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Big Bucks On Small Food Plots

Blaine Burley’s methods for killing mature bucks on small plots.

Blaine Burley | July 15, 2016

I am sure that many of you have heard the old saying, “If you want to harvest a trophy buck, you must go where trophy bucks are located.” In more than 40 years of pursuing and harvesting trophy-class bucks, I have found this to be very true.

On a national level, that is why many serious trophy whitetail hunters make their annual pilgrimage to the Midwest and Canada each fall in search of their trophies. On a state level, this is why many trophy whitetail hunters have hunting properties along the Flint River and/or in the suburbs surrounding Atlanta each year. However, on a local level, I have found that many hunters fail to effectively manage and/or hunt the big buck areas on their own hunting properties.

In the past, we were taught that you needed large tracts of contiguous land to effectively and consistently produce and harvest quality whitetails. However, many of today’s land managers and biologists have realized that you can consistently produce trophy-class bucks on small tracts of land, if you manage these tracts properly.

One of the keys to managing small tracts effectively is to provide everything that your deer needs within the boundaries of your property. This includes having adequate amounts of food—native forage, year-round food plots and/or supplemental feeding—water and cover. Most small tracts of land lack one or more of these three components.

As a wildlife manager and landowner, I have learned over the years that you must provide all three key ingredients in order to attract, grow and keep quality bucks on your property.

During the 2013 and 2014 hunting seasons, I got several random trail-cam photos of a good-sized buck. Unfortunately, they were all nighttime photos, and there were very few deer using this particular property. Based on these few nocturnal photos, I felt like this buck was not using my property consistently, and that he was spending most of his time in a huge clearcut adjacent to this small tract of land. My property consisted mainly of planted pines with a small creek, limited cover and no food sources.

Therefore, in August 2015, I decided to plant a small, 1/2-acre food plot on the backside of my property near the huge clearcut to see if I could draw this big buck onto my hunting area. I planted one of my favorite early season attraction plots, which consisted of iron and clay peas, soybeans, oats and arrowleaf clover. Soon after I planted this small food plot, I started to get lots of trail-cam photos of does and young bucks using this plot.

When October rolled around, I was pleasantly surprised when I started to see huge scrapes showing up along the edge of this plot. I put one of my trail cams on these scrapes, and I could not believe that this huge buck was coming to this plot almost every day.

I immediately put up a small ground blind on the east end of the plot in hopes of harvesting this buck. I needed a west wind to hunt this blind, so I did not hunt this buck for almost a month because of my busy fall schedule and unfavorable winds.

Then, on Oct. 30, 2015, I finally got my west wind that I had been waiting for. This would be the very first time that I hunted this buck.

At 11 a.m., I shot this monster buck at 75 yards trailing a doe into this small plot. Needless to say, I was very excited to be able to harvest a buck of this magnitude, especially here in middle Georgia on my own property on a small plot that I personally prepared and planted.

I got the buck scored a few weeks ago, and he grossed 151 7/8 inches and netted 139 6/8 after deductions. It’s the No. 12 best buck ever taken in Johnson County.

Over the years, I have been blessed to be able to hunt some of the best trophy-producing areas in North America. As a result, I have harvested a number of Boone & Crockett class bucks during my lifetime. However, I consider this 7 1/2-year-old Georgia Giant to be one of my best trophies to date.

One of the key ingredients for my success in producing and harvesting big bucks over the years is planting what I call small “harvest plots” near established bedding areas. There are many benefits of planting these small plots. Not only can they provide a high-quality food source for your deer herd, but they can also serve as an effective means of concentrating and attracting deer on your hunting property. Plus, your deer do not have to travel as far to feed, which increases your chances of harvesting these big bucks during legal hunting hours. It also decreases the chances of them being harvested by your neighbors. This also increases your chances of maintaining older-age class bucks on your property.

It is very important that you do not over-hunt these small plots and that you keep traffic in and around these plots to an absolute minimum. Once I plant these plots, I visit them only to check my trail cameras once every week or so during the hunting season. I will check cameras during midday hours only.

Also, I hunt these plots only when the conditions—weather, winds, moon phase, rutting activity, etc.—are most favorable. Lastly, I do not harvest any does on these harvest plots. I shoot only mature, older-age-class bucks in these plots. I want my does to use these plots regularly and feel secure to use these plots during legal hunting hours. In other words, I use the does in these plots as my buck bait.

For my early season harvest plots, I like to plant them as early as possible, which is usually late August to early September in my area. This way they will be established before hunting season rolls around. I normally plant these small plots several weeks prior to planting my larger nutritional plots because these small plots are normally shaded to some degree, and they will have enough moisture to survive warmer temperatures that we get during this time of year.

For my early season harvest plots, I like to plant a combination of plants that are very attractive and grow well in warmer weather. Therefore, I normally use a mixture of soybeans, peas, oats, and annual clover.

For my late season harvest plots, I will plant them the first two weeks of October. I like to plant a combination of plants that are very attractive and grow well during colder weather. Therefore, I normally use a mixture of wheat, triticale and brassicas, like rape and/or turnips.

When planting my small harvest plots, I prefer to keep them as small as possible, usually 1/2 acre or less.

Big bucks are normally very nocturnal animals and do not like to expose themselves, especially in large openings, during legal hunting hours. That is why I like to plant these small plots as close to known bedding areas and thick cover as possible.

Traditionally, wildlife managers and sportsmen have used large farm tractors and farm implements for planting harvest plots. Unfortunately, most of this farm equipment is too large to get into these often remote areas where I prefer to plant these small harvest plots.

In recent years, many sportsmen have discovered a much easier and cost-effective means of planting these small harvest plots by using ATVs, small tractors and small implements. Today’s ATVs are much larger and more powerful than ATVs of the past. Today’s larger ATVs can pull ATV implements, such as the Plotmaster, with ease.

One of the benefits of using small implements is that it enables hunters to plant harvest plots in isolated, hard-to-get-to places. Oftentimes this enables sportsmen to plant harvest plots in the areas that are closer to established bedding areas.

By locating harvest plots near established bedding areas, deer do not have to travel as far to get to these food sources. Mature bucks tend to feel more secure and travel more, especially during daylight hours, in these isolated places. Therefore, hunters have a better chance of harvesting trophy-class bucks during legal shooting hours. In other words, sportsmen can bring the food to the deer by planting small, isolated harvest plots, thus increasing their chances of harvesting that buck of a lifetime.

Editor’s Note: The author Blaine Burley has been a long-time friend of GON and is a current sponsor in the GON’s Youth Big-Buck Contest. Blaine is the president of Plotmaster System, LLC, and president of Woods-N-Waters, Inc. For information on booking a deer, turkey or hog hunt, go to www.woodsnwaterinc.com. To inquire about purchasing a Plotmaster, go to www.plotmasters.com.

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