In the "Hunting Food Plots 101" series, I will attempt to put a fairly complex subject—food plots—into layman's terms so that anyone can successfully plant food plots the first time around. I will cover everything from beginning to end, sharing my past experiences and let you "ride along" throughout the food plot life cycles. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do and to think about when considering food plots. This series will stick mostly to the basics of food plots. This is the first installment of the series.
When creating food plots to enhance the wildlife habitat of a property, the first few things you need to do are come up with an initial strategy, select your sites based on this strategy and perform soil tests on those sites.
Food Plot Initial Strategy
Why create food plots?
There are two main types of food plots—nutritional and hunting. Nutritional food plots are usually larger (an acre or more), and hunting food plots ("kill plots") are smaller (less than an acre).
Here are some more detailed reasons to create a food plot.
- To provide nutrition year around, especially during the stress periods of summer and winter
- Increase the carrying capacity (the amount of deer the habitat can properly provide for)
- Reduce browsing pressure on native vegetation and enhance forest regeneration
- To attract deer during hunting season for harvest (kill plots)
Some food plots are created to accomplish all of these, while others may only target one or a couple. It is up to you as the steward to determine what your property needs.
In example, the land that I live on and hunt most every day during hunting season has large farms adjacent to it, providing abundant soy beans and corn for the deer.
The last couple of seasons the farmers have cut their crops so late that the deer had access to that nutrition well into winter. This removes the need for me to create acres of food plots, because I certainly can't compete with hundreds of acres of corn and soybeans, and thus would be wasting my money.
That said, I do have several smaller "kill plots" that provide nutrition almost year around.
Food Plot Site Selection
When selecting a site to create a food plot, there are many variables to consider. Here are a few questions that I ask myself when selecting a site.
Why am I creating the food plot?
If it is for a "kill plot," it can be fairly small, and close to your hunting stand. "Kill plots" can be large, especially for rifle hunters, but tend to be created to attract the deer in close for a safe kill. Find a relatively flat area near your stand that gets at least 4-6 hours of sunlight (your food plot seed choices greatly diminish with less sunlight).
If you are creating the food plot to increase the carrying capacity of your habitat, you will want to plant a larger area. Most wildlife consultants will recommend 2-5 percent of your property be encompassed in food plots, but you can actually see an impact with as little as one percent (this, of course, depends on where you live and the available nutrition in your area). Select a relatively flat area that is fairly large. Most larger food plots are done in open fields and therefore receive many hours of sunlight.
Is the soil and moisture adequate for proper forage growth?
Make sure you select a site that can provide for plant growth. Soils subject to drought, flooding and erosion are poor choices. There are many food plot seed choices for clay or sandier soils, but adequate moisture is always a necessity.
Am I having problems keeping the deer on the property?
On my property, the deer come in during the early morning and late evenings, retreating to the forests (most of which I do not own) during the day. This greatly minimizes the time they are on my property during daylight hours.
If this sounds like you, I recommend planting the larger nutritional food plots closer to the middle of your property. This will pull the deer in further, forcing them to expose themselves for longer periods of times.
In general, food plots should be spread out evenly on your property, so I am not suggesting clump five food plots all together in the middle of your property. Again, you need to make the decisions based on your goals and circumstances.
Food Plot Soil Test
The soil test is probably the one thing that you have control over, that will save you the most time and money, as well as relief of stress from a poorly performing food plot.
A soil test is simply sending off the dirt from each plot to a lab to determine the pH and fertility of the soil. They are inexpensive and can be mailed via your local co-op or to any of the major food plot seed companies.
You can buy a core sampler tool, but I just use a shovel. I pick two or three spots on a given food plot, dig down 6-8 inches and then take my sample, putting it into a plastic bag. Each bag should be marked so you know which food plot belongs to which bag. You don't need a lot of dirt and can usually have the results back within a week.
The soil tests will tell you how much lime and fertilizer (as well as the makeup of the fertilizer) you need. This keeps you from overspending while optimizing your soil for plant growth.