Hunting > Whitetails

The Compass Points to Deer Foods

I learned a way to predict whitetail feeding patterns that I'm convinced will help me kill better bucks.

Two summers back, while attending a gathering dubbed the Food Plot Conference in upstate New York, I learned a way to predict whitetail feeding patterns that I'm convinced will help me kill better bucks. It is not, as you might be thinking, simply a matter of planting food plots and waiting for the bucks to come, although that is partly what principal speaker Neil Dougherty outlined for conference attendees. What really got my attention was Neil's presentation on "Planting By the Compass," because it struck me that the principle could apply to any deer-hunting scenario, no matter if the deer forage was provided by man or mother nature.


Neil is an authority on creating whitetail habitat and is in demand as a paid consultant to folks seeking to grow healthy herds and trophy bucks on their land. He also shares his expertise through books and a new "Deerscaping" DVD (northcountrywhitetails.com), and appears on The Outdoor Channel's "Deer and Deer Hunting TV." While Neil's lessons on food plots, habitat enhancement and hunting cover many topics, this one can potentially help most of us, especially when we're hunting unfamiliar ground.



For Dougherty, the compass points to food-plot productivity, because it allows him to predict how sunlight will affect soil moisture. Both elements are essential for growing plants, but too much hot afternoon sun can rob needed moisture from the soil. Conversely, too much shade on wet, poorly drained areas can likewise hinder growth. Therefore, he counsels land managers to prepare for either dry or wet growing seasons by establishing multiple plots where the amount and angle of sun will vary.


North- and east-facing areas receive morning sun when temperatures are cooler and dew blankets the ground, and thus those soils retain more moisture. South- and west-facing slopes take the sun's full force and dry out faster. In growing seasons where rainfall is below normal, northern and eastern exposures tend to outproduce southern and western exposures. The opposite occurs during cool, wet years.



As temperatures drop during hunting season, north-facing plantings tend to shut down earlier than those with southern exposure. During the season's final weeks, plots facing southwest will attract the heaviest attention.


These scenarios are most pronounced in hilly landscapes but the same can hold true in flatland plots encircled by tall trees, only then the soil moisture difference will occur from one side of the field to the other. Early in the day the east perimeter will be shaded, while the west soaks up moderate morning sunlight. Later on, while the east side bakes, the west is protected.
 Food plotters can manipulate these tendencies somewhat by choosing crops to suit expected moisture levels-clover for well-watered soils, alfalfa or chicory for dry ground. Hunters follow suit by moving their treestands from early-season magnets like clover or soybeans to brassicas and other cultivars that become more palatable to deer after the first frost.


The lesson is clear for those who hunt food plots: Pay attention to precipitation during the summer and early fall, and focus your attention where the sunlight-soil moisture ratio has been best for producing the succulent growth deer prefer. As the season progresses, if your property has plots with varied exposures, you'll find deer by following the compass.


Can this same strategy work on deer that primarily eat wild browse? Based on what I've observed and heard from professional deer managers, the answer is a qualified yes. When deer are feeding heavily on hard mast like acorns and beechnuts, the compass gambit won't work nearly as well. Furthermore, ag fields sowed in winter cover crops of wheat or rye will draw hungry whitetails away from wild food sources.


Mostly the compass strategy applies to clearcuts, forest openings, overgrown fields and habitat edges-places where direct sunlight hits low-growing plants for at least three or four hours a day. Those places offer a smorgasbord of browse like sedge and other grasses, maple, oakbrush, blackberry, honeysuckle, greenbrier, wintergreen, sumac and aspen. Soft mast like dogwood, persimmon and wild grape also proliferate along edges and in sunny clearings.


The key here is to stay abreast of rainfall throughout the growing season, then work the openings where sunlight and soil moisture combined to grow superior feed. As the weather grows cold, whitetails will tend to follow the compass from northern exposures to the east, south and southwest. Weather extremes, including too much or too little rain, an Indian summer or early, persistent snow, may change the pattern.


The lesson is clear for those who hunt food plots: Pay attention to precipitation during the summer and early fall, and focus your attention where the sunlight-soil moisture ratio has been best for producing the succulent growth deer prefer. As the season progresses, if your property has plots with varied exposures, you'll find deer by following the compass.


Can this same strategy work on deer that primarily eat wild browse? Based on what I've observed and heard from professional deer managers, the answer is a qualified yes. When deer are feeding heavily on hard mast like acorns and beechnuts, the compass gambit won't work nearly as well. Furthermore, ag fields sowed in winter cover crops of wheat or rye will draw hungry whitetails away from wild food sources.


Mostly the compass strategy applies to clearcuts, forest openings, overgrown fields and habitat edges-places where direct sunlight hits low-growing plants for at least three or four hours a day. Those places offer a smorgasbord of browse like sedge and other grasses, maple, oakbrush, blackberry, honeysuckle, greenbrier, wintergreen, sumac and aspen. Soft mast like dogwood, persimmon and wild grape also proliferate along edges and in sunny clearings.


The key here is to stay abreast of rainfall throughout the growing season, then work the openings where sunlight and soil moisture combined to grow superior feed. As the weather grows cold, whitetails will tend to follow the compass from northern exposures to the east, south and southwest. Weather extremes, including too much or too little rain, an Indian summer or early, persistent snow, may change the pattern.


Share |

Comments

ADD YOUR COMMENT

Enter your comments below, they will appear within 24 hours


Your Name


Your Email


Your Comment

No comments yet, be the first to leave one below.