There has always been a special coalition between man and the land with which we are briefly entrusted. Whether you’re a row crop farmer in the Midwest or a cattle rancher in Texas, an internal passion burns. Regardless if we own 10,000 acres or lease 100, the opportunity to act as good stewards of the property we hunt, fish or maintain is our obligation. Especially intriguing is to see the production of crops that help all facets of life grow and prosper.
IS PLANTING ANYTHING NEW?
For me personally, the happiness I receive from the land improvements and preparations is just as rewarding as hunting itself. Planting food plots and developing native habitats can give a great sense of pride and satisfaction. Knowing that my efforts in the field are improving the quality of wildlife, while increasing my chances to enjoy it, only adds to the pride I acquire while maintaining the land. I believe that a food plot's best asset is its ability to provide maximum nutrition and to improve quality and carrying capacity, while maintaining the natural habitat.
Planting food plots is nothing new to most deer managers and hunters. The primary reason for planting a food plot is to attract deer for viewing and hunting. Since baiting is illegal in most states, hunters are forced to plant seed in order to attract the deer they hunt. But now, more than ever, the emphasis seems to be changing from attracting deer, to the benefits of nutrition gained from the food plots. For example, warm-season plantings are more prevalent due to the increased interest in raising the nutritional plane during antler development and gestation. The necessary concept is that by planting the right plant species in the right way you will improve the antler growth and body weights respectively.
BAITING VS. ATTRACTING
Most people categorize attracting and baiting under the same terms, but the two are actually confused often because of their similarities. Food plots and supplemental feeding are management tools that enable us to improve the deer on our properties, while baiting is used to create an opportunity to harvest deer by the use of feed at ambush locations.
A strong food plot not only attracts but also contains the deer within the predominant area. Planting a premium seed mixture in the fall will produce great benefits. Adequate nutrition and energy sources will be provided for well into late spring and early summer. With this illustration, the benefits of a food plot are exemplified well. Your fall planting should include cool-season legumes and cool-season cereal grains. For example, this mix might be composed of oats, wheat or rye, which is a great attractant and early to mid-season energy source. Cool-season legumes should include a blend of clovers, vetch, alfalfa or winter peas. These legumes give deer the cutting-edge proteins they so desperately need in late winter and early spring. The lesson here should be to benefit not only for this hunting season but also ensure your chances for the next.
PROVIDING MAXIMUM NUTRITION
Every fall hunter stakes their claim on a favorite hunting location by planting a food plot. Undoubtedly the greatest reason being to attract deer for the upcoming season, in hopes of magically producing or harvesting that trophy buck. Why not take the extra step in creating a plot that will be better utilized throughout the seasons? Planting a food plot should have two common goals -- one being to provide maximum nutrition and the other to attract and retain deer on your property.
Unfortunately, many hunters do not map out a food plot strategy prior to planting. It seems every Labor Day the wife goes to the beach and the husband goes to deer camp in efforts to plant fall food plots. Never taking into consideration that it’s still 100 degrees and there hasn't been a drop of rain in six weeks. Intentions are good, though timing is not.
A PLAN OF ACTION
First, determining your objectives will help in establishing a realistic food plot program. Identifying your farming challenges will eliminate mistakes and financial loss. Too often people do not take the time to properly analyze their properties prior to planting. Regardless if you are trying to attract deer for hunting season or you want intensive nutritional management, your goals should be clear prior to planting. Food plots are tools that, when used properly can and will drastically improve your hunting success while increasing the quality of the deer herd.
The degrees of success attained will depend on your land; the acreage devoted to food plots, the strength of your farming efforts, and what you plant. Before setting goals, realistically evaluate your land, time, money, equipment and commitment. Remember that it doesn’t take any more effort to do something right than it does to do it wrong.
THE WHAT, WHERE AND WHEN
To attract deer, acceptable success can be obtained with relatively low-tech farming practices, but the better the farming the better the food plot. Timing is also very critical in planting anything and will always be one of the biggest factors in the success or failure. With increased food source management intensity, a manager must be more precise in his farming efforts. For maximum nutrition, employ the best farming practices available. When committing to a food plot program three major objectives should be considered: what to plant, where to plant, and when to plant. We will focus more on these subjects in the coming weeks on Realtree.com.
Years ago, while referring to decisions made in life, a dear friend of mine told me, “ You’re either going to be in business or out of business!” This can also be applied to the decisions made in deer management. If you're going to be successful in deer hunting or deer management you need to do the best with each situation handed to you. Taking time to strategize your food plot program will enable you to reap the rewards by attracting, holding, and enhancing the nutrition for more deer. Regardless if your intentions are only to attract deer or increase the nutritional plane, step up to the plate and strive to provide the best. Not only will you benefit during hunting season but also your deer will too.
Editor's note: This was originally published on August 9, 2001.