Small Food Plots On Small Tracts Yield Big Bucks For Kids

You don't need 1,000 acres to grow a mature buck. Here's a small-tract plan to put a big buck in front of your youngster this fall.

Blaine Burley | August 1, 2010

When hunting with youngsters, choose some type of enclosed stand or box blind if you can. Kids are full of energy, and these types of stands will block movement.

Imagine a crisp fall morning. With a light wind blowing directly in your face, conditions are just perfect for an October deer hunt. A young, inexperienced hunter sits beside you in a 20-foot tall tower stand as you stare down a narrow strip of clover and chicory. To the left is a beautiful hillside littered with white-oak acorns. To the right is a 4-year-old stand of thick planted pines. The scene is beautiful, as the green plot matches nicely with the fall colors.

Thirty minutes after daylight, a beautiful 9-pointer eases out into the plot. It’s the same buck you’ve been getting trail-camera photos of since June. He assesses the plot for just a minute and then puts his head down into the sea of green and begins chomping away. Slowly you slide the barrel of the .243 out of the window and get the stock into the shoulder of your young hunter.

“Take your time… just squeeze that trigger,” you say.


The buck’s mule-like kick indicates a solid hit. He turns to run back into his bedding area, but a wall of briars stops him cold, and he expires.

This scene could play out for you this deer season. Do you have a child you want to introduce to hunting but don’t know where to start? A strategically placed food plot can be the ticket for your child to shoot a buck and enter it into this year’s SEEDS Big-Buck contest, a statewide youth deer contest that’s part of GON’s Truck-Buck contest (see page 68).

It was once believed you needed large tracts of land (5,000 acres or more) or high-fenced operations to effectively and consistently produce quality whitetails. However, many of today’s wildlife managers and biologists have realized that you can consistently grow and harvest trophy-class bucks on small tracts of land if you manage these tracts properly.

The cornerstone of managing small tracts effectively is to provide everything your deer herd needs within the boundaries of your property. The basics may be obvious: adequate amounts of food, water and cover. Yet, most small tracts of land lack one or more of these three components. You, as a wildlife manager and landowner, must provide these three key ingredients on a year-round basis in order to attract, grow and keep quality bucks on your property.

Strategic Food-Plot Placement: One of the key ingredients in producing and harvesting big bucks on small tracts of land is planting small, year-round food plots that are strategically located throughout your property. In my experience, most wildlife managers randomly place their food plots throughout their property with little or no thought to how they integrate into a year-round deer-management plan. Most often, they place them in the most convenient locations and/or locations that are easily accessible. As a general rule, you should locate your plots in remote areas near the center of your property (particularly on small tracts) and as far away from your neighbor’s property as possible.

These plots should also be located as close as possible to known bedding areas. Not only will these year-round food plots provide a high-quality food source for deer all year long, they will also serve as an effective means of concentrating and holding deer on your hunting property. Therefore, your deer will have to travel less to feed, which lowers their chances of being harvested by your neighbors. Holding deer with good food, water and cover also increases your ability to manage the deer through selective harvest for more older-age-class trophy bucks.

Blaine’s daughter, Blaize, 10 at the time, killed her first buck in 2006 as it fed in a small food plot in Johnson County.

Year-round Plots Plan: An effective year-round food-plot program should not be confused with planting a few easy plots each year. First of all, you will need to plant lots of small year-round plots in order to provide a sufficient amount of quality forage to attract, grow and hold these older-age-class bucks on your property.

I prefer to plant a combination of high-quality perennial plots along with four-season annual plots on my small tracts. Due to the extreme heat/drought and weed competition that I normally experience in the summer months, I plant a combination of perennial plots and four-season annual plots in the fall.

My perennial plots consist of a blend of ladino clover/chicory or alfalfa/chicory. My four-season annual plots consist of a blend of cowpeas, winter peas, oats, triticale, Arrowleaf clover, sweet clover, vetch and chicory. These perennial and four-season annual plots provide the right amount of year-round attraction and nutrition to keep the deer on my property all year long and allow them to grow to their full potential. By providing my deer everything they need in these small plots, they have little or no reason to travel to neighboring properties in search of food.

Accessing Plots: Next, you will face the challenge of transporting equipment and accessing often remote areas to plant these plots. Traditionally, food plots have been planted in areas that are easily accessible to tractors and/or large equipment. However, these smaller plots in remote areas will require smaller equipment. You can use a small tractor and multiple tillage (disc, plow, and/or tiller) and planting implements (drop seeder, spreader or grain drill).

If you don’t have a small tractor, you can use an ATV or UTV (such a JD Gator, Polaris Ranger, or Kawasaki Mule) and small ATV implements to plant these plots. I prefer to use an ATV/UTV (4WD — 300 cc or larger) with a 3-foot Plotmaster unit to access these remote areas to plant my small plots. Due to its compact design and ability to do everything from discing, plowing and planting and cultipacking the soil, the Plotmaster is ideal for planting food plots in rough, hard-to-get-to places. Rather than transporting multiple implements and making multiple passes, I can easily transport the Plotmaster and plant my plots in a single pass with minimal time and effort. With this set-up, you can successfully plant food plots virtually anywhere on your property, including firebreaks, small openings in planted pines, cut-overs, swamps and wooded areas.

These remote, isolated areas are where mature bucks spend the majority of their time. Providing an attractive, year-round food source near a known bedding area in these remote areas is the key to harvesting mature bucks consistently and can only be accomplished with a setup similar to the one described above.

If you don’t have good bedding areas for deer on your property, you can establish bedding areas by cutting down less-desired trees, such as sweet gums, to create piles of blowdowns. Or you can plant strips of corn, Egyptian wheat and/or native warm-season grasses throughout your property. Once you create these bedding areas, you want to make sure not to travel within or disturb these areas. Over time, these undisturbed bedding areas will become sanctuaries for your deer.

By locating food plots near established bedding areas, deer do not have to travel as far to feed. Mature bucks tend to feel more secure and travel more often, especially during daylight hours, in these isolated places. As a result, hunting in these areas provides a better chance of harvesting trophy-class bucks during legal shooting hours.

The author puts in a small food plot. “My son and daughter both harvested their first deer on small 1/2-acre plots. Both deer were taken within 75 yards, and both were standing still,” said Blaine.

Approach: When hunting small food plots on small tracts, you need to pay special attention to how you approach these plots and to the wind direction. Make sure you do not disturb the deer going to your stand or let your scent blow into the bedding areas. Always approach these plots from the downwind side, preferably using a well-maintained road or trail.

Young Guns: The best reason of all to plant small plots is because it is much easier for young and/or inexperienced hunters to harvest deer (especially mature bucks) on small food plots. Most of us realize that trying to make a good shot on a rut-crazed buck chasing a doe in the middle of a 40-acre soybean field can be a daunting task even for the most seasoned hunters. Young and/or inexperienced hunters in the grip of an adrenaline rush and “buck fever” have little chance of harvesting a mature buck in this situation. Also, these large plots often mean long-distance shots for youngsters. Shots more than 100 yards can present problems for many young hunters.

Small food plots can help solve this problem by providing relatively short-yardage shots at calm, standing deer. My son and daughter both harvested their first deer on small 1/2-acre plots. Both deer were taken within 75 yards, and both were standing still. In these smaller, isolated plots, the bucks are there mostly to feed, not to chase does.

Whenever you are hunting with youngsters, it’s best to choose some type of enclosed stand or box blind if you can. Kids are full of energy, and deer hunting can get old quickly (sometimes about 10 minutes after you arrive). It helps to pack a favorite game, iPod or book to help pass the time. Anything that helps keep movement to a minimum dramatically increases their chances of harvesting a mature buck. Perhaps most important, enclosed stands keep you and your kids out of the weather and will make their outdoor experience much more pleasurable.

Spend some time hunting with a youngster this deer season. Perhaps it’s one of your children, your grandchildren or a niece or nephew. Whatever the circumstances, kids hunting small plots on small tracts go hand-in-hand. If you ask me, that makes all the work worthwhile. Protect the future of our great sport, and take a kid deer hunting the next time you go to the woods.

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