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GameKeepers Must Understand the Need to Adapt

Jeff Foxworthy | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine. To subscribe, click here.

bowhunter Mossy Oak

Bowhunting is one of the most rewarding pursuits for a gamekeeper. It can also be one of the most frustrating. Since I declared myself “bow-only” several years back, my only regret is that I didn’t start bow hunting when I was younger. One reason for the regret is obviously missing out on all those years that I could have been bowhunting, but also the fact that each year of experience allows you learn from your mistakes and make adjustments going forward. Some mistakes are easily correctable like my brother learning that you can’t eat biscuits and gravy and expect to see a deer, or like my friend John forgetting his quiver…three hunts in a row. Two hunts maybe, but three. Come on, man. 

One of my most vexing situations through the years has been when sitting on a field with a shooter buck feeding in it, but he always seems to be on the other side or out of bow range. On days like this, I review closely the details of my “bow only” oath to see if there are any “out clauses.” Finally a solution became clearer, we created small food plots in strategic places - so if a deer showed up to the food plot, you were going to have a shot. You still need your quiver…and you can’t eat biscuits and gravy, but it does eliminate the problem of the deer being out of range. These smaller plots are tucked closer into bedding areas and it makes it easy on a buck to stand up, stretch and go grab a bite to eat. The secret to this working well is making these plots feel secure. 

Bucks crave security and rarely, unless it’s the rut, will you get a buck out of his comfort zone. I also see bucks arriving at the places just a little earlier in the afternoon which often provides for a better shot. These small plots typically have trees all around them and maybe even a few scattered within them. I love it when you can do that. Not only are the surrounding trees a great place to hang a stand, but these trees help to create that “secure feeling” for your whitetails. 

We also fertilize these plots heavily, because gamekeepers know deer prefer highly fertilized food sources. It’s a great way to make your plot even more attractive. Each year on our property, we add a couple more of these “honey holes” and each year they become more and more popular. We have been able to take some good bucks from these spots as well as manage the doe population. If you can’t build some of these small plots and you’re challenged with large fields, go back to my fertilization tip. You can fertilize a fifty yard area in front of your stand and concentrate the utilization closer to you. It really works. It’s fascinating how deer can tell something is more nutritious or maybe it even tastes better…but given a choice a whitetail will always gravitate to a highly fertilized food source. 

Foxworthy buck

BioLogic has a water soluble fertilizer that can easily be sprayed called M.E.E.N. Green that works perfectly for this application. Catch a warm day in the fall and spray it over the foliage. It’s absorbed into the leaves and turns the plants a deep green. And believe me, it will draw deer. This tip works well when the rut is approaching. It concentrates does to the highly palatable food source thus attracting cruising bucks. Probably my most memorable hunt in one of these small food plots occurred last year just before Thanksgiving. I was able to get a good shot on a nice mature 8-pointer. You know, the shot where you text your buddies and say, “I just smoked an 8-pointer.” Sometimes that can be the kiss of death. So we started trailing the buck and the blood trail looked like it would produce antlers within 100 yards, but most gamekeepers know how tough a whitetail can be. We did eventually find the deer and I did make a pretty good shot, but I can’t lie that there was an adventure in between. 

At one point during the tracking process, I stepped in a hole and disappeared in the high undergrowth, which I didn’t think was near as funny as my buddies did. One of our party had the idea to move his truck around to the edge of a field that was in the direction the deer was heading. It was downhill from where the search started so we figured it would be an easier drag if the deer went very far. Well, the deer did go a-ways and at about the halfway point of the trail, we walked right past my friend who was so “deep in napping” that he never saw us. But, all’s well that ends well and that small food plot not only provided a shot on a good deer, but it was the beginning of stories that will last a lifetime. 

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