Gerald Almy: The case for growing food plots
Some people talk in terms of spring food plots and fall food plots. But the truth is, it’s hard to draw a sharp line dividing the two. Work can be done on fields and other potential food plot sites virtually any time of year. Chores to keep you busy can vary from killing weeds to picking up rocks to plowing, liming and fertilizing.
I’ve been growing food plots for deer and other wildlife for many years and I’ve come to realize that if you don’t do some work on your projects any time you get a few free hours or minutes, chances are you’ll be behind and rushing to complete the job later.
And if that happens, the odds are it won’t be done as well as possible. The crops won’t be in when the moisture finally comes. The weeds won’t be properly killed. The soil won’t be tilled smoothly enough, or rocks left in the field will damage your equipment. Poor fertilizing and soil acidity that wasn’t rectified may keep the plants from producing the maximum nutritional they could have.
So now, even though it’s nearly summer and supposed to be time to relax, fish and take it easy, it’s also time to keep working on your food plot projects. Work off and on when time permits and by September you’ll have everything wrapped up and be ready to practice with your bows and guns and concentrate on enjoying hunting. All the habitat projects will be taken care of.
But before you get going on those activities, let’s pause for a minute and address the question of why you should want to plant food plots in the first place?
There are many reasons. For starters, by planting food plots you are helping improve the fertility of the land, the health of wildlife, and the quality of your hunting. Not only are you likely to see more deer, you’ll see more mature bucks.
On that latter topic, it’s important to dispel one common myth about food plots. It’s sometimes said that only small bucks and does will enter food plots because big bucks are wary of them.
Well, don’t tell that to Mississippi hunter Tony Fulton. Tony headed out for a short hunt after work on a cold winter day and sat down in a blind near a food plot he had planted on his land.
Soon a doe came out, and then an enormous buck followed her, rushing out of a thick grove of pines that he had also planted. Controlling his nerves as best he could Tony aimed at the buck and squeezed off a round. The bullet struck home and he soon realized he had just taken the largest whitetail ever harvested by a firearm hunter at the time—a 295 6/8 buck.
While his deer was exceptional, Tony’s wasn’t the only unusually large buck taken on a food plot. Every year thousands of mature whitetails are harvested in or near food plots, either coming in to feed, or during the rut, chasing does in them. Even more deer are taken on trails leading to these deer magnets.
Three things allow a deer to become a quality animal: genetics, age, and nutrition. We can’t control the genetics, but suffice to say, they are pretty good in most areas.
Usually age, the second factor, is much more important. Age is something more and more hunters are working on by allowing young bucks to walk. At one year of age, a buck has only developed 10 percent of his antler capabilities.
The third factor, nutrition, is one you can improve dramatically by putting in food plots on land you either own, lease or have access to.
Besides increasing the chances of encountering a heavy-racked buck, there are lots of reasons to grow food plots. For one thing, it improves the overall health of the deer herd. Does and fawns are stronger, heavier and reach their full potential with a quality food source available in additional to wild, natural forage.
Other types of wildlife besides deer benefit as well including small game, waterfowl, upland birds and turkeys.
But deer are the chief beneficiaries. A whitetail needs a minimum of 16 percent protein in its diet to thrive. Most natural foods are far below that, typically in the 7 to 11 percent range.
Food plots help fill that protein deficit, since most of the plants you will be putting in have protein levels of 20-30 percent or higher.
Food plots have a lot of advantages besides helping the health of the deer. They encourage the animals to feed out in the open more. That allows you to see and enjoy them even during non-hunting seasons.
Having deer out in the open also lets you monitor the buck to doe ratio and keep track of how racks are progressing as they grow during summer. This offers a good opportunity to try to age the bucks you see, to determine if they’re good candidates to try to harvest or need to grow another year or two.
Food plots soon become part of a deer’s natural daily travel patterns. This can help you intercept them on their way to or from the food source during hunting season.
There are many other reasons to grow plots, but in the end to me one of the most important is that it simply makes a great hobby.
It’s fun working the soil and watching the seeds you put in grow up into attractive, nutritious plants. And some of these plants such as clovers and brassicas add nitrogen to the soil. Radishes also help aerate it so it can hold vital moisture. And all food plot plantings help eradicate unwanted weeds by outcompeting them for sunlight, moisture and nutrients.
It’s heartening to know that with all the hard work you are helping nature at least in a small way, and helping grow bigger and healthier deer.
But in the end, there’s one major reason to grow food plots above all others: it’s just plain fun.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.