August 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

Hang on boys, rain and cool weather are coming!! I don’t know when but I am sure it’s on its way. This time of year my thoughts start to turn to hunting season and food plots. Even though it very hot and very dry, fall is on the way and it will be here before you know it.

Now is the time to begin planning for those food plots that will get the deer and you through the hunting season.

This summer’s weather has pretty much wiped out any spring food plots you managed to get planted. That is going to make the cool season plots even more important.

Look for the acorn and other mast crops to be short and look for the natural browse that deer depend on in the fall to be short as well. Right now the deer herds are probably as stressed as any of us will ever see them. Your deer are going to have a lot of ground to make up this fall and they will be depending on your food plots more than ever.

There are some things to consider before going and buying your seed and fertilizer this year; and start thinking about it now, not at the last minute. At the counter at the Co-op on Saturday morning is not the time to make these crucial decisions.

The absolute first thing to do is get a soil sample of your plots. Be sure to get enough soil and label it as a wildlife plot.

If your plots need lime, get them limed as soon as possible. The sooner you get the lime out, the sooner you will be able to enjoy its benefits. One other tip, check your roads to the plots and try to widen them enough for a lime spreader buggy to get down them. Bulk agricultural lime is the cheapest way to lime your plots, but you have to be able to get the spreader to the plot. Your soil test will also tell how much fertilizer is left from last year and make recommendations for how much to apply this year.

When you get to the point where you are going to make some decisions on seed types and amounts, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Plan on putting between 120 and 150 pounds of seed per acre. Whatever seed you decide on, put out a lot of it. As the old folks say, the more you plant, the more comes up. When you plant a food plot, remember that you need a plant population that can sustain grazing pressure. This fall and winter you will see even more pressure than normal. When cool weather hits, these deer are going to be hungry and will hit your plots hard.

Seed blends are a very good way to plant a variety of plants quickly and in my opinion they are the way to go. The best seed blends contain several varieties of grass and several varieties and species of legumes and some sort of brassica.

Whatever blend you choose, or even if you choose to blend your own, be sure to get some chickory in your food plots. Chickory is starting to look like the absolute best deer attractant forage out there. I have seen bucks come into food plots and go straight to where the chickory is growing best. Several blends are available that contain chickory and you can even buy chickory additives for your seed.

The reason for a variety of plants in the food plot is to, in essence, offer the deer a "salad bar" of forages. All of the different plants provide the deer with something it needs. Some plants are high in protein, some are high in energy; others are high in minerals and then some are higher in one mineral than others. A variety of forages available means that the deer can meet many of its nutritional needs in one spot and, believe me, they know it.

Be sure to read the tag on the bag of seed if it is a blend, and see just what is in it and how much. I have seen some plot seeds that contain a high percentage of summer annuals such as brown top millet, iron and clay peas and corn. I guess the reason they are in the blend is so that the hunter can see something come up fast. This is great for public relations but when a frost hits the woods, there won’t be much to eat. If you don’t know what a variety is on the tag, then ask the sales force about it. If they either cannot answer your question or at least try to find out, then leave and go somewhere else.

Lets take a quick look at a seed tag and see what it tells us. First and foremost, it’s going to tell you when it was germination tested and what the germination percentage was and what the company will guarantee. Then it will list the species of forage in the bag and how much. If it lists wheat, it will tell you the variety of wheat and the content percentage. (Example: EK-102 Wheat- 30% means that in a fifty pound bag, fifteen pounds is wheat seed.) I can promise you that whatever seed is the highest percentage, it probably is the cheapest seed in the bag, which is not a bad thing. As the seed value increases you will see less and less of it. Remember that legumes are very expensive.

After looking on the tag and seeing just what we are getting, what does it mean?

The grasses in the bag are there to supply energy for the deer; they are like the white bread or biscuits of the deer world. They produce a lot of forage, grow fast and require a lot of fertilizer. I would look for no less than three different varieties of grasses in a blend.

Next are usually the legumes. Legumes are such things as clovers, winter peas and vetch. These are the plants that supply the proteins. They are able to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into a form that they can use. They are able to do this with the help of a soil bacterium called rhizobium.

If you plant a pure stand of legumes, your seed dealer should advise you to apply inoculant to the seed before planting. This inoculant does not help the seed to germinate; it is to supply the bacteria needed by the plant to do their "nitrogen trick." It is not quite as important when planting crimson clover because the bacterium needed by crimson is found in most Alabama soils. If your seed source doesn’t know what inoculant is, once again, go somewhere else.

The brassicas are things like turnips, mustard, rape and the New Zealand varieties as well as chickory. They also produce tons of forage and need a good bit of fertilizer. The brassicas contain energy, protein and usually have a good mineral content. Unfortunately, many of them don’t taste that good until a frost hits them and frees up the sugars in the plant.

The best thing about seed blends is that most of the manufacturers have tested them and the ratio of grasses to legumes to brassicas are usually the best ratios to be beneficial to each other and to the deer. Let them spend the time and money it takes to evaluate them for years and years.

One last thing to remember about seed tags is that they will also tell you whether or not the seed is one hundred percent of one variety. If you plant a bag of seed that says a particular brand that means nothing, it’s the tag that tells you what is inside the bag. If you don’t read the tag, you are liable to wake up one morning and think someone has played a cruel joke on you and seeded your plot with turnips.

Always make sure that the lot number of the seed is on your receipt so that if there is any problem, such as not germinating properly, you can get some help from the seed company.

If you have problems, all the seed company is responsible for is the germination percent, the stated varieties and their amounts, foreign matter and weed seed. There are a zillion things that you can do wrong when planting that can result in plot failure, so ask what is the best way to plant and maintain the plants in the food plot and again, if they can’t answer you, go somewhere else.

When trying to decide on a blend to plant, ask your seed dealer what has been working best for local hunters. They should know.

One last thought to pass on; this might be a year to start some supplemental feeding of your deer herd. Fellow hunters, there ain’t much out there for the deer to eat this year; I’ve even seen some kudzu dying! What is out there is dying fast or getting eaten down because it isn’t growing. If you do decide to do some feeding, don’t feed corn. The deer need protein right now, not ice cream. Pure corn can cause acidosis in a deer’s rumen and that is almost a death sentence for him. Try to feed a complete feed or some soybeans to help them get through this tough summer.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.