Food Plot Basics

The big buck emerged, shrouded by thick, tall grass. I never saw him coming when he entered the field from the neighboring woodlot. By the time I noticed him it was too late. He was locked in on my position in the tall oak tree. He stomped his front hoof, indignant at my presence, before blowing and bounding off into the dense woods.

The field I was hunting was previously a food plot until a wildfire scorched most of the landscape. The returning vegetation had grown back with a vengeance, and now I regretted not brush hogging the field and replanting the food plot. If I had invested some sweat equity into my hunting spot, there would have no doubt been other deer feeding in the lush green plot now. The big buck might have felt at ease in the crowd of his peers and stayed, possibly giving me a bow shot. Now he was gone.

Well, you can bet this season I will have a food plot planted that will be a magnet for area wildlife. By following a few expert tips, you too can plant a food plot and improve the quality of animals on your hunting spot.


Plan Ahead To Succeed

Before planting any food plots, formulate a strategy. Decide how many food plots you need to attract, hold, and feed whitetails and other wildlife on your property, then decide where to locate them. Some state’s wildlife departments offer land consultations for a nominal fee. They can suggest what to plant, where to plant it, and how many wildlife plots to plant.

Once you decide where to plant your food plots, determine how large they will be. A friend of mine once planted a small food plot that amounted to no more than ¼ acre. His minute planting was mowed down by some deer in one night. My friend decided to supersize his next plot.

Remember, size does matter. Experts suggest planting as large a food plot as possible. For a food plot to be effective, it needs to be no smaller than 1,000 square feet. As a rule of thumb, allot at least a half-acre food plot for every 20 acres of land. If your plots are also intended for winter use, they should be a minimum of one acre.

Another important consideration when deciding on a food plot’s location is whether it allows access for a tractor and implements. If not, you are relegated to using an ATV to break up the ground with a food plot spreader attached to sow the seeds. Worst case scenario, you might have to hand-sow the plot.

Remember, when you commit to growing food plots you must be consistent and log the necessary sweat equity to maintain them.


Test, Spray, and Fertilize

Before planting a food plot, you should have your soil analyzed. The tests can be done at your local agriculture extension office or soil conservancy board for a nominal fee. These tests provide your soil’s pH, suggest proper herbicides for weed control, and determine the best fertilizers and additives for your wildlife plots. 

Weed control is essential if you want your plot to gain maximum yield. Remember, before you kill the weeds you need to identify them and select the proper herbicide for each one. Using a heavy-duty sprayer helps control weeds and guarantees healthier food plots. Moultrie’s heavy-duty food plot sprayers come with chemical-resistant polyethylene tanks. These sprayer units, available in both 15- and 25-gallon models, mount on an ATV. A good sprayer can save time and money by efficiently covering the food plot without excessive waste of chemicals. Some sprayers have tanks with graduation scales for easy mixing and pump strainers for easy cleaning.

Roundup is a popular herbicide that works best when used in bright sunny weather, with no rain expected for at least two days. Herbicides are costly, so mix them correctly for the size of area to be treated. Give the herbicide at least seven days to do its job before disturbing the soil. Clean your sprayer after each use.

Most food plots will benefit when lime is added to the soil. Lime assists soil by neutralizing acidity, improving texture, and increasing the activity of soil microorganisms.


Plant and Reap the Harvest

Popular choices for food plots vary by region, but some crops seem to work well in all locales. Outfitter Dale Eagon says he believes cowpeas are a sensible crop that benefits both deer and turkeys. This high-protein legume is a favorite of many wildlife managers due to its 20-percent protein content. 

Dale owns and operates Eagon’s Hi-Point Ranch in Carter, Okla.— a guide service for deer, turkeys, and waterfowl. This savvy landowner has learned the advantages of feeding wildlife on his property. Dale says he generally plants a couple of rows of hay grazer or high gear around his food plots. These tall, yellow-stalked crops serve as a border to Dale’s green fields. “I believe the deer feel more secure with the field surrounded with the taller crops,” he said.

Other high-protein legumes that work well are soybeans, alfalfa, and clover. These crop foods attract deer while providing them with the nutrition necessary to grow healthy immune systems.

Several companies such as Mossy Oak Biologic make seed blends that are popular with wildlife managers. Seed blends generally are mixtures that provide food during the entire year. These blends utilize wheat, rye, oats, rape, brassicas, chicory, turnips, and clover. Though some blends are pricey, they save time and money by staving off multiple planting.


The Choice Is Yours

When it comes to food plots, the sky is the limit. An almost endless amount of crops can be planted to benefit wildlife. The jury is still out on what is the best whitetail deer food available today. 

So, plant a food plot and maybe you too can reap the benefits with healthier whitetails and bulging flocks of turkeys. Which crops should you plant? The choice is yours.