I have hunted food plots for years and truly believe they make a difference, not just for the hunter, but also for wildlife.
Food plots, if planted properly are there year round, spring, summer fall and winter, giving wildlife-needed food especially after corn and soybeans are no longer available.
As most of you know, the rut is hard on deer, especially the bucks as they are running hither and yon, looking for receptive does and having to fight any-and-all bucks they run into.
Since food plots are available during the winter after the rut, they give the bucks, many of which are worn out, needed nutrition, helping them to make it through the winter.
Winter is also hard on the does and fawns and any additional food they can get will help the pregnant does to have healthy fawns and the fawns to make it to spring.
No matter what mass merchandiser catalogs, sporting goods store or sporting goods department you look at or are in, you are going to see tons of food plot seed.
I have tried numerous brands and varieties, all which have worked, some were better than others were.
I let the deer and turkeys tell me what they liked best and with game cameras it became apparent the deer and turkey in the area I hunt preferred plantings containing some rye, clover, wheat, rape, chicory or oats. I am not saying others will not work; those I mentioned seemed to do the best job of drawing turkey, deer and other critters.
You must consider several things before you plant a food plot including time of planting, rainfall, location and soil type.
Recommended planting time in this area, depending on the weather in the spring would be March 1 through May 15 and in the fall August 1 through September 1.
Some of you are probably thinking that you do not have a large enough area for a food plot, no problem, as even the smaller food plots are beneficial to wildlife. Others may think the area where they may have room for a food plot would be too hard to get equipment in to put in a food plot. If you have access to a four-wheeler, like the John Deere Gator I use, you will find there are numerous manufactures out there, which make the pull behind equipment needed to put in a food plot. If you do not have a four-wheeler, there are other options available.
My smallest food plot, which was in close proximity to several other larger plots was one twenty yards wide and 40 yards long, not really all that accessible to larger equipment, so we put in with a garden tiller and my John Deere Gator and as small as it was, it was one of my most productive plots.
Where you plant a food plot is important, as the location you choose is very important to its success. If you want to establish one to hunt over, of course, you will want it within clear view and close proximity to your stand or deer house.
If you are planting a plot to feed deer, increase body size, promote overall herd health and improve their antler mass, select a site that is isolated. A secluded, undisturbed area will draw more wildlife to the plot, allowing wildlife to travel to and from it without fear. They will work best if they are close to the animals travel route and close to cover, making it easier for them to get to the food plot without using up a lot of energy. Deer, especially the bucks can be in tough shape after the rut and the less distance they travel to get nourishment the better. The same goes for turkeys, if they need to come out into the open in order to get to food, they are more visible and easier to go after.
Establishing a food plot does take some time, but if done correctly, the work you put into it will be rewarded.
Listed below, you will find some of the things I have done food plots to establish my foodplots.
Seed selection is very important, as you want to make sure the seed you are planting is one that will grow well up north and tolerate our winter temperatures.
Numerous companies including Mossy Oak Biologic, Hunter's Specialties, Whitetail Institute, Tecomate and Evolved Habitats all offer foodplot seed.
The first thing and perhaps the most important thing you will need to know is the fertility of the soil; to do this, you will need to take a soil test, letting you know what nutrients and PH will needed to be added. I picked up my soil test kits from our local Central Valley Ag and had them test the sample, so I would know what I added to the site in order to make it successful.
Weeds could be your biggest problem and killing them first, will be an important step towards getting your food plot off to a good start.
On all my plots, the first thing I did was to spray them with Roundup using a hand, backpack or a sprayer mounted on my Gator. After you spray, it is a good idea to hold off ten to fourteen days before doing any further work on the plot.
Next, you will need to prepare the site using a tiller on the smaller plots or a disk and harrow on the larger plots and then dragging it, creating a smooth seedbed.
Once you have a smooth seedbed, it is not a bad idea to let things settle down for ten to fourteen days to see if new weeds will appear and reapply herbicide as needed. If you do re-spray, hold off for a week to ten days before planting your seed.
Once the ground is prepared, is the time to apply fertilizer, spreading it, depending on the size of the foodplot with a hand spreader or one mounted on your four-wheeler. You will want to make sure you get all of the clods broken up, making for a smooth seed bed.
Now it is time to spread the seed using a hand or four-wheeler spreader. It is a good idea to plant in two directions as it helps to make sure you to cover the entire plot.
Then, work the seeds into the soil, do not make the mistake many hunters and I have made, burying the seed too deep as smaller seeds such as clover, brassica or chicory need only be planted a ?" deep. Smaller seeds have less packed into them and need to germinate and get to the surface to grow, unlike the larger seed, which can be buried up to 1/2"
Then it is time to pack the soil assuring a firm seedbed, which can be done using a log, wood pallet, heavy drag, or cultipacker.
As the plot grows, depending on what you planted there could be some maintenance involved, as crops such as of clover or alfalfa needs to be clipped to promote the fresh growth deer love.
If you are going to all the trouble to put in a foodplots, why put in a mineral lick. Do not think that by putting in a salt block that you have given deer what they need, as salt will attract deer, but does not contain what the bucks and does need to prosper. A buck's antler when hardened is made up of 30 to 35% calcium and phosphorus, so it just makes sense to have a mineral supplement that contains these two nutrients. The does will also need a higher amount of minerals for milk production to feed their fawns. I have used RAKS minerals for years and have seen the overall size of the bucks' increases as well as the overall health of the herd.
You do not want to just pitch the mineral on the ground, mix it into the dirt as deer are used to digging for it.
I have had some mineral licks that have been tore up shortly after I put them in and others looked as if the deer had paid very little attention to them. If the deer in your area do not need the minerals they will leave it alone and when they need them dig deep to get to it. At different times of the year, they will require more minerals, and because of this, your mineral lick may show very little sign of use in some months and a lot in others. It is also recommended that you freshen up your mineral licks from time to time, having it out there when the deer decide they need it.
Things may not happen as fast as you would wish with your foodplot, do not panic, give it time and it will take off and be there when you and wildlife need it.
Gary Howey, Hartington, Nebraska, is the Producer/Host of the award winning Outdoorsmen Adventures television series, seen in the Yankton area on local channels 2 & 98 Saturday at 6:30 pm and Sunday@ 7:00, on KTTM/KTTW-TV Fox-Sioux Falls and Huron at 6:30 am Saturdays and on the MIDCO Sports Network Thursday at 5:30 pm and Sunday at 10:00 am. He and Simon Fuller Co-Host the Outdoor Adventures radio program on Classic Hits 106.3, ESPN Sports Radio 1570 in Southeastern South Dakota and Northeast Nebraska. In Northwest Iowa, it airs on KCHE 92.1 FM. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out www.outdoorsmenadventures.com.