Whitetail Hunting photo

Illustration by Robert L. Prince

A three-layer planting and hunting strategy for mature bucks.

When deer bed deep in the woods, it can be hard to predict where to hunt them in the evening. Instead of guessing, channel deer to your stand with a pyramid of food plots. Here’s how it works.

1. The Mini Plot
At the apex of the pyramid, establish a 1⁄8-acre food plot in a natural clearing, trail, or logging road. Put it far back in the woods, as close as you dare to a buck’s bedding area. Since this is near his daytime hangout, skip the ATV and power tools. Walk in, clear leaves, then rake in a shade-tolerant mix such as Whitetail Institute No-Plow, and get out.

2. The Fruit Grove
The middle food source, 100 to 200 yards from evening ag fields, should become a sweet spot for deer. Make a large clearing and plant fruit trees and edible shrubs covering 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 acre. Go big with 10 to 20 large apple or pear trees (or a mix of the two) that will bear fruit in a year or two. For more food and better cover, add shrubs such as strawberry bush, raspberry, or Chickasaw plum. Hinge-cut a few trees along the perimeter to open the canopy.

3. The Large Plot
Right where the forest meets the field edge, push back into the woods with a 3⁄4- to 2-acre food plot. Plant brassicas, clover, wheat, or oats in strips at this broad spot, where bucks will likely arrive just before dark. To spur deer movement down the pyramid, clear paths between the three areas.

How to Hunt It
The season and the wariness of the bucks you’re targeting should determine where you set up. Hunt the mini plot if bucks are spooky and moving late. Head to the fruit grove when a cold front moves through and deer are seeking high-sugar calories, or when the pre-rut has bucks less skittish and moving earlier. Rifle hunt the large food plot during the seek-and-chase phase when unpressured, hormonal bucks are trailing does.