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Hunting Deer Without Food Plots or Bait | Trail Camera Placement & Movement Patterning

Hunting Deer Without Food Plots or Bait | Trail Camera Placement & Movement Patterning
March 4, 2022

By: Dylan Hayward

One of the great things about hunting whitetails is they can be very predictable based on food. With the right amount of time and equipment, you can implement some great food plots and corn feeder setups and have a great herd coming in regularly.

But what happens when you don’t have that option? I have gained hunting permission to several pieces of land with the one condition being that I can’t bait and I can’t bring in farm equipment to create food plots. It’s a reasonable ask. A lot of landowners will be perfectly content with you hunting, but don’t necessarily want you disturbing the property with food plots, and a lot of nonhunters and even veteran hunters are turned off by the idea of baiting. This definitely makes the hunting more challenging, but in my opinion, can make it much more rewarding and in turn make you a better hunter overall.

There are still several ways to effectively hunt mature bucks without the use of food plots of bait.

Monitoring

If you’re unable to use bait or utilize food plots, or maybe you just want to try hunting without it, monitoring the deer herd becomes extremely important. On the properties that I don’t have food plots, I make sure that I have my cameras running all season long, that way I’m not missing out on a cruising buck that is just passing through for maybe only a day.

When it comes to using trail cameras, I like to use wireless. I never advise any hunter to constantly go onto the property, disturbing the land by checking the SD cards in their trail cameras. Set up some of the Tactacam Reveal X trail cameras on some heavily used trails and let them work for you. This way you will know what deer are cruising the property daily, without the risk of blowing deer out through SD card swaps.

Trust me, you’ll be thankful that you did.

Offseason Scouting

Since you won’t be using food plots or bait, it's crucial that you have a good understanding of what the deer are doing on the property you’re hunting. In the summer months, leading up to the start of the season, spend some time out on the property, checking for heavily used trails, oak trees that are producing acorns, natural browse that deer might be chewing on, and early season territory scrapes. I’ve been fortunate enough to kill several big bucks just by finding trail crossings, and setting up in a good wind position.

The timing of the deer movement might not be as predictable as a food plot or corn pile, but if you can find some worked trails in a nice oak or honey locust patch, odds are, there are deer coming through regularly.

Seize November

This is an absolute must. Make sure to take advantage of the constant deer movement in November. This is the time to put in your all day sits in transition spots. Most of the time in November, even on my properties with food plots, I will only hunt travel corridors.

The bucks are spending most of the time on their feet, looking for that next estrous doe, and food is far from the first thing on their mind. Just because there isn’t food on your property, doesn’t mean that a hot doe hasn’t traveled through with a buck not too far behind her.

I like to find pieces of open hardwoods just on the outside of some thick bedding areas. These open hardwoods tend to create a reverb effect with grunt calls and rattling antlers, allowing you to call bucks in from well over a hundred yards away, no food needed. As a whole, November is going to be your best time to get on a trophy whitetail, without the use of food.

Use Scrapes and Rubs as Your Bait

When I was hunting in Indiana a few years ago, my friend asked me “Where are we even going to place our trail cameras since we can’t legally put corn out?”. I responded, “Let’s just use a scrape or rub as bait. The bucks will be there”.

Sure enough, it worked like a charm.

If you can find a nice primary scrape in late October, early November, your chances of seeing a buck scent check that spot are very high. If you find a good rub line with what appears to be tall rubs, put a camera up and set up a treestand 20 yards downwind and you’re in for a treat.

If you can’t find a good primary scrape, get creative and make your own.

I would say about half of my trail camera set ups over scrapes are through my own creation. Scrape away the leaves, exposing just the dirt, preferably over a low hanging limb which the deer will use as a licking branch (studies show deer prefer oak as their licking branch) and if you feel the need, take a leak in the scrape you just made.

There are different theories on if human urine will attract a deer, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t tried it and wasn’t impressed with the results.

Being a Hunter Without Limits

As a hunter, I am not against baiting or using food plots in the slightest. I respect the hunting laws and regulations of each state and will always obey them, however, I enjoy using bait in the states that allow me to do so.

But I don’t let that limit me.

I think as hunters we can use bait and food plots as a crutch at times. If our food plots don’t turn out as good as we had hoped, we get discouraged and come to ridiculous conclusions that our deer season is over because of that.

This could not be further from the truth.

It might require a little extra work to find a prime spot without food or bait, but it is absolutely possible and will increase your knowledge and sharpen your hunting skills as a result. Be a hunter without limits.

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