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Hunting Plot-Checking Bucks

Hunting Plot

Given the choice of any two days, and two days only, on which to hunt whitetails, neither of my selections would be in November. At one time I would have scoffed at the notion of the best days not falling within the eleventh month. But we have tweaked our hunting style a bit in recent years and now kill a majority of our best bucks before and after the traditional rut hunting days.

What brought about this change is our experiences with the small hunting plot. We plant a number of small plots around the farm, a bit off the primary food source and set up with a solid wind advantage, along with good access. We often supplement the plot with a spin feeder to feed a little corn. But the goal is not to attract the bucks to food. It is to attract the bucks to the does who have been attracted to the food. Most of the bucks we kill in these small plots show little or no interest in feeding. They are checking out the does.

The prime days to catch them doing this is Halloween, and then again the thirteenth of December, give or take a day in either direction. We will get very few pictures of big bucks in our plots after the first few days of the season. They go completely underground for about three weeks. Then, on the thirtieth or thirty first of October it is as if someone flips a switch, and there they are.

After the first of November, daytime big buck sightings in the plots fall off as abruptly as they began due to the does avoiding them because of constant harassment by the bucks. Also, by this time there are probably some does ready to breed, and the bucks will be concentrated around them. When that happens it is time to quit hunting the plots and switch to the more traditional method of hunting funnels along travel routes and doe bedding areas.

We have observed the same behavior on or about the thirteenth of December. This would be about the right time for the does that did not get bred on the first go-around to be cycling again, and the bucks are once more patrolling the food sources to seek them out.

What always amazes me about these days is the precise timing. We have never noticed a variation of more than a single day in either October or December. The activity during these two short periods of time are the closest thing to predictable we have found in hunting mature bucks. We have taken advantage of this predictability over the years. We have been successful on a number of good bucks on these days, beginning with a 165 inch 9 point I killed on December 13, 2006 and including, among others, the 180 inch 11 point I shot in 2013 and a 160 inch 10 point my brother killed in 2008.

My 2013 buck was killed on November 1, David’s on Halloween, with  both bucks displaying classic plot-checking behavior. Neither showed the least interest in feeding and kept close to the edge of the plot. At the time of the shot, both showed every indication of being about to leave.

The plots certainly have some value as a spot to waylay a buck during the month of January, as the bucks get hungry and have to eat. But, as is often necessary to kill a feeding buck, it is hard to keep hunting a spot again and again in the hopes of catching one out early and not have him become wise to what you are doing. If he is feeding in the plot every night the odds are good that sooner or later he will catch on.

Small hunting plots have become our most effective tool for hunting mature bucks, and late October and mid-December are by far the best times to utilize them.

Henry Hershberger
Hillcrest Lumber

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