Which Shapes Are Deer Magnets for Bow Hunting Food Plots?
Let’s be real. There is no single magic solution when it comes to bow hunting. Or at least nobody’s mentioned it if they’ve discovered it (and they probably wouldn’t). That’s what keeps deer hunters on their toes, and eager to try new things to improve their odds. Luckily, there are a couple things you can try yet this summer to really come close to a magic solution. Food plot shapes and terrain features are as close to magic as you’ll find. Whether used in isolation or together, they offer a tremendous way to consistently draw deer into bow range. So why don’t more bow hunters use bow hunting food plots to their advantage? They may just think that if a food plot is enough to draw a deer in, then they can depend on luck for the shot. Or they may misunderstand that deer are inherently lazy animals like us. If there’s a way to avoid going straight up a hill or through a dense brush pile, they’ll happily find and use it.
If you don’t already use this powerful combination of shapes and terrain to increase your deer hunting success, here are a few reasons why they work, and how you can start using them this summer in your bow hunting food plots. It may take some sweat equity, but the payoff this fall is worth it.
Why Do Food Plot Shapes Work?
Honestly, the food plot design and layout defines deer movement more than almost any other factor within it. Sure, they may be more attracted to different plants for deer food plots if it’s a plot with a few varieties. But food plot size and shape will ultimately determine how they move through it. For example, a 4 acre square or circle food plot acts as a destination feeding area since it is so has so little edge and deer can wander throughout it all night. But a long and linear deer food plot design is too narrow to really let deer graze for very long before they move on down the line. Smaller and narrower clearings are the best for bow hunting food plots because they concentrate deer into a small area that you can shoot at. While you might see lots of deer in the large open plots, they’re not good for hunting plots since deer can walk by out of range.
Speaking of which, there are three popular options when it comes to the best food plot shapes for whitetail hunting: the hourglass, L- or V-shape, or the wandering path. If you’re considering a few food plot design ideas this summer, you might want to add them to your list.
Hourglass Food Plot Shape
Look at the hourglass food plot in the picture above (top left). Why is it so effective for deer hunting? Because deer will feed in the larger sections on each end, and inevitably make their way through the pinch point in the center to get to the other side. They’re actually very curious animals. As we mentioned, they don’t like to travel through the woods if it’s almost impenetrable, especially if they could simply walk through the open funnel of the food plot. One way to ensure they take the open field route is to pile the trees and brush you cleared in a line extending perpendicular to the pinch point, so if they try to sneak through the woods, they would be blocked by this brush wall. Consequently, this also provides a good access route with cover to your stand locations.
As you’re clearing new bow hunting food plots, you’ll want to make sure you leave some mature trees on each end of the pinch point for your stand locations. By locating your tree stand right on either end of the pinch point, depending on the wind conditions, you should be presented with an easy bow shot as they walk through. For this approach to work, you need the pinch point to only be 20 yards across at most, since your tree stand will likely be at least 10 yards into the woods for adequate cover. That means it would be a 10 yard shot to the edge of the woods nearest you and a 30 yard shot to the opposite woods line. In these close-range bow hunting situations, a Striker Magnum fixed-blade broadhead is perfect, since the wind shouldn’t be able to affect the flight path over such a short distance.
L- or V-shaped Food Plot
The reason these two food plot shapes (top center and top right of the image above) are so good is because they use the same principle as the hourglass shape. Deer will feed along the narrow lane until they reach the corner, and then feed along the other side. This is especially useful for rutting bucks, which will run the entire length of these small food plots to look for does and leaves scrapes along the field edges.
For these food plot shapes to work well for bows, you need to make sure the lanes are only 20 yards wide at most, just like the hourglass food plot. If they’re much wider than that, you could face a difficult bow shot should a buck travel the opposite edge too closely. For these bow hunting food plots, your tree stand should be located at the corner or the bend of the plot. An inside corner stand should theoretically give you more shot opportunities (e.g., in front and out to each side), but if the wind doesn’t work for that kind of setup, you can hunt the outside corner too. Basically, play the wind to your advantage and pick which one will give you the best access route.
Wandering Path Food Plot
You’re probably noticing the common theme here. Narrow, small food plots are the best kill plots for deer since their layout makes a wary buck more comfortable to use it during daylight hours. Large and open food plot shapes aren’t inviting for a gun- or bow-shy buck. He’ll wait until well after dark before he risks showing his head out there. But for a food plot that’s more of a wandering trail (bottom food plot in the top image), a buck feels secure with cover all around him, which will make it more likely for you to get a shot during daylight hours. Even so, sometimes the wariest deer wait until last light. In those cases, you need an excellent bow sight with an LED light to help you see the pins until legal shooting light truly disappears. The Optix XR2 bow sight offers a smart pin technology to adjust your pin distance without coming out of center alignment, and also comes with a free LED light kit for low-light shots.
For this food plot design, the best tree stand locations are along the length of it wherever you can find adequate cover. The nice thing about these smaller kill plots is that you can enter and exit them with very little chance of spooking a feeding deer. Theses bow hunting food plots are so small that deer likely won’t stay long enough for it to be a problem. Instead, they’ll grab a mouthful here, wander 10 yards, grab another mouthful, and continue until they’re out of sight. For this reason, it’s helpful to position these linear food plots between a larger destination field and a bedding area. In the morning, you can wait on the lanes for deer to return to their beds, and be waiting for them in the evening as they make their way toward the big fields.
Terrain for Deer Hunting
The next almost-magical solution for better buck odds is to realize the importance of terrain for deer hunting. We’ll define it here as the topographic elevation changes of the land, as well as the land cover. As we mentioned earlier, deer will take the path of least resistance unless they’re forced to do otherwise. That means they’re not likely to travel straight up and down ridges; instead, they tend to travel along contour lines (elevation) on a topographic map or through saddles of ridges. You can use this to your advantage if you hunt bluff lands. Generally, deer will travel below the top of ridges, where they can still get a good vantage point, but not high enough that they will be sky-lined. However, they will bed out at the points of ridge tops. Instead of hunting at the top or bottom of the ridge, find a good deer trail three quarters of the way up for a tree stand, ideally leading to and from a ridge point bedding area. If you don’t hunt in bluff country, topography is still an important consideration, but on a smaller scale.
As far as the land cover goes, there are a couple habitat features you should watch out for. Deer are creatures of the edge, and prefer to travel along the intersection of two habitat types. As evidence, you’ll almost always find buck scrapes along a field or swamp edge, because two areas are coming together. For example, open hardwood forest meets agricultural field, alder swamp meets clear-cut forest, or switchgrass field meets spruce plantation. Focus your scouting on areas where habitats collide to find the most deer sign.
Another important land cover type is a natural funnel or pinch point. This happens when a habitat feature narrows down into a small area and widens out again. In the image above, you can see a narrow funnel of hardwood trees crossing an open, old field habitat. In this case, deer consistently travel within the security of the tree funnel instead of crossing the relatively open field. Effectively hunting it really only involves setting up a tree stand on the downwind side of the funnel, which places you on a habitat edge as well. Perfect.
Combining Food Plot Shapes and Terrain for Deer Hunting
As you’re contemplating the best hunting food plot ideas this summer, pay attention to the discussion above. Combining these two approaches can result in spectacular hunting opportunities. Start by locating some destination feeding fields and bedding areas using land cover and topography as your guide. Then find a consistent elevation with a habitat edge meeting along it (e.g., similar gradient where a swamp meets a forest). Along this edge, you could clear a wandering path food plot that travels between the feeding and bedding areas. Then, simply set up a few stands on whichever side of the trail has the best access points. Planting bow hunting food plots is almost always helpful for deer hunting, but designing one in this fashion is a winning combination that you should have it in your hunting bag of tricks.