Are You Following the Letter of the Law?
I don’t always plant food plots. But when I do, I plant food plots that don’t draw deer.
Maybe that's not entirely true. Numerous deer have died at the hands of my food plot handiwork. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the first five food plots I planted failed to fill a tag for me. But then, something miraculous happened. I pulled my head from my behind. I forgot my own stubborn ways, studied how deer movement correlates with feeding patterns, and paid attention to what others do to take more deer.
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1 | Thou Shalt Properly Prepare Thy Soil
Get a soil test. You can’t prep the soil without knowing what it needs. Spread lime and fertilizer to correct the pH (acidity) and soil composition. Take the readings from your soil tests to a local feed and farm store. They’ll give you a customized fertilizer based on what your soil is lacking. I do not advocate skipping a soil test, but if it isn’t an option, standard 13-13-13 fertilizer should suffice.
Once the reading is taken, spray the desired area. Give it about a week to kill the vegetation, and bushhog the field. Then work the ground. Spread fertilizer and disc the ground a second time, cutting the ground crossways from the first time. Then you’re ready to plant. Planting methods will vary depending on the seed.
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2 | Thou Shalt Choose Seed Wisely
It’s not just about what grows best in your neck of the woods. Pick a seed that fits your needs. Only hunting the early season? Pick a warm-season seed such as red clover, soybeans, alfalfa (disclaimer: it’s tough to grow), or other legumes.
Only hunting the late season? Choose a cold-weather option such as brassicas, clover, oats, or winter peas. Pick a plant that peaks around the time you plan to hunt the most. Also, don’t plant what everyone else is using. If you know what’s around, plant something they can only get one place—your food plot.
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3 | Thou Shalt Not Throw It and Expect to Grow It
It’s not fun, but maintenance is a part of the plan.
Spray your food plots. In some cases, mow your food plots. You’ve spent the money to plant them. Might as well spend a little more to keep them alive. That’s something Dave Skinner, land specialist at Whitetail Properties, knows a thing or two about.
“It all depends on the seed,” Skinner said. “If planting soybeans, I’ll spray with Roundup as needed. If planting clover, I don’t do anything that stresses the plants. I don’t mow if it’s dry or in times of drought. And I only mow to cut down on weeds. If there aren’t weeds, I don’t mow.”
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4 | Thou Shalt Not Help Thy Neighbor
I learned this lesson the hard way. That’s right. I did it. I planted a food plot near the property line. I thought it would be a slam-dunk. And it was a slam-dunk—for the neighbor.
He isn’t even a good neighbor, either. He’s one of those neighbors you want to go around spreading human hair on (I do not encourage you to try this). But yeah, I thought it’d be a BBD for sure. It was, but not for me. And that’s all I have to say about that.
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5 | Thou Shalt Compliment Travel Routes
All too often, we plant a food plot just anywhere and expect deer to be there at sunset, munching away. That’s not how it works. Sure, if you plant it, they will come. But that doesn’t mean they’ll come during legal shooting hours. The best way to put big bucks (and deer in general for that matter) on the ground is to take advantage of major travel routes. Food plots you intend to kill deer over should be planted between bedding areas and feeding destinations. Deer often stage in these small food sources just before dark.
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6 | Thou Shalt Not Stink
Know what directions the wind typically blows in. Don’t create food plots in a way that only allows you to hunt them with an odd wind. Keep in mind typical wind patterns, and go forth from there.
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7 | Thou Shalt Get Creative
The size and shape of the food plot are as important as anything. First, decide what the intent of this food plot is. Will this be a food plot meant to feed deer? Or will it also be meant to take deer over?
If it is meant only to feed deer, shape isn’t as important, but size is. A one-acre food plot can only sustain three to four deer. If the idea is to feed the herd, match food plot size to deer density.
If this food plot is part of your hunt plan, size and shape are everything. The land dictates what you can and can’t do. My favorite food plots are “U” or “L” shaped.
All food plots I plan to kill deer in are shaped one of the two. When deer step into these style food plots with the intent to feed, they almost always work from one end of the plot to the other. This isn’t so with round or rectangular food plots.
My guess is that deer want to see what’s around the corner. Because of this, I’ve had the best luck hanging stands in the bends of the food plot. This allows you to see the whole plot. Bowhunters should keep plots no longer than 100 yards long and 40 yards wide. Gun hunters can go a little larger. Either way, you should be able to cover most (or all) of the food plot.
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8 | Thou Shalt Plan for Access
Security is everything. Deer must feel safe in order to use food plots during daylight hours. You achieve this by picking a good plot location and then creating a buffer around your food plot.
Ideally, you want your plot wooded on all sides. Then, you want a buffer once you break into the open. This can be 10-yard stretch of tall grasses and sporadic young-growth trees. Another way to achieve this is by planting standing corn, Egyptian wheat, or some other tall vegetation. The idea is to soften the edge of the food plot. Don’t go from heavy timber to food plot. Soften the edge by planting a buffer. These buffers also can be planted to create the shape food plot you desire. Most fields that I plant in aren’t “U” or “L” shaped. I use these buffers to create the food plot shape that I desire.
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9 | Thou Shalt Remember the Purpose
I mentioned it once in Commandment 7. I’ll mention it again. Keep food plots narrow enough you can shoot across them. Also, make deer enter and exit the food plot where you want them to. This can be accomplished by piling brush, logs, tree limbs, and other obstacles on the edge of the timber around the perimeter of the food plots. Then, leave the plot accessible in three or four locations.
“Identify where you think deer will be,” Skinner explained. “You want to know where deer will enter and exit the field. Make walls around the food plot with root wads, treetops, etc. These things also serve as visual barriers, too. This forces bucks to enter the plot in search of does during the rut.”
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10 | Thou Shalt Have Entry and Exit
Good entry and exit routes are critical. Plan ahead and know how you will approach and depart from your stand locations. The last thing you want to do is go bumbling through the woods with no preconceived notion of what you’re doing.
“I put in two brand new plots last year,” Skinner mentioned. “Each of them have good entry and exit routes. Also, I utilize hinge-cutting to create corridors, entry and exit routes that funnel deer. By doing this, I know where not to walk and the trails I use will be blocked off from deer."
Editor's Note: This was originally published in 2015.
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