If you want to create a food plot that provides nutrition to deer and also attracts mature bucks out into the open during shooting hours (with a camera or a gun), you need to think creatively. Forget your preconceived notions of what such a setup should look like. Picture-book plots with one plant growing lush and green from edge-to-edge won't accomplish this goal.
The ultimate food plot looks a bit scruffy, disheveled and neglected on the edges. But hey, after all, you're not competing in a gardening contest. You're trying to manage a property to appeal to all deer including wary bucks.
The traits that make this plot something of an eyesore are the very things that will make an older buck feel comfortable using it in daylight -- lots of edge, brush piles, shrubs, half-cut fallen trees entwined with honeysuckle, a variety of foods and strips of grass tall enough to hide a 130-class rack.
I like to plan on one-half to two acres for the food plot. If you make it smaller deer will destroy the crops before they grow. If it's larger, mature bucks will be wary of using it during daylight or may show up too far away for a clean shot or crisp photograph.
Over this week and next we'll delve into all of the aspects you should consider when planning and creating food plots, with tips on how to maintain, manage and hunt them so the deer don't become wary of them. Here are seven factors you should incorporate into your plan.
Variety: Variety of plants in a plot caters to the different taste preferences of different bucks. It also ensures that some plants will always be at peak palatability and nutrient content at any given time and provides valuable edge.
Summer annuals: For early summer put in lablab, cowpeas, sorghum, buckwheat, sunflowers, or a mixture such as Power Plant. Add a few rows of corn and forage soybeans such as Eagle's Big Fellow, Large Lad or their mix called Gamekeeper. These plants yield tremendous food tonnage and grow tall so deer feel comfortable using the plot during daylight hours. Plant these crops from May-July.
Fall/Winter annuals: These plants attract deer strongly as frosts raise their sugar content and summer annuals die out. The two major groups are brassicas and cereal grains. Plant a mixture of rape, kale, radishes and turnips and possibly a separate patch of sugar beets or pure turnips. These can be found in mixtures sold by most of the larger wildlife seed companies. The best cereal grains are wheat and oats, mixed with crimson clover, but rye is also a good choice. Plant brassicas June-August; grains August-October.
Perennials: These plants last three-to-seven years and provide food for deer almost year-round, from March to December in the Shenandoah Valley. Large white clovers (ladino), intermediates like Durana and blends such as the Whitetail Institute's Imperial Whitetail are best.
Some clover mixtures include chicory, which provides good green forage during summer drought periods. Alfalfa-clover mixes are also good for drier uplands and sandy soils. Small burnet is great for poor quality soils. Plant from March-April or August-September.
Sun angle: Choose flat sites when possible. If the ground is sloped, choose a site facing east or northeast. These areas gets morning sun when the soil is cool but avoid full late afternoon sun that can wither crops in dry, hot weather. Position the plot so deer look into the afternoon sun as they approach from major bedding areas, but you won't be staring into it from your stand.
Wind: Consider prevailing wind patterns when picking the site. You want to be able to approach stands or photography blinds with the wind blowing in your face or perpendicular to the direction deer normally approach from.
Stand locations: Position the plot where there are good trees to hang several stands from for bow and gun shots with your outline broken up, or where ground cover will help disguise a blind. Place the stands slightly back in the woods where possible while still allowing good visibility of the field.
Next week: Eight more tips on creating the ultimate food plot.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.