Planting Food Plots for Deer in the Woods
How do you find a nice deer to hunt that other people don’t? We spoke with some experts and got their recommendations on planting 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 food plot 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
One of the problems associated with hunting the same food plots every year is that the deer, especially bucks, learn to stay out of those food plots until after dark usually, except during the rut. If you’re wondering where bucks stay before entering the food plots at night, and where can they get snacks before moving to their beds in the mornings, you need to learn how, where and when to plant small food plots.
Often only about 1/4-acre in size, they’re referred to as honey holes, hidey holes or hot spots. These small food plots generally are 100-250 yards away from large green fields and often are planted where you’ve been baiting and have put up trail cameras before the season to census your deer herd.
Some of the most-productive small food plots for deer will be:
* in a pine plantation where a skip in planting trees has occurred, or a die-off of trees has created an opening in the middle of the thick cover;
* near loading docks where logs have been loaded onto trailers after a timber harvest has taken place and created openings;
* on a ridgetop deer travel to reach a main food plot; and/or
* in an opening where your trail cameras have reported deer to have been traveling.
To learn a good deer food plot mix to plant now in these small food plots, “GDO” talked with David Brown, sales manager of Southern Seed & Feed, headquartered in Macon, Mississippi, with distribution of its wildlife feedings and seed blends products for deer in more than 150 stores such as Alabama Farmers Co-Op under the Southern Buck brand.
*“Antler Magnet that contains roasted soybeans, corn and peanuts is in great demand by hunting clubs and landowners and has a much-higher protein content than just pouring corn out or feeding it to deer,” Brown reports. “Antler Magnet not only feeds deer but is an attractant too. As more landowners and hunting clubs have tried it, the demand has grown. product. You can put this product in a trough feeder, a spin feeder or pour it out on the ground. Since the bag weighs only 40 pounds, it’s light enough to carry in a backpack to create a small food plot.”
Because Alabama hunters now can put out bait to attract deer, they can use Antler Magnet in these small food plots before the planted crop comes out of the ground. Brown also says that Southern Buck has developed more, new wildlife plantings, including:
* Buck Magnet that’s designed for wet areas, although it works in various types of soil. Made up of a blend of wheat, forage oats, rye, berseem clover, appin turnips and balansa clover seeds that all grow well in wet areas, this seed blend is productive for early bow and early gun season. According to Brown, “It’s especially effective when planted in harvest spots in the woods away from your main green fields to provide food for deer to snack on before dark when they move into bigger green fields. The seed blend grows best when you turn the ground but it also fairs well if you scratch-up the ground with a rake to plant. It produces well in shady areas, swampy places and creek bottoms but not where there’s standing water or that may have standing water.”
* Rack Zone seed blend produces well from early deer season throughout deer season and beyond and generally will do best in green field sites already established. “The landowner will get about 10 months of grazing out of this product that contains crimson clover, balansa clover, arrowleaf clover, forage oats, rye, berseem clover, wheat, appin turnips and Austrian winter peas,” Brown explains. “Rack Zone needs plenty of sun and drier land and is a good planting for early season when the bucks are developing antlers, and the fawns are growing.”
* Super Buck has been used successfully by landowners for several years on large green fields and includes wheat, forage oats, Austrian winter peas, trophy rape, balansa clover, crimson clover, daikon radishes and turnips.
Katie Koehn, whose father, Roger Koehn, started Southern Seed & Feed in 1983, tells of her dad’s interest in farming and providing feed for various livestock and eventually feed for wildlife. She explains that, “One of the reasons our wildlife plantings have been so successful is due to all the seeds being coated with Delta Ag seed coat, a powdery substance that coats the seeds, enhances emergent and helps in stand establishment, whether planting in dry or wet soil. The Southern Buck products are scientifically formulated to promote antler growth and herd health.
“By going to https://southernseedfeed.com/product-category/wild-life/, you can learn about the many products offered that you can buy at stores primarily located in Mississippi and Alabama https://southernseedfeed.com/where-to-buy/. Too, the wheat in our plantings is all grown locally to insure that we have a variety of wheat to add to our deer food plot seed blends that grows well in the South.”
If you start attracting deer and planting food plots for deer now, you’ll drastically increase your odds of taking one or more bucks this upcoming season.
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 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 food plots.
The next question becomes, which type of fertilizer to use and how to apply it. Chris Grantham of Alabama Liquid Fertilizer adds this, “The application is very easy with liquid fertilizers, a pump-style or backpack type sprayer can be used to apply it. An ATV style sprayer can also be used to effectively spray a food plot in an even shorter period of time. Liquid fertilizer makes the plants more palatable to wildlife and acts as a mineral lick attracting wildlife. In addition, unlike the granular form, liquid fertilizer ensures consistency of equal nutrients in every drop.
This consistency allows plants to more quickly and efficiently absorb the nutrients through leaves, stems, blooms, and fruit.” According to Grantham, liquid fertilizers are less expensive than their granular counterparts. Grantham points out that the amount of liquid fertilizer required to cover an acre of land is approximately two and one-half gallons. If using Grantham’s product at around $20 per gallon, it would cost around $40 per acre.
Alabama Liquid Fertilizer and Supply Inc
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