Deer management has been a steadily growing trend over the years. There is no doubt that today's hunter is more informed, and more knowledgeable about his or her quarry than ever before. In fact, most deer hunters today would rather discuss buck-to-doe ratios, age structure, and the importance of scent control. A more recent trend in deer hunting circles is the interest in food plots.
More and more hunters realize the importance of implementing a food plot program on their hunting ground. If you are not already experimenting with food plots, here are a few good tips to bring the job to completion.
Step No. 1: One of the more difficult jobs of developing a food plot is choosing a site. Depending on the size of your lot, the choices may be limited. Do you have to clear an area? Some good sites may need extensive work. I have been clearing an old apple orchard for one of my newest food plots, and let me tell you, it is a lot of work! Clearing out old apple trees, struggling through briars, is not what I consider an easy task. Luckily, I have access to some heavy equipment. A tractor and bushhog can do much of the work, but you still may have to employ the services of a bulldozer, chainsaw, or other heavy machinery. I have even rented some machinery at times. If you know a local farmer, you may be able to barter with him. Leasing a portion of your land may convince the farmer to work the land and leave some of the crop standing.
Step No. 2: I prefer a site that has a North-South orientation. Some food plot seed is drought-tolerant. Others are not. If the site you have chosen is well-drained, or subject to direct sunlight all day, you may want to position your plot in a north-south direction so that your plot holds moisture more efficiently. Too much sunlight can be detrimental, especially if the crop is planted at the wrong time of the year, or if rainfall levels are below normal. Follow the directions that accompany your particular seed choice, most will have an optimum planting time indicated. It is critical that you follow the directions as closely as possible.
Step No. 3: If you want to have a productive food plot, the single-most important requirement is to take a soil sample. I make it a point to sample my plots every year. The old apple orchard that I referenced to earlier was very low in phosphorus, and the pH was 5.5 (low). I would have never known this without taking a soil sample. The information from the soil analysis allows me to formulate a plan to improve the nutrient levels of the soil. A soil sample kit may be purchased at your local Cooperative Extension Office or Soil Conservation Service for approximately $15-20.
Step No. 4: The soil analysis will also tell you both lime and fertilizer recommendations. Once you know what to apply, and at what rates, you can begin to prepare a seed bed that will maximize the capability of your chosen plant. Luckily I have a local lime company nearby, so I can fill my pickup truck and spread the lime by hand. It may seem like a lot of work, but most lime companies will not spread lime over small areas, it's just not worth the time or the money. As far as fertilizing, I have been successful using a walk-behind hopper-type spreader.
Step No. 5: Whether you are clearing a site full of brush and woody material, or whether you are utilizing a recently farmed field, it is a wise choice to apply some sort of herbicide. An all-purpose herbicide that works well is Roundup, but your plot may require something a little stronger depending on what was previously there. If you are not sure what herbicide to apply, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service or Soil Conservation Service for further guidance.
Step No. 6: Another way to rid your plot of unwanted weeds and brush is simply plowing and disking the area. The more you "work" the ground, the better the ground becomes. Brush and weeds are turned over, and your plot will be able to accept air and moisture more readily. Weeds will always be a continual problem, but with a diligent program of mowing and herbicidal control to limit these unwanted invaders, your food plot will be able to reach it's potential.
Step No. 7: After you have chosen your site, controlled the weeds, and properly limed and fertilized, you are now ready to plant. Preparing the seed bed is a critical step. Plowing and disking the area will work the lime and fertilizer into the soil, and will also allow for good seed-to-soil contact. If you do not have access to farm machinery, you may have to hire the services of a farmer or invest in a system such as the Plotmaster. Once the ground has been prepared, I clear the area of rocks or any other debris that may hinder the planting process. As soon as the ground is ready to plant, I watch the Weather Channel. The last thing I want to do is plant my seed, just to watch it rot in the ground due to lack of rain. I try to plant just before a steady rain to optimize the chances for germination.
Step No. 8: Some wildlife seed can be broadcast by hand. I generally use a walk-behind spreader, and lightly pack the seed with a four-wheeler and lawn roller. Again, this helps create good seed-to-soil contact that is critical for successful germination. Some seed must be grain-drilled, or planted with a row-crop planter. Not all seed is created equal. Each variety has it's own characteristics, and must be planted at the proper depth. Make sure you read the planting instructions to determine both the proper planting depth, and the optimum planting time.