Almy: Food plots: getting started

Novices often think whitetail deer thrive in a woods setting. But the fact is, a one acre food plot can yield as much nutrition as 100 acres of mature woods.

Creating food plots doesn’t take expensive equipment or in-depth agricultural knowledge. But plots do take time and hard work–and they have to be done right.

With proper design, preparation and planting, food plots will become part of the deer’s natural daily travels, allowing you to pattern and intercept them on their way to or from the food source during hunting season.

The first step is to select the best sites. Use a Topographic map or aerial photograph and walk the land before deciding on the top locations.

Fallow fields, old log landings, natural clearings in forests and mountain benches are potential sites. You can even plant dirt roads in forests if you cut back the trees a bit on the sides to allow sufficient sunlight to reach the ground.

The best approach is to plant some plots you plan to hunt over and others that are designed solely to provide nutrition. Put in one or two 1-5 acre nutrition plots and three or more smaller hunting plots, depending on the size of your property.

Good spots for nutrition plots are open unused fields and clearings where major dozer work is not required. Hunting food plots can be smaller spots you find here and there in odd shapes where you can tuck in a plot from say an eighth to half an acre.

Sites close to pine groves, thick woods or native warm season grass stands are great spots, since the deer can bed in those areas and move a short distance to feed in the plot. But don’t put them too close.

Avoid converting a section of mature forest to a food plot. It’s costly with lots of chain saw and dozer work required. And stay away from extremely rough, hard-scrabble land. You can’t grow a plot in a rock garden.

Nutritional Plots: The larger you can make these, the better. Use county agriculture maps to find the ground with the best soil if you have several options.

Nutrition plots are designed to improve the health of the herd and should not be hunted, so the deer will feel safe using them. If you want to go after bucks that are using a nutritional plot, backtrack and set up 100 yards or more in the woods on trails leading to them, so the deer won’t associate the food source with danger.

Hunting Plots: Don’t worry about shape when laying out hunting plots. You don’t need a perfect rectangle or square. Lay them out to follow the natural topography of the land or the border of the woods, whether it’s a curve or straight line.

Linear shapes are particularly good. Put them in near cover, where older bucks will feel secure enough to use them during daylight. Consider sun direction (so you don’t have to stare into the glare during afternoon hunts) and wind direction (with prevailing winds blowing off the plot towards your stand location and the route you’ll use to approach it.)

Location: Find ground that is level or only slightly sloping with light brush or weeds. Too much slope and the seed will wash off after planting and the soil will erode during heavy rains.

Food plots should be put in along or at the end of natural travel corridors deer use in late afternoon. These patterns could see them moving off a ridge or knoll down to flatter feeding territory, emerging from thick cover and heading to more open areas.

They’ll often travel along a hedgerow, or ease down a brushy hollow that offers a natural funnel towards gentler terrain and feeding areas in the lowlands. Put your plots along these routes or where the deer will end up just before dark.

Bedding Cover: Don’t locate the food plot too close to a buck’s bedding cover. If you do, you won’t be able to approach it without possibly spooking the quarry. Also make sure the plot is downwind of the bedding area and the route the buck will use to approach it, using the most common prevailing winds in the area as your guide.

Build a Barrier: You don’t want to entice deer to a plot if it’s visible from a road or from your neighboring landowner’s tree stands. If that’s a possibility, plant a row of vision-shielding, fast growing trees such as pines or a strip of native warm season grasses like switchgrass or big bluestem, which can grow six to eight feet high. Annuals such as Egyptian wheat are another good option for shielding the plot from view.

Don’t expect instant success. But with enough effort and hard work, food plots can help improve the habitat for deer and other wildlife and also provide a rewarding hobby.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.