Deer hunting in the Midwest is as good as it gets. No matter if you are in the grassy plains of Kansas or deep in the hollers of southern Illinois, that first-glimpse-of-a-monster feeling is something that no one can explain to anyone that hasn’t experienced it themselves! Putting in the work all season by utilizing food plots as part of your strategy only makes that moment sweeter. One could say that a mature buck encounter over a food plot that you have created gives the true outdoorsman a sense of accomplishment, more than a stroke of luck. No matter how you describe it, food plots have become a very big part of deer hunting for good reason. In many parts of the country, deer simply go wherever the food is, and the placement of food plots is fairly benign. In the Midwest however, we have one major obstacle to overcome: There is food everywhere.
How can my food plots compete with major agricultural food sources? How can I increase the odds of a mature buck using the trail that goes by my stand? How do I get in and out of that area and utilize that food plot without getting blown? These are all factors that need to be addressed.

When it comes to food plot placement and set up, always start with the natural deer habits on your hunting property in mind. The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” resonates here. Whitetails are creatures of pattern, and these patterns “ain’t broke”. Today’s most accomplished hunters use these natural habits and travel patterns to their benefit. This is especially important in the Midwest, since the deer can literally do whatever they want and still be surrounded by food. If you only have access to plant a half acre or one acre of food, you can’t compete with one hundred acres of grain… Instead, you need to get smart.

I grew up hunting a farm that had 80 acres of timber. The north end was where the deer liked to bed, because it was thick with cedars, hedge, and more burrs and thorns than I like to remember. To the west, north and east, it was 100% open grass pasture, with some pretty thin soils and lots of slope. To the south, there was a large agricultural area that bordered a river that served as the primary food source for the whole area. For several years, seeded some Evolved Harvest ProVide Clover in to a couple corners of the pasture on the east side of this timber. The plots looked great, but my success in the tree-stand was certainly nothing to write about. These two spots were easy to seed down and easy to access, but they were not in high deer traffic areas. I put the time in and gained nothing… To say the least, I was pretty frustrated with the whole concept of using food plots to attract big deer. I had to come up with a better process.

After a heavy dose of failure, a little thought, and with the landowner’s approval; I decided to change my food plot approach completely. I decided that I was going to stop trying to alter the natural deer movement, and I developed a strategy to use the natural deer movement patterns to my benefit. First, I picked out an area that always had heavy deer sign, and where several trails converged in the heart of the timber. Then, I hired a small bulldozer to come clear and level off a short acre area for a transition food plot. Now, I would be completely crazy to think that my little acre of Evolved Harvest ShotPlot greens in middle of the timber was going to compete with that nearby river-bottom full of corn and soybeans… there is no doubt that stuff is good, but nothing is that good. I knew it wouldn’t change the primary food source for the deer in that area. My intent was, however, to take the quarter mile wide travel corridor, and give the deer a reason to walk within bow range of my stand as they traveled north and south between the bedding area and the river-bottom.

The other consideration I gave to this specific plot and stand location was my entry and exit. I liked this specific spot not only because it had an incredible amount of deer traffic, but also because it was easy to access. The tree-stand would be on the high side of an old creek-bed hanging above the east side of the food plot, and it looked like the perfect morning spot to set up between the main food source and the primary bedding area. I also knew the creek-bed would help me find the stand in the dark without the use of a flashlight and without a bunch of extra footsteps trying to locate the silhouette of a tree-stand in the moonlight (yeah, we’ve all been there). Then when the hunt was over and the sun was high, my exit would be hidden by walking out the creek in my same tracks. Nothing is ever perfect, but this spot was going to be special.

The excitement that food plots give me today go all the way back to the successes that I have experienced in that stand. In the four years after the “makeover”, I harvested two of the largest whitetails in my life out of that stand. Harvesting each one of those deer gave me a sense of pride that is hard to explain, and I can’t wait to hunt that set again this fall. All it took was a bit of strategy, a commitment to implement it, and time in the stand.

Anyone who hunts the Midwest understands the challenges that come with abundant food sources and big agriculture. Using natural deer patterns as part of your food plot strategy will undoubtedly increase your odds this fall. Good luck, have fun, and be safe out there!

James Tyler