On your hunting land – wildlife food plots should be part of your hunting strategy. Just about every serious whitetail deer hunter can and should establish great, high quality whitetail deer food plots on their hunting land. All it takes is determination, work and effort, some time (a few weekends), and a little money (as little as a few hundred dollars). Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to improve the quality of the whitetail deer herd through better nutrition. There are two types (or a combination of) of whitetail deer food plots; perennial and annual. An established perennial food plot should last 3 – 5 years with little effort once establish. Annual whitetail deer food plots will need to be re-established every year; but these deer food plots on your deer hunting land are worth the effort as they offer variety along with nutrition. A successful wildlife food plot can be established on private or public hunting lands.
Public Hunting Lands
Before cutting and clearing any public hunting land of brush, saplings, or small trees; you need to find out if you are allowed to do this. You will need to find out if there are restrictions against any of this. Contact your local forest service, state forest agencies, DNR, fish and game, park service and any other government agencies that have jurisdiction over your hunting area. You need to know the laws and/or restrictions pertaining to the cutting and the clearing of game habitat. Fallow all restrictions and regulations.
On public hunting lands you need to realize that other deer hunters will benefit from these whitetail deer food plots also as they will be hunting in the area too. On public hunting lands you will be restricted just because you don’t own the property. Here you need to think of specific locations to for your deer hunting food plots. Think in terms of small clearings that get at least 4 hours of sunlight a day. Logging roads and their landings could make good wildlife food plot locations. Others are wide shooting lanes, power line right-a-ways, gas line right-a-ways, brushy areas that are easily cleared where you can work up the ground.
Your Own Hunting Land – Land You Own
This is when building wildlife food plots gets fun and really rewarding. You have total control. As Captain Picard from Star Trek would say; “make it so”. You are only limited by effort and money. You can always get hunting buddies or family to help. Once you have invested in the equipment you need, you will have it. Be sure you develop quality food plots full of nutrition that feed deer every season; year round. You will need to research wildlife seed processors and packagers as to which plants to plant in your deer hunting area. Whitetail deer need year round nutrition, a high quality food source is important for maximizing whitetail development. I would also recommend planting whitetail food plots of at least 3 -5 acres. You have think about tonnage of available food for deer and other wildlife. The more you can plant the better. You will also be able to hold deer in your hunting area much longer with quality and quantity amounts of food.
Food Plots – The Process
Example Of Potential Wildlife Food Plot
1. Scout you hunting land for a suitable planting site. No one hunting area is going to be the absolute perfect site. Look for these considerations: Access; can you get to it readily to plant and maintain the crops. You want it to have a close proximity to dense cover; deer need escape routes and bedding areas close by. Look for desirable soil conditions, not consistently dry or wet. You will want adequate drainage, but not too much of a slope where you may have to operate equipment unsafely. And you need sunlight; you want at least 6 hours of full sun light every day or have sun all day with periodic shading.
Cleared Brush from new wildlife food plot – ready to spray
2. Once you have found your wildlife food plot site location you will need to cut and clear it of brush and saplings. A good tip here is to design your food plot like a dog-leg golf course hole. It doesn’t have to be that big, just make it a dog-leg or an L in its layout. The reason is that deer like to enter these types of fields as they just seem more secure to them. This dog-leg will give them more options for an escape route. This design will help keep deer relaxed and more comfortable as they feed.
Using ATV & Spraying To Kill Weeds and Grasses
3. After clearing a new wildlife food plot site of brush debris, you will need to spray the whole food plot with a grass/weed killer such as round-up or eraser (Always follow the directions on the herbicide label.) I use this 16 gallon sprayer from ‘Northern Hydraulic’. It works great, it plugs into my ATV’s 12 volt system and sprays to a width of up to 14 feet.
4. Now you need to take soil samples from at least three locations in your food plot, mix them together so you have enough to fill a quart-size bag. Take/send this sample of soil to a soil testing lab for analysis. (You want the pH of your soil to be between 6.5 and 7.5; this is very important in soil preparation for your food plot). You can bring it to a local feed, fertilizer, or seed co-op store; if they cannot test it there themselves, they should be able to send it to a testing lab for analysis. You may also be able to send your soil sample into your county agriculture testing lab, if one exists there. If none of these options work for you, contact your state’s university agricultural extension department for information about analyzing your soil. It should cost just under $10. You should have the results back in a couple weeks.
Using ATV & Disk To Work Up Soil
5. While you are waiting for your soil sample analysis results to come back, you can finish the preparation of the food plot site. You need to break-up the soil. I use a disk implement that I can tow behind my 4 wheeler. I break it up to a depth of 4-6 inches and work it up real well. I also remove any large rocks during this process.
6. Once your soil sample comes back, take it to your local fertilizer store to have it read. At this point you will need to know how much acreage you will be planting. For information purposes; and acre is 43,560 square feet (approx. 200 feet X 218 feet). They will inform you of any liming, fertilizer, and minerals needed for optimum tonnage of what you want to plant. They should have these products on hand for you to purchase. Apply these to your wildlife food plot site as directed. Most farm fertilizer stores offer liming wagons for rent or use if you need to apply several tons of lime or fertilizer. Be sure to budget for this. In my experience it will cost you as much as your seed, if not more to prepare your soil for seeding.
Using Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Clover Seed
7. Purchase the deer food plot seed you want; most hunters usually start with clover or alfalfa, or even a mix of the two, and sometimes even combined with other plants like chicory, which is high in protein and oats that help with weed control. I like using seed products like the Whitetail Institutes. They are engineered and specifically developed for a whitetails digestive system.
They are not cheap, in most cases almost double the cost of normal farm field seeds. Most other field crop seeds are developed for cattle and or horses in which the plants tend to have thicker, heavier stems that these domesticated large animals digest more readily. As of this writing, spring of 2010, I will be planting 72 pounds of the Whitetail Institutes White Clover and Chicory in a 7 acre food plot. The cost of this seed is over $400. I will get 3 – 5 years of quality wildlife food from this investment. Not bad when you break it down to cost per year.
If you plan on using a herbicide for weed and grass control; make sure it is one you can use with the plants in your food plot…(If using a herbicide, read and fallow all label directions). You should also be able to buy a wildlife mix of seed from a local feed/seed store, or have them make up a mix of seed uniquely yours. A wildlife mix will also benefit many other wild animals like upland game birds; pheasants, grouse, partridge, dove, quail, and wild turkeys. You can buy seed for your wildlife food plots from a large sporting goods store – retail, catalog, or online. Go online and does an internet search for “seed for whitetail deer food plots”.
Hand Seeding – Lightly Over-seeding For A Variety
8. Now spread the seed; follow directions on the bag for seeding exactly. Do not over seed your food plot. I use a hand seeder for small food plots and a 175 pound capacity spreader that bolts onto my 4-wheeler for larger food plots. This 175 pound capacity spreader works great and makes the chore of spreading large amounts of seed a lot easier. I can also spread fertilizer and lime with it. After spreading your seed you should use a cultivator-packer, heavy roller, or harrow to ensure seed contact with soil. I use a light harrow towed behind my ATV to ensure seed contact and up to 1/4 inch of soil coverage. Even an old bed spring or cyclone fencing dragged over a seeded food plot will work for soil contact. One more tip about planting seed; do not plant in hot, dry weather. The newly seeded food plot will need rain in it’s very near future and beyond for a good start.
Seeding With An ATV
9. After your food plot is up and growing, you will need to mow it periodically. You should mow it when it reaches a height of 12 – 14 inches and mow it down to 6 – 8 inches in height. By doing this you will optimize the nutritional quality of your food plot while thickening it. Mowing will also help retard weed growth. Do not mow your food plot in hot and dry conditions. If you have planted a large food plot on your hunting land; mow only half of it at a time. Grasses do get stressed when cut. This way; if you enter a period of time in which little or no rainfall occurs; at least half of your food plot crop won’t be affected as much by any drought stress.
Don’t combine salt licks with mineral licks. These should be kept apart by at least 10 or 20 feet in my opinion. Salt is an attractant in which deer will come to it when their body needs potassium. Mineral licks provide whitetail deer with supplemental minerals their body needs for bone, antler growth and other added nutritional needs.
Consider establishing a good mineral lick along the edge of your new whitetail deer food plot. It is a good idea to place your mineral lick on the outside edge of a food plot because when it is time to re-work the soil for a new food plot, you won’t disturb the established mineral lick. Go to the same farm fertilizer store and ask for a mineral block or two. There are also specialty products, marketed by various companies, which offer mineral granules’ and other attractants that you can just pour on the ground. You will find these at major sporting good stores, or go online for your search. Several times throughout the year freshen up your deer lick with more of the same. You want your food plot to be attractive to trophy deer and all wildlife game. Again; read and fallow your local game laws and all regulations pertaining to the use of these products, and any laws pertaining to hunting near them.
Refreshing A Well Used Mineral Lick – Note Soil Has Been Eaten By Deer Yum!
If done correctly; a good, high quality food plot should last for 3-5 years before it may need replanting. If needed, you can also over-seed your whitetail deer food plots every year to fill in areas overgrazed or lost caused by winter kill. Some annual plantings that I like plant are of the basics seeding; rutabagas, turnips, carrots, beans, peas, and more to include oats. Whitetails love variety when it comes to food. Give them something nutritional and tasty that they can’t get on your neighbor’s land.
On an established food plot; you want to fertilize in the spring and fall with a 0-20-20 fertilizer or one that is similar. Apply approx. 300 pounds an acre. Do a pH soil test once a year and lime if needed. (A pH testing meter is only $20.00 – $30.00 and can be bought at the same feed/seed store).
One thing you can do to enhance your hunting and deer viewing pleasure; is to put a decoy in your food plot. Now watch the deer swarm to this great, buffet salad mix you have created.
Secret Sweet Spots – Small Food Plots Within
This is a concept I have started within a couple of my food plots. The basic premise is to establish a new, small food plot with an existing food plot. I start with an established food plot, let’s say one that has a wildlife mix of plants, one that is a year old. Using a weed and grass killer, I spray a small area, about 12 X 40 feet, to kill off the food plot plants in this small area. I let it rest a week to ten days, allowing the plant life roots to die. Now I come back and work up that soil; fertilize and lime if needed. Now I see this small area with, let’s say with alfalfa, because the wildlife mix growing there doesn’t have any alfalfa in it. Or it may be clover, or some vegetables that deer can’t leave alone in your garden. See what I have done? The deer love this variety; and it is all in one secluded area, close to cover, water, and a good bedding area.
Create A Sweet Spot To Attract Deer
Try this for a little variety in your food plot designs. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. Record what you do and track your results in your deer hunting journal for future reference.
Deep Woods Food Plots
Just as I did with that sweet spot, in a food plot; a hunter can do the same type of sweet spot on hunting lands that will only allow you to do a small food plot on them. Someplace like a deep woods hunting site; maybe close to your trophy hunting stand. Find a sun filled spot on the ground that is about 20 feet in diameter or more. All you need is a sprayer with weed killer, a rake or garden weasel to work up the ground, a mixture of lime and fertilizer (get a soil sample), seed and sunlight. I really have had good luck with the “Whitetail Institute’s – Imperial No-Plow”. This product is easy to plant and maintaining it is minimal. Just fallow the packages directions. Again fallow all hunting and hunting land use regulations. But this is rewarding and fun; give it a try. Enjoy, and good luck hunting.