Fields of Dreams
By Mike Lambeth
As a writer who writes a fair share of big buck stories, I am always intrigued at how hunters came across their trophies. Most of the time I find that the lucky hunters were in the right place at the right time. However, I am finding now more often that hunters are learning to grow their own monster bucks with food plots.
Mike Shaw is a whitetail expert that has been instrumental in the resurgence of many deer herds. The biologist has a simple formula for growing trophy bucks. “There are three requirements for growing a trophy buck,” Shaw opined, “age, genetics, and nutrition. Without a doubt the foods whitetail deer eat have a huge impact on their body and antler make up.”
So if your hunting spot is lackluster, then read on and maybe you too will formulate a plan to start producing big bucks of your own.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner is standing in a cornfield when an eerie voice announces, “If you build it, they will come.” The premise being that if Costner would build a baseball field, then several ghost baseball players, including his late father, would come play in a ballgame that they never got to play in. The movie revolved around Costner believing in the premonition enough to act on it and build a baseball field in the heart of rural America. Long story short, he built the field amid the scoffing of skeptics, and the ghost baseball legends returned to play on the field at the amazement of Costner’s neighbors.
For wildlife enthusiasts, if you want to enhance the game on your hunting spots, consider building food plots. Most hunters will tell you that strategically placed food plots are magnets for deer and turkeys. If you build food plots, deer will not only come, they will grow larger and healthier.
However, before you consider a food plot for this fall, there are a few things you need to consider.
PLOT YOUR OWN SUCCESS
According to whitetail expert Jeff Danker, before planting food plots, formulate a plan and take steps to implement its success. “Before we ever build a single food plot on any of our hunting grounds, we get aerial photos of our hunting spots and analyze which spots are best,” said Danker, host of Buckventures television show. “Aerial photos can be easily obtained, and will show you the key funnels and pinch points on your property for game movement. We then plan out our food plots accordingly.”
Danker suggests that if a piece of land is large enough, plan on one main food plot and then secondary food plots along the edges. He also suggests keeping food plots away from the sight of any roads if possible to protect your deer herd. “Food plots attract deer and if road hunters can see bucks on a food plot, it attracts illegal hunting,” Danker said. “For that reason we place our food plots out of the sight of roads, and when that is not possible we plant tall grasses around the edges of our plots to obscure the view from outsiders.”
Danker also places his food plots where he can enter and exit his hunting sets without spooking deer in the immediate area.
Sometimes food plots must be made where gaining access with a tractor is not practical. The problem is easily solved by utilizing an ATV and using implements made specifically for ATV use by companies like Moultrie Feeders. With a variety of products including sprayers and spreaders, Moultrie, who sets the industry standard in game feeders and game cameras, also offers equipment to make planting a food plot easier.
THINK BEFORE YOU PLANT
Before planting food plots some considerations should be made. After selecting a strategic location, but before tilling the ground, soil samples should be taken. Samples from four quadrants of the proposed food plot are recommended. These soil samples can be taken to extension centers, Soil Conservation offices, and other government agricultural agencies and tested for a nominal charge.
Soil testing reveals the lime content, the alkalinity, and the nitrogen level, and lets you know what steps should be taken before planting to insure the soil is compatible with the crops desired. Testing the Ph of the soil on your hunting ground can make planting a food plot easier and not so much of a trial and error experience. The soil then can be prepared by adding lime of fertilizer to further insure better yield.
If the field has high weeds, experts suggest brush hogging and then spraying the remaining ground with a good herbicide like Round Up.
Another consideration, and probably more viable now with the rising cost of fuels, is whether to till the ground or not. Plowed fields have always carried an appeal to me with their evenly spaced rows, but there are other cost-efficient alternatives.
A friend of mine insists that till free drilling produces the same results and saves substantially on fuel costs. This method is accomplished by drilling the seed into the ground in one pass, instead of tilling the ground and then going back and planting afterwards.
KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN
Due to varying germination rates and diverse planting times, knowing when to plant is crucial for successful food plots. Certain crops require ample amounts of rainfall to flourish. Other crops - like wheat for instance - are heartier and grow with minimal rainfall.
Certain crops are higher in protein and will be prayed on heavily by deer and turkeys when browse and acorns are not available. Consideration of which of these crops will grow well in your area is paramount.
According to Danker, one of the biggest mistakes some people make is waiting too late to plant and then trying to get everything done in one day’s time. Words to the wise: Plan ahead, plant early, and systematically grow your food plots. The results will not happen overnight so neither should the planning and preparation.
ALL THE RIGHT STUFF
When choosing a crop to plant, Danker says it is wise to evaluate what your neighbors have planted. “On one of my leases we planted alfalfa because the nearest alfalfa was miles away,” he said. “The surrounding properties all had wheat and we had the only alfalfa around, causing the deer to come from everywhere to eat our alfalfa. It was awesome and we took some dandy bucks in the process.”
In late winter when deer have eaten most of the acorns and browse, feed fields become great spots for hunting. However, some crops only last until the first hard freeze. So what can you do to insure having the right food when deer are searching?
“We plant a variety of crops on the largest food plot to offer a buffet for deer,” said Danker. “Some of the foods we plant are turnips, brascus, Austrian winter peas, wheat, alfalfa, soybeans, milo, corn, oats and clover. When you use three or four foods you insure that something is growing and healthy through the entire hunting season.”
Remember caution must be taken when buying seed to insure germination rates. Old seed many times is bargain priced for a quick sale, but it’s wise to remember the old adage: “You get what you pay for.”
PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING
Do food plots pay off with big bucks? Danker, who makes a living hunting whitetail deer, says, “Absolutely! All of the bucks taken on our television show and on our videos are taken on food plots or en route from a main food plot to a secondary food plot.”
Consider this: In the last few years Danker and his pro-staff members have harvested several low-fence bucks over 180 inches, and two over 200 inches - with one being a three-antlered 230-inch giant!
Plan now for a super food plot in your own locale. Who knows when the buck of a lifetime might walk across your very own field of dreams!