August 18, 2015
Watch some programs on Outdoor Channel and one might come away with the idea that to plant effective food plots, a bowhunter needs a charge account at the local John Deere dealership. You know, to buy the big boy tractors, farm implements and piles of seed that are necessary to grow and harvest big antlered whitetails each fall.
But that's simply not the case according to Heartland Bowhunter co-host Michael Hunsucker of Lee's Summit, Mo.
With nearly 100 episodes of the popular Outdoor Channel television show now under their belts, and with plenty of big mature white-tailed bucks up on the wall after eight seasons of filming; it certainly seems prudent to consider Hunsucker's advice in this matter.
In fact, he contends that for himself, for co-host Shawn Luchtel and for the rest of the HB crew, they actually do better each and every fall by planting smaller food plots, known as either micro food plots or kill plots.
Small as they might be in the overall scheme of things, such smaller whitetail chow halls are actually tailor made to help put big mature bucks in front of both the Heartland Bowhunter television cameras, not to mention in front of the respective hunter's compound bow each and every fall.
"Certain food plots are better for us as hunters," said Hunsucker. "Being bowhunters, yes, we plant a number of small kill plots to hunt over. For us, it can be better to have 10 plots a half-acre in size versus several five-acre plots."
Now, that's not to say that the Heartland Bowhunter crew doesn't plant bigger food plots, because they do. But they do so for reasons other than hunting success.
"We do plant destination type food plots," said Hunsucker. "For instance, we might plant five acres of (soy) beans, but we don't key on that for hunting. With those types of plots, we're trying to provide (food) for deer when there is no other food available."
But the purpose of micro food plots, or kill plots, is another story.
"All of our smaller kill plots are strategically placed," said Hunsucker. "We put them close to deer bedding cover so that whitetails can feed comfortably in secluded areas early on in the day.
"(As a general rule), they're not going to go out into big, wide open bean fields early in the day. But a ½-acre food plot tucked away into a secluded area of timber, that's just the kind of place they'll stop by and visit at first light."
In addition to making such spots attractive for a deer to stop by for a quick bite in early morning seclusion, Hunsucker said the HB crew works to put such micro food plots in easily accessible places.
"All of our kill plots are strategically located in places where we can access them easily (without much disturbance)," he said. "That's the number one thing for us (in terms of hunting such spots)."
What type of food resources do Hunsucker and the HB crew plant in their micro food plot rotation? Well, that depends.
"Deer prefer different things at different times of the year," he said. "Obviously, planting clover is a big thing (where we live and hunt)."
But there's more to planting effective food plots than simply pouring clover seed into the ground, whether it's a larger destination plot or a smaller micro food plot in question.
"In the Midwest, we have a lot of agricultural ground in production every year, so in the late summer and early fall, deer are keying on soybeans and such as their main food source," said Hunsucker.
"But they get off of those beans in mid to late September. After that, clover and alfalfa can be key, up until the first frost of the fall."
Once the autumn season's first freeze has happened, Hunsucker said that the deer in their part of the country will begin to key in on other things as browse begins to die away. That's when other food resources become important, things such as corn and short season brassicas, such as radishes, turnips and rape seed.
"Brassicas are the most palatable to deer after the first frost hits," said Hunsucker. "That's when they are sweet to deer."
By late winter, the deer are focusing on late season food plots and the remains of standing row crops like corn and soybeans in an effort to find maximum nutrition to make it through the cold weather season.
With all of that in mind, careful thought and planning is given to the location and design of micro food plots, carefully crafted spots that can produce great hunting at different times of the season with the availability of different food resources.
The bottom line for Hunsucker in all of this, whether he is planting a micro food plot to hunt over in the warmth of early season – or a cold weather destination plot for deer to find nutrition in when the snow is flying fast and furiously – is that variety really is the spice of life, especially for a whitetail deer, which must survive the yearly gamut of inclement weather conditions that range from cold to hot and wet to dry.
"There's always something that can be done to improve your odds on successfully tagging this game animal," said Hunsucker. Even if that effort is micro-size food plot, deep in the heartland home of big Midwestern whitetails.