Plant quality food plots and big bucks will be more than a dream.
One of the main tasks deer hunters face each season is planting wildlife openings or food plots. Wildlife openings, also known as green fields, are primarily designed to provide supplemental food sources for deer, turkey and other wildlife, including non-game species.
Each year, hunters and landowners spend thousands of dollars on food plots, and if done right they can benefit both wildlife and hunters. While the openings can draw in various species of game for hunting opportunities, food plots provide groceries throughout the year to promote healthier wildlife populations.
With some planning, preparation and proper planting, quality food plots can be established.
Planning Before Planting
Advanced planning should include location, size and shape of the wildlife opening. Establishing a workable plan will help make the process easier when the actual planting time arrives.
One of the first steps to creating a food plot is the location. Sites for food plots should be selected to provide a food source long after hunting season is over. A food plot site should also be accessible to deer and other wild game.
A soil test is one thing you can do to improve the quality of a food plot. The soil test can actually save time and money in the long run when first establishing plots. A soil test is simple and can provide critical information on what nutrients the soil needs and doesn’t need.
“A soil test is probably the most important thing for a quality food plot,” comments Robert Golden of the St. Clair County Co-op in Pell City, Ala. “The soil test tells you exactly what the ground needs.”
“The soil test tells you exactly what the ground needs.”
Some food plot planters may have a rule of thumb of how much fertilizer and lime to apply, but they are only guessing. The cost of a soil test is around $15 to $20 and can go a long way in savings down the road. Golden recommends soil samples in new plots or in areas where plots have been less than desirable.
Golden says to take several samples of soil from around the plot and mix them together. Place the required sample amount in the soil test container to send off for analysis. It usually takes less than two weeks to receive the test results. There are Co-Op stores around the state to assist hunters in soil testing and planting requirements.
“Lime is important to the soil and should be applied ahead of time and as early as possible,” Golden adds. “The soil test results will help determine the amount of lime and fertilizer needed.”
Salad Bar Dreams
Like humans, deer, turkey and other wildlife (even honeybees) don’t enjoy feeding on the same
food day after day. Landowners and hunters should provide several different types of forages for wildlife to enjoy. Think about a salad bar and the many options available.
Some hunters use the various brand of buck blends. These usually include cereal grains, clover and brassicas or greens. Hunters can also plant different sections of the plot with a specific forage. As an example, plant clover in the mid-section with grains on either side along with some patches of turnips, rape kale, etc.
“Some seeds can be planted later in the season,” Golden explains. “There are some winter-hardy greens that can be planted up to the first frost.”
The purpose of various forages is they will mature at different dates. The combination of multiple plant species will provide available food sources in the plot throughout the hunting season and beyond. With plenty of nutritious food present, the wildlife population will be much healthier.
Grains and some legumes, like peas and clover are annuals and have to be replanted every year. However, some varieties of clover, chicory and alfalfa are perennials and can produce forage for around two to three years once established and cared for properly.
Plot Soil Preparation
Prepare the plot area by disking or tilling the soil. The area should be clean of any weeds and plant stubble that would compete for water and nutrients with the selected forage. The soil should be evened out by dragging an old pallet or heavy timber like an old railroad cross-tie. The smooth surface of the soil will help in better germination of the seed.
“The smooth surface of the soil will help in better germination of the seed.”
A tractor and disk is probably the most common equipment used by hunters for planting food plots. However, there are other disks and tillers available for all terrain type vehicles that can be used to break up the soil. The ATV disk is a little smaller and work well in tight spaces of wooded areas.
A few companies offer the all-in-one units that disk, plant and cover the seed in one pass. The Plotmaster is one brand that can make site prep and planting a one-man operation. Models are available for tractors and ATVs.
A More Permanent Plot
Generally, food plots are planted each year. This can be a cumbersome and expensive task. A fairly new concept is establishing fruit trees in the plot. Landowners, hunters and wildlife can benefit from the various types of fruit trees.
“Our trees come from quality rootstock that can produce fruit rather quickly,” states Allen Deese of The Wildlife Group in Tuskegee, Ala. “Certain apple and crabapple trees can produce fruit in three to five years.”
Other types of trees are also available like plum, pear and acorn trees. Fruit and mast production will depend on the soil type, fertilization and pruning. Deese recommends pruning of the fruit the first couple of years to allow the tree to put its energy into growth.
“Fruit and acorn trees are generally planted around the perimeter of the plot,” Deese advises. “An open area to the center is left available for planting annual types of forage.”
In the long run, planting a mix of fruit trees can make an impact on the deer herd and other wildlife.
Good planning and wise forage selections will produce quality food plots that will have deer hunters dreaming about monster bucks.