Several years ago I stumbled across an article in a hunting and fishing magazine that was talking about “Hunt Plots”. I immediately asked myself what the heck was a hunt plot? So I read the article and deemed it useful and from that moment on I have been implementing hunt plots on our family farm in southern Iowa.
Hunt plots have been extremely beneficial to myself and other people that hunt our property. The very first year of using hunt plots on our land my brother shot a 148” 8-point on the opening afternoon of the season and to follow that up I shot a 157” 10-pointer later in the year. The next season was just as good as my brother again shot a great 149” 9-pointer next to the same hunt plot I harvested my buck on the previous year. The following year was no exception either; a friend of the family tagged a 160” class 10-pionter on newly planted hunt plot we put in last summer.
We knew that the first year success could have been a right time right place scenario, but after three consecutive years of harvesting good bucks on our hunt plot technique we were convinced we were on to something with these so called hunt plots that I had read about.
Now its time to spread the wealth with our readers in hopes that you can build hunt plots into your hunting repertoire.
WHAT IS A HUNT PLOT?
So what is a hunt plot? First lets discuss what I think a food plot is first, because you will need to grab hold of the concept that a hunt plot and food plot have two different meanings. When I think of food plots I think of a 2-acre or larger tract of land that has been planted with deer browse. The purpose of these large plots should be to give the deer on your land a place to feed throughout the year, specifically during the winter, spring, and summer. These plots are typically planted wherever they can fit and sometimes next to little or no cover. On the flipside of the spectrum a hunt plot is a food plot on a smaller scale designed to give deer food during the fall, and the hunter a better chance to encounter a deer in a more secluded area of the property where whitetails feel safer to feed during shooting hours.
So what I am getting at is a hunt plot differs from a foodplot based off of size, location, and purpose. Hunt plots are smaller in size, placed in cover, and used primarily to give the hunter an added advantage during the hunting seasons. Whereas a food plots main purpose should be to give the deer food during the non-hunting months.
WHERE DO YOU PLANT HUNT PLOTS?
Hunt plots should be placed in or near cover next to heavy travel corridors and bedding areas. Never plant your hunt plot right next to a bedding area; all you will do is risk spooking deer from the area. Ideally a few hundred yards in between your hunt plot and bedding areas is what you are looking for. Furthermore do not set the plot directly on a heavy used trail. Instead place the hunt plot in close proximity to a trail about 20-30 yards away. I do this in order to keep the main trail intact and unimpeded. After your plot is complete deer will create trails that branch off of the main trail leading into your plot.
Since hunt plots are located in cover you need to look for areas of land in timber that can hold a hunt plot on your land. Look for already open areas that require little tree and brush removal. This will save time when you are ready to start building your plots.
HOW BIG AND HOW MANY HUNT PLOTS?
As I mentioned above hunt plots are small in comparison to food plots, typically no bigger than a ¼ acre to ½ acre. That is what makes hunt plots great; they are small in size so any piece of property can hold one or more. How many hunt plots you decide to plant depends upon the size of your land. My rule of thumb is one plot per 40-acres of land. If you hunt less than 40 acres I would stick to one hunt plot. If you hunt a large piece of property, say 320 acres or larger you can most certainly stick to the 40 acre rule but that depends upon the time and effort you want to put into hunt plots, as well as if the cover on your property can hold that many hunt plots.
If all else fails try and build at least two or three plots on your property as long you have room for them.
DOES THE SHAPE OF THE HUNT PLOT MATTER?
If you want an authentic looking hunt plot then yes the shape does matter. I plant my hunt plots in irregular shapes. Deer are smart creatures and if they see a perfectly round plot in the middle of their home they are going to wonder what is going on. By making your plots irregular or appearing that they are natural looking you will give the deer a false sense that this plot is supposed to be there.
I like to create two shapes of hunt plots; a boomerang and “S” shape. You can build any shape you want but I stick to my two shapes because they are easy to hunt around and it allows me to add bends into plots. Adding bends simply gives you the chance to add more realism to the plot.
WHEN SHOULD I PLANT A HUNT PLOT?
One of the main reasons that make hunt plots successful is they give deer a variety of food during the fall hunting seasons. Keep this in mind because if you plant too early deer will be hitting the area before you want them to and your plot will be ravaged and consumed before you get a chance to use it. You also don’t want to plant to late either. If you plate too late you risk not having enough growing season to get solid growth out of the seed you plant, resulting in a growth stunted plot. Along with planting too late you need to be out of your hunting area completely at least by late August so you don’t disrupt any deer patterns with the season being just around the corner
Typically I like to plant my hunt plots during late July or the early part of August. I know this is during the heat of the year but I have found it to be the perfect time to get a good solid plot ready for October. Cross your fingers that Mother Nature will help you out with some rain and some relatively cooler temperatures for this time of year.
Note that I seed my plots during late July and early August; you will need to start your prep work two-four weeks before you start planting.
HOW DO YOU PLANT A HUNT PLOT?
The best thing about planting hunt plots is that anyone can do it! They are fairly inexpensive and easy to build. In fact one person armed with a chainsaw, tiller, and elbow grease can knock out a few plots in a couple of weekends.
The first step is to know where you want to plant your hunt plots, what shape you are going for, and decide how many plots your land can hold. You have to analyze the lay of your land and locate bedding areas as well as major travel corridors. When you are looking for those areas note any piece of your property that might already be partially cleared, as mentioned early in the article these are great natural spots and they save preparation time.
Once you have your plan mapped out planting a hunt plot is the same as a normal food plot. You have to clear the land of any unwanted brush or trees, doing this will allow sunlight to hit your plot and promote seed growth. Along with brush and tree removal you will need to kill any weed growth with chemical and then prepare the earth for planting.
Hunt plots do require some equipment, but you don’t need a tractor or even an ATV for that matter. In all honesty I use a heavy-duty tiller and push power that I rent for the weekends I am working on my plots. In addition to a tiller and mower I use a rake for dirt work, a backpack sprayer for weed control, and a handheld seed broadcaster. I know this may sound like a lot to tackle but it really isn’t that much. If you have a small tractor or ATV with accessories and can get to your plot site then by all means go for it, but I am here to tell you large equipment is nice but not necessary. It is a use it if you have it, but don’t worry if you don’t have it concept because you can get by without it.
What you plant in your hunt plot is up to you. I usually go with a blend of perennial seeds so that I won’t have to replant year after year. You should use your first year hunt plots as your research year. If deer like what you are planting then continue with that selection the following years. If you notice that deer aren’t hitting your hunt plot then it might be wise to switch to a different choice for the next year. Your options of choices are endless, the best advice I can give is to consult a coop employee or an actual seed manufacturer and let them know what you are doing. They will give you the best options for your project.
Once you have your seeds down the rest is up to Mother Nature.
CAN I PLANT HUNT PLOTS AND FOOD PLOTS ON THE SAME LAND?
The answer is absolutely! As long as your land can hold a large food plot I say go for it. Just remember that hunt plots and food plots should be thought of as completely different. If you want to have a food plot and hunt plots on your land the food plot should be used to give your deer food during the winter, spring, and summer. The hunt plots should be used to get the deer to come eat in the comfort of cover during the fall hunting seasons.
HOW DO YOU HUNT “HUNT PLOTS”?
Hunting over hunt plots is the same as any other place you would hunt. You need to pay attention to the main travel corridors and the wind direction. Place your stand where the prevailing winds will sweep your scent away from the majority of approaching deer and the hunt plot itself.
My stands are usually 10 yards off of the plot tucked inside of timber. This just gives me added comfort that deer will not spook if they are using the plot and still allow me a shot into the plot itself.
Sometimes I won’t hunt over the plot at all; instead I will hunt the major trail heading to the plot. This has proven successful as I tagged the 157” buck I mentioned early in the article using this method.
Hopefully this article has shed some light on the hunt plot concept. These small tactical plots have been extremely beneficial to our family farm and have yielded some great deer for myself and others that hunt our farm. Hunt plots are by no means a 100% guarantee that you will harvest a giant buck, but they do add another element in the pursuit of those giant whitetails we strive to put a tag on year after year.
Remember that hunt plots are to be thought of as a small strategically placed food plot within the cover that deer use on your property. Spend some time analyzing your land this spring and implement some hunt plots for the upcoming seasons this fall.