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The Ultimate Food Plot
You can make any piece of deer hunting ground better in two ways with the right food plots. Even small efforts made in improving the quality of food available in your hunting area will be rewarded. First, better nutrition, even on a small scale, will promote a healthier herd. In areas that lack adequate food, such an effort can make a big difference. But, even in the richest farm country where deer are never hungry for long, a well-chosen and well-sited food plot can attract and hold deer in one area making them easier to hunt.
Plots are pivotal to most deer management plans and they are becoming a more valuable part of hunting strategy, as well. But, simply scratching the earth and throwing out a little seed isn’t going to produce fat deer, more fawns or bigger racks. Nor will just any planting automatically pull deer to your treestands like moths to a flame.
Balance is the Key
Ideally, you will be able to plant a variety of foods that deer prefer at different times of the year so that there is always something attractive on their plate. In a perfect world, each spring will provide a leftover bounty of high-carbohydrate grain and an early green-up of winter wheat or rye. As spring advances the deer will quickly shift to your high protein clover plots. During the heat of summer they will be hammering your soybeans and alfalfa. In early fall sorghum seed heads will be the tastiest thing around, as deer shift out of the beans and into the grains. Then, in late fall and winter they’ll flock to the high carbohydrate content of your corn plots to fuel their furnaces.
Unfortunately, this smorgasbord approach requires a lot from the deer manager. Obviously, there is the need for good tillable land, and lots of it. Without adequate acreage the deer will wipe out each seasonal planting before it even has chance to produce benefits. And just because you have the open ground available to plant the perfect food for every season, that doesn’t mean you have the budget or the manpower to pull it off. High quality food plots aren’t cheap and there is plenty of hard work involved. While this is definitely a labor of love and a good way to get away from your day job (unless you’re a farmer) it still takes time.
Suffice it to say that most of us will never be able to do everything we would like to do to improve nutrition, so we need to set some realistic goals and scale our plans accordingly. For most deer hunters, planning and planting one or two small food plots - about five-acres total - every year is a realistic starting point.
Choosing the Best Planting
What will you grow on your five-acres? First, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of a number of different options before deciding on the overall best one.
Making the Final Choice
Here is my perfect planting scenario. If you have a low or moderate deer density and enough rainfall each year to support corn, split the field in half and plant clover on one half and corn on the other. Deer get great summer food from the clover and you provide a strong fall and winter attractor with the corn. Two and a half acres of corn isn’t a lot so be prepared to see it disappear fast starting in November unless your deer numbers are really low. For your information: a football field is about 1.5 acres, so that should give you some idea of the size of the ground we are talking about.
Total cost for five acres: about $325 the first year and about $225 each year after until the clover thins out. At that point, you can simply rotate the two crops and start over. This assumes you pinch pennies and can borrow the equipment or get someone to put it in for nothing.
If you expect high deer utilization (from a high deer density or a lack of other food sources) and/or your area has insufficient rainfall to support corn, I recommend soybeans for 60% of the plot (three acres) and clover on the remaining 40%. This will assure a good deal of summer food as well as a fall and winter attractor. Also consider drilling winter wheat into the thinnest parts of the bean field once the beans have filled in and started to dry down. As long as you don’t work the ground, the beans will still be available but the addition of the winter grain planting will improve the overall efficiency of the plot.
Total cost for five acres: about $400 for the first year and about $325 for each year after. This assumes that about half the bean plot will be planted to winter grain each fall and that you can get the work done for free.