August 2006
Hunting Camp Journal

Are Deer Really Eating Your Food Plot?

  An exclusion cage should be placed in each food plot immediately after the plot is planted. The exclusion cage tells the food plot manager how heavy the plot is being grazed. This cage was made from welded wire fencing. Hardware cloth and chicken wire can be used.
Are Deer Really Eating
Your Food Plot?

It happens hundreds of times each year, a landowner or hunting club will spend lots of time and dollars planting food plots and, after a rain or two and several weeks time, they return to see the crop green but with little height. At once they blame the seeds they purchased, or the planting crew for doing a poor job.

In areas of high deer populations food plots are consumed heavily just as soon as they emerge; and even though everything was done right and the seeds were good, overgrazing occurs. Knowing what is really going on with the growth of your food plots has a lot to do with how you manage your wildlife habitat and deer population. The easiest way to get a good idea about the growth and condition of food plots is to put an exclusion cage in each plot.

An exclusion cage, sometimes called an exclusion barrier or excluder pen, is an easy to make device that can be placed in a food plot to protect a small area from deer feeding. The protected area within the cage is planted the same as the rest of the food plot and it gets the same amount of rain and sunlight. The only difference is the exclusion of deer feeding. If the plants do not come up inside or outside the cage, then you know you had seed or planting problems. However, if you have lots of growth inside the cage and there appears to be little outside, then you can estimate the amount of deer feeding in the food plot.

Making exclusion cages for your food plots is simple. Using heavy duty hardware cloth, chicken wire or welded wire fencing, make a roll that is four feet in diameter and at least four feet tall. Make sure the mesh is small enough so deer cannot stick their nose inside. Some landowners with high wild turkey populations also want it small enough so turkey cannot stick their head inside and feed.

Wire the roll shut in at least six places and place the cage in the middle of the food plot when the plot is planted. Stake the cage securely to the ground to keep deer from knocking it over.

Each time you visit the food plot you can easily see the amount of feeding going on outside the exclusion cage by looking inside the cage at the protected amount of growth.

Before mowing the plot, be sure to remove the exclusion cage and store to use the next time. Food plots that get overgrown can easily hide a cage and it can be destroyed by the mower.

J. Wayne Fears is the author of the book Hunt Club Management Guide and the editor of Hunting Camp Journal Magazine, a magazine for the hunter who manages the land and wildlife,