Why you might not hunt your plots the same in November as you would in September, or even October.
Conventional wisdom says that early season is best the time to hunt food sources, like food plots. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hunt them during the rut. You just may want to change your tactics a bit. What follows are a few ways to make your food plots more productive for hunting the rut.
When – In general, food plots are best hunted in the afternoon. Outside the rut deer are there for only one reason, to feed. You can get there ahead of them in the afternoon, but in the morning they’re already there; and all you’ll succeed in doing is chasing them off.
That rule of thumb changes slightly during the rut, when bucks are cruising for does. It may take a buck several hours to follow up the trail of a hot doe. She may be long gone, but her scent will remain. Furthermore, bucks are repeatedly checking areas of doe concentrations – like food plots – and could show up at any time.
In fact, this is the best time to hunt off hours. Throughout the fall, does are more active at dawn and dusk, making them easier to find at these times. Eventually they head off to bed, but the bucks keep looking, and mid to late morning is a great time to catch a mature buck on his feet looking for love.
Early afternoon tends to be slow throughout the fall, but as the afternoon wears on, the does will be on their feet and headed to the plots again. The bucks will follow, to a point. If your objective is any decent buck, afternoon is a good time to hunt on your plots. If you’re after something bigger, you may want to reconsider.
Where – It takes a great deal of discipline, but if your goal is a mature buck, you don’t want to be on or close to the plot edge. Bucks may occasionally act foolish, but more often than not they still have their wits about them, even during the rut. Rather than busting into the open, they’ll work through the thick cover downwind of a food plot scent-checking for does. And this is where you should be.
How far back you set up will depend on several things, including the lay of the land and your choice of weapon. Obviously, bowhunters will want to be closer to the action. But you’ve got to be downwind not only of the plot and the does, but of the woods-wise bucks. In either case, 75 to 100 yards from the plot is a good rule of thumb.
Look for thicker cover and less obvious trails. Try to take advantage of folds in the land or changes in cover type that might funnel deer movement, and focus on entry and exit trails. They’ll have the freshest sign and scent, and the bucks will hone in on where the does recently traveled.
Which Ones – If you’ve been following Heartland’s web tips for a while now you already know the difference between feeding and hunting plots. The former are generally larger plots designed for agricultural efficiency and year-round nutrition, and typically consisting of warm-season annuals. You can get away with hunting the fringes of your feed plots early in the season. But by the rut, the deer’s diet has, for the most part, shifted.
Now, they’ll be seeking energy, primarily in the form of carbohydrates. And if you followed our advice, your probably planted something like Heartland’s Rack Maker Brassica – which has a blend of hybrid brassicas, forage rape and turnips – or Rack Maker Extreme, which also contains winter oats, winter rye and forage soybeans. And if you built them for hunting, they’ll also be smaller, and surrounded by thicker cover, making it more likely deer will venture into them during the daylight.
Gun hunters especially might be able to take advantage of multi-purpose plots – larger plots designed largely, but not exclusively for year-round nutrition. Blends like Heartland’s Hi Pro Forage combines annual brassicas with perennial clovers and birdsfoot trefoil. The perennial clovers, including a New Zealand-type grazing style ladino clover, alsike clover and medium red clover provide an important source of protein during the late summer and early fall, and again next spring. The deer will be less interested in them now, but will savor the brassicas – hybrid forage turnips and a forage rape. For drier, more sandy soils, Rack Maker offers a more drought-tolerant alfalfa-based perennial mix.
If you’re going to hunt food plots during the rut, set up near one planted with a strong fall attractant like Heartland Wildlife’s Rack Maker Brassicas.