Create the Ultimate Hunting Plot – and make your own luck

By Michael Veine

 Food plots are generally broken down into two basic types: Feeding plots and hunting plots. The former are typically rather large in size and are designed to provide deer with maximum nutrition while also attracting and keeping deer on a property.

I have one feeding plot on my U.P. Michigan hunting property that spans about five acres in size and is centrally located on my land. Experts often advise avoiding feeding plots during the hunting season, which will keep a maximum number of deer using the food source, especially during daylight hours. I stay away from my feeding plot but will hunt trails leading to and from the big field. Mainly, though, I hunt my hunting plots.  

Hunting plots are typically rather small in size and are designed to provide ideal ambush opportunities. I set up stands right over hunting plots and often I’ll have multiple stands on the same plot to cover different situations.  

I have eight hunting plots on my U.P. hunting property. They vary in size from perhaps 500 square feet up to an acre in size. Most of them are accessible by an ATV or small tractor while the remainder are maintained strictly with hand tools. My main food plot forage choice over the years has always been Imperial Whitetail Clover; however I’ve also had good luck using Imperial No-Plow, Secret Spot and Chicory Plus. I also have a few special tricks up my sleeve to transform my hunting plots into the ultimate buck showplaces where every racked buck really wants to hang out.  

The best hunting plot setup I’ve ever hunted is a stand on my property I call “the Den Stand.” I once found a bear den nearby so the name was logical. It’s situated towards the back of my 160-acre property in a somewhat swampy area and is sandwiched in a saddle between two low ridges. A small stream flanks the setup which creates an awesome natural deer funnel. Eight adult bucks have been taken off that stand and it seems to be getting better and better every year.

Four years ago on Nov. 2 I took a 130-inch buck there that weighed 185 pounds dressed. The next year on Nov. 2 I arrowed a dandy 180-pound 8-pointer. Two years ago, you guessed it; on Nov. 2 I tagged another buck there;—a 205-pound 9-point that scored in the low 130s. For three years in a row I took a buck on Nov. 2 for the ultimate three-peat.

I always save that stand for the month of November when the area big bucks are on the prowl more than ever. I also only hunt that stand with a southerly wind. When the weatherman predicted a south wind at 5-10 mph for Nov. 2 this past season, an ear-to-ear grin formed across my face as I contemplated the real possibility of a four-peat. Unfortunately the weather was also unseasonably hot and the wind was gusty; not exactly ideal deer hunting conditions.  

Nevertheless, I climbed the 30-foot ascent into my tree stand and settled in for an all-day vigil. The day dragged by with no deer sightings until the evening shade began to cool the woods. The first deer to amble in was a 2-1/2 year-old with a smallish rack but a fairly robust body. I could have easily shot him if I had desired. I was holding out for at least a 3-1/2 year-old though, so I let him walk.  

A couple of does and a fawn showed up a little later. As soon as they entered the food plot, they began to feed in earnest. Suddenly my ears picked up the distinctive sound of antlers raking a tree to my west. I couldn’t see the buck, but it sounded heavy horned; kind of like someone smacking a wooden baseball bat up and down a tree. Eventually the buck came partially into view but he was still well out of bow range. He looked enormous. As the brute worked his darkly stained rack up and down a thick ash trunk, the size of his body came into clear view and it literally took my breath away. His neck looked to be the size of my waist and his rippling muscles flexed like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body-building prime. Despite the warm weather, the mere sight of him made my knees wobble.  

He slowly worked his way in my direction until one of the does, an old mature lady, departed and he casually strolled away after her and out of sight. Then the setting sun and ensuing darkness closed out any possibility for my four-peat.  

The next day was a carbon copy of the last. It was 75 degrees in the shade, so I skipped the mid-day hunt and hit the Den Stand at 2 p.m. for a focused evening hunt. Like the day before, the same chunky 2-1/2 year-old buck from the previous day made his appearance. A few minutes later, a yearling spike-horn joined him on the food plot. The yearling looked about a foot shorter than the bigger buck and it was only his totally submissive posture that allowed him to feed in such close proximity to the larger buck.  

When a couple of does wandered a bit too close, the bigger buck chased off after them, grunting all the way with his neck outstretched. I grinned knowing that the grunting and chasing were the best deer calls a hunter could ever wish for. It worked like a charm too, as just minutes later I heard a deer crunching through the dry leaves behind me. Slowly turning around, I spotted a big buck sauntering onto the scene. It wasn’t the same monarch I’d seen the evening before, but he certainly wasn’t a slouch either. He worked on an ash tree, digging his antlers through the bark, cambium layer, and deeply into the sapwood. The buck had a medium-sized rack, but it was his enormous body size that flipped the “shooter” switch in my mind. From that time on, I focused entirely on the shot.  

Eventually the buck walked right towards my stand, stopping straight down below my perch. One of the other bucks made a futile dash at one of the uninterested does and that prompted the big guy to head in that direction. I almost got a shot at 10 yards, but he moved before I could lock in. He then trotted out to 20 yards and stopped. As he stood there performing that cool-looking lip curl and sniffing routine often referred to as “flehmening” I beared down on him with my sights. The deer was standing in the shadows making the sight picture less than ideal, so when the arrow sprang from my Mathew’s bow, I really didn’t see where the arrow struck. However, at the shot he kicked up his hind feet and bolted away, plowing over anything in his path. I saw him run 50 yards and then heard him run another 50 yards. Then all was quiet, at least for a few minutes.  

I had barely calmed my nerves when I heard the same baseball-bat rubbing that I’d heard from the monster buck the evening before. I glanced over my shoulder and there he was, just 25 yards away rubbing a thick ash tree. With two buck tags in my pocket, I reloaded another arrow and waited for an opening. Unfortunately, the buck tracked around the food plot and when he hit the blood trail, he ambled off in the opposite direction, never offering me a shot.  

My nerves were completely tattered but I still managed to wait a full hour before I climbed down in total darkness. It took me another hour to unravel the 100-yard blood trail, but eventually I found my prize where he’d piled up in some waist-high swamp grass. The shot had been near perfect. As I photographed the big-bodied buck, a nearby pack of wolves erupted into a chorus of howling and some coyotes also chimed in from the opposite direction for good measure. I was glad I’d recovered the deer that night because leaving a deer overnight in that locale would have been extremely chancy.  

You can understand why I keep the food plot at the Den Stand gets plenty of TLC. I keep the pH as close to 7.0 as possible with regular lime applications. I’ve never tilled the plot and maintain it with just hand tools. Using a five-gallon, backpack sprayer, I apply selective herbicides to the Imperial Whitetail Clover every year to control the weeds and grass. Slay and Arrest work wonders to keep the clover free from unwanted competition. One area of the plot is too wet for clover during the spring, so I do an annual seeding of Imperial No-Plow on those locations after it dries up in the summer. I spray a glyphosphate-based herbicide on the No-Plow spots in early June. In early August I rake those spots with a wide leaf rake to clear away the duff and also loosen up the top of the dirt. I then broadcast the No-Plow with a hand-crank spreader.  

I fertilize the plot twice a year. In the spring I fertilize the Imperial Whitetail Clover liberally with a high phosphorus and potassium fertilizer using a hand crank, bag-style spreader. I fertilize the whole plot once again when I plant the No-Plow in early August. At that time, I use a fertilizer with a balanced percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. I sometimes use a weed-whacker to mow the clover once a year, but typically the deer keep it chewed down pretty good, negating the need for mowing.  

Another key to the Den Stand’s outstanding success is a nearby, preferred water source. Even though there is a flowing trout stream nearby, the deer really prefer to drink from a small water hole I dug by hand. The water table is pretty high at the site, so I just dug down about four feet deep with a shovel and tapped into the ground water. The deer use the hole so much that they cave in the banks and I’ve had to dig it out to regain the depth nearly every year. It draws deer like a magnet, so it’s well worth the effort.  

The plot is surrounded by a thick stand of brush and trees which make for some perfect signpost rubbing material. It’s not uncommon for the spot to have dozens of rubs visible from my stand.  

The area also receives plenty of scraping from local bucks as well. I always set up a few mock scrapes during early September. These scrapes are located under perfect licking branches which I sometimes have to trim and bend into shape. The locations of the mock scraps are always where I want a buck to stand for an easy bow shot, typically along the edge of the food plot. I have never failed to have my mock scrapes get turned into big, wide, primary scrapes that every buck in the area wants to work up.  

I hunt the spot from a tree stand during archery deer season. The spot required a very high stand to get above the thermals that the topography creates. Through trial and error, I finally settled on a tree stand location about 30-foot high in a big cedar tree. The spot is also hunted during the firearm deer season; however, the gun blind is situated on the top of a ridge about 50 yards to the north of the tree stand. It’s a ground blind made of piled-up logs with a roof. It offers the perfect setup for accurate shooting to cover the food plot and the trails leading to and from the site. Its location affords the ability to enter and exit the blind without spooking deer feeding in the food plot.  

The entry and exit route to the Den Stand was carefully planned and was actually the key reason I selected the site in the first place. I built a small walking bridge over the stream in a strategic spot where I can approach the Den stand below a ridge hidden from any deer that might be on the food plot. As I near the crest of the ridge, I have a spot marked on a tree along the trail where I can peek over the ridge to scan the food plot and surrounding area for deer. I rarely ever spook deer on my way to the stand. If deer are present, I simply wait until they leave before sneaking to the stand. Providing deer with a quality food source in an ideal hunting location is the perfect recipe for deer hunting success.