Deer Food Plots for Beginners
Food plots are and excellent way to attract and retain deer on your existing or new hunting land. Most hunters want to plant fall food plots to use while hunting, but the process should start way before opening day. Planting a food plot early will help you understand deer movement patters and increase your odds of seeing quality deer on opening day.
Understanding your deer movement patters and current resources will help you plan what and where to plant your food plot.
Deer usually have a home range of about a square mile or more. Consider the natural and agricultural food resources that exist in that area, your job is to diversify. You can use tool such as Google Earth or some hunting apps to help you get an aerial view of your area to help you with this step.
Offering something different in your food plot will be more attractive to your deer since they like diversity in their diet. These do not have to be drastically different from your current resources, but planting even a high quality forage that is not nearby will also be highly attractive. If you planted a 1,000 sq ft food plot of soybeans next to the farmers 100 acre field of soybeans, which one would you choose if you were a deer?
Recognizing patterns and route that deer are already traveling will help with where to place your food plot. Take note of rubs or scrapes to help determine this route. Placing your plot on an already established route will increase your odds off attracting deer.
Think about year-round food plots
Deer eat 365 days a year. This is why it is important to think about the whole picture when planting food plots. By planting a year long food plot the deer will establish a pattern of revisiting your plot as long as you keep a steady stream of forage. You can use this pattern to your advantage when it comes to hunting.
Natural food sources tend to be plentiful in the spring and fall. By planting a crop that peaks during the lull period (late summer and winter), you will draw more deer that are searching harder for nutritious forage.
How to Plant Your Plot
Once you determine where and what you are planting, the real work begins.
1. Soil Test
The best thing you can do to improve your planting success is to take a soil test. You can do this through your county extension or you can purchase a mail in soil test. The soil test will tell you which nutrient your will need or not need to add for your specific crop and improve the performance and palatability for the deer.
2. Get Rid of Existing Weeds or Vegetation
New seedling will have a hard time competing with the existing vegetation. Make it easier for them by killing off existing weeds and vegetation with a herbicide, and till the plot a few days later. Wait a week or two and spray again to control any lingering vegetation.
3. Smooth the Seed Bed
Drag, rake, or cultipack any rocky or rough soil so the seed bed is smooth and mostly even.
4. Time to Plant
Try to plan your planting time before a drizzle (not downpour), if possible. If conditions are too dry, it can delay seed emergence.
5. Spreader Settings
The size, location, and equipment available will dictate how you spread your seed. For smaller plots a hand-cranked spreader will work fine. Larger plots may require a pull behind spreader, planter, or no-till drill.
Take the time to determine the correct amount of seed you will need for your space. Read the recommended application rate on your seed bag, then refer to your plot measurements to calculate how much seed you will need. If using a broadcaster you can lean toward the heavy end of the recommended rate, but in general, more is not better. Overcrowded seed will fail to establish and thrive.
If spreading different seed types, aim for even seed distribution patter, crisscrossing both directions if using a broadcaster.
6. Covering the Seed
Drag or rolling your plot will press the seed firmly into the soil. Planting depth is very important as most people bury the seed too deep leading to rot and poor germination. After working the ground, step on the soil. If your food sinks deeper than the recommended planting depth, cultipack or drive over it before spreading your seed to ensure a firm seedbed.
7. Protect your Plot
Once you have everything planted if is best to protect it until established. If grazed too soon it can be permanently stunted. Offering multiple plots with staggered crop maturity can help reduce the stress on your plot. A portable solar electric fence can also be effective to help your plot avoid being grazed until established.
Keep in mind that your plot is going to be used for forage not production. They generally don't require the same amount of fertilizer as an agricultural crop. If your soil does require some sort of fertilizer application, put half the recommended amount of fertilizer down at planting and the other half 3-5 weeks later. This will help manage some of the weeds growing and the second round will give the new crop a boost in the important early stages.
It is important to note that over-fertilizing newly seeded areas will fuel weed growth.
Monitor Food Plots for Deer Traffic
Once food plots are established, you can start observing deer traffic and maintenance.
This is a great place to place trail cameras to help keep an eye on visitors. Placing a 3-foot square cage of chicken wire inside your plot will help you gauge how much of the surrounding crop is being grazed.
Avoid visiting your plots in the summer, besides brief and scentless stops to check the trail camera. This will keep the plot feeling safe and undisturbed so deer will keep returning. Whenever approaching food plots, keep wind direction and scent control on your mind to avoid alerting the current deer population.