Hunting Plots... A very useful tool
By Bob Coine
Are hunting plots a legitimate tool within a Quality Deer Management Program? Absolutely, if located properly, a hunting plot allows the hunter an opportunity to observe deer in a very relaxed environment. Relaxed observation affords the opportunity to make good choices as to which deer to harvest.
What types of decisions are there to be made? Doe vs. buck, young buck vs. mature are the most common choices, but for the Quality Deer Manager the choices go far deeper. Buck fawn vs. doe fawn, alpha doe vs. subordinate, can be the most critical decisions made by a hunter.
By observing a matriarchal family group of deer in a relaxed setting such as a hunting plot, the alpha doe is easily recognized. She is the leader, and all other deer in her group look to her for guidance. She is typically the eldest, most experienced deer, extremely cautious and very quick to keep the other members of her group in line. Most times, a lowering of her ears is enough to get her message across, but she also will not hesitate to kick and otherwise immediately cajole proper behavior from her family.
Early in our QDM program we made a concerted effort to tag these alpha does in order to allow easier harvest of the other adult does in her group. And it worked very well, the other deer in the group were less cautious and lingered later in the morning and appeared earlier in the afternoon over our hunting plots. Hunting an alpha doe can be every bit as challenging as hunting a mature buck. She is accustomed to avoiding danger not just for herself, but her present and past offspring as well.
Occasionally we may choose to harvest a tender young fawn for the table, but shooting a button buck would be counter productive to our management plan. An early season hunt over a hunting plot can allow careful observation of the fawns, in order to select a doe fawn.
Early season is the key in the more northern range of the whitetailed deer, as a summer coat does not conceal the differences between sexes. The buttons or early developing antlers are clearly visible, but even more striking is the shape of the head itself. A doe fawn has a rounded forehead as opposed to young of the year bucks, which have a flat forehead. Later in the season with the development of a winter coat, these differences become much more difficult to identify.
Given a good site selection for our hunting plot, and undetected stand entry and exit, these honey holes can remain productive throughout the hunting season. Does will attract bucks, and you will be amazed at fully mature bucks being visible in daylight in and around these locations. Tactics such as grunting and rattling on stand can be a real blast, especially if you are working diligently to balance the buck to doe ratio.
What to plant in a hunting plot is a very personal decision, based upon when that stand is likely to be hunted. Personally I prefer the most bang for the buck by planting a mixture of clover and alfalfa. These legumes are relatively inexpensive and I can expect more than one season of usefulness from this planting. In fact I have had some of these plots last as long as eight years with a little maintenance.
I find that these highly nutritious plots are used throughout the majority of our hunting season, from opening day until after snowfall. There is nothing wrong with getting more "exotic" in your choice of planting, utilizing deer specific legume and chicory seed mixes offered by some of the many seed companies. Brassicas can also be planted with the intention of a late season attractive crop, after the starch laden plant turns to sugar following several heavy frosts.
For graphic examples of site selection, planting techniques and seed varieties as well as actual hunts over hunting plots, check out the Building Whitetail Paradise DVD.