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A Focus On Food Plots at Cabela's

A Focus On Food Plots

Author: Michael Faw

Food plots should be one part of an overall game management plan on your hunting property. One rule seems to be true of all properly prepared food plots: If you plant it, they will come!

The 8-point white-tailed buck never slowed his gait as he followed the ribbon of worn game trail through the Texas sendero. The buck had just left a food plot and was now sneaking back into the brush and the safety it offered. My bullet connected before he reached the brush, and the deer collapsed onto its tangle of legs. I guessed that the pot-bellied buck was just too full of food plot browse to run. The deer’s huge antlers were the result of nutrition, genetics and other factors. I was thankful that the food plot had provided a strong nutrition source.

Food plots don’t work just in Texas, they can provide nutritious browse for your local deer herd, and help you locate bucks while keeping numerous deer on your own hunting property. Food plots can also be a key element in growing trophy bucks. The time, effort and resources required to plant nutritious browse for deer and other wildlife species might be one of the best investments that you ever make in your hunting area.

In the old days, farmers used horses, mules, or tractors to till the land and plant crops. While today’s farmers use much larger tractors that dwarf their predecessors, part-time farmers and part-time hunters have another optional workhorse--the All Terrain Vehicle. The popularity of these 4- or 6-wheel mechanical beasts has sky rocketed in recent years. An ATV can take you to camp or the treestand, pack out your trophy buck and help you explore a new hunting area as a commuter vehicle. The newest task that ATVs are shouldering is helping to till the land and complete a food plot.

ATVs as mini-tractors can plow, sow, rake, disc, spray and perform other traditional farming tasks. A host of accessories makes it possible. These options are often scaled down versions of implements used on the larger tractors. Flipping through the pages of your newest Cabela’s catalog, or searching this web site, will reveal many of the implement options. There are at least three pull-behind mower decks (Swisher Trail Cutters) to help you mow down brush, weeds and grass. Some are powered with massive 12.5 horsepower engines so that no weed stands a chance of surviving. There are liquid sprayers and two types of dry material broadcasting spreaders to assist with preparing and planting a food plot. The Trail Buster Box scrape is the answer if you need to level or move ground. One interesting implement that I spotted was a scrape that mounts on the front of an ATV. This would be useful when filling gullies and pushing debris out of the way. You can also rip up ground with a Work Saver Gang disc that cuts a 5-foot wide path. If you need to prepare your ATV for the chore, Cabela’s also has tires, winches, racks, ramps and trailers for hauling materials.

Where To Plant

Once you and your ATV are geared up, you must determine where you want to invest your time and resources into a food plot. A new CD-ROM program from the National Wild Turkey Federation, "Get In The Game (800-THE-NWTF)," can help you manage the fields, forests and food plots on your grounds. The Quality Deer Management Association (800-209-3337) also has planting information. Another option, North Country Whitetails (877-672-7462), has a demonstration farm in New York where you can learn how the experts do it, or NCW staff will come to your property and provide an analysis. Many other states provide similar programs, so check with your local office before you begin planning.

The location could be one of the biggest issues facing a land manager considering a food plot. Overgrown or abandoned farm fields are good starting points, but also consider old logging roads and trails. The idea is to create as much edge as possible. Placing the food plot in an area where deer are already active and comfortable will help ensure success.

When To Plant

Spring is normally the time to get a jump on next fall’s hot hunting action. The spring and summer months are when bucks need nourishment to generate antler growth. This is also when does need forage to produce the milk that feeds newborn fawns. Your local deer herd will prosper if you take the time to plant a productive food plot. Key steps to having a success, verses a weed patch, are to take a soil sample, have it analyzed, and then apply the recommended lime and fertilizer. Mowing at proper times can also be a bonus for some vegetation species.

Another useful task is edge manipulations. When I created a food plot for deer, on one property that I managed, I also cut some trees around the edge and turned those into brush piles. This helped the rabbit population explode, and the deer ate the tender buds that reappeared on the stumps. This also opened up some excellent shooting lanes.

What To Plant

Rye, wheat, clover, corn and soybeans are all strong deer magnets. Honeysuckle vines and blackberry briars are also popular with many wildlife species, including deer. You could also try the Imperial Whitetail seed blends or the food plot mixtures from New Zealand, such as those found in Biologic, which seem to be growing in popularity with deer in most regions of America. A search of the Internet can help you find more food plot options to match your terrain and goals.

In addition to food plots, you might want to place a mineral lick nearby. Deer seem to crave salt during the summer months, so many hunters set out salt blocks. You can encourage more antler growth and a healthier deer herd possibly by using trace mineral blocks, or some of the commercial deer mineral mixes. Follow the directions carefully for best results.

In addition to grasses, you might consider buying fruit and nut trees and committing to long term goals. Apples, persimmons, mulberries and chestnuts are all deer favorites, and many of today’s specialty tree varieties can produce fruit and mast within a few years after planting. One mistake I learned from was failing to place protective fencing around young trees. A buck passed along the edge of one of my food plots and used a young apple tree to polish his antlers. The tree never recovered from the thrashing and shredded bark. Rabbits are also fond of eating young fruit trees in the winter.

How To Plant

OK, food plots look and sound like a lot of work, but they’re not. That’s where your ATV and all those accessories come into play. Food plots don’t have to be huge, so the ATV will help you keep it to scale. All of the accessories and implements will help make the chore easier to accomplish. Follow this formula and you can truly grow your own trophy buck.

After you determine what to plant and where you will plant it, next prepare the soil according to the directions. There are some food plot mixtures that do not require tilling for the seeds to germinate and grow into plants. If you intend to use one of the no-till mixes, you might still benefit from some preparation at the food plot site. Mowing tall weeds or spraying the unwanted vegetation with an appropriate herbicide will give your desired plants a better chance to grow and prosper.

If you plan to till the land, raking up any dead vegetation after the spraying or mowing step will help your plow or disc cut deeper into the soil and become less tangled with dead weeds and brush. After you have tilled the soil and broadcast seeds and the recommended amounts of fertilizer and lime to obtain the correct soil pH, there are other things that you can do to help the plants prosper.

Some plants need a second application of lime or fertilizer as fall approaches, and some plants benefit from mowing. Again, follow the recommendation of the company that produces the seeds.

You should re-evaluate your food plot strategy and its success each year. One way to do this is to place a small circle of mesh wire in the middle of your plot to keep deer and other wildlife from nibbling a small portion. This lets you know the effects of browsing when you can compare the plants inside the fence to those outside and within reach of deer, rabbits and other wildlife species. You might also consider a log book of the dates and numbers of deer that you saw using the food plot during the year as well as hunting season.

Food plots should be one part of an overall game management plan on your hunting property. One rule seems to be true of all properly prepared food plots: If you plant it, they will come!


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