For a lot of hunters across the country, food plots are the key to growing and holding big bucks. What used to be a 3 month deer season is now turning into a yearlong hobby and obsession. Here are some general food plot tips that can be implemented to help you grow more successful plots and bigger bucks.
1. Set a goal for your food plot. Is it a hunting plot or is it a feeding plot? This can help determine its size, shape, location, and what you plant. Hunting plots are typically smaller and narrower especially for bowhunting. A feeding plot can be treated like a sanctuary where the deer are never pressured and can feel safe feeding in the daytime.
2. Survey the neighboring properties. Determine what is offered to the deer on adjacent farms. You can capitalize by planting something the deer can’t get anywhere else. Or knowing there are agricultural beans all around you might mean you can get away with a small plot of forage beans without the deer wiping it out too quickly.
3. Select a good location that makes sense. It helps to stick a food plot where deer naturally pass by anyway. If it’s a hunting food plot, think about your stand sites and prevailing wind direction as well as your entering and exiting routes.
4. Avoid drought prone areas. If you have a choice, try not to choose a location in higher well drained areas with sandy or rocky soils.
5. Allow the plot to have 50% sunshine. Morning sun is better than the hot afternoon sun. If you’re butting a north and south food plot up against a woodlot, locate it on the east side of the woods as opposed to the west. A deer plot planted in the woods needs to have enough of the canopy open to allow for sunlight.
6. Make the plot large enough. Depending on your deer population, be sure you plant enough forage. If you are working with small acreages, choose a crop that will produce a lot of tonnage. A good rule of thumb is to have 5% of your property in food plots.
7. Timing is crucial. Follow the recommendations of the mix you are planting. For example, in my area I can’t plant soybeans until May once the soil reaches 60-65 degrees. Our buckwheat gets planted in late May or early June so it doesn’t go to seed before we can disc it for our late season food plots in August.
8. Give the deer year round nutrition. As Dr. Grant Woods says – if you want to hold deer, set the table. Try to have an early spring, summer, fall, and winter food for your deer herd. I realize it isn’t always possible to plant a clover plot, soybeans, turnips, and winter rye – but if you want to make the transition from fall deer hunter to deer manager, you have to set the table year round for your deer.
9. Estimate your budget. Food plots can get expensive with lime, fertilizer, seed, and herbicide. Not to mention the equipment costs and fuel. Price everything out per acre and figure out what it’s going to cost you before you get started. There is nothing worse than skipping a step like fertilizing or weed control because you’re over budget.
10. Get a soil sample. Take several samples from the food plot area and mix them together in a bucket. Then take a sub-sample from the bucket and send it in for testing. A $10-$15 soil test is the key to the success of your food plots.
11. Follow the recommendations of your soil test results. Always lime and fertilize as recommended. Most soils are low in phosphorus and tend to be acidic.
12. Prepare the seed bed. A well prepared bed is essential for germination. After spraying for weeds and grasses, work the ground with a disc or plow unless you plan to use a no-till drill. Prepare the ground according to the suggestions of the seed company. Good seed to soil contact is a must for a successful food plot.
13. Consider screening around a food plot. Making the deer feel safe will entice them to use the food plot during daylight hours. If there isn’t much natural cover close by, consider planting a perimeter of forage sorghum, native warm season grasses, corn, sunflowers, or Egyptian wheat.
14. Use an exclusion cage in your food plots. A small fenced off area where the deer can’t browse is a good indicator of browse pressure. Without a cage you may see your plot only lip high and think that it was a failure. You’ll have no idea the deer actually mowed it down indicating you might need to thin out some does or go with a bigger food plot.
15. Do not over hunt a food plot. There is no better way to trigger the deer into feeding only at night than to pressure them in your food plots. Be sure you can get in and out undetected and only sit when the wind is right. The less pressure on the deer the better a food source will be.
16. Use a trail camera. A camera can be a great tool for seeing when and where deer are entering the food plot. You may elect to set it on trigger motion or a setting that takes a picture every so many minutes regardless of motion. The Plot Watcher camera is made for setting up on food plots and may be a good choice.
17. Keep a record of your food plots. I like to keep track of every process of a food plot. I track how much lime I used, fertilizer, herbicide, etc. I also track the seed count, the planting process, how much rain we got, and the cost per acre. Anything you can track will only help you to improve on your food plot success the next year.
Planting food plots can be addicting not to mention you can manipulate the deer into coming within range of your location. Food plots are a great way to hold more deer on your property and to provide valuable nutrition for the wildlife in your area. Follow these food plot tips and enjoy the benefits it adds to your hunting property this season.