With deer season on the horizon, hunters across the country are laying out every aspect of their hunting season. From tree stands to trail camera locations, the pre-season prep work often exceeds the number of hours we put on the stand during the season! One of the most time, and financial, consuming tasks we do is food plots. Though planting can take place during the spring and early summer, the dominating majority are planted in the late summer through early fall. These plots can be nutritious, but typically have one goal: bring deer into a harvest situation. Thus, the nickname “kill plots.”
But anyone who has shopped around for food plot seed, knows that there is a sea of species, mixes, and brands, often making it difficult to determine what is best for you and your property. So what do you need to consider when planning your food plots this season?
When Are You Hunting?
No not the time of day, but when during the season? I know that may seem like a dumb statement - “Until I kill one.” But it is focused around the attractiveness of certain food plot species at different times of the year. If you are a bowhunter, you likely want a plot that is most attractive the first half of the season since bow season usually opens earlier than gun. If you are simply a gun hunter, you may want to plant something that is more attractive later in the season. If you hunt all season then you might want to plant a “mix,” which contains both early and late season attractive species.
Early in the hunting season, deer experience a rapid change in food sources. Crops that have provided near endless nutrition all summer long will be harvested, leaving little behind. Soon after the season starts, the “ice cream of deer foods,” acorns, will begin to rain down. This will dramatically shift not only their food-focus, but also their movements in general. Often the fall/October lull hunters experience is caused by deer shifting their movement into the woods, and hunters remaining on earlier food sources like crop fields. With all of this going on, it makes it even more critical to plant the most attractive food plot to combat the alternative food sources. The fact is you will never outcompete the acorns completely. However, you can still pull deer into the plot.
Early season food plots typically contain an oats, wheat, triticale, or rye grain. The cereal grains sprout fast and are very attractive the moment they pop through the soil. Planted alone at rates of up to 100 pounds per acre, it is likely some of the most planted food plot species. Though planted months before, corn and soybeans left standing through the early season can be very effective, especially when larger, commercial fields have been harvested.
For those that hunt mainly during the latter part of the season, planting cereal grains or leaving summer crops standing may not be the most effective option. In the North, planting brassicas which include kale, rape, and turnips can provide a lot of food that is very attractive once a couple of hard freezes occur. Because deer don’t tend to find them attractive until the freezes, planting brassica in the South may be unproductive. Instead, planting something like daikon radish or annual clovers can attract deer later in the season, which in the South, often coincides with the rut.
This image is a great example of an “All Season” food plot mix, which contains cereal grains for early attraction and brassica and radish for mid to late season. (Jeremy Flinn photo)
What Equipment Do You Have?
Hunters often get discouraged when they hear the term “food plots” because these days it seems like you have to have a commercial farming operation to plant them. That’s not true at all. In fact, many hunters plant successful food plots each year with no more than a few hand tools and a backpack sprayer. Sure it may take a little more elbow grease, but that will likely generate more satisfaction when your plot draws in that giant buck this fall.
Often the first piece of equipment hunters think of when discussing food plots is a tractor. Now you don’t need a 200hp commercial ag unit to plant food plots, in fact smaller ones often work better, especially in tight areas. Most food plotters lean towards tractors under 75-horsepower in size. That’s big enough to do a few-acre destination feeding plot, yet still can get into a half acre kill plot. The important thing is finding the right size for you and your property.
If you aren’t in the market for a tractor, you can accomplish a lot with an ATV or UTV. Although you probably don’t want to have to plant more than a couple acres, it will do a great job on anything under one acre.
With tractors and an ATV/UTV it also is necessary to have the proper implements to get the job done. Anyone can plant a food plot with a sprayer (applying Roundup/Glyphosate to kill existing plants), disc or tiller to work the ground, and seeder or spreader to distribute the seed. Those three implements alone will give you a good food plot. But what about the guy with no equipment? I, for one, have planted a lot of “Poor Man” plots over the years, and some have been more successful than those I planted with equipment, seriously. The reason, in my opinion, is that I can get into tighter areas that are closer to bedding areas. Whether it’s a tractor or ATV/UTV, making a food plot is not the quietest task near a buck’s major bedding area. However, a backpack sprayer, rake, and hand crank seeder is relatively noiseless. Basically, you can create a solid “kill plot oasis” that will likely see more daylight activity than any of your larger food plots in which deer would have to travel longer distances to get to.
It’s Like Building a House
You wouldn’t put up the walls of a house without having a solid foundation first, so why would you plant seed without knowing the condition of the ground you are putting it into. Forget all the craziness around soil tests, eight out of ten food plots will need calcium/lime and nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) fertilizer. The ground you are planting has three main properties that will affect how your food plots grow: physical – which isn’t going to change often; chemical – we affect this most when adding calcium/lime for pH and NPK for nutrients; and biological – which is enhanced with specialized sprays like those from DeerGro (www.deergro.com).
Ensuring that you are creating a solid foundation for the food plot means that it will be more attractive and nutritious to the deer. Simply put, you will see more deer in it and head towards growing bigger deer because of it (along with better natural habitat). For about as little as half the cost of the seed you’re planting, you can amend the soil and create a strong foundation. You can get traditional lime and fertilizers through many local farm co-op stores, or look for more specialized spray applications like liquid calcium which works faster than traditional lime and lasts longer than liquid lime. Great for us who tend to wait until the last minute.
This season, put a little extra thought into the food plots you are planting. If you lay out a strategy you are much more likely to be successful at not only growing a great food plot, but harvesting deer over it this fall.
Got a question on Food Plots for Jeremy? Ask the Expert at http://www.deergro.com/ask-a-foodplot-question/