In years past, there has been a lot of deer hunting material and a smattering of western big game stuff to go along with it. With our big Colorado adventure coming up in 3 weeks, white-tailed deer have been in the background at best in recent months.

This fall, I’m teaching (again) an undergraduate course titled ‘Wildlife Food Plot Establishment’. In the first lecture, I talk a little about what is and what is not a true food plot and then discuss a bit of the economics involved. The most interesting bit of the opening lecture is a breakdown of the per acre cost of establishing a food plot.

I know this a common question that hunters have so I’m going to write up what we chatted about last Thursday in class.

Soil sample – $10 – don’t skip this step. Either you are going to spread too much lime and fertilizer and waste money – not likely – or you are going to skimp on how much the soil actually needs and get subpar results from your planting efforts – likely.

Lime – $100 – This is based on the average figure of an acre of freshly turned, never planted soil needing roughly 2 tons of bulk ag lime ($50/ton if delivered by truck) to raise the pH in the soil. If you go the 50 pound bag route, you are looking at spending roughly triple for the same amount of lime.

Fertilizer – $100 – Again, very rough average numbers but an opening dose of 250 pounds of 8-12-12 is pretty reasonable. At $20/bag, you’re again at the century mark.

Seed – $50 – highly variable depending on what you want to plant, but two things to keep in mind here. #1 – Deer love wheat! Research shows time and again that the most highly preferred deer forage is wheat. It’s also cheap. Some cool season mixture of a few clovers with oats/wheat should run you somewhere about $50/acre. #2 – If you are buying seed for food plots with a picture of big buck on the bag, you are wasting money. Go to a feed/seed store and mix your own food plot seed combinations.

Initial herbicide application – $20 – Burn the area with Roundup, disc a week later, whatever germinates back, burn it again with Roundup. Follow the recommended application rate on the bottle and herbicide applications are not near as expensive as most people think. This will kill off most broad leaf competition.

Follow up application of something like 2,4-D to control a Johnson grass invasion – $10. Again, pretty cheap as long as you don’t overreact and spray 10X the recommended dose in which case spraying can get expensive.

A couple things I left out, initial land clearing cost (easy as a bush axe and weedeat or as complicated and expensive as a dozer/mulcher), cost of diesel (tractor work), etc.

Bottom line is that if you are doing food plots right, $300 is sort of a baseline cost to expect when establishing new food plots. This information is out there but can be hard to get a clearcut explanation of the figures that are thrown out. Hopefully this resource will help somebody out this fall when planning their hunting expense budget.