Clear-Cuts: Food Plots Of The Big Woods

Clear-Cuts: Food Plots Of The Big Woods

Manicured food plots and tractor work still have their place in the deer hunting community. But clear-cuts are a mecca for concentrated deer populations in the big woods. These areas can be the strategic hunting locations you've been searching for.

Clear-cuts can accommodate any hunting style, whether you prefer firearms or archery tackle, ambush hunting, or spot-and-stalk. Scouting a cut may seem daunting, especially if it's large, but you can find the right spot with the right approach.

The Buzz

Everyone who talks about big woods or public land hunting knows forest management is crucial. So, what is the benefit of hunting a cut?

After a logging operation has “clear-cut” the trees away, that area then naturally transforms into a food plot. While a ten-acre clover plot on public land might seem appealing, it isn't very helpful to wildlife or the hunter. Pound-for-pound, a clear-cut provides more food on big chunks of the public than any other food source. Deer are fast learners. If they don't devour that little clover plot overnight, they won't stick around when hunting pressure kicks in. This is where a clear-cut shines, offering a concentrated food source connected to dense cover that keeps deer hanging around.

After five to seven years, a cut will have enough food and cover to keep deer in and around it, even if there is heavy hunting pressure. The advantage a cut has over any other food plot is that there will be food through all phases of the season. As one food source fades, another will take its place. In the summer, there may be a berry crop. Next, white oak trees will start dropping acorns. After that, there will be green briar, woody browse, and maybe even grass that will tolerate cold weather.

See the progression? Understanding food sources at their peak will help you know when and where to concentrate your efforts.

Find the Water

Tony Peterson has taught me a thing or two about scouting for the right source. If you scout hard enough, you'll eventually find water sources inside a cut. Creeks are great because they make a hard edge if they run through the middle of a cut. At a crossing point, you can set up for a wide-open shot. Crossings are also the perfect place for a trail camera set.

While creeks are fantastic whitetail magnets, hidden waterholes are where the magic truly happens. When locked down in a thick cut or on the move, every deer knows where to go for a quick drink. Spring-fed holes will be consistent, but keep an eye on the weather. After rain, old tire ruts or bowls made by felled trees fill with water. Deer know this; if the food is nearby by that freshened water, you better be ready for a shot.

Funnels and Pinch Points

A hunter can expect defined deer movement around a clear-cut. They are full of funnels and pinches that are just right for hunting with any weapon. It is common to find a deer trail around the entire border of a clear-cut, and junctions where another trail enters and exits can provide a great stand location for hunters with rifles or bows. Adding a scrape at such sites can make them an ideal spot for a mid to late-October hunt. However, you need to be mindful because these spots are easy to find, and there will be pressure from other hunters. Hunting on a weekday is a great way to avoid that pressure.

During logging operations, trucks driving over the same areas create a network of roads. In time, the area around the truck lanes will fill in with new growth. Use these roads for access deep into a cut while they remain clear. Hunt from the ground if an opening in cover allows. Uncut trees usually provide openings around them large enough to provide opportunities for a shot.

Pre-scouting Goes a Long Way

My first public land deer was one I pulled out of a clear-cut. I'll always remember the 10-point buck's frame twisting through thick saplings to drink from the waterhole below my perch. Like most whitetail hunters, I wrestled with where I wanted to sit the night before the hunt. Because of the scouting efforts I'd made a few months before the season, I decided to sit a waterhole on the interior of the cut.

My other option was to sit on the outside edge of the cut on intersecting trails. I was unsure of that plan because the spot was experiencing some hunting pressure. I had high hopes when I opted to sit above the waterhole.

I knew bucks were starting to seek does in heat and that their coats were thick. It was warm for October, so I knew they'd have to find water. I loved every minute of that hunt, including the heart-thumping meeting when a bear considered climbing into my tree.

You'll never regret knowing a spot well enough to make decisions that buy you encounters. E-scouting is a great tool, and onX is the best tool for the job. Clear-cuts stand out like a sore thumb on satellite images, and onX has made it even easier by allowing you to turn on the timber cut layer. With this layer, you'll see reported cuts and the year they were created.

Be aware of new cuts that have yet to appear in a report, though. Before you head to the closest piece of timber, use the recent imagery toggle to look at fresh maps. They may reveal the recently finished cut that hasn't shown up on the base map. You may even be able to see the progression of a cut and what it looks like with foliage around its edges.

The Wrap

If you plan your hunting strategy carefully, finding a clear-cut large enough could be the perfect spot for your entire whitetail vacation. However, it's important to focus on fundamentals. This includes identifying pinch points, funnels, food sources, and cover. And don't forget to consider wind direction and positioning yourself in a spot where deer are likely to be at the right time. Remember that deer will not be complacent, and successful hunting requires hard work, that good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.

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