Beautiful fields of green dot the landscape, evidence of hunters attempting to attract deer. Many of these food plots are intended not just for nutrition but for hunting, and they are often called “hunting plots” or “kill plots.” In my experience, as the level of attraction increases, so does the level of risk when hunting these sites. When you provide a high-quality food source that attracts deer to your area, it is critical that you hunt the food source in a way that doesn’t send the deer scattering in the opposite direction again. When this happens, your food source is doing more harm than good, especially if you hunt a small property.
I am a strong advocate of using food sources to define and strengthen deer movements, but if I can’t meet eight important rules at a site, I won’t hunt that food source. In fact, very few food plots I plant meet these rules. On Wisconsin’s 2012 archery opener, my 10-year-old son Jake and I hunted one of the very few food sources I have planted that I would define as a “kill plot.” Refer to the diagram above to see our “fencerow” stand (you can also click on the diagram in the Gallery below to see it full-size). The stand in the brushy fencerow near the small, narrow food plot capitalizes on deer movements from a bedding area into thick “old field” cover of native grasses and forbs and eventually to a large nutrition plot. Refer to the diagram as you read and you will see that the fencerow stand meets all eight of the following rules for a successful hunting plot.
1. Spook-Free Access
It’s often a risky move to attempt to go to a kill plot during the morning hours, as deer may be in the plot before daylight. Getting into your stand without alerting deer is critical, so that may mean avoiding a kill plot for a morning hunt unless you can reasonably certain deer don’t typically show up in this plot until later in the morning. For afternoon hunts, absolutely avoid passing through or near any bedding areas. If you can create and define those bedding areas or larger food sources to help define exactly where the deer are spending their time during the hours you access your kill plot, even better!
2. Quiet Approach
A quiet approach will allow you to move through your hunting land closer to deer without spooking them. Noisy gear, ATVs and abrasive clothing can all serve to clear the area of deer even if the deer don’t smell you or see you. It is worth taking the time, well before the season, to clear the path you will use by removing woody debris by hand and using herbicides to kill weeds if necessary, making what I call a “Roundup trail.” If you can be heard by your hunting buddy from 50 feet away while accessing a stand location, you probably need some new gear.
3. Scent Trap
Pick a stand site that eliminates your scent for you. In other words, in the ideal wind conditions for this stand, your scent is blowing into an area where deer are unlikely to travel and encounter your scent while you are in the stand. Mature hardwoods, open pastures and waterways can all be natural features used to “capture” your scent in a safe location, away from deer. Roads, houses, and fencing are also some great man-made barriers that can help take your scent out of the equation.
4. Go With the Flow
A kill plot should be just one stop in the continual flow of deer movement, and not the end of the movement or the ultimate destination. A line of deer movement from a bedding area, to a brushy travel corridor, through a native grass field, and finally into a large food source is just one example of an established line of deer movement that could feature an effective kill plot location. These movements could be natural or enhanced by you through habitat features, but your kill plot takes advantage of this flow.
5. A Quick View
A kill plot is just that. It’s not a “viewing” plot. You aren’t there to watch deer but to make a kill and get out. The longer deer linger in your vicinity, the better the chances the wind will shift or something else will go wrong that will cause alarm. You only need a brief view, a moment to judge each deer, and a shot opportunity – and if you’re not going to shoot, you want the deer to move on. A few quick bites, and then off to another location! So, a kill plot of smaller proportions will help to keep the train of deer movement passing by. Total acreage isn’t important; a 5-acre plot is fine if it’s long and narrow, with a nice 20-foot bottleneck for a stand site.
6. Spook-Free Departure
Getting out is just as important as getting in! If deer arrive at dark, can you leave the scene quietly without spooking them? Doing so will help preserve the stand location for future sits. Being able to leave the stand quietly, and having a path that is immediately screened and separated from the plot, will help.
7. No Scent Left Behind
How many deer are spooked three hours after your visit? What about five hours? We can never know, but avoiding contact with tall grasses and overhanging branches as you exit is a great start (clearing your entrance/exit path is critical closer to your stand). Also, piling brush or in some way physically blocking the bottom of your stand toward the side of the expected deer movements will help to “bump” the deer away from catching a nose-full of hunter scent left at the base of your tree or blind location.
8. Protect the Movement
More important than the quality of the forage in the plot is ensuring the pattern of deer movement is not broken until you take a shot. When scouting, setting up trail-cameras, or using your hunting land for other purposes, avoid disturbing deer using other areas in the “flow” of movement you are hunting. As long as the integrity of the deer movement patterns remain stays consistent throughout the entire hunting season, your kill plot will continue to be a productive site.
Editor’s Note: For much more from Jeff Sturgis on designing food plots for hunting, check out the author’s newest book, Food Plot Success by Design.