By Gerald Almy
Last week we looked into some of the factors that need to be addressed if you want to create a food plot that provides nutrition to deer and also draws bucks out during shooting hours. One of the major ways to do that is to place or plant cover around the edges and even in the plot so that bucks feel secure using it in daylight.
Here are eight more factors to keep in mind when creating food plots, plus a selection of tips for getting the most deer use and hunting success from your efforts.
Tall Grasses: Plant a few strips of native warm-season grasses such as switchgrass, Indian and bluestem. These grow 5-7 feet tall and make bucks feel secure using the plot. Alternately you can plant an annual such as Egyptian Wheat.
You can also leave some strips in the plot uncultivated so they grow up in native forbs and wildflowers, providing more food variety and habitat edge. But don't try this if mostly detrimental plants like thistle, pigweed, Johnson grass and fescue are present.
Add cover: Pull a deadfall or large treetop into the food plot with a tractor. Alternately, cut some cedars or scrub pines and pile them by hand in a few spots for security cover.
Create rough edges: Mature bucks don't like a stark switch from tall mature woods to low open food plot. Create transition cover along this edge by felling or hinge-cutting some low-value trees. If there's a possible buck approach route that would swing downwind of your stand, block it with some of these cuttings.
Add shrubs: Plant shrubs along food plot edges where deer might enter. Good choices include red osier dogwood, American honeysuckle, Chickasaw plum, chinkapin, indigobush, lespedeza and blackberry. These provide security by feathering the entrance from woods into field. They also supply an extra food source with their leaves and stems.
Plant fruit trees: You can't ever have too much food or too much variety for an old buck. Give him a full-course buffet with the annuals, perennials and edible shrubs listed above. Then add a few shelter-protected apple, pear or persimmon trees close to your bow stand site.
Position the plot near bedding areas: Locate the plot strategically close (100-200 yards) from soft, gentle doe bedding cover such as fallow grassy fields or areas with scattered cedars, pines and honeysuckle; two to three times that far from thicker, more remote buck beds.
Shield the plot from public viewing: You may be proud of your food plot, but you don't want to show it off by putting it near a road or public hunting area. Plant a row of white pines if necessary to shield the view of both the plot and the deer using it.
Don't worry about shape: Follow the natural contours of the land. A rectangle is no better than an oval. Long, skinny plots, though, are preferable to square ones. They provide more edge and the deer feel more secure being a few steps from escape cover anywhere in the plot.
The Linear Edge Element
Jon Cooner, product consultant for the North American Whitetail Institute, explains this important food plot concept. "Linear edge occurs anywhere the food plot meets cover such as woods, a thicket or something deer believe breaks up their outline such as several rows of corn, a blow-down or tall grasses. The theory is that the more linear edge you have, the safer deer feel using the plot during daylight hours."
If you simply want to provide nutrition, this doesn't matter. If you want to hunt on or near the plot, getting deer comfortable using it during shooting light is crucial. This is the reason behind the many different elements in the ultimate food plot layout.
• Do a soil test before planting; add lime and fertilizer as indicated.
• Thoroughly kill existing weeds and grasses with Roundup (glyphosate) and by tilling.
• Remove rocks and sticks and make sure you have a smooth, firm seedbed.
• Plant perennial clovers, soybeans and alfalfa in the best soils; less demanding plants such as brassicas, small burnet and cereal grains in poorer areas.
• Don't plant too deep. Wheat, oats and most summer annuals 1/2-1 inch, all others 1/8-1/4-inch. Cultipack for good soil-to-seed contact or drive over with ATV or tractor.
• Plant before a rain if possible, but not a downpour.
• Use selective herbicides or mowing to control grasses and weeds in perennial plots; fertilize in spring and fall with 0-20-20 or similar.
• Don't hunt or shoot photos at the plot every day. Have several so you can alternate and rest them.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.