By Brad M. Mormann & Dr. Grant R. Woods
Closing the distance on a mature buck is more art than science. Throughout the off-season, hunters like us are continually challenging ourselves to think of new techniques or improve on old ones. One technique we are continually tweaking is the creation of "hidey-holes." Hidey-holes are miniature food plots designed to light up a buck's taste buds while drawing him in for a close shot. Hidey-holes are a great tool for bowhunting. So, follow along as we explain the why, where, when and how to make them work for you.
There are three main reasons for utilizing hidey-hole whitetail food plots: attraction, cost and effort.
Hidey-holes are crafty ways of combining the close encounters of trail hunting with the attractive power of food plots. The primary purpose is to make a mature buck's movements more predictable so you can maximize your hunting efforts.
Hidey-holes improve mature buck predictability by helping bucks accomplish their three major goals for the fall -- eating nutrient-rich forage, staying hidden and finding a date. Hidey-holes are heavily utilized by deer because they are nutrient hotspots. The nutrients come from well-fertilized and limed soil. Coupled with adequate sunlight and a shot or two of rain, a forage oasis sprouts up, tempting all passersby.
Attraction alone, however, only goes so far when a mature buck is in survival mode. How often have you hunted near a great looking two-acre corn, soybean or clover plot and never saw a buck, yet when you checked your trail camera, bucks where everywhere, but only at night? This is a common occurrence in larger food plots, because bucks have to leave their protective cover, something that just doesn't happen on a regular basis. Hidey-holes overcome this because of their size and proximity to cover.
Hidey-holes are not a "bucks only" technique, and any estrous doe that leaves her perfume throughout a hidey-hole will increase its attractiveness. With bucks and does stopping by to grab a snack on their way to a more substantial food source, the odds of getting a shot are good.
In addition to improved hunting, hidey-holes are relatively inexpensive in cost and time. In literally 45 minutes, a hidey-hole can be prepped, fertilized and seeded, while spending less than $10 per plot.
WHERE TO PLACE HIDEY-HOLES
Hidey-holes are only as effective as their location. The first consideration is whether the spot is huntable. Can you get in without creating disturbance? Is the wind dependable? Is there a suitable stand location downwind of the deer's expected approach? As frequently as possible, we try to locate stand sites near a road or trail that limits our scent and sound. In some instances, we even use a leaf blower to create clear path that nearly eliminates noise.
Wind is one of the most common deal breakers for any potential hidey-hole location. We tend to avoid are areas where air naturally swirls.
Finding or creating an area that receives at least four hours of sunlight each day is required to germinate seeds and produce an attractive food source. In wooded areas, it may mean locating a large fallen tree, utilizing a third-row pine thinning or removing a few trees to open up the canopy.
WHEN TO INSTALL HIDEY-HOLES
Create hidey-holes any time just prior to and during hunting season, as long as weather and soil conditions are such that the plants will germinate. Great hidey-hole plants are winter wheat, brassicas and clovers. Wheat and clover are cold hardy and will germinate at soil temperatures of 40 degrees and higher. Brassicas are also a good choice; however, they generally require soil temperatures of at least 50 degrees for rapid germination. Depending on local soil and weather conditions, the optimum time to hunt a hidey-hole is two-three weeks after planting. This will allow adequate germination, forage growth and time for deer to locate and begin consuming the forage. Due to their small size, hidey-holes can have a limited life span. So, creating several that are staggered over time will ensure undisturbed hunting locations throughout the season.
HOW TO CREATE HIDEY-HOLES
The tools required to create a hidey-hole largely depend on the location. The easiest hidey-hole to create is in a woodland setting where the canopy is open due to a fallen tree or other disturbance and only leaf litter is covering the soil. In this case, a rake or leaf blower can be used to remove the leaves and expose the soil. With rain in the forecast, the liberal application of fertilizer, pelletized lime and seed is all that is required. In areas where there is growing vegetation, tillage and/or herbicide application will be required. Since the goal is to have bare soil, thick vegetation growing in a hidey-hole will need to be mechanically removed, while sparse vegetation can be eliminated with a backpack sprayer and a broad-spectrum herbicide such as Roundup. A hidey-hole's sole purpose is to attract deer for a short period, so an area as small as 25-by-25 feet is sufficient.
After removing competition and leaf litter, use a handheld broadcaster to distribute fertilizer and lime throughout the hidey-hole. Then broadcast wheat at the equivalent of (120 lbs/acre), clover (10 lbs/acre), brassicas (3 lbs/acre) or a blend of your choice (See sidebar for calculating seeding rates). These plants germinate easily when broadcast, even in the less-than-desirable conditions of a hidey-hole plot. If a blend is chosen, application rates may be cut in half. Overall, there is no need to worry about applying too much seed, because in most cases seedling competition never occurs due to heavy grazing and seed consumption by non-target animals.
As with broadcasting any seed, rain plays a big role in the success of the hidey-hole. Planting just before a rain greatly improves seed germination by washing seeds into soil depressions and covering them with a fine layer of soil. Moist soils are necessary without rain, but a rain shower will ensure adequate soil moisture and seed-to-soil contact.
HIDEY-HOLE HUNTING TECHNIQUES
Hunting your hidey-hole food plot is the most delicate phase of the entire process. There are two aspects to remember: tread lightly and hunt timely. The first way to tread lightly is to hang a treestand or set a ground blind at the same time a hidey-hole is created. This requires knowledge of prevailing winds and potential thermal activity in each hidey-hole location. The time required for the hidey-hole to germinate will allow deer to become acclimated to the blind or stand. Secondly, the first time a hidey-hole is hunted will be the greatest opportunity to harvest a mature buck, so timing is everything.
Research has shown that warmer than average daytime temperatures suppresses daytime deer activity, so do not disturb your favorite hidey-hole on those days. Wait until weather conditions are in your favor. Once conditions are right, entering a hidey-hole requires stealth. The small nature of a hidey-hole allows deer to be within close proximity to escape cover, no matter where they stand within it. The security means that deer activity within a hidey-hole is not limited to dawn and dusk, but also periodically throughout the day. In some cases, this translates into an exciting stalk and successful harvest on your way to the stand.
The last important aspect is timing hidey-hole germination and optimum deer activity. Timing is largely dictated by the soil and weather conditions and degree of seed-to-soil contact at the time of planting. Determining timing for hunting is not a license to walk daily into a hidey-hole to check its progress. Only enter when an educated guess tells you it is time to hunt. Once the hunt is over, inspect the hidey-hole to see if the deer were actively using it, take notes and adjust timing for future hidey-hole hunts.