About ten years ago, I attempted to grow my first food plot. I paid a farmer to till two different areas, each less than a half-acre. The farmer seeded one with corn and left the other one bare. The bare one was my blank canvas. I did everything by hand and sprayed no chemicals. I worked the soil until it was flat and perfect. It was begging to be seeded. I waited several weeks for the first sign of rain and seeded about an hour before a thunderstorm. I got my push spreader, the random bag of deer seed I bought at a sport’s show, a bag of lime pellets, and maybe half the recommended amount of fertilizer. That fall I realized I had no idea what I was doing. The weed plot I hunted over was my evidence.
BY FAILING TO PREPARE, YOU ARE PREPARING TO FAIL.
Soil test, frost seeding, discing, no tilling, drilling seed, spreading seed, chemicals, cover crop, main crop, soil nutrition, spring planting, fall planting, and equipment. The point is you need to have a plan. Buy a soil test kit and get your soil evaluated. Find out what nutrients your soil has or is lacking. Talk with a seed vendor about their recommendations and follow the instructions about adding fertilizer and lime. Mow down and open the area you plan to seed six weeks in advance. Spray a glyphosate (Roundup type) with surfactant (aids in chemical penetration) and a 2, 4-D type herbicide and weed killer. It takes about six weeks for the soil to properly absorb the chemicals before planting. Follow the above steps to prepare your seedbed properly.
Taking shortcuts and ignoring details is the equivalent to throwing your money away. If you are going to take the time and effort, slow down and do it right. Read articles, ask questions, watch videos. Information that can help is easily accessible. Hunting over a green food plot in October is a sense of accomplishment that is hard to match.
WHAT TO SEED AND AN INTRO 101
If you simply search for “best deer seed” on Google, over 38 million results appear. You can search a conservation company like Ernst Seed. You can see what Cabela’s, Farm and Fleet, or Gander Outdoors has to offer. You can talk to someone at a local agriculture cooperative and find out what is growing best in your region. You can research on-line companies like Grandpa Ray or Deer Creek Seed.
Whatever choice you make, there is one basic rule to follow:
- Follow the seed company’s instructions which include:
- Knowing your soil’s pH level
- Eliminating invasive weeds
- Ensuring good seed to soil contact
- Using the recommended amount of fertilize
- Being certain the proper amount of sunlight is available
- Seed that has been grown and tested in the environment you hunt.
- The soil conditions the seed is intended for, i.e. clay soils, loam soils, or sand soils.
- The seed’s drought and cold tolerance.
- A seed blend that includes at least two of either a clover, brassica, radish, turnip, or legume. Different seed offerings increase your chance of establishing a hearty plot.
- A cover crop will help in that it grows rapidly and chokes out invasive weeds while allowing your plot to establish
FOOD PLOTS ON A BUDGET
Everything costs money, but there is a smart way of spending it. Over the last decade, I have been able to locate and purchase used equipment. My first few years I used a landscaping rake, rented equipment, and paid a farmer to disc for me. When I got serious and wanted to do more myself, I bought an ATV, found a used disc harrow, and ordered a 14-gallon field sprayer. Years later, a cultipacker was added then a lawn tractor, a farm quality harrow drag, and a gas-powered rough cutter. The point is you do not have to buy everything at once or anything at all. There is always a way to accomplish your goal, you should choose what makes most sense.
FOOD PLOTS AND TRAIL CAMERAS: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
While trail crossings and scrape locations are main components of a smart trail camera program, a food plot offers a terrific opportunity to catalog deer. Deer will frequent your food plots throughout the day and offers another piece to your fall puzzle.
The Exodus Trek, Lift, and Render Wireless are excellent cameras that offer multi-faceted options. Exodus trail cameras offer a trigger speed as fast as 0.3 seconds, no-glow flash, a minimum 50’ detection distance, along with time lapse, photo, and video capabilities. To check out the full line up click here
IF YOU PLANT IT, THEY WILL (EVENTUALLY) COME
I plant remote, annual food plots that are ½ acre or less in August. Some food plots establish great, while others suffer. Mother Nature is the determining and final factor in your food plot’s success. Some years she can be very kind and other years she can be downright evil. The property you hunt will ultimately decide the size and number of food plots you can plant.
Often, your competition of mast crops, corn, and soybeans will reign supreme. What happens when the acorns disappear, and farmers harvest their crops? What you are doing is establishing a mid-October into December food option in your area. This timeframe is when all deer hunting seasons are open so consider all options to put more deer in front of your stand.
STAND PLACEMENT AND ENTRANCE/EXIT STRATEGY
Speaking of deer in front of your stand, do not overlook stand placement and your entrance and exit strategy when considering a food plot.
- Have two stand locations for varying wind conditions
- Set your stand at least 15 feet back in the timber and have a good amount of cover behind you
- If you use a blind (food plots + blind + kids = a great family experience) be sure to have it up at least two weeks before the season opens. Brush in the blind to the best of your abilities.
- Deer will likely approach from various directions. Having shooting lanes in the 270° to the side and behind you could be the key to your season’s success.
- What happens when deer are in your food plot past dark? What happens when there are deer in your food plot when you are approaching it? Design several entrance and exit strategies
Utilizing an expert’s knowledge to make you smarter is a proven way to take your food plots to the next level. Jeff Sturgis1 of Whitetail Habitat Solutions and Jason Snavely2 of Drop-Tine® Wildlife Consulting offer different approaches to planting food plots with their in-depth knowledge and vast resources. Consider exploring their websites, following their social media platforms, and downloading their podcasts.
While a perfect, weed free, magazine photo quality food plot is every food plot planter’s goal, temper your expectations to encounter this phenomenon. If you plant some sort of food source, deer will eventually find it. When that food source is at its peak, you will be rewarded while hunting over it. Remember, luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. Keep stacking the preparation and the opportunities will undoubtedly come.
Author: Exodus Black Hat Team Member Geoff Guzinski