By Todd Amenrud
"Why do the same thing and expect different results?" Many novice land managers will have food plot failures this year. Next year, they’ll go out and plant the same thing, the same way and expect it to work. Yes, Mother Nature has a lot to do with food plot success, but "know how" is a definite key when it comes to this subject. If you do things right you can battle Mother Nature for respectable food plots even under undesirable conditions.
Following are tips from the people who know the answers. They all make their living from the food plot seed trade, land management or the hunting industry. Most are also well known in the "food plot circuit."
Mark and Terry Drury
Drury Outdoors, Hosts of Wildlife Obsession
Keep Food on the Table All Season
Many managers design their hunting plots and don’t put much thought into timing. They may plant brassicas in one plot, soybeans in another and rye in a separate spot. These plots will all be hot at one time or another but after they peak you may as well hang your tree stand somewhere else. There are going to be a few days where you can’t keep them out of the soybeans, but then they run their course and they’re on to something else.
Various plants mature at different rates and become palatable at different times. This is one reason food plot seed companies sell "blends" rather then single crops. You want to have an appealing food there for the deer throughout the entire hunting season.
It’s important to have a diverse forage base for them. We like to plant both annuals and perennials in an area. Both types have desirable health characteristics and act as magnets at various times of the hunting season.
Rather than planting just one seed blend, we would recommend planting several blends. Don’t mix them together; they are already "blends." Rather plant the blends separately in their own spot in the plot.
Whitetail are very selective feeders. One day they might be on chicory and then a big temperature change comes through and they may switch to grains. Make sure you’re covered for the change. If you plan out what to plant you can have a selection of something palatable all in one plot for them to last throughout the season.
National Sales Manager, Mossy Oak/BioLogic
Take the Food to the Deer
Mature bucks are often hard to see out in a major agricultural food source during legal shooting time. Those big guys seem to hang in the shadows and appear after dark. I would suggest people bring the food source closer to bedding areas. Place your plots in areas where even mature bucks will feel comfortable during daytime hours.
I classify my plots into either a "feeding plot" or a "hunting plot." My feeding plots are relatively large. My goal with this type of plot is to provide as much nutrition to as many deer as possible. I don’t hunt these plots.
On the other hand, there is the hunting or "harvest" plot. Here, I search for those smaller hide-a-ways that get at least five hours of sunlight but also have great cover and bedding areas close by. An out-of-the-way secure spot like this will allow a mature buck to feel more safe and sound about feeding there during shooting hours.
When designing the plot consider wind direction and thermal. Also consider what crops to plant. In a plot like this, I want to plant "candy crops," a magnet they can’t resist when I want to hunt the spot. If you plan things right, you can harvest mature bucks right in your food plots.
Manages five properties throughout the Midwest
You Must Give Them a Place to Live
By planting food plots you will increase the carrying capacity of your property. However, even if you have the best food plots in the county, if you do not give your deer a place to live, don’t expect to see a dramatic increase in herd numbers.
Through woods work and planting certain cover crops you can create "housing" for them. Remember their world exists from six feet high to the ground. If while standing on the ground you can see 100 yards or more through the trees, your property isn’t holding a lot of deer. You don’t want your property to look like a park, you want the edges and diversity whitetail are attracted to.
Taking it a step further; you should have sanctuaries for them, a spot that is off limits to everyone. This is especially important if you want to hold mature bucks on your land. The size and amount of these "safe heavens" should be relative to the size of the property. A five-acre sanctuary is large enough to house a mature buck. Typically, the thicker the cover the more deer it will hold.
Dr. Grant Woods
Woods & Associates, Inc.
Don’t Be a Weed Seeder
If you use a rotary style mower, you know grass and weed clippings accumulate on the deck as you mow. What most of us don’t think about is these clippings are essentially a "seed bomb" waiting to be deployed.
If you’re heading to mow areas being used as, or prepared for, food plots, do yourself a favor and clean off the mower deck. Otherwise, as the weed cuttings slide or blow off the mower deck, you are effectively seeding the plot with weeds you will have to fight later.
Marketing Manager, Purina Mills
Choose a Top Food Plot Seed Blend over Single Crops
Most low end, low cost food plot seeds also deliver low performance. Many are agricultural-grade seeds such as milo or rye bred primarily for consumption by livestock. Choose a blend consisting of forage-grade cultivars, meaning the seeds are bred specifically for consumption by deer. They were developed after many years of research for the highest performing characteristics, and therefore can execute much better than generic seeds that can cost less. And it really doesn’t matter how inexpensive the seeds are if the plot doesn’t grow well, isn’t palatable or doesn’t attract the deer.
It is generally best to plant a food plot that is a blend of several types of seeds. Plots consisting of just one type of seed (mono plots) are generally at much higher risk for failure. They typically do not perform as well in a wide variety of soil types, are more susceptible to heat and drought, and are usually more prone to have disease and pest problems. Why? Because if a mono plot experiences just one of these problems, it affects the entire plot because there’s only one type of plant in the field. You’re essentially "putting all your eggs in one basket" if you plant just one type of seed.
Food plots consisting of several types of seeds have a much lower risk of plot failure. Each type of plant in the blend has a different tolerance level for soil type, heat resistance, drought resistance, disease and pest problems, not to mention poor farming practices. Multiple seed type plots manage these risks better, resulting in a better performing food plot.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.