To Plant or Not to Plant
Every hunter can be divided into one of two categories: Those of us who have food plots, and those who don’t. No matter which of these categories you may fall into, there is a likelihood that you appreciate the work that goes into creating an outdoor dining experience for the animals that we hunt.
It’s not just about designing a place to hunt over anymore. It’s about developing genetic lines, improving the quality of your soil, and possibly even increasing property value. Once you’ve acquired the land, and after you’ve determined that your wildlife should have their very own 24-hour buffet on that land, then it’s your priority to create those food plots in the most efficient and effective ways possible.
If you’ve got neighboring properties that may draw the deer away from your land, then a food plot is the perfect way to keep the animals close to home.
We each have our own way of doing things, and I’m not here to lay down the law on exactly how you should design your food plots. I am here, however, to give my advice on how I like to create my own.
Location, Location, Location
One absolute necessity for every potential food plot designer is a topographical map. This will give you an exact layout of the land, and may also provide hints as to what patterns your wildlife is already following. If you have a specific area that you would like to draw your deer into, then you might want to make it as easy as possible for them to get safely to and from the food plot.
Also, keep in mind that if your property has a water source on it, then this is a resource that can go hand in hand with your food source. It gives the animals more than just one reason to stay in that area.
Thinking like a deer will ultimately give you an advantage, such as keeping it convenient for them to get from a bedding area, via a heavily wooded highway, directly into their new favorite food source.
Timing Is Everything
When do you begin preparing your food plot? What months are best for the beginning stages? How late is too late to put your seeds down?
There really is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. It’s perfectly normal to worry that our investment may not give us a great return. If this is your first food plot, and it’s your first year to plant anything in the soil, then don’t be surprised if your plot doesn’t look like it belongs on the cover of a magazine. It may take a while to get it right. The important thing is that you’ve taken the first step, and you’re on your way to success.
Spring planting and fall planting can both be successful, but both require similar processes. Testing the PH levels of your soil, liming, and turning the soil over are all typical stages of the food plot process. Possibly the most important part of the entire program is deciding what you would like to plant, and what the most effective strategy will be.
Perennial or Annual?
Perennials will typically last a couple years, and some have been known to last for up to 5 years without re-seeding. A clover base for your food plot is a great way to begin, and it’s perfectly acceptable to plant it in the fall. You won’t have as many weeds to compete with in the fall, and clover will green early enough to attract the deer before season opens. Clover is a perennial, so it is much less maintenance than people may think. If you want a mixture of food for your deer, then brassica, wheat, or oats are complimentary to a clover base. If you replant your perennials every two years you should have a regrowth result. With a little research of your own you may find that one brand of seed will be more complimentary to your soil type. Also, keep in mind that there are other perennials besides clover that work wonders as a food source.
If you want to increase antler growth and the overall health of your deer population, then you may want to consider planting a high protein annual in with your base seed. The most popular for whitetail food plots are typically in the brassica group, which include rape, radish, kale, and turnips. These are perfect for your deer because of their digestibility, and they can produce around 8 tons of forage per acre.
I do have a good reason for suggesting planting one of these annuals along with your perennials. If you plant a clover base, for example, with a radish complimentary side dish, then you’ll have both an early and a late season food source for the deer. The clover greens early, while the deer likely won’t touch the radish until after the first frost when they become sweet. If you live in an area with heavy snowfall then you may notice the deer digging in the snow to uncover the brassica as a late season treat.
There are unlimited options when it comes to designing your food plot, so get creative. I personally like to put a variety of food out so that the animals have options, and by keeping notes of what they eat, and when, I can customize their food sources for the next season.
Keep Them Interested
Even if you have a limited area to grow food, or if you simply want to enhance the already existing food sources for the herd, it is possible to plant a variety of foods that will give the deer a continuous diet of healthy food. Winter wheat is a great fall or winter food source in areas where other food sources aren’t thriving due to climate extremes or overpopulation. After the winter months the deer will likely flock to the clover fields to graze and to keep up their high protein diets in preparation for growing just a little bigger in the upcoming year. From there they will be attracted to soybeans when the summer heat has them bedding down mid-day and feeding in the mornings and evenings. As the season changes, once again, the deer will search out the high protein crops that will get them through the cold weather. All of this, obviously, would be taking place on my dream food plot. The plot in my mind where everything grows from perfect soil, and where the deer instinctively know to stay on my property instead of my neighbors. It’s not impossible, but giving the deer a variety of foods to choose from is the key. Just like all of us, they go to where the food is.
What I Mean By ‘The Perfect Food Plot
My idea of ‘perfect’ may not be the same as anybody else’s. We all have a common goal when we design our food plots, and that is to provide a food source to the animal population that promotes their health and keeps them on our property as much as possible. To achieve this goal we must take the first step of testing the soil. Without good soil it just isn’t possible to grow good plants. Testing your soil will give you an idea of the potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen levels in your dirt, as well as how much lime you may need in order to raise the pH level. Your pH level will be indicated on a scale of 0 – 14, with 7 being neutral. The basic idea behind finding a good pH level is to ensure that your plants are getting the proper amount of nutrients to grow into big healthy greens. Keep in mind that if you need to add lime to the soil, you may need to do that a few months before you actually want to plant any seeds.
When in Doubt
We live in a world of information overload. When you are in the midst of planning your food plot remember that you can often join online forums to talk with people who are working on a similar project. Many websites are dedicated specifically to keeping us up on the most recent advice and trends in the world of enticing deer to dine on our property.
Depending on where you live, and what your specific dirt situation is, it’s highly likely that you’ll find somebody else out there who has a similar story. Information overload isn’t necessarily a good thing, but in this case it can be extremely helpful.
With so many variables and options, it’s nearly impossible to define the word ‘perfect’ when it comes to food plots. When you’ve succeeded in getting the plants to grow, and when you’ve noticed the deer are enjoying the results of your hard work, you will then be able to define ‘perfect’ in your own way.