Though some purists think hunting over a food plot is no different than baiting and detest the practice, there is no denying they are here to stay and are responsible for one of the fastest growing segments of the hunting industry.
The trouble with food plots, however, is that they can be very expensive to prepare, plant and maintain. To get around the spiraling costs of designer seed and chemicals, it helps to think more like a farmer than a hunter.
Ask a farmer if he has ever used Roundup brand Glyphosate from Sam's Club at $50 a quart and he'll look at you like you are crazy.
Glyphosate and other chemicals is a good place to start exposing some food plot myths.
Glysophate is a crucial tool in the preparation and maintenance of food plots. It kills unwanted plants and has no ground action. It also leaves Glyphosate-ready plants unharmed once they start growing.
An adequate herbicide in this group contains 41 percemt Glyphosate. Round Up brand works very well and can be purchased in bulk concentrate, but generics do as good a job as the name brand and can be purchased for a fraction of the cost.
Instead of $50 per quart, you can buy 2.5 gallons of similar concentrate in an off-brand for about $40. Try Tractor Supply or any Rural King. Both are chains with stores scattered across the Midwest.
To kill grasses without harming clover, buy a select herbicide called Clethodim 26.4 percent. It is sold as Arrow 2 EC and can usually be purchased by the gallon at the same stores as Glyphosate in the stores mentioned. To buy the equivalent from a hunting food plot company would cost 10 times as much.
To kill broadleaf weeds without harming clover, look for an herbicide called Butyrac 24DB. It does a spectacular job and can be purchased in 2.5-gallon containers for a lot less than similar, quart-sized herbicides distributed at places like Gander Mountain, Cabela's and Bass Pro.
For hunter/farmers who tend large sections of ground on behalf of wildlife, it is worth going directly to a county co-op to buy chemicals and seed in bulk. Co-ops that don't carry specific seed for food plots almost always have the ability to order them.
Because there are restrictions on some chemicals, and some seed companies do not allow the sale of their seeds to anyone without registration, there may be some paper work to complete ahead of planting season.
Hard to find chemicals can also be purchased inexpensively online at www.keystonepestsolutions.com.
Lessons in the field
There are a lot of untold truths about food plot seeds as well.
Though seeds from places like Whitetail Institute are excellent and are directly responsible for the biggest deer I have ever killed in Indiana, comparable seeds can be purchased for a lot less. Though bulk seed doesn't often have the coatings and research included with designer seeds, they are generally good enough for most hunters.
For bulk seeds not available at the local co-op, try www.welterseed.com for a much better price than the big outdoor stores. Outlets like Welter also allow hunters to custom mix their seeds and create a private blend, something not possible with store-bought mixes.
Perhaps the most important food plot fact overlooked by hunters pertains to the equipment used to build them.
There are several small disc and harrow sets designed to be pulled by an ATV. Even the biggest ones say they are rated for any ATV 500cc or bigger.
After buying a disc/cultipacker implement designed to be pulled by a smaller ATV, I purchased a 700cc Yamaha to be safe. What I quickly found was that unless the ground was level and very dry, the disc was far too big and heavy to cut dirt using the ATV.
After watching the ATV overheat the second time, I realized I didn't have the right tool for the job.
I moved up to a new John Deere, 33-horse, four-wheel-drive diesel tractor. The bad news for everyone still trying to get by with an ATV is that it is just barely strong enough to get the job done.
To truly get into the food plot game, hunters need to think big and spring for a large tractor with big tires and lots of horsepower. Used tractors are everywhere and can typically be purchased for the same amount of money as the most powerful ATV.
The other alternative is to drill seeds into the soil and not till or disc at all. There are several machines on the market that do a good job of this, but all are cost prohibitive for most part-time hunters. Count on a good drill costing four times as much as a small disc/cultipacker implement.
Most farmers who plant commercial crops no-till, periodically disc the soil anyway to stop soil compaction. For the hunter who can only afford one implement, a disc or tiller is really the only way to go.
Make no mistake, products made and marketed specifically for hunter's food plots are the source of some of the most spectacular patches of food in the woods, but deer can't read labels and will eat cheap food as enthusiastically as the gourmet stuff.