Food plot season is finally here! Spring signals two things for hunters—turkey season and the push toward next deer season. I’ve done my scouting of a few pieces of public land, and two new private parcels where food plots are an option. In total, this year I’ll likely be planting food plots on 3 properties; this includes our farm which is 240 acres, 50 acres behind my in-law’s house, and a new 56 acre property my dad recently purchased. Each property has its own unique set of circumstances, so before beginning planting, I have to answer a few baseline questions.
1. What is the my overall objective for the food plot(s)?
2. What crops are already in play (spring/summer or fall/winter crops) and what is missing?
3. How much time do I have to maintain what I plant?
Of course a soil test is needed to make sure I’m choosing the correct forage. With that said, here’s how I plan to manage each:
Assessing The Farm
The farm is 240 acres, of which approximately 30 acres is tillable. We have a 5 acre plot of Whitetail Institute Perennial Clover that is going into its third year. Last year we planted an additional 2 acres of Whitetail Institute PowerPlant, which is great summer forage, with an overseed of tubers for late season food. These two plots are on opposite ends of the farm and have historically been utilized by two separate groups of deer. The remainder of the tillable land is leased to a neighboring farmer and is typically sewn with corn, with a few acres kept for hay. Between our food plots and the farmer’s crop, we had a pretty good food plot system working. That said, crop rotation is a must and re-evaluation of our food plot strategy is required. This year the farmer will be rotating the corn out and replacing approximately 20 acres with alfalfa for the next 6 years. With this change we’ll have an overabundance of spring and summer food with limited late fall and winter food. Obviously, it’s time to switch things up.
The Farm Plan
In all truthfulness, the farm’s food plots needed to be diversified, and now is the perfect time to revise our food plot strategy. With the introduction of 20 acres of alfalfa, the all important spring green up period for deer to rebound from the harsh winter months will be covered, along with summer food. The plan, therefore, is to add more fall and late season food for attraction during hunting season and provide more winter food (I’ve scouted the browse the past two winters and it’s been hit pretty hard which points to a lack of winter food on the property). What I also need to consider is the time required to implement and maintain the new plots. With potentially two additional properties to maintain this year, I’m opting for an annual forage. Yes, there is yearly work required to establish annual food plots, but I don’t have time to commit to spraying and mowing additional perennial plots a few times a year, so an annual for me is more manageable.
With that said, I’ll continue to maintain the 5 acre clover field, but till strips into it planting roughly half of the plot in Whitetail Institute’s Pure Attraction—this way our largest plot provides food for every season, and as deer move across it they’ll encounter each food variety. The additional 2 acre plot will also be planted in Pure Attraction as this plot is an area I hunt during the late season. Pure Attraction includes oats, wheat, peas and a variety of brassicas including turnips. This combination provides the diversity of forage I’m looking for and is attractive to deer during hunting season along with increasing the late winter food source. I’ll also be planting a micro plot of Whitetail Institute’s BowStand in an old log yard. The plot will be approximately 5 yards wide by 15 yards long. BowStand is made to use in hard to reach areas where planting conditions may be less than ideal or equipment access is limited. I’ve used BowStand in this log yard with success in the past. During the rut, bucks frequently pass through this pinch point on their way to the clover field. This small plot is intended to have them pause long enough for a shot opportunity.
Assessing The In-Law’s 50 Acres
This property is comprised of a steep ridges and a flat area which was an old log yard 10 plus years ago that sits just above a creek bottom. I hunted this property one time last year and had an encounter with a shooter 8 pt. My father-in-law hunted it a few days during the rut and saw 3 shooters, one that was mount worthy. The property sit’s just outside the town I grew up in, which would still be considered rural by most standards. That said, this property is not in a heavy agricultural area so any food plots I plant will be the only game in town so to speak. I’ve also located 2 known buck beds on ridge behind the log yard and I’ve watched deer behind the house filter through the brush behind the house into the log yard while drinking my morning coffee. The log yard seems like it could be a good early season ambush spot.
The In-Law’s 50 Acre Plan
I’m hesitant to plant anything on the main ridge as the buck beds I’ve scouted are at the top third of the ridge and I don’t want to risk disturbing any patterns these bucks are accustom to. I also don’t want to plant a plot near the creek bottom for fear of getting too close to the neighbors. After I did a bit of scouting, I noticed a portion of log yard was overgrown and surrounded by brush and small pine trees with a well worn trail running through the center. The surrounding trees and brush give the area a sense of seclusion and safety while the path leads to an area of regenerative growth where I have already selected a few trees for stand placements. The total size of the plot will likely be a quarter of an acre. The plan is really to use this location as an early season ambush opportunity. There is next to zero pressure on this parcel, so the goal will be to get one of the shooters to frequent this plot early in the season and go in for a strategic strike! In this plot, I’ll again use Pure Attraction as I’m looking for a low maintenance option that will be attractive during hunting season and will provide a variety of forage. The lack of pressure and the addition of a secluded food plot, lead me to be cautiously optimistic about the potential of this property.
Assessing Dad’s 56 Acres
Although my dad only recently picked up this property, I have had a chance to walk the property twice with my dad. Also, being that my uncle was the previous owner, we were able to get a little intel on the property from him. That being said, I’m taking a bit of a shot in the dark this year with planting a food plot on this land. My uncle has previously planted two very small plots with clover, something similar in size to micro plots. The property is in farm country, but the neighboring farms have placed their fields into the CREP program (Conservation Reserver Enhancement Program).
Dad’s 56 Acre Plan
At this point, you’re probably picking up on the theme that I have limited time for maintenance, but I do want to start somewhere with this property. This year I’ll plant a half acre of Pure Attraction on this property in an overgrown field near a fence row. The plan is to snake the plot along the timber edge to hopefully pull deer close enough to the timber to place a stand for a shot opportunity. This location makes sense from what I could gather during my scout, and the movement my uncle had seen the past few years. Truthfully, this year is all about observing and learning more about this property, and then hopefully being able to dial in a more strategic plan for the following years.
Planning and planting food plots is one of my favorite deer work projects. The most important part in my opinion is to start with a goal in mind, and build your plan to achieve that goal. Don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way and make the necessary adjustments based on your time and other needs. When my father-in-law and I first started planting plots we had a lot of questions. We’d talk to local farmers, our local co-op and had Whitetail Institute on speed dial! We’re proof that anyone can build effective food plots with a little planning. So get outside, get your hands in the dirt, and start planting and planning for next year’s moment of truth from the stand.