarily as a tool for attracting and holding more deer on their property. At the same time, there is also recognition of the obvious nutritional and health values that whitetails gain from these plots. Without question, growing groceries that are high in protein on a consistent basis can dramatically benefit the herd on just about any tract of land. However, savvy hunters can also strategically utilize smaller food plots as a deadly hunting tool for exploiting monster bucks.
On that note, let's take an inside look at how you can combine cutting-edge food plotting tactics with hard-hitting hunting strategies to tag bone-headed bruisers season after season. Utilizing a lethal set of buck harvest plot tactics have enabled me and many other hardcore whitetail fanatics to connect with tough nocturnal brutes from a variety of hunting environments and locations. The following high-impact strategies will get the job done on both large and small sections of privately owned property or across those heavily pressured tracts of public land that can be so challenging to hunt.
Food Plots vs. Buck Harvest Plots
Undoubtedly, large open-field food plots are great for yielding enormous quantities of prime whitetail forage that will dramatically improve your hunting area. This is especially true when seed mixes and blends are periodically rotated to meet seasonal changes. Growing a variety of both warm and cool season plots essentially provides year-round nutrition for whitetails. Many studies have shown that furnishing deer with quick and easy access to consistent food sources can ultimately lead to healthier herds and even increased antler growth among bucks. Benefits like these coupled with the potential of drawing, holding, and sustaining more whitetails has transformed many hunters into serious farmers almost overnight.
At the same time, hunters need to realize that adding open-field food plots to their private property or favorite hunting lease does not mean that it's going to be any easier to start slaying monsters. Unfortunately, the majority of giant bucks that are balancing tree-stumps on top of their heads have learned to stay clear of large food plots and agricultural fields until after dark. Once opening day rolls around, this super breed of whitetail will adjust and modify their daily routines to avoid these pressured areas. In other words, setups overlooking open food plots with minimal cover are probably not going to help you fill any empty space on your trophy wall at home.
In addition, it can take a lot of time, money, and work to successfully grow and maintain food plots on a large scale. Another downfall is the fact that most hunters don't have access to the types of expensive farming equipment that is needed to complete the job. Planting super-sized food plots also requires huge tracts of private land, which can be a major stumbling block for the average hunter. Obstacles and challenges like these can definitely be tough to tackle, but by no means does this mean that you're out of the game. If large scale food plots are not an option for you this season, then try a more economical and practical approach like growing strategically placed buck harvest plots.
In reality, you don't really need monster tracts of land that encompass endless acres of lush green food plots to tag thick-necked brawlers. The truth is you can bust way more bucks by growing smaller well-placed buck harvest plots near prime ambush sites that are surrounded by adequate cover. Basically, big bucks just feel more comfortable easing in and out of these protected areas throughout key periods of the day.
Hardcore late-shift shakers and movers that primarily move under the cover of darkness will even make special daytime appearances at buck harvest plots. This creates a window of opportunity that allows you to exploit these elusive bucks that typically live their lives under the human radar.
When it's all said and done, buck harvest plots simply save you more time and money while eliminating the need for expensive farming equipment to complete and maintain. With buck harvest plots, hunters don't really need to have a green thumb or be veteran farmers to successfully plant and grow these killer crops. Throw in the fact that buck harvest plots typically produce more close encounters with top-heavy shooters and you've got a clear winner. However, if you're still not completely convinced, let's take a look at some hardcore proof that clearly shows just how deadly ambush plots can be during the fall season.
Without question, William "Spook" Spann is a hardcore antler addict that knows how to take advantage of long-tined giant bucks. Most of you probably recognize Spook Spann as the television host of "Spook Nation," which runs on the Pursuit Channel. Over the years, his woodsmanship skills in the deer woods have produced some unbelievable results. Currently, he has harvested over 25 Pope & Young whitetails and at least seven Boone & Crockett monsters that include a mammoth buck from Kansas that scored 230. Right about now, you're probably wondering how one hunter has been able to consistently hang that much bone on his wall.
According to Spook, the key to tagging wall-hangers is carefully plotting your ambush inside of areas that are hunter-accessible but feel safe to bucks. In other words, you have to strategically grow food plots in areas that are easy to reach without bumping deer and where whitetails feel comfortable visiting during the daylight hours. "Undoubtedly, learning how and where to grow small food plots near prime ambush locations has enabled me to tag the majority of my best bucks," explains Spook.
Throughout his hunting career, Spook has learned that strategically placed buck harvest plots are highly effective across the nation. "These plots will even work in areas that are already loaded with agricultural food sources like corn and soybeans. For good reason, veteran deer naturally feel more comfortable visiting these larger agricultural fields after dark. However, the smaller plots that hug thick cover will generally create a false sense of security that is capable of making nocturnal bucks a little more active during the day. Conditioning paranoid bucks to frequent these plots has helped me fill tags from my home state of Tennessee to the farm country of Iowa and everywhere in between," states Spook.
Focus On Key Ambush Sites
When considering possible ambush sites for growing your own buck harvest plots, it's extremely important to choose the right locations. For instance, you have to pinpoint the preferred travel routes, bedding locations and staging areas of mature bucks within your hunting area. All of these high-traffic areas will provide some valuable insight regarding where your ambush sites need to be placed. Secluded or isolated locations that encompass adequate cover are usually great starting points. The trick is to select areas where veteran bucks feel somewhat safe during the dangerous daylight hours.
On this particular subject, Spook and I both feel that small openings or clearings that are surrounded by heavy cover should really grab your attention. The outer edges of buck bedding areas should also not be overlooked when dealing with massive-racked bruisers that prefer to move only at night. However, one of the most action-packed locations to grow harvest plots would have to be directly between mature buck bedding and staging areas. These sweet-spots are perfect, because bucks feel safe here and you can generally enter or exit these areas without bumping deer.
Create Your Own Buck Harvest Plots
In order to successfully grow productive buck harvest plots, there are several crucial steps that must be taken before planting any seed blends or mixes. First, try to pinpoint small clearings inside of isolated or secluded areas that are surrounded by adequate cover. Next, remove leaves, sticks, and other obstructions before taking soil samples. Testing the soil will tell you exactly what is needed to generate maximum growth within a particular area. It's important to note that skipping this step can potentially lead to poor crop production, which can drastically reduce your shot opportunities.
Unfortunately, pesky weeds and vines can pose another problem that can have a negative impact on your plot's success. Combing over these areas with a weed trimmer and applying chemical spray can help eliminate any unwanted growth that can essentially rob your plot of much needed sunlight and nutrients. You will also need to thoroughly trim overhanging branches and cut down sapling trees to allow the plots to receive as much sunlight as possible. All of these painstaking steps are necessary and will better prepare your area for planting.
Productive Planting Tactics
Most food plot seeds and blends will require a soft and smooth seed bed to produce optimal growing conditions. A hand-operated tiller, ATV disc attachment or small tractor can be used to plow the ground. Using an ATV to drag a log or a set of harrows can help you smooth and firm the soil bed before planting the plot. Initially, most buck harvest plots will require some additional help to increase crop production.
If your soil test results show a pH level below 6.5, then you will need to add lime pellets to the soil. Applying fertilizer (based on soil tests) to the plots after the first planting can enhance growth. Once the plot is established, re-seeding and re-fertilizing will enable you to maintain and even promote late-season growth (depending on the crop).
After broadcasting the seed, constructing a plot-saver perimeter around the growing area is not a bad idea, because it can prevent overgrazing and allow the crop stand to establish. Periodically monitoring the plot will let you know when to re-seed and re-fertilize the areas that are showing signs of thinning or fading. Working to keep buck harvest plots clean of broken limbs, leaves, and other forest debris will also help you maintain a healthy and productive crop. Another high-impact planting strategy or tactic is to grow a variety of warm and cool season plots that will keep bucks visiting your ambush sites throughout the entire fall.
Public-Land Buck Plots
In states where it's legal to do so, these same planting and growing strategies can be used on public land with some minor modifications. For example, you can utilize manual tools like a rake to clear out plot locations and sheers or hand-saws to trim away overhanging branches that can potentially block the sunlight. On a smaller scale, I recommend planting hassle-free plots like Vita-Rack E-Z Grow from Hunter's Specialties. This easy to establish annual mix does not require any tilling or equipment to plant.
Furthermore, E-Z Grow germinates quickly and can provide irresistible green browse for hungry bucks. The mix includes King Annual Ryegrass, Dwarf Essex Rape and several types of clover. Without question, public-land plots can be a highly-effective tool for tagging and bagging these pressured bucks. In fact, last season my son and I both harvested wall-hanger bucks from our strategically placed public-land buck harvest plots. In my opinion, I strongly feel the killer combination of buck harvest plots and customized hunting strategies allowed us to take both of our bucks from these hard-hit locations.
At the end of the day, hunters don't need to buy into the popular theory that only large-scale food plots and intensely managed areas are capable of producing close encounters with trophy-class bucks. The reality is that carefully placed buck harvest plots near prime locations can be among the fastest ways to close the deal on hard-to-handle giants. This season make sure you utilize these cutting-edge harvest plot growing strategies and hunting tactics to create your own target-rich environment on your favorite tract of private or public land.