Food Plots 101

So you’ve landed a place to hunt this year, or maybe, you're looking to improve the property you’ve been on for years, either way food plots are going to be critical to your success.  It’s important to remember that all animals need three things; food, shelter, and water. It is part of an animal’s instincts to live and reproduce in areas that have plenty of those items.  It takes all three ingredients to grow your deer herd or wild turkey population, and food plots are the easiest way to check one of those boxes. Food plots take time and research to get right, but the benefits can be exponential.

 

Animals that benefit from food plots

 

When discussing food plots, it is common to assume hunter’s are talking about white-tailed deer. While it is safe to assume that most of the food plots across the US are made to target deer, many animals benefit from the extra food source.  Do you ever see other animals on your trail cameras in your food plot? Turkeys, bears, hogs, rabbits, squirrels, and dove can all be found taking advantage of your hard work. Even ducks enjoy the work hunters put in before the season, especially if the plot grows up only to get flooded. It’s as important to know what the animal you’re targeting likes and needs, as it is to understand what seeding options grow well in your environment. 

 

Animals that Benefit from Food Plots

  -  Deer

  -  Doves

  -  Turkeys

  -  Hogs

  -  Rabbits

  -  Squirrels

  -  Ducks

  -  Etc

The Best Seed for Deer

 

If I had a penny for the number of times I have been asked, “what’s the best seed for a food plot” then I’d….

In all seriousness, it is a very common question and one that we only wish we could easily answer.  There are many things to consider when researching what you should be planting. 

 

  -  Where are you planting it?

  -  How much sun will it get?

  -  How much water will it get?

  -  How much animal traffic will be munching on it?

  -  How big is the plot?

  -  What’s your goal?

  -  What equipment and resources do you have?

 

Different plants will grow the best depending on the answers you give. Some plants are hardier and can stand up to more herd activity. Some animals prefer certain plants. One option that has become very popular to ease in this decision process is buying seed mixes.  Companies put together mixes that will grow in your region and provide options for the animals. This gives you a higher chance that at least one crop will grow well. Some plants will grow faster, allowing the slower ones to mature before getting eaten. Some plants will hold up as winter sets in while others perform better in the early fall.  Deer may really enjoy one plant and eat it all quickly so you need a backup to support other wildlife or to last farther into the season. Mixes are usually the way to go but it is still important to understand what comes in your mix so you achieve ideal results. 

So the Hunting Locator preferred Food Plot goes to: Food Plot Mixes 

 

Expert Tip - Talk to your local seed provider, they can be an invaluable resource when it comes to planting in your area.

Fertilizer

 

Before you hook up the seeder to the tractor, you need to run some tests.  Get some soil samples from the areas you’ll be planting your seed and take these in for analysis. Once you know what is in your soil, you can figure out how much and what fertilizer to buy.  When shopping for fertilizer, you’ll see numbers on the bag such as 10-10-10 or 15-0-0. These numbers represent the percentage of these nutrients in the specific mix of fertilizer; nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. Your local seed store will be able to help you test your soil and point you in the right direction for the perfect fertilizer for your property.

Summer Plots

 

If you’re working a long term plan to better the quality of deer on your property, then summer plots are a necessity.  While everyone plants winter plots to hunt over, the deer are just eating to survive and have energy to reproduce then. During the spring and summer, the deer need the extra protein and nutrients for growing.  Putting in the springtime work will ensure your bucks regrow their antlers even bigger than last year and all the fawns have plenty to eat so they make it to maturity. They’ll also help to keep the deer coming into your plots for the entire year, increasing the success of your winter plots.  Growing summer plots is just like planting your winter plots, you have to figure out what seeds you want to put down and prepare the soil. The main differences will be the seed you choose, the amount of weeds that you’ll deal with, and how quickly the plot will grow.  If done correctly, your summer plots will boom quickly, but for the same reason, weeds can be a serious issue.  

Food Plot Seeds 101

 

Remember you need to understand your goals as well as your environment when choosing the best seed for you.  

Peas

  -  Plant Depth ¼” to 1”

  -  PH 6.0 to 7.0

  -  Protein between 20% and 30%

  -  Annual

  -  60lbs per acre broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Highly Attractive to Deer

  -  High traffic early season

  -  Not overly nitrogen sensitive

  -  Easy to grow

 

Cons

  -  Can’t stand up to heavy browsing and cold so usually won't make it through the season

Alfalfa

  -  Seeding Depth of ¼” to ⅜”

  -  PH level 6.5 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 16%

  -  Perennial

  -  15lbs per acre broadcasting

 

 Pros

  -  Drought Resistant

  -  Highly Attractive to Deer

 

Cons

  -  Susceptible to over browsing

  -  Requires spraying for pesticides

Corn

  -  Seeding Depth of 1 3/4” to 2 1/4”

  -  PH level 5.8 to 6.8

  -  Protein around 7%

  -  Annual

  -  12 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Highly attractive to deer

  -  Provide cover making deer more comfortable

  -  High energy source

 

Cons

  -  Requires a lot of water

  -  Requires a lot of fertilizer

  -  Prone to overgrazing before becoming established

  -  Will attract all sorts of animals

Chufa

  -  Seeding Depth of 1 1/2” to 2”

  -  PH level 6.0 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 10%

  -  Annual

  -  50 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Great late season plot

  -  High energy food source

  -  Can be planted in smaller plot (around ¼ acre)

 

Cons

  -  Animals may be unfamiliar with the plant as a food source

  -  Not very attractive for grazing

 

Expert Turkey Tip - Right before turkey season, bring out the tractor and the discs and turn over the soil.  This will bring all of the legumes to the surface. 

 

Expert Waterfowl Tip - Flood it.  Ducks love a flooded chufa field. 

Chicory

  -  Seeding Depth of 1/8” to 1/4”

  -  PH level 6.0 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 23%

  -  Annual

  -  5 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Hardy and easy to grow

  -  Not overly sensitive to water or weeds

 

Cons

  -  May take some time for deer to get used to

  -  Without period summer mowing, will flower instead of growing forage

Soybean

  -  Seeding Depth of 1” to 1 1/2”

  -  PH level 6.0 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 27%

  -  Perennial

  -  70 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  High protein levels ideal for deer antler and body growth

  -  Easy to grow in a wide range of conditions

  -  A lot of variety to choose from based on where you live and your goals

 

Cons

  -  Don’t stand up to heavy grazing, require larger size food plots

  -  Will likely need weed killer sprayed while establishing itself

Brassicas

  -  Seeding Depth of ¼” to ½”

  -  PH level 6.0 to 6.5

  -  Protein around 25%

  -  Annual

  -  5 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Brassica is a species of plants that contains brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and more that we eat on a daily basis.  The most common forms of brassicas found in a deer plot are swede, radish, rape, turnip, and canola. 

 

Pros

  -  Both the top and the roots of the plants provide a food source

  -  Easy to establish

  -  High in energy

  -  Usually lasts into late season

 

Cons

  -  Can have issues with diseases and insects

  -  Need to rotate out of plots to have good results

  -  Deer may have to acquire the taste for them

Oats

  -  Seeding Depth of ½” to 1”

  -  PH level 5.5 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 16%

  -  Annual

  -  100 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  High in carbohydrates to provide energy in the winter

  -  Sweet flavor makes it highly attractive

 

Cons

  -  Prefers well-tilled soil usually created behind a tractor

Rye (grass)

  -  Seeding Depth 1/4” or less

  -  PH level 6.0 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 20%

  -  Annual

  -  40 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Grows quickly and can be hunted within weeks

  -  Can be broadcast with minimal prep work

  -  Affordable

 

Cons

  -  Minimal nutritional value

  -  Not very attractive for game

Turnips 

  -  Seeding Depth of 1/8” to 1/4”

  -  PH level 6.0 to 7.5

  -  Protein around 17%

  -  Annual

  -  10 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Can be broadcast into existing plots with minimal seed coverage needed

  -  Stays digestible for most of the season

  -  Works well in small food plots

  -  Feed deer with both roots and tops of plants

 

Cons

  -  Can take sunlight from other plants in a mixed plot

 

Turnips are the most common food plot choice from the brassica family of plants 

Wheat

  -  Seeding Depth of 1/4” to 1/2”

  -  PH level 6.0 to 7.0

  -  Protein around 13%

  -  Annual

  -  100 lbs per acre when broadcasting

 

Pros

  -  Easy to grow

  -  Can be broadcast on minimally prepared soil

  -  Deer and Turkey like it

 

Cons

  -  Will go through a lot of nitrogen so may take a refertilization after planting

Planting equipment

 

It doesn’t take much equipment to get started with planting food plots.  If you’re leasing a few acres and just want to make sure you have a food source near your hunting spot, you can manage with hand tools.  Just like other things in life, you’ll need more tools and equipment as you try to scale your deer feeding operation. 

Tractor Equipment

If you have access to a tractor you’re already winning. Having a tractor is the only way to efficiently plant large multi acre plots that can really make a difference on your property. If you’re looking to buy one just for your hunting property there are some things to consider. Some of the best properties are full of trails and fences and generally well kept over all. You’ll want a tractor that can make everything easier on you.

 

Picking a tractor 

Buying a tractor is like buying a car, they have different styles, horsepowers, and accessories.  Even the smallest tractor can make your life significantly easier.  It's important to consider all of the accessories available when you're in the market.  You never know how handy a bucket can be on a tractor until you have one. For moving logs, fixing roads, and carrying dirt, rocks, etc, it’s a must have. Depending on your location you’ll want something with four wheel drive. When you’re making your food plot or blazing a new trail, you’ll find yourself sinking on your front tires quite often. You can always dig yourself out with a bucket but you may prevent the need at all if you have 4x4. The horsepower you need for your tractor depends on what you want to do with it. The bigger the tractor the heavier the items you can pick up with your bucket and the wider the implements you can tow, meaning the more ground you can work at a time. Size can have a negative impact as well, if you’re working back in the woods the extra size may hinder your ability to maneuver. Pick what works the best for your situation. 

 

Implements

There are some essential implements that every hunter needs to make the perfect food plot. while a handful of tools will get the job done you’ll find yourself wanting a new implement to make every task easier. 

  -  Brush Mower - If you’re making trails or establishing a food plot, you’ll need a mower that can take little trees and heavier brush down. 

  -  Finish Mower - For knocking down a years worth of growth in your pre-established plots and trails, a normal mower will work perfect.  You’re still driving a tractor, not a lawn mower, so you’ll be able to take down some pretty thick stuff. 

  -  Harrow or Plough - Either one will usually work for food plots, but a harrow is usually better when you’re taking back a wild plot or establishing something. Either way you’ll use this implement to till and prepare the soil for seeding. This is how you get the plot to look like a plot, rows of upturned dirt that make it look purposeful.  You can also raise your discs and use that to cover seed if you’ve broadcast it onto the field. 

  -  Spreader - You don’t really want to go scooping a lot of fertilizer out of a bag with your hand. Plus spreading seed and fertilizer on a larger plot by hand can take a while and be difficult to get uniform coverage. Enter the spreader for your tractor. Load several bags of seed into it at one time and have it spread at a steady rate as you drive back and forth. 

  -  Sprayer - Depending on your location and the plants you choose to plant, spraying weed killer and pesticide can make a huge difference. If you put in all of the work and money to make a few huge plots on your property, you’ll want to invest in a sprayer to take care of your crop. 

  -  Seeder - This is almost cheating. These make it so your seed is placed a certain distance apart and planted at the perfect depth. You won’t have plants crowding each other and your success rate per seed goes way up. You’ll still need a spreader for fertilizer but this can save you a lot of headache and money when it comes to seeding. 

 

Other useful implements

  -  Box Blade - The best tool for maintaining roads and flattening other areas for new plots. 

  -  Auger - If you ever need to mend a fence line, make a pole barn, or build a new deer cleaning station, an auger on the back of your tractor can be a life saver. Anywhere you may break out post hole diggers, this can handle it faster, and dig it deeper. 

Hand Equipment

For the budget hunter or the small plot you can get away with doing most of the work by hand. You can get creative as you need but remember. You’re goal is to get seed and fertilizer in the dirt. You’ll need to remove most, if not all, of the existing vegetation. This can be assisted with chemicals but a lot of people would recommend avoiding spraying intense plant killer where you’re trying to grow a plot.  Next, you need to spread the seed and then get it under the ground. Tools like chainsaws, trimmer, and shovels can get the vegetation taken care of. A gas powered push tiller will finish the job and prepare the soil to seed. You can spread the seed by hand or buy a hand spreader. They’re relatively cheap from your local lawn tool supplier. Then you can drag something, such as a section of chain link fence, to flip the soil over the seeds or let the seed rest and the rain can take care of it. 

ATV Equipment

If you don’t have a tractor or your tractor can’t make it to your plot, an ATV or Side by side can be your next best friend. Beside toting all of the seed and tools to the plot, they have their own set of implements as well. You can get a set of discs to tow behind. Electric spreaders and sprayers can be fashioned to the back of your four wheeler. They even make pull behind mowers so you can knock your trails down from their summer growth. The issue with these options compared to a tractor come from their size and the lack of a PTO. The PTO provides mechanical power to a tractor’s implements making them work better. ATV tow behinds are either driven mechanically from rolling across the ground or have a separate power source. You’ll also be pulling a tool that’s roughly 3 to 4 feet wide compared to their substantially bigger counterparts behind tractors. Ultimately, ATV implements get the job done and have their place even if you have a tractor. They can save you hours of back breaking work and you’ll still end up with the perfect food plot to take that trophy buck over. 

Hunting Over Food Plots

 

You’ve got your property lined up. You’ve figured out what and where to plant your plots. You’ve got the equipment and put the seed in the ground. Time has passed, your plots have grown up, and opening day is coming up. How do you hunt your food plots? Depending on your management style, you can answer this question many ways. Some hunters like to have plots sit so deer have a no-pressure place to eat. Some hunters don’t hunt their plots at all. Typically this is where you put your stands because you know the deer will be looking for food.  To set up a stand on the field you need to evaluate several things. Where your access point? You want to be as quiet as possible and if there’s a deer in the field when you’re getting in the stand, you don’t want to have to walk across the field. Also consider the wind. Does the wind primarily blow from one direction? You’ll want to be downwind of the deer so they don’t smell you. It can be very helpful to put up 2 stands with two accesses so you can pick based on the deer activity and the weather conditions which one you want to hunt. Set up your stands a while in advance so the deer get used to eating around them. If it’s possible, leaving them up year round can make a deer forget anything was ever changed. At the least you should put them up when you’re planting so they’re there the whole time the deer are using your plot.

 

If the deer are feeding at night, you may want to ditch both of your food plot stands and make a move. If you know your property well enough, you’ll know where the deer are bedding and hopefully where they walk to get to the plot. Set up in the middle, preferably where a few game trails converge. 

 

Let your plot rest. Put a few different plots with stands around your property. You don’t want to build up too much hunting pressure in one stand. Switch back and forth so all of the stands are hunted evenly. This is hard because everyone usually has that one favorite stand. Maybe they see more deer there or they like the view, either way mix it up.