Many deer and turkey hunters are realizing ways of keeping deer on their hunting property. The two most important factors in holding deer are cover and food. Other factors like hunting pressure and herd population come in to play as well, but as a general rule of thumb, if you can keep the pressure low and provide adequate cover and food, deer will stick around.
Food plots are becoming a popular way for hunters to turn an average hunting property into a deer magnet. You don’t have to be a farmer to plant some successful plots for both deer and turkeys. Even small hunting acreages can hold deer with a few small attractive deer food plots if they are done right.
Food plotting in general can be a hobby in itself. As a hunter, I can tell you there is great satisfaction in seeing wildlife feeding in a plot that you planted yourself. Deciding what to plant can be a bit confusing with so many food plot companies and seed mixes hitting the market in the past few years. Clover can be easy to establish and makes a great food plot for both experienced plotters and beginners.
Clover is known as the universal food plot because it is easily established in most parts of the country. It does moderately well in most soil types and is fairly inexpensive to plant compared to some other types of seed. Most clover will last 3-5 years before it is taken over by grasses so each consecutive year will pay back part of your initial investment.
Soil and Fertilization
Clover food plots require a soil PH around 6.8 but will grow in slightly more acidic soils. It prefers heavier clay soils and won’t do as well in sandy well-drained soil where alfalfa might be the better choice.
Always take a soil sample and have it tested, it will be the best $10-$15 investment you make towards your food plot scheme. Add lime and fertilizer as indicated from your soil test results. No nitrogen is needed when fertilizing because clovers are legumes. When in a pinch, use 300lbs per acre of 8-24-24 on previously planted ground. On a new establishment, you might use 500lbs per acre of 0-20-20.
Clover Planting Methods
There are multiple ways of planting clover. First have the area prepared by spraying with an herbicide like Roundup. If a no-till drill is available you can drill clover at a 1/4″ deep at 4-6 lbs per acre. Another option is to broadcast clover seed onto worked ground. I like to disc, compact with a cultipacker, broadcast clover at 8-12 lbs per acre, and then pack again or use a harrow drag.
Once clover reaches 6-8inches – or grass and weeds start to become a problem - you can spray Select, Pursuit, or Arrest. After that, the clover will shade out the competition and begin to flourish.
A clover plot should be mowed a couple of times per year. Mow clover back down to 4-6 inches once it starts to flower. If the clover is tall enough to cut but is stressed from a lack of rain, do not cut it. Wait until rain is expected or you will just stress the clover even more by cutting it.
Clover Food Plot Tips
- Mow the clover for the last time in August and then fertilize with no-nitrogen fertilizer such as 0-20-20 at 300 lbs per acre. This will make an exceptionally lush clover plot just in time for early bow season.
- Clover is generally a warm season food plot although some clovers are considered to be cool season legumes. Red and crimson clover can be mixed with small grains such as wheat, rye, or oats for a cool season food plot in more southern states.
- In the north, clover provides adequate nutrition for turkeys and deer in early spring and summer lasting until the first frost. After the first frost – normally in late October in the Midwest – clover goes dormant and is no longer palatable.
Clover should definitely be part of your deer food plot endeavor. It will serve the deer well in providing extra nutrition when bucks are growing racks and fawns are trying to survive, and can serve you well as a successful hunting plot in the early season.