News: Food Plots 101
Want to attract more deer and keep them healthier once you have them?
Starting your own food plot is easier and more affordable than you think.
By Bowhunt America’s Contributing Writer, Jace Bauserman
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A late December blizzard had blanketed the landscape in white. It seemed wildlife on this once bustling piece of creek bottom had vanished. The woods, usually alive with both whitetail and mule deer, were silent. But rounding a bend on the south end of the property, I came across a standing cornfield nestled in a maze of cottonwoods. It was a small field—one acre to be exact—but it was teeming with deer. Sixty-three tan bodies filtered in and out of the golden stalks. I was blown away. I had never seen such a concentration of deer in a single area.
It’s scenes like this that make food plots so attractive to bowhunters. Food plots deliver vital nutrients—nutrients specifically formulated to boost herd health and antler growth—which make for bigger, healthier deer overall. Food plots also help you attract and keep does on your property. And as all savvy bowhunters know, where does reside, bucks will be close by. In addition, strategically planted food plots provide invaluable insight into whitetail behavior. Because food plots hold deer on your property, you will have more visual and trail camera encounters with them. Nothing adds to a whitetail hunter’s wisdom more than observing deer.
Planting and maintaining an effective food plot isn’t exactly easy. But with a little knowledge, the right tools and some elbow grease, you can create an attractive food plot of your own.
Food Plot Know-How
Educating yourself about food plot technique is key to success. The more know, the better results you will see. Having a food plot that produces isn’t as simple as scratching the ground and tossing out seed. There’s a science to planting a successful food plot.
Different soils have different levels of acidity, and you need to take this into account before planting. A simple pH test, which can be easily accomplished with a digital pH meter like those from Mossy Oak BioLogic, will tell you the exact pH of your soil. If you don’t want to invest in a digital pH meter, you can always purchase a standard meter or send your soil away for testing.
When using a digital or standard pH meter, it’s important to insert the meter into moist soil. If your soil is dry and crumbly, place some in a bucket and add distilled water to moisten. The time it takes a particular meter to calibrate an accurate readout depends on the unit you’re using, but most take only a minute or two.
Most pH testers will start with readout of 7 on a range between 1 and 14. That’s because 7 is considered to be neutral soil. If your soil pH is below 7—say a 5.2—then you’ll need to add lime. Lime raises the pH of soil and adds calcium. How much lime will depend on the size of your food plot. If your pH level is high—say an 8.1—this indicates alkaline soil. Two materials commonly used for lowering soil pH are aluminum sulfate and sulfur. Both can be found at a variety of garden and landscaping supply centers.
Next on the agenda is to determine what region your hunting area is situated in. This is very important as plant species that perform well in the southern region will not do as well in the transitional or northern region. Most popular seed distribution companies will have some sort of planting map for you to go by. Two planting maps that I’ve found very helpful are located at plantbiologic.com and evolved.com.
Before moving on to planting and labor, you must select the type and function of your food plots. Do you want a perennial plot, an annual plot or combination of the two? Are your plots going to be a spring and summer food source or a fall and winter food source? There are different seeds designed to serve different purposes. To find out more about certain seed species and the best time to plant them, visit the website of the manufacturer you’re purchasing the seed from.
Now you need to estimate your food plot’s yield. This will depend on the size of the plot and the agricultural belt you are located in. It has been estimated that an adult deer will consume between 5 and 6 pounds of food per day. If you do the math, you’ll see that a single deer will consume nearly 2,190 pounds of food per year. That’s a lot. A little research will allow you to estimate how much food your plots will produce, how long your plots will provide food for your deer and how long you should use deer deterrents to prevent overgrazing.
It’s also very important to understand the difference between annual and perennial plots. An annual plot is one that you will have to replace each year. Many growers don’t utilize annual plots because they have to be replaced, but don’t overlook them. Annuals can be an instant attractant for deer. Their lush green nature is both appealing and nutrient-packed.
Perennial plots come back year after year. The major benefit with this type of plot is that with the proper care and maintenance, it will keep producing food for years to come. I’ve found that having a healthy mix of both annual and perennial plots produces the best results.
Time to Get Started
Now that you’ve done your research and gathered how-to knowledge about preparing to plant a food plot, it’s time to get your hands dirty. If you’re planting a new food plot, start by removing existing vegetation. Depending on your budget and access to equipment, this step can be done in a variety of ways. A trusty John Deer with a brush hog implement and disc can speed up the process. Other options include herbicides, a four-wheeler disc or just a good old shovel and chainsaw.
After clearing the area it’s time to prepare the soil. Again, how you go about this process depends on your budget and access to equipment. For larger plots that are more than a couple of acres, you’ll want to use a tractor or some form of motorized vehicle with a disc. When planting a smaller plot, you can get away with using a rototiller or even breaking up the soil with a hoe and shovel. Regardless of the size of the plot it’s important to work the soil well. The only exception to this rule is when planting in dry land conditions.
Depending on the results of your soil test, broadcast the appropriate amount of fertilizer into the topsoil before planting. Many food plot growers will broadcast fertilizer, mix it into the top soil and plant all in the same day. While you can do this, I prefer to plan everything around the weather. Most often I prepare the soil, broadcast and mix fertilizer in the same day. Then I watch the weather and pray for rain. Food plots planted before a gentle rain will sprout and begin to develop quickly.
Tools of the Trade
There are plenty of tools out there to help make your food planting experience more productive and enjoyable. Some of the best I’ve found are from Chapin Outfitters’ new line of BioLogic Sprayers and Spreaders.
For both seed and fertilizer distribution, look no further than Chapin’s series of BioLogic Spreaders. Featuring oversized tires and durable rust-proof frames, the BioLogic Push Broadcast Spreader (available in 50-, 85-, 100- and 125-pound models) is excellent for off-the-beaten-path plots. The BioLogic Handheld Broadcast Seeder holds 25 pounds of seed and features water-resistant, heavy-duty fabric and gears. Rounding out the lineup of spreaders is the BioLogic ATV Spreader. Offered in an 80-pound model, this quick-connect spreader is perfect for larger plots in rough terrain.
Chapin’s line of sprayers makes it easy to deliver chemicals to your food plots. The BioLogic 40-Gallon Tow Behind Sprayer pulls easily behind an ATV, and its Everflo Pump helps produce excellent vertical and horizontal spray. Also available from Chapin are the BioLogic 60-Gallon Tow Behind Sprayer, BioLogic ATV 25- and 15-Gallon Sprayers, the BioLogic 4-Gallon Backpack Sprayer and BioLogic 2-Gallon Hand Sprayer. Depending on your herbicide or fertilization needs, Chapin has the right sprayer for any situation. See your dealer or visit chapinoutfitters.com to learn more.
Maintaining Your Food Plot
Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. After your food plots begin to sprout, there is still work to be done. One of the most important tasks is weed control. How you control weeds will largely depend on the type of plot or plots you’ve planted. Last season I used a small cultivator to control weeds on my small corn plot.
Aside from weeds, you also need to keep deer and other game animals out until your plot is open for business. This can be done in a variety of ways, but what I’ve found most effective is the Plot Protector from Mossy Oak BioLogic. Each kit allows you to protect one acre for 90 days. The Plot Protector is effective because it features a powerful scent that repels whitetail deer and other game. See your dealer or visit plantbiologic.com to learn more.
Give Them More
A great addition to any food plot is extra minerals and supplements. One that has caught my eye is the Trophy Rock All Natural Mineral Lick. While some people believe that all salt is the same, the Trophy Rock proves this simply isn’t the case. Trophy Rock is mined, not created, which means that it offers a variety of minerals in a naturally balanced ratio. These trace minerals are essential in helping animals reach their full potential. Not only do these minerals increase antler growth, they also improve the overall health of your deer herd. Putting Trophy Rock out in the spring and summer months will greatly benefit the deer in your area. See your dealer or visit trophyrock.com to learn more.
Deer co-Cain Black Magic from Evolved Harvest is a beneficial mineral supplement that attracts deer with a mineral vapor trail. Enriched with calcium, phosphorus and sodium, Black Magic improves the overall health of your deer herd. Best of all, moisture will cause Deer co-Cain to keep reacting, meaning that deer will keep coming to it. See your dealer or visit evolved.com to learn more.
BioRock by Mossy Oak BioLogic delivers a readily available mix of over 50 all-natural minerals. With calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulfur, BioRock is perfect for boosting herd health and growing bigger antlers. See your dealer or visit plantbiologic.com to learn more.
Deer have been going crazy for Acorn Rage from Wildgame Innovations for years. If your deer love acorns (and what deer doesn’t?), you’ll love Wildgame’s Acorn Rage Salt Block. Acorn Rage Salt Block combines the effectiveness of Acorn Rage with the convenience of a mineral block. See your dealer or visit wildgameinnovations.com to learn more.
Another exciting product is Real-Deal Mineral. High concentrations of calcium and phosphorous make Real-Deal particularly effective at helping does replace the minerals lost during lactation. Boosting doe health is critical to improving the health of the herd overall. But don’t think Real-Deal is just for does—this attractive mineral supplement is ultra-appealing to bucks, does and fawns alike. See your dealer or visit realdealmineral.com to learn more.
One for Every Budget
You may dream of having the ability to plant and develop massive food plots, but the good news is that you don’t have to have large plots of land, expensive equipment or years of farming experience to attract deer and keep your herd healthy. Many of my most productive food plots are a half-acre or smaller. Little plots tucked away in the timber serve a big purpose. And planting these plots can be done with tools from your garden shed.
Get More Info Online
Want to learn more about food plots? Follow Jace Bauserman as he blogs about planning, preparing, planting, maintaining and hunting his Colorado food plot. Over the course of the next few months, Bauserman will provide additional tips and secrets, answer questions and respond to comments and post trail camera photos. Visit BowhuntAmerica.com/plots101 to follow along.