Food Plots and Sources for Deer
Understanding whitetail feeding patterns and habits in your area will go a long way to improving your chances of success.
Deer generally eat the types of food that offers the most nutritional value during certain times of the year. Concentrate on the types of food a deer will be eat during the fall and winter seasons as this will be when you are actually hunting them. Foods during this time include: green vegetation, stems and buds of wood plants, corn, alfalfa, soybeans, clover, nuts, apples and acorns.
In the early fall, deer will usually feed on the overabundance of green vegetation. This type of food offers the highest nutritional value at this time. As a result, pinpointing specific feeding areas will be hard as greens can be found all over the forest. Once these greens are no longer available, the deer will seek out acorns and browse for nourishment. The preferred trees in browse areas include redbark dogwood, black ash saplings and mountain maples. You should look for dead tips on stems in areas abundant with the whitetail's preferred browsing food.
Wherever white-oak acorns are found, you can bet the deer will be there also. Whitetails love this food source and will gorge themselves on them whenever possible. Other foods that are highly attractive are apples and various food-plot foods. Remember, as food sources and cover changes, so will travel routes and bedding areas in order to be within closer proximity of both.
In areas where water is abundant, deer will choose certain areas from which to drink. In addition, they know exactly where these areas are so they spend very little time wondering the forest looking for water. It is also believed that mature bucks will seek out lesser used sources in order to remain alone.
All deer live within what is called their “home range”. This area includes everything the whitetail needs to survive: food, cover, and water. These home ranges are comparable to our neighborhoods. Some home ranges can measure 5 miles wide, but most are much smaller. However, during the deer rut, bucks will leave their home range in search for receptive does.
Home ranges can also vary depending on the time of year. Deer often have separate summer ranges and fall/winter ranges. Once you learn a whitetails home range, you are one step closer to filling your tag.
If you really want to understand the deer in your area it is imperative that you conduct as much scouting as possible. This doesn’t begin and end with pre-season scouting. Rather, to fully grasp the whitetails behavior patterns you must conduct year-round scouting. Because deer patterns are constantly changing due to weather, available cover, and food sources, scouting a few weeks before the season only provides a small amount of information.
Pre-season scouting during the summer will ultimately reveal where the deer will be living and feeding when the season starts. Deer in late summer patterns are typically easier to kill when the season starts because they have not been pressured and are not expecting to encounter humans. Just be careful not to disturb the deer during this time because you run the risk of spooking them and hurting your chances of success. Scouting during the first and last hours of daylight will typically yield the best results for deer sightings; especially when scouting in cornfields, or clover and alfalfa food plots.
All pre-season scouting will be advantageous during the initial weeks of the season. After that, cover and food availability will alter deer patterns and the deer hunters must conduct more scouting to pinpoint deer locations.
In order to stay abreast with the ever changing patterns of the whitetail, it is important to conduct some in-season scouting. Scouting during this time will provide information that can be immediately used. A good method is to scout with a climbing treestand and then hunt any areas of interest immediately. The first time you hunt an area is usually the best.
The utmost care must be given during this time of year as not to disturb the deer you are scouting. If spooked, the deer may not return to the area until after the hunting season. This is unlike other times of year when the deer will not pay as much attention to human intrusion. Scouting during the middle of the day will help you avoid disturbing deer as they will be most active early and late in the day. If the rut is near, concentrate your in-season scouting efforts to locating does.
Bedding areas are not necessarily a place that deer go to sleep. In fact, they rarely sleep because of their never ending alertness to danger. As a result, deer rest more than sleep. While resting, deer may nod-off or simply lay and chew their cud. A bed to a whitetail is not someplace dark and soft and a place they go to specifically for sleeping. Bedding areas are mainly for resting and chewing their cud.
Whitetail beds are typically found in areas that are dense, offer concealment, and allow the deer to detect approaching danger. Beds can typically be found in tall grasses, thickets and areas of good coverage. The bed is oval in shape and deer will have several within their core area.
Trails leading to and from bedding areas are good locations to hang treestands and wait for deer to head to feeding areas or return from them.
The locations that deer consume food are referred to as feeding areas. Depending on availability, these feeding areas can be close to the bedding areas. Food can consist of acorns, corn, soybean, clover, and a variety of other plants and shrubs.
When hunting pressure is high, deer will often change feeding locations or wait until darkness falls before getting up to feed. This can make for very difficult deer hunting conditions.
While some deer hunters don’t rely on deer rubs to locate their next hunting spot, many others believe in the value of them as an indicator of where bucks are and where they are going. Buck rubs are thought to do three things; remove velvet form antlers, establish a pecking order in the herd, and communicate with other deer in the area. Regardless of what theories you buy into, it is important to locate buck rubs in your area and figure out why they are there. Since buck rubs are made from August through January or longer, all three theories probably hold value.
Buck rubs found in late August through the start of the hunting season in mid-September will usualy be located near bedding areas. This deer will rub in the near vicinity of their beds. This is due to the fact that the deer rut hasn’t started yet and bucks are in their regular patterns in close proximity to their beds. These buck rubs will often be found back in the timber in dense areas. This can make them difficult to find if you are not looking in such areas.
If fresh rubs are not easily found, change locations or look for rubs from the previous year. This will prove a useful tactic as most bucks will return to the same areas year after year. As the rut approaches, look for rubs located near doe bedding and feeding areas as the bucks will no longer be spending the majority of time near their own home-ranges.
Sign Posting Info
In the whitetail world, communication is everything. Deer use various methods to convey info on one another. This information is usually transmitted via a process called “signposting”. This occurs when deer lick branches, rub their forehead on branches, and scrape the ground. The easiest means of locating such sign post areas is to look for the deer scrape on the gorund.
Heavy deer trails are a good place to begin looking for sign posts because this is where the majority of deer will be traveling and communication can be maximized. Look along these trails for overhanging limbs and braches where scent can be deposited and scrapes made. Any deer walking through the area will easily detect the information left behind by other deer. Bucks can determine which does in the area are in estrus, as well as who the dominant buck is.
Deer scrapes are basically pawed out areas on the forest floor that are primarily used for communication purposes by bucks. They will urinate on the pawed dirt, lick the branch overhanging the scrape, and deposit scent from their eyes as well as eyes on the branch. Scrape size can vary in range from mere inches to several feet. Scrapes are often times made at night in location bucks may only frequent during night, so hunting over them can be a tricky tactic. Scrapes can also be made over several miles within a buck’s home range. Not to mention, on average, bucks can make 200 scrapes in one year. This adds to the difficulty of narrowing down which scrape they are using.
Also, when examining deer scrapes, or walking near them, be especially cautious not to leave any scent on the ground. Bucks will naturally be using their noses more when around these areas. Bedding, feeding and staging areas are good places to find scrapes. In addition, anywhere a frequent amount of rubs are found, scrapes will typically be nearby.
Deer scrapes that are found near doe bedding areas, during the rut, can be great places to ambush a buck who is trolling unfamiliar territory looking for a hot doe. This puts the typically wary buck in a dangerous circumstance as they don’t know the area very well and they are less worried about safety and more concerned with finding love.
A good time to locate rubs and scrapes is during the pre-rut, just before breeding occurs.
Post-season scouting should be an essential part of your overall investigating efforts. During this time frame you can basically go anywhere you want without the worry of spooking deer. Conducting these scouting sessions as closely to the close of the season will also give you a better idea of how deer are behaving during the season. Sign is also easier to spot as the vegetation hasn’t completely covered up all clues.
Post season snow storms make scouting easier because you can simply fallow tracks into bedding and feeding areas. This will give you a good starting point for the following year.