How do you find a nice deer to hunt that other people don’t? We spoke with some experts and got their recommendations on how to create your own killer food plots for deer in the woods.
Why and How to Create Easy Hidey-Holes
“In the last few years on many properties where I’ve hunted, deer have become scarce in established food plots and most open-wood places. But I’ve found the best way to ensure that I have a place to hunt deer, and where my odds of seeing and taking deer are extremely high during the season, is to create hidey-holes,” said longtime deer researcher Dr. Grant Woods of Readsville, Missouri,
To make a killer food plot for deer in the woods, you only need three items – a backpack leaf blower or a rake, seeds and fertilizer. Try and get as far away from a 4-wheeler trail or a food plot as you can, take a backpack leaf blower and four to five pounds of some type of seed that germinates really quickly with you.
“I use my backpack leaf blower to blow the leaves away in about a 20×20 circle or rake them away,” Woods explained. “I’m simply exposing the ground. I’ll search for a place where perhaps a tree has fallen down, or there’s some sunshine peering through the treetops deep in the woods. By yourself, you can carry a five pound bag of seeds, a leaf blower and a 50-pound bag of fertilizer without much trouble to your destination. In about 45 minutes, I can blow all the leaves off the ground, spread the seed on the ground, spread the fertilizer and create some green forage for deer. Then when there’s nothing more for them to eat, the deer will be there.”
“People make two mistakes when they create hidey-holes like this. They hang their tree stands right on top of the hidey-hole, instead of putting up their tree stands 20 to 40 feet away. The second mistake hunters make is telling their buddies where they’ve planted their killer food plot, because their buddies more than likely will hunt them and scare the deer away,” Woods said.
Woods gives some advice on how you can constantly keep killer food plots to hunt throughout most of bow and gun season.
“Come down out of your tree after hunting in the morning, get your leaf blower, seed and fertilizer, go in and create a hidey-hole, and then return to camp and eat lunch. Don’t hunt that site for two to three weeks, so the deer will discover that little green patch and start feeding on it. Remember, this is a hunting spot, not a food plot. I try to create these green patches where my hunting buddies won’t find them. Food plots receive so much hunting pressure that these little hidey-holes are generally much-more productive for taking big bucks than food plots are.
“I start making hidey-holes every Saturday, beginning in September. I continue to create them all the way to deer season. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, the seeds will germinate. I only hunt each hidey-hole about three times a season, not every weekend. Whether you blend your own seeds or use commercial seeds, you’ve only got about $25 worth of seed and fertilizer and about 45 minutes worth of sweat equity invested to create a killer food plot to take deer. Other products you can use to make hunting spots are buckwheat, peas and other fast-germinating seeds. You can use this method for making hidey-holes until about two weeks away from a killing frost.
“Instead of spending so much time scouting, look for places where other hunters don’t hunt, and develop hidey-hole green patches in those spots. You’ll drastically increase your deer-hunting success. Even in just-thinned pine stands, you can create these types of food plots and be highly productive over them,” Woods noted.
Many hunters also consider the OxCart an invaluable tool to move seed, fertilizer and other items to make hidey-holes in the woods. This load-tested to 1,100 pounds small cart makes hauling and unloading large loads easier, while reducing physical strain and enabling you to get more work done quickly and with much less effort.
The OxCart combines a rear-offset dump-pivot point for greater control with a hydraulic-assisted tub lift for easier heavy-load handling. Featuring a swivel feature that reduces backing, the OxCart also has commercial-grade durability with an all-square-tube construction, full mandrel bent NASCAR-designed axle support and tractor-grade run-flat tires. You can purchase a conversion kit accessory that turns it into a farm cart/wheelbarrow in seconds for use in land maintenance and hunting prep. In states permitting the baiting of deer, hunters use the OxCart too for carrying corn to feeders. Visit www.oxcart.com to learn more.
What to Plant When in Small Food Plots
Wildlife researchers have experimented with different types of seeds to blend together and produce food plots for deer in the woods that they’ll eat during bow and gun season and that possibly may provide food for deer and turkey during the spring and summer. Daniel Bumgarner of Wildlife Management Solutions (WMS), who has degrees in fish and wildlife management and natural resources management, explains, “When planting small green fields in the woods, here are some of the mistakes people make:
Not taking a soil test. You must balance the pH in the soil to get maximum growth and production of whatever you plant. Some new innovations have been made in calcium products specifically designed for small food plots. This lime formation is water soluble and has only a small weight as compared to agricultural lime. For instance, 400 to 450 pounds of this new lime is equivalent to 2,000 pounds of bulk ag lime, it comes in a bag, so that it’s easy to spread, and it works much faster than ag lime to adjust the soil’s pH. The brand my company likes is Aqua Aid (www.aquaaidsolutions.com), usually found at any farm-supply store. For instance, if you have a 1/4-acre food plot, and the soil test calls for one ton of lime per acre, you’ll only need three bags (150 – 200 pounds total) of Aqua Aid per acre.”
Learning how shady that small food plot will be. Is this hidey-hole planted in a clearcut that receives a lot of sun or in a hardwood forest with primarily shade during the day? If your food plots for deer in the woods is shadier, clovers and brassicas are better suited.
One of our favorite plantings for killer food plots that are shady is driller radish that tolerates shade well and doesn’t store starch like other brassicas do. When the driller radish is planted and emerges out of the ground, it grows quickly and handles warmer conditions than other radishes do. You can plant it earlier in the fall, and the deer will start feeding on it in early bow season. An area doesn’t require cool weather or a frost to convert the starches in it to sugar. The driller radish in the Deep South typically doesn’t winter kill but keeps producing deer food until the end of gun/deer season.
The biomass clover best for shady sites is frosty berseem clover that resembles alfalfa more than clover and can handle many-different soil types from extremely-wet to sandy loam that drains well and continues to grow, even when the soil temperatures are cool.
Realizing that planting a small green field in a tiny clearcut on the side of an open pasture or any other site that gets plenty of sun, gives many-more options. You can use cereal grains like triticale – a cross between wheat and grain rye. Deer love the triticale we recommend that produces much more tonnage than wheat, oats and grain rye do and offers good sugar content. You’ll usually have about twice the sucralose in the triticale that wheat has. It handles the cold weather really well and doesn’t have much fiber content in it. This triticale can have 10 – 12 inch leaves. Winter peas and brassicas do well in full sun too, where I prefer to plant annual clovers, like crimson clover, arrowleaf clover, berseem clover and Persian clover, instead of perennial clovers.
Understanding how effective the blends of seeds are. Today most deer hunters prefer to use food-plot plantings with a variety of different seeds blended together. Then no matter the weather conditions or other factors that cause food plots not to be productive, their food plots for deer in the woods always will have some type of plants coming up in them.
I’ll choose driller radish, frosty berseem clover and fixation balansa clover – a blend planting that pays off under a wide variety of conditions. Fixation balansa – an annual reseeding clover – can tolerate a pH of 4.5 – 8.5 and handles very-wet soils and very dry soils that drain well. It’s the hardiest variety of green-field planting we know. To have an attraction for the bowhunter in the early season, I’ll plant this seed blend and possibly add some type of turnip that will be productive a little later in deer season. We’ll also add in some wheat, hoping we can get about 6 hours of sunlight on the plot. Then our grains will grow.
Mississippi State University did a study on deer preference foods about 3-years ago and planted a wide variety of various seeds. Frosty berseem clover won the trial, and fixation balansa came in a close second. Fixation balansa is a biomass clover that makes a lot of tonnage wherever it’s planted, fixes nitrogen and is a great soil builder.
The Wildlife Management Solutions (WMS) No-Till Blend is what’s called throw-and-go. You can rake the leaf cover off the plot, scratch that plot up with a rake, sow the seeds and see the seeds grow. But, even with small plots, the more intensively you till the ground before planting, the better production you’ll get from your killer food plot. This seed blend has been designed for the weekend hunter who doesn’t have any or very little equipment with which to till the soil. So, if there’s any way you can get into a small food plot with a disc on the back of your four-wheeler, the plot will do much better. Another advantage to the WMS No-Till Blend is that when the wheat matures that we put in this blend, it doesn’t have any hair (awnless) on the ends of the seeds. For that reason, deer as well as turkeys will feed on this wheat even into the early spring – eating the heads right off the stalks of this wheat.
Recognizing that some blends are made for one planting per year. The WMS Deer Magnet Blend contains forage triticale with black oat seeds that grow very aggressively, aren’t injured by the weather, stay very palatable to the deer and yield more tonnage than other types of oats. This Deer Magnet Blend includes driller radish, chicory, frosty berseem, fixation balansa, Persian clover, crimson clover and arrowleaf clover with the frost master winter pea.”
To learn more about WMS seeds and blends, go to https://www.facebook.com/productsforwildlifemanagement/ and www.productsforwildlifemanagement.com, or call 1-800-877-4089.
Why Plant a Smorgasbord of Food for Deer
Dr. Woods mentions that no magic crop exists that meets all his requirements for a good food plot for deer in the woods: production, palatability, digestibility and nutrition. So, he suggests that you choose plants that will mature and become palatable to deer at different times. Rotate your crops just like a farmer does to provide more of what a deer needs in its food and food that’s available year-round.
Another Simple Way to Create a Small Killer Food Plot
Dr. Keith Causey, retired wildlife professor from Auburn University, says, “If you fertilize naturally-occurring plants and trees, deer will select those plants to feed on much more readily. For instance, if you fertilize one end of a large patch of Japanese honeysuckle or blackberries, deer will come to the fertilized patch.”
Identify foods deer enjoy, and fertilize them. For instance in the South, during early hunting season, deer often feed on poke sallet, which usually lasts for the first week or two of hunting season. Deer may favor greenbrier (smilax) next, honeysuckle, blackberries, sumac, wild plums, persimmons, pecans and acorns, to name a few. These fertilized naturally-occurring plants will attract deer to your killer food plots.
To learn more about hunting deer in killer food plots, hidey-holes and small hunting sites, check out John E. Phillips’ books, available in Kindle, print and Audible, “How to Hunt and Take Big Buck Deer on Small Properties” at http://amzn.to/1vIcj4m and “How to Hunt Deer Up Close: With Bows, Rifles, Muzzleloaders and Crossbows” at http://amzn.to/11dJRu8.