TOP EIGHT steps to successful food plots
1) Test Prevailing Wind Patterns: Let Them Work for You
Each potential location for your food plots should be evaluated during the season you are likely to be using it.
Some of this may seem simple, but you would be surprised how many food plots I have seen that were planted without taking wind conditions into account. These plots may serve well for habitat management but not necessarily for hunting food plots.
Consider where the deer will enter. Will they be coming from a trail, sticking close to the brush for cover? Envision the potential shape of your plot. Before planting consider these factors, so you can make maximum use of the spot you have picked.
And donít forget about the access routes. You have to be able to get in and out undetected as well when you are hunting your food plots and doing maintenance etc. So keep the prevailing wind in mind when planning your food plots. It could make or break your hunting strategy.
2) Play Into Natural Behaviors: Use Natural Elements for Cover
In order to feel safe, deer like to be close to a natural escape route. Cover is their main concern. They may enter into your food plots easier if they are next to or surrounded by woods, thick brush, high corn or tall grass varieties. Deer tend to move along the edges of the woods because it is safe. This is also where the new growth is found because of the change in sunlight levels. So make sure your food plots are selected with natural elements of cover available.
3) Think Maximum Interface
The old adage, “Go Big or Go Home” does not apply here. Your food plots don’t have to be big to be effective. In fact, a series of well planned smaller food plots are more successful in 80% of cases, especially in the day. The deer feel safer in smaller plots during the daylight hours. For example, we use small brassica plots for winter attractant.
The bigger locations are often frequented at night when darkness is providing the cover the deer need. If there is no natural interface, consider planting a series of rapidly growing brush trees along the margin of your food plots to provide maximum interface area. The use of tall growing grasses and corn can also be considered.
4) Donít Just Bull Doze Like You Are Building A Freeway!
Leaving a couple of islands can be advantageous when considering natural buck behavior. Bucks will rarely venture out into the center of food plots, even the small ones. They often prefer to stay inside the tree line. The island can give the illusion that the buck can get closer to the does in your deer plots without revealing himself.
5) Find a Perimeter Trail
Find a perimeter trail that goes into the prevailing wind. Consider locating your food plots within several hundred meters of the trail. Deer rarely venture off a perimeter trail unless there is something good. Once your food plots are established close to the trails, this is easy buffet feeding for them. One of the big problems with deer plots in some areas is the deer locating them. This will help to ensure traffic close to the plot and more success in finding your succulent morsels to begin with.
6) The Mighty Soil Test
I know, can’t we just skip this step? Well, sure you can, but it is not recommended. Just the thought waiting for the test results, trying to figure out what the report says, and what to do with the information is enough for most people to say to heck with it. 50 % of people say “Let’s just plant something”.
A word of warning here: The test is only as good as the sample submitted. If soil collection is done properly you will get a wealth of useful information. If collection is done poorly, you will have poor results. Some of you may consider skipping the complete version in lieu of a pH test done at home. If you are aiming for your best possible food plot, then pH is only part of the picture. It is worth the money to send the soil samples to an agricultural testing facility near you. If you tell them what is growing there now and what you intend to grow they can help you with lime and fertilizer requirements.
7) Be Aggressive With The Weed Enemy In Your First Year
Before you get too fancy spend time in your food plots getting control of weeds and soil conditions. By nature, most of us are impatient. Settling in and taking your time in this phase will improve not only this plot but the future ones as well.
I have tried the short cuts. Like my Dad used to say, “If you have time to do it twice, you have time to do it right the first time!” To demonstrate what I mean, let’s say you intend on converting an existing grass field into your deer plot. Commit the first spring and early summer for site preparation and weed control. Your best bet is seeding in late July or early August with an annual forage choice. Planting dates can vary depending on where you are located.
Let the grass grow three or four inches this spring and spray the field with Roundup: right around mid May. After the burn down it is time to till the field. You have to put this work into this. If you cut corners here you’ll be the one in the forum asking why your results were disappointing. You should count on having some re-growth. You will usually need a second spraying after three or four inches of new growth; likely late June or early July. Two sprayings should do a pretty good job of weed control, if it takes three, do three! Continue with only tillage. This will keep the field clean, but it won’t get rid of all the weed competition.
Each time you do any tillage you expose more weed seed for growth. By the time these weed control measures are completed, it will likely by July. The last week of July through the first week of August is the time frame you should be looking at for a late summer planting. Weather will always dictate how good the planting will be, but you should get weed free growth for your fall or winter food plots.
8) ANNUALS ARE KING: If you are new to plotting or this is the first time for this deer plot location, then I believe that you should consider annuals
Annuals only grow for one year.
Examples of this are: rapeseed, annual rye grass, and chicory. I have found that choosing an annual first gives you another spring to deal with weed control issues. If you want to establish a perennial crop later, you don’t want weed control problems to undue a crop that has the potential to be fruitful for 2-5 years. Being smart in this way, can save you time and money.
There are lots of options for annuals but here are two of the EASIEST OPTIONS I have come across based on trial and error in my area. Rapeseed comes up quick and generally can hold its own when there is some weed competition. Deer typically don’t use this forage until it has frozen hard a couple times, but for late-season bow hunting this is a phenomenal choice.
During mid-December this past year, while it was really cold, my rapeseed paddock was just getting hammered.
Chicory is often a good first choice if the whitetail deer in your area do not yet “yard”, or winter, on your property. Chicory has the reputation for being a perennial but in my area it doesn’t really seem to come back as well the following years.
I treat it as an annual in order to get a healthy stand every year. We have tried almost every product out there and then made decisions about those crops we really wanted to use. Those decisions were based on crop success, long term crop rotation management considerations, and the intent to provide some year-round crops for deer attractants.
Dr. Judy McFarlen www.diydeerfoodplots.com/ Veterinarian, Alberta Rancher, and publisher of Deer Food Plots Made Easy, Dr. Judy McFarlen has helped a large number of novice and experienced deer food plotters establish and improve their whitetail deer food plots.
From deer food plot location strategies to seed selection, this text is a nuts and bolts kind of reading. It is guaranteed to make sense to even to the most inexperienced grower.