Whitetails 365: The Kill Plot

By Tom Peplinski • Sponsored by Hunt of a Lifetime

I get a many questions about what to plant for food plots. It’s the biggest question whitetail hunters who plant food plots ask. More specifically, the question of what to plant for food plots inside timber. Small plots surrounded by cover, or logging roads? These small plots inside cover were given the label as “kill plots” some time ago and the nickname stuck. I call them interior plots. There was a time when I swore by the effectiveness of interior plots, but not so much anymore. So, should you plant small interior (kill plots) or not? And if so, what do you plant in them?

The answer is not a simple yes or no. It completely depends on the individual hunter/s amount of acreage or habitat they have to hunt and how much they plan to hunt. Small parcels of cover, say 100 acres or less of actual cover are rarely good candidates for the successful use of interior food plots. To get in, hunt, and exit an interior plot on a small parcel usually requires you to disturb deer even if just a little bit. Hunting this kind of plot repeatedly on a small parcel will burn the farm out quickly. Planting food inside the timber and not hunting it only results in keeping the deer inside the timber until after dark. Unless a hunter only plans on hunting a couple days a year, small interior plots will rarely benefit the hunter on small parcels.

Now, as you add acres, or add additional small parcels that you are able to hunt, the small interior plot can produce some great results. Let’s say a hunter can hunt several small parcels, or one large parcel, the use of small interior plots can be deadly. Why? Because the hunter can hunt throughout the season bouncing around between properties or on different parts of a larger farm. In this example, any one small interior plot will only be hunted once…maybe twice in the season. This lack of pressure can make these ambush spots deadly without burning out any of the small farms or the one larger farm.

The more you are able to hunt makes small interior plots less desirable when the amount of acreage you are able to hunt is low. The opposite is true if hunting less, or when you have more farms and/or acreage to hunt. This has been my experience. I’m not saying you can’t successfully hunt food plots in the timber on small parcels, but in my experience, you will burn out a farm quickly if this is done.

If you do decide on adding a small interior plot on your hunting land, there’s only one option when deciding what to plant…greens! I recommend a browse tolerant blend of brassicas with winter rye planted in late August or early September. Eagle Seed Company of Weiner, Arkansas is an excellent resource for your food plot needs. This has served me well over the years if and when I put in an interior plot or recommend one to another hunter. Try to maintain a pH of about 6.5, and fertilize per the soil test or with a few bags of triple 17 per acre if not soil testing.

Where are the Bucks Going?
The disappearing bucks phenomenon! The question goes something like this…I run cameras all year. Every year, I get pictures of great deer all summer long and into hunting season, but by the end of October the bucks are gone. Why?

This is actually a pretty easy question to answer. Bucks disappearing from your hunting area boils down to two things: Increased hunting pressure forcing deer to move to a different part of their home range off your property. Or you have great summer habitat and food but poor fall habitat and food. In some cases, a combination of increased hunting pressure and poor fall habitat and food can make for a very slow and frustrating fall hunting season.

Nothing illustrates this more than a farm that has no food plots, no habitat improvements, but still holds a ton of deer throughout fall just because nobody hunts the property. I have a farm near me that fits this bill every year. Nobody hunts the farm, but at first glance you’d expect very little deer to use the property since it is mostly cow pasture with minimal cover. It’s surrounded by “managed” farms with food plots and bedding cover. A ton of deer make their way to this property every fall and won’t leave it until after dark. The local hunters pound neighboring properties leaving this farm void of human pressure. Hunting pressure alone moves a bunch of deer from one part of their home range to another.

Another example is changing summer vs. fall habitat and food. I have permission to hunt a nice farm that is mostly open timber with crop fields adjacent to it. Every summer I see huge bucks exiting this timber and using alfalfa and soybeans field around its borders. Yet, without exception, these deer move on and leave the property all together by early to mid-October every year. The open timber provides great cool bedding during the heat of summer. The crop fields of lush greens supply all the food they need. But once fall comes, daytime browse is gone and the open timber provides little to no cover. Add in soybeans that turn brown, and alfalfa that takes a freezing or two, and deer literally move on. In fall, deer seek thicker cover, with abundant woody browse and fall food.

Hunting pressure and a lack of fall food and cover can make a summer hot spot seem like a desert come hunting season.

If you want to hold deer on your property during the entire hunting season, it really is as simple as providing good brushy cover and fall food, AND making sure human pressure is managed so that the local deer herd doesn’t feel as though they are being hunted. How you hunt a farm is entirely at your control. It doesn’t cost a dime to hunt a farm in a way that limits bumping deer. But it does take practice. Above anything else, how a farm is hunted will have the biggest impact as to how good it can be. And how great the hunting can be on it.

Next month I’ll be talking about timing your fall food plots and strategies I’ve used to make them attractive throughout the hunting season.