Should you plant a food plot?
The answer to this question is…it depends upon what your individual goals are. If you just want to hunt then a food plot is not a requirement. If you want to increase your odds of seeing animals then a food plot will certainly assist you there. If the local browse in your area is not ideal then planting a food plot could help the herd to reach their maximum potential. Depending on what you plant the plot may help reduce stress on the herd through the winter when browse is scarce. Reducing stress and providing a consistent food source helps to avoid disease or increases the chances of survival if one is contracted.
I used to be of the mindset that I’ll just put out corn. After sitting down and adding it all up it actually was cheaper to plant a food plot than keep a site stocked with corn. The plot stands a chance to provide not only more forage but better quality forage too.
Do I need to own lots of land?
I personally do not own any acreage but the landowners whose tracts I hunt allow me to plant food plots. These tracts are all 20 acres or less in size and my plots are all around 1/4 – 1/2 an acre. Additionally I don’t own any heavy equipment so I use my ATV, a few implements and some sweat equity to setup and establish the plots.
Some landowners might not be too keen on the idea of you breaking ground on their property but if you can do it in a manner that benefits the landowner your chances of getting permission to do so will be better. For example, on the properties I hunt today I have an agreement with the landowner to maintain parts of the property in exchange for the permission to hunt and plant food plots.
Something to consider with smaller plots is that you will be limited on what you can plant. For example in my 1/4 acre plots beans by themselves is not an option. This is because the deer will mow them to the ground before they have a chance to establish themselves. If you really want to incorporate beans though you can fence them off till they are tall enough to stand the browse pressure. Its not a bad idea to incorporate them in a mix with other seed either.
What should I plant?
This is a question lots of people ask and in reality there is no silver bullet when it comes to what to plant. There are several factors that need to be considered. One of those is what resources and equipment do you have available in order to establish the plot. In general the larger the seed the deeper you need to cover it. For example if you only have hand tools and a rake corn or beans might not be a good idea as you will be limited on your ability to till the ground and effectively cover the seed.
When planting plots I like to provide a good variety of plants for the deer. For instance this spring I planted Antler King’s Small Town Throw Down which is a blend of clover, chicory, kale, canola, buckwheat and rye. This fall I am going to plant it again but also incorporate some Lights Out to the mix to incorporate oats. So if you have a mix that just doesn’t contain all the variety you want feel free to mix a few of them together to get the blend you desire.
Also since I have limited equipment to open the plot up I like mixes that have smaller seeds. Ultimately if I could only plant one thing it would be a clover mix like Trophy Clover or Game Changer. Mainly because the seed is small but it generally with stands grazing pressure. In addition if maintained properly you can benefit from one planting for a few years. This helps to reduce opening the ground and introducing more weed seed.
When planting a plot its location can be critical to its perceived benefit. I say perceived because if you plant a small plot in the middle of a large open field it more than likely will not get visited much on daylight hours by those target bruiser bucks. Even then its not always a bad thing. If the browser is a preferred food source then deer will change their patterns to get to it. They may not be in the plot during day light hours but you may be able to determine their path from the bedding areas and setup to intercept them on their way.
Most of the plots I setup are along the woodline or on inside corners. Areas where deer feel comfortable existing security cover but knowing that its only a hop or two away. The down side is that in many cases this for me is near last light. When the rut fire up though bucks like to cruise these areas looking for does.
If you already have deer patterned and a stand hung it might be a good idea to deploy a plot in that location. You are already expecting the deer to be traveling that path but a plot would allow for an opportunity for a shot at a standing deer. Use existing knowledge and the lay of the land to your advantage in choosing a location.
Plot prep will of course be dependent upon what you have to work with. When I first started it was just a backpack sprayer, a push mower and a rake. I would push mow the area, spray it with glyphosate 41% or Round Up and then come back two weeks later to rake the ground, broadcast the seed, fertilizer and lime, then rake it to cover the seed.
I have learned its better to but the lime down in advance to give it time to break up and work into the soil. So now I spread the lime in February/March depending when the ground is open. Its ok if you cant do this but if you choose to put down the lime with the seed utilize fast acting lime. Its a little more expensive but it breaks down faster. The down side is that it also goes away faster as well and will have to be reapplied next year.
At the end of the day the most important thing is good seed to soil contact. That is essentially on order for the seed to germinate and take root. After that you just need a little moisture.
If you goal is to just get out enjoy nature and kill a deer then a food plot is not essential for that. If you want to give back more than you took, potentially help your local deer herd to grow to their maximum potential and to see more deer then a flood plot is a good way to accomplish those goals. In some cases it does require blood, sweat and tears to establish a food plot but once its established I’m sure you will find the effort worth it. Also bear in mind that the benefits of a food plot can be better realized over a period of time, so don’t get discouraged if year one things don’t live up to your expectations. Good luck this year and be safe! #healthierdeer # biggerbucks.
Craig Harvey – North Carolina