We thought that we'd give you a bit of an insight as to what exactly is involved in the food plot process, this is not a quick task to accomplish, there are many months, weeks and hours put into our plots to make sure that we have the best environment on our Whitetail Preserve and for our hunters.
Dan is out spraying about 10 acres to kill the grass, and putting up a new high fence about 6' from the existing one to keep the deer out of the food plots. He has seed coming in from all over the world to experiment and find out what works best for the biggest racks!! Check back in for more information on this next week!!!
Whitetail Deer Foodplots
You can make any piece of Whitetail deer hunting ground better in two ways with the right food plots. Even small efforts made in improving the quality of food available in your hunting area will be rewarded. First, better nutrition, even on a small scale, will promote a healthier herd. In areas that lack adequate food, such an effort can make a big difference. But, even in the richest farm country where deer are never hungry for long, a well-chosen and well-sited food plot can attract and hold deer in one area making them easier to hunt.
Plots are pivotal to most deer management plans and they are becoming a more valuable part of hunting strategy, as well. But, simply scratching the earth and throwing out a little seed isn't going to produce fat deer, more fawns or bigger racks. Nor will just any planting automatically pull deer to your stands like moths to a flame.
Balance is the Key
|Corn||Sorghum/Milo||Winter Weather/Winter Rye||Alfalfa|
Here is my perfect planting scenario. If you have a low or moderate deer density and enough rainfall each year to support corn, split the field in half and plant clover on one half and corn on the other. Deer get great summer food from the clover and you provide a strong fall and winter attractor with the corn. Two and a half acres of corn isn't a lot so be prepared to see it disappear fast starting in November unless your deer numbers are really low. For your information: a football field is about 1.5 acres, so that should give you some idea of the size of the ground we are talking about.
Total cost for five acres: about $325 the first year and about $225 each year after until the clover thins out. At that point, you can simply rotate the two crops and start over. This assumes you pinch pennies and can borrow the equipment or get someone to put it in for nothing.
If you expect high deer utilization (from a high deer density or a lack of other food sources) and/or your area has insufficient rainfall to support corn, I recommend soybeans for 60% of the plot (three acres) and clover on the remaining 40%. This will assure a good deal of summer food as well as a fall and winter attractor. Also consider drilling winter wheat into the thinnest parts of the bean field once the beans have filled in and started to dry down. As long as you don't work the ground, the beans will still be available but the addition of the winter grain planting will improve the overall efficiency of the plot.
Total cost for five acres: about $400 for the first year and about $325 for each year after. This assumes that about half the bean plot will be planted to winter grain each fall and that you can get the work done for free.
Planting food plots is a lot of fun and taking on the role of a steward is satisfying, but improving your hunting area is not cheap nor should the decision of what to plant be taken lightly.
Within the past 10 years, vast amounts of information have been published on "sure-fire" methods to improve the nutritional quality of available forage for whitetail deer. Although this article could never attempt to explain everything involved with a deer's nutrition it should shed some light on the basics of improving deer forage from a hunter's point of view.
We should first realize that forage quality is site-specific and directly correlates to soil and climate. It is amazing to me why some retailers try to sell Southern plants in Northern climates. In addition to the total waste of time and money, many retailers conveniently forget to inform hunters that all seeds may not necessarily grow in all soil classifications. Thus, retailers have made big dollars from many uninformed hunters looking for a quick fix.
You should always remember two important aspects of deer nutrition: There is no such thing as a quick solution, and no single plant can provide quality forage everywhere or during all times of the year.
Before embarking on a supplemental feeding program, you should first assess the herd's carrying capacity. If there are too many deer living in a certain area, providing additional food plots will probably NOT increase your chances of harvesting a good buck. In many areas around the country there are more deer than the habitat can support. Therefore, shooting enough should be a mandatory requirement before any habitat management is considered. Once your herd is in balance with available foods, and only then, should you begin to look into a supplemental feeding program.
The most important point to remember regarding food plots is that SUPPLEMENTAL FOODS ARE NOT A MEANS TO REPLACE FEEDING. They are designed to even out the nutritional deficiencies of an area throughout the year. Generally there are two major stress periods for deer: winter and late summer. Northern hunters would best be advised to address the winter stress period for their management plan, while Southern hunters may have to plant for both stress periods. Interestingly, recent research has placed the late-summer stress period as the most critical time for many Southern states.
Not many hunters view the late summer as a major stress on deer. All the luscious and easily digestible plants found in the spring are much less palatable during late summer. As a result, adult bucks and does may have to live on below-average forage. Any late-born fawns must rely on reduced quantity and quality of milk. Consequently, many hunters often plant late-summer food plots to help augment a deer's nutritional deficiencies throughout this stressful period.
Many areas of the country lack specific minerals and nutrients that can be provided by planting certain types of plants. Biologists also know that throughout the year bucks, does and fawns have very different nutritional needs and certain plant preferences. So, how do hunters improve a deer's nutritional health? The first method is the enhancement or fertilization of native plants. The second is the establishment of food plots.
Since most hunters don't have access to mechanized farm equipment, the non-planting method of management is probably the most universal. In other words, anyone can improve the nutritional value of an area by simply broadcasting, by hand, a pelletized fertilizer over native plants during the late fall / early winter time frame. Fertilization is usually done in the spring prior to green-up. An application of 10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) can vastly improve the nutritive quality and utilization by whitetails. Another application of fertilizer approximately 1 to 2 months later can further enhance a plant's ability to convert nitrogen into protein. When fertilizing, usually one handful (or one pound) of fertilizer for each inch in diameter of tree/shrub seems to do a good job.
With the use of fertilizers, you can create "secret food plots" that can be established without anyone knowing the exact location, except you and the deer. When you fertilize specific plants that bare hard or soft mast in the fall, the end result is more, better-tasting and larger-sized fruit. Although I hate to use the word guarantee, fertilization of fruit-bearing trees or shrubs such may be the best deer hunting technique you have ever seen. Depending on the pH of your soil, liming may also help the plants in your area. In many areas liming and fertilizing go hand-in-hand with little associated costs or labor.
How do you determine the pH or amount of fertilizer you should use? Simply contact your local Soil Conservation Service (note, they changed their name to the Natural Resources Conservation Service) or check with your County's soil map. You will find these people to be a great source of information. In fact their information is priceless to any deer manager or hunter interested in improving a deer herd. I have often used their expertise in finding new hunting areas and acquiring aerial photographs.
If you decide to create a food plot, each area should be approximately 2 to 3 percent of the area you are hunting. Food plots should be laid out in a ratio of four plots per square mile, with none less than 1/4 acre in size. Variety is the key to any food plot. In other words, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Diversity is your goal. A smorgasbord is always more appealing than a single species of plant.
Since water conditions change from one year to the next (droughts versus flooding), combination planting virtually ensures something will grow. Interestingly enough, research has shown whenever annual rainfall drops below 30 inches, the benefit of food plots is likely to decrease.
What should you plant? Again, the answer depends on site-specific conditions. Overall, plants within the legume family are probably the best winter forage. Legumes, such as red and white clovers, are not only high in energy, but provide deer with the needed calcium for proper body development and antler production. Cereal grains, such as winter-hardy oats, winter wheat and rye, are also excellent winter stress-period plants. Summer plantings include cowpeas, soybeans, vetches, hairy indigo, alyceclover and, of course, the deer's favorite, alfalfa.
As always, before you spend a lot of money and time venturing into a food plot endeavor, seek assistance and consultation with a wildlife biologist or your local soil scientist. A little strategic planning for food plots goes a long way in achieving more bang for your buck.