The Boomerang Food Plot by Russell H. Nitchman

A deer hunter's dream is to find a remote hunting spot with thick cover, a dependable food source, and one that attracts deer. Honey holes like this are “go to” spots where you are nearly guaranteed to see a deer and have the opportunity to harvest it. Spots like this are excellent places to harvest a mature buck as he feeds during daylight hours with the security cover only a few bounds away, or during the rut while he dogs a hot doe who frequents this spot. So how many spots are there like this? Not many. They are few and far between, and any hunter should consider himself lucky to have one. For those of us who lack one, this is where we can create such a spot as Craig and Neil Dougherty outline in their excellent book Grow 'Em Right.

I sought to do this very thing on the property that my wife and I own in central NY. The 104 acres is a mixture of woodlot on a mountain slope to the east, open fields in a valley, and swamp land with a stream, shrubs and some trees to the west. Four years before we had red pines removed along the base of the mountain area and over towards the swamp. Opening the forest canopy like this created a thick area for bedding, and a staging area for deer as they moved down the mountain and toward food at twilight. There probably is only a slim chance of catching a mature buck during daylight in one of the open fields that I have planted in a rich diversity of crops. With that in mind, the Doughertys' book triggered a new plan in my quest to manage whitetails and harvest mature bucks. Create an ideal, secluded food plot within the safety of the woods.

I had hunted the property for five seasons and had learned a good deal about how the deer utilized and moved on the property. I knew the major trails and travel routes. Following several weeks of contemplating these factors I chose an area where multiple trails intersected, just uphill from the thick cutover, about eighty to one hundred yards inside the field edge. Some of the trails there dropped down from off the mountain, while others traversed the mountain and paralleled the fields. Over the past two years this area had been a good place to capture both does and bucks on my digital camera. Considering the terrain as well, this area is a ledge at the base of the mountain, where it gently slopes down toward the larger fields. There are many food plot design layouts that can be used in the woods like this. They include the hour glass, the "S" shape, the boomerang, as well as others. I decided that the boomerang was the best choice for this particular area. I personally get a lot of joy out of dreaming about how to improve my property and its habitat. Being creative, a manager and influencer of the ecosystem is quite satisfying.

All these food plot designs are set up to pique a deer's curiosity and move them through the food plot. They also provide a place for an ambush that will allow the hunter a high percentage bow shot. In the boomerang the ambush site is set on the outside curve near the center of the boomerang. One last essential detail was needed in order to determine the exact location of the plot: where was a suitable tree for the stand site? I did not want a straight pole that the deer in my area would have an easy time picking off a hunter. A hemlock was the preferred tree. But there were none in this area. My next choice was either a tree with many branches or a multi-stemmed tree. In a dense woodlot, there was little chance of a tree with branches below the canopy at twenty feet from the ground. Fortunately, a double trunked sugar maple with decent mass was found in the general area where the outside of the boomerang would be. Even better, a few American Beech saplings were within a few feet and provided excellent cover and break up of a hunter's outline. This would be my sniper spot!

Armed with surveyor's tape, a modern day chain saw, a can of gas/oil mix, and bar oil, I entered the woodlot in the beginning of August. First, I had to mark the exact area where the food plot would be. Beginning at the stand site, the area was marked from there as terrain, deer trails and the predominant wind was used to my advantage. Again, planning is always key, rather than randomly dropping trees. Moving the tape to another tree is easier than re-growing a fifty year old tree.

I have had a good deal of experience in the woods dropping trees as an older teenager, and when I cut firewood for four years not long ago. I would not recommend anyone who has little or no experience to attempt to do this sort of thing without proper training and guidance. Your local chain saw dealer can hook you up with a chain saw safety class. Wearing safety gear like a face shield, safety hat, hearing protection, and special kevlar chaps to protect your legs from the saw, is essential. Chain saws are the most dangerous power tools out there and around twenty professionals die nationwide every year from accidents with them. Dropping trees weighing thousands of pounds presents multiple dangers that should be understood and taken seriously. It is highly recommended that you always cut wood with a buddy as an added precaution.

As trees began dropping I thought, "How hard could it be to open up my small area of the forest twenty to thirty yards wide and about one hundred yards long?" I figured carving this boomerang plot would take work, but that I could handle it fairly easily. I figured wrong! After two hours of only cutting trees down (one cut per tree), I was less than one quarter done. Another two hour session brought me to a little less than half done. Trees were lying all over the place, crossing this way and that. By this time I could hardly walk around as tangled trees littered the ground. I began to cut the trees into firewood length logs. Dozens of hours passed by. Thank God I am a teacher and have the summers off. But even when I only spent mornings until 11 AM doing the work, my wife and kids got tired of all the time it consumed. Two weeks into the work it looked like the great firewood god had dropped a mother lode in my woods. This was when I grabbed a bunch of my friends and we had a firewood removal "party". By the end of the weekend we had removed 10 cords of wood using a tractor and a sturdy trailer.

Removing tree tops is almost as much work as removing the logs. It is amazing how many branches there are at the top of a pole-like, mature tree! These tops, however, are very useful. They can be strategically placed around the food plot to funnel deer in at certain areas, and block other places, such as those directly behind the stand or downwind from the stand. By laying one set of branches one direction and another set the opposite direction, a formidable wall can be created that will block deer movements for years to come.

Following the work weekend, trees began to drop again and the previously log free area filled up again. By the end of August 16 cords of wood was lumped in a massive pile near my barn. The boomerang was a little more than half done. The days were getting shorter and I knew that I needed to get some crop planted before the warm growing temperatures left. With an acidic pH, and more than thirty tree stumps scattered throughout the opening, I decided that winter wheat would be the best choice for this fall. I could drop the rest of the trees following deer season and during my Christmas week off. Next spring the tree stumps could be dozed out, lime spread, and a greater diversity of crops planted. For now, this completed area would have to do.

I am fortunate to have a diesel tractor with various implements that I have bought over the past five years. Each year I have intentionally added a new implement for cultivating and creating food plots. I now have a three bottom plow, york rake, lane scraper, and cultipacker. I borrow a twelve foot disk from a local farmer. With all the stumps in the area I would not be able to plow, nor use the disk harrow. To prepare the site for planting I needed to expose the soil and get seed into it. I first drove the tractor around with the lane scraper (back blade) to rough up the leaves, soil, and remove the roots of small saplings. Next, the york rake was used to smooth out the seed bed a little better. Then wheat seed and fertilizer were spread, followed by a light york raking to mix it into the soil. Last, the cultipacker was pulled over to press any seed on top into the soil. The key here is good seed and soil contact.

Three weeks later there was a lush green field in the middle of my woods. The boomerang was next to the thick bedding and staging area where the red pines had been removed. A digital camera proved that this was an instant magnet for deer. Even better, the largest buck seen on the property, a 4 1/2 year old ten point, was caught on camera several times just before sunset. Though I never saw him there while hunting, I did harvest a mature doe at sunset on the opening evening of bow. She had no idea that I was there and never saw nor heard me draw back on her. It is proving to be an ideal set up.

This year I plan to plant a mixture of food for the deer which I hope will pull them to this spot even more. One key with a spot like this is not to overhunt it. With little pressure, the deer will feel safe throughout the season. As much work as this forest food plot was to construct, I intend to begin another "S" plot around 150 yards north of this one, and about the same distance from the fields. Having two honey holes will give me more options and allow more time to hunt without adding hunting pressure. For you brave souls crazy enough to join those of us on enhancing whitetail habitat in this radical way, welcome to the brotherhood. Happy hunting!!

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