It's that time of year again.  While most people are trolling for walleyes on their favorite lakes, you’re out there assessing the condition of your food plot.  Do I need to lime this year?  Should I switch to a mix of clover and brassica?  How do I get rid of all those weeds that came up late last year?  The list goes on and on…..

I am going to make a bold statement.  Put up your trail cameras, get out of the woods, and blow the dust off your favorite fishing rod.  No more food plots this year.

In an age of Whitetail hunting where the discussion of food plots is as frequent as the buzzing of mosquitos, I’m sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes.  But, hear me out.

Where I hunt in Central Minnesota, there is plenty of agriculture.  During the months of May to November, sometimes longer, there is no shortage of food.  Pick a spot on a map and somewhere within a mile or two of that property you’ll find beans, corn, wheat, and a plethora of other goodies for Whitetails to feed on.  News Flash – the herd of deer that you’re hunting does not need your food plot to eat!  Most of the food sources these deer are targeting have been in existence for over 50 years, so don’t expect your 1 acre “Whitetail Green Mix” to bring them crawling in on their knees.

In the Midwest, hunting pressure can be extreme, especially during the month of November and the gun season.  Considering this, what do deer really need?  Cover.  Quality bedding and cover where they feel safe and can move around freely.  I typically hunt Whitetails in 5-7 different states every year.  I target food, without question, but the most important thing I look for is cover.  Where will deer be moving to and from in order to feed, and during the rut, where will they be spending the majority of their time chasing does.

Take for example my lease property here in Central Minnesota.  I have access to 120 acres of property that is surrounded by agriculture.  To the south of me is nearly 200 acres of soybeans, to the north over 500 acres of corn, more beans and alfalfa to the east, and a hayfield to the west.  On the southern 40 of the property that I hunt is a large opening, which was previously managed for pheasant hunting.  Over the past 15 years, this has overgrown with heavy CRP, mixed pines and poplar, and other varieties of brush that have created beautiful edges and excellent cover.

My initial response to this property was to build  food plots.  I mowed, burned, sprayed, tilled, and planted, until I had all of a sudden nearly run out of summer.  My two ½ acre food plots looked decent, all things considered, but I noticed a big problem.  Every time I came back to my plots to check the status of growth and review cameras, I was bumping deer out of the overgrown field!  It was then that I realized that I had something much more special in front of me.  The deer herd that I was hunting had more than enough food in the area to work on, but this particular 40 offered them something that was not available everywhere: cover.  This particular spot offered perfect overgrown cover next to a river, that easily allowed them to move to any of the food options available north, south, east or west.  I changed my game plan.  Instead of marching into the middle of this overgrown field, I started hunting the edges that transitioned to neighboring agriculture.  I received permission from neighbors to hunt property lines and small pockets where I picked up frequent deer movement.  Last year, it paid off.  I shot a 10 pointer in transition from the bedding on my lease property, to the western hayfield in late October.  I watched this deer make his way through the corridor out of my overgrown field, and had I been hunting this area as I planned to initially with my food plots, this buck most likely would have been bumped before even reaching my stand.

This is a very specific situation, and I appreciate everyone has their own experience with food plots and the benefits of creating them.  A few of my good friends own property in northern Minnesota where there is far less ag land.  A green field in this area can be absolutely dynamite – if you’re creating a new food source that does not exist in your area.

My position is this:  If you hunt in an area with agriculture, let the professionals (farmers) do the work for you.  Make your property into a sanctuary, and you’ll have something unique to hold deer in your area.

Andrew Murray

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