Food plots for whitetail deer

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Food plots for whitetail deer are likely one of the top 3 things you can do to improve your hunting property by providing nutrition for antler growth and holding deer on your property.

Combined with mineral sites, food plots can change a hunting property from being a deer ghost town to a boom town in just a short time span! Just like the Kevin Costner quote,”if you build it they will come”. If you build a food plot the deer will come, and be more likely to stay instead of crossing your property line and into someone else’s freezer !

If you don’t have big equipment, you can still improve your property with food plots!

Cranking up that big old tractor and hooking up the plows is a fantastic way to plan food plots and the results outweigh the effort in many ways. But just because you don’t have big equipment to plow, plan and care for a food plot doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the benefits of small, remote plots on your hunting property !

Deer hunting has become a major league product driven market over the past few decades, and the competition between feed and seed suppliers is no different. Just a few years ago planting a food plot was much more of an ordeal and a step that many hunters skipped on their smaller tracts of land because not having the equipment to plow and plan made it so much of an ordeal that they didn’t really think it was worth it.

But research done by Dr. James Kroll (also known as Dr Deer) has shown some tremendous benefits of planting smaller food plots and using them to hold deer while also bettering the nutritional intake and growing larger antlers. And with over 4 decades of research and the study of deer forage and the benefits and best types of different foods has made him the authority on the subject. So much so that land owners around the country enlist the help of Dr. Kroll when planning land purchases and settig up food plot programs for deer hunting and deer ranches.

He has shared the knowledge of the subject through his Ecology, Management & Harvesting of White-tailed Deer Education Program with tremendous success! And with such reat knowledge and experience I would tend to listen a little closer to Dr. Kroll and a little less to those marketers of the latest greatest seed products in the camo bag!

Dr. Kroll and many of his colleagues are adimant about improving your whitetail habitat, no matter the size. In fact, I heard him state in an interview that if you have a small open spot that the sun can penetrate, plan it! And that doesn’t mean that the most well thought of crops are whats right!

Take the correct steps to ensure a successful food plot !

As stated before I really listen to Dr Deer on these matters ! But it’s not just his opinions, but the opinions of many biologists and land owners that you can glean from to make the correct cihoices. I know first hand that if you don’t take a soil sample, you run a slim chance of having a successful food plot, and a huge chance at a disaster ! No matter if you are planting with a tractor and plows or a garden rake, if you don’t take the right steps you can waste alot of time and money!

A soil sample will give you a leg up when you know how much and what tyoes of fertilizers and lyme to spread before and after your planting to get the best results. Just planting is hoping that your efforts get rewarded with no investment of preparation to back your expectation.

In most cases you can take a small bag of soil from several locations on your property to the county extension office and get a printout of exactly what you need to get a healthy soil and therefore a healthy food plot. After all there is enough that can go wrong with not enough of rain or too much rain and other weather and wildlife concerns to let the preparation be neglected

What crops make the best food plots?

If you have ever planted a garden with turnips in it you will understand why turnips are not the ideal crop for a food plot ! A lot of hunters pant turnips because they do well during the cold months, and deer love them! But deer will not touch turnips until they have gotten at least one or two good frosts on them. And then they still may need some time before deer will eat them.

If you don’t believe me, the next time you plan your turnips, touch the turnip greens to your tongue before a frost. The oxalic acid will make them taste very bitter and your tongue numb. Then do the same thing after a frost or two. Likely the bitterness will have lessened, but it will still be there and make your tongue numb. That’s the same reason deer aren’t likely to eat turnips until late in the deer season, if at all. In many southern states where turnips are most popular for food plots, the turnips don’t get a couple of frosts until the deer season is almost over or over.

It’s true that the deer will eat them throughout the winter until they are gone, but turnips have almost no nutritional value so why plan them?

The same can be said of rye grass. Year after year hunters fertilize and mow their rye grass food plots because the deer love grazing in rye grass food plots. The truth is that deer don’t eat rye grass unless they are near the starving stage. The reasons these hunters and land owners think deer love the rye grass so much is because they see the deer in the food plots. But the deer are in the food plots eating rye grass because there is nothing green left to eat!

I’ve seen deer in latre winter eat briers and pine needles, but that doesn’t mean they love the briers and pine needles. It means that they have few options and it keeps them from starving to death. And while we are on the subject, brassicas are in the same category. The deer will eat brassicas, but it isn’t their first choice and brassicas have little nutritional value.

If you want a great food plot system, a spring planting of buck forage oats is a winner every time! Ots are easy to plan, more drought tolerant, and provide tons of nutritional value while the deer are growing antlers.

The old standby clover food plot gives the deer some of the best protein and calcium you could ask for.Clover food plots are easy to plan, provided you plan a day or two before a forecasted rain. And clover makes an easy to care for perineal food plat. Just mow a couple of inches off it when it starts to flower, and lightly fertilize every spring and a food plaot will last for many years without re-planting.

Many of the no-plow or throw and gro varieties work great for making a good food plot seed bed! Just take some time and find out which ones work best in your part of the country. And steer clear of the brassicas and turnips!

Small food plot, big game plan!

Let’s make a game plan for our “micro plots” this year!

First we will get a couple of soil samples and get them tested this spring. (First week or 2 in March. Then we can do what we have to to neutralize the acid soil with the correct amount of lyme, since you need to lyme a couple of months early to let it have the time it needs to neutralize the acids and start building nitrogen. Then wait about 3 weeks and spray with round up to kill the grass and weeds.

Then we will plow with the best option we have. If that option is a garden rake so be it! A couple of guys can rake and break the soil up in a quarter of an acre in a few hours. If you have a tractor and the space for a large plot, by all means plow it up and get it done! I used to have a small set of disk plows that are made for an ATV . I would drag these plows half a day and only scratch the soil a little. Then Iwould get frustrated and start piling weight on the plows and end up breaking them!

I would rather use a garden rake than one of those little plows! If the ground is soft they may work fine, but the times I used mine I had to keep stacking weight on and finally parts started to break. The best implement I have ever seen for a small food plot is the Ground Hawg max. This little set of plows attaches to a hitch system and uses the weight of your ATV to plow. It works great and doesn’t over stress your ATV. They are around $400 and can be bought at most deed and seed stores .

But for this plan we will be using the good old garden rake and some elbow grease! Clean out.the dead grass and weeds that we sprayed and make sure all limbs are removed. If you use the tines on the rake you can make tons of progress quickly while raking and plowing at the same time. It doesn’t take much depth. Just make sure you break the top of the soil and your plot will grow.

Next we will plan our buck forage oats. Be pretty liberal with the seed, to make sure we get enough down that birds and wildlife eating the seed doesn’;t destroy our food plot or leave bald sections everywhere. Then we add a small amount of fertilizer and pray for rain!

With any luck at all you should have a successful food plot in abot 4-5 weeks! If you have the time and availabe space it would be nice to make several small food plots. Make sure you dont clean the area around your plots out too much! If the edges are left thick with undergrowth, it will be more conducive to daylight buck travel from plot to plot. If you don’t have very much cover to allow the deer to feel safe , do some hinge cutting. Cut some small diameter trees about 4 feet from the ground about 2/3 through and push them over. The tree will continue to live and leaves will grow at ground level offering the deer more food and cover. After all deer are browsers so they will love it!

Where there is a will there is a way!

The smartest thing we did with our food plot was to plan it wisely with planning and attention to the little things that can make or break a food plot! .It’s the 5 PS that make the difference! Perfect preparation prevents poor performance ! Take the time to get it as close to right as possible! After all something there is better than nothing. But if you play it smart you can have great food plots and great deer population and health!

 

Thanks for reading this post! I really appreciate it!

If there is anything I can help you with, don’t hesitate to put it in the comments and I’ll get back to you ASAP !

Thanks Again!

Mike

 

 

 

 

 

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3 comments

  1. What a great article! I have recently moved back home in the Midwest and it is time to get back into white tail hunting!
    My sister recently bought some farm land and I was thinking about trying to plant some micro patches around her propriety.
    You article brings up some great strategist and tips, thanks!.
    Do you think putting is some random apple trees would also be a good idea? Or is there a better option to attract deer?

    Brendon

    1. Random apple trees are a great idea ! In fact I planted 5 apple trees and 5 Dunston Chestnut trees last year ! In an area with white oak acorns on the ground, I have seen deer walk right through them to get to the chestnuts!

      Thanks for the comment! If I can help you further, feel free to let me knwo in the comments ! 

      Have a great day!

      Mike 

  2. Some really great ideas here! We live on 1 acre, but the back of our property backs to timber land. We’ve been looking for some advice on creating a small food plot at the back of the property.

    Plenty of cover in the timber land, and then some yummy oats and clover on our property. We plan to hunt on the timber land in the fall. During the summer, we hope the food plot helps keep the deer out of our garden!

    Thanks for the advice!

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