In your stand you quietly wait for the sun to peak above the horizon. To most people, it means simply the start of a new day, to you it signifies the official start of deer season. You sit quietly and wait. Suddenly you hear the rustle of dry leaves followed by the first sign of movement. A buck is scraping on a tree somewhere behind you. He continues his route, marking his territory as he goes. What he fails to do is step into the open and present you with a shot. If only you had a reason for him to venture from the safety of the woods. Year round feeding options in travel routes establish patterns within your deer population to minimize the aforementioned situation. Food plots will not only drive deer to the areas you want, they will provide the minerals required to grow the trophy you seek.
Todd Stittleburg, Founder of Antler King, was gracious enough to sit down and help us start to simplify the complex task of implementing a food plot strategy into the way you hunt. With the end goal in sight, let’s get to the details of how to begin the journey: how to, what to, when to and why plant a food plot?
Food plots provide both short-term and long-term benefits. To get started it is best to find multiple areas to plant. The key is to look for travel routes and focusing on areas with wooded escapes on most sides. These become great staging areas for deer before dusk. While researching locations, keep in mind where you can place your blind or tree stand, as well as how to walk into it without passing through the plot. Look for multiple placement options to allow for movement based on wind direction. Don’t ever discount an area to plant. Size of the food plot can vary greatly. You may not be able to positively affect a dozen deer with one food plot but if you plant many small plots you will. An open, flat field isn’t the only location that will be a success. Small 15-20ft wide shaded walking lanes between pines. Swampy areas might seem impossible to plant but if you look for hilly regions within that stay above the high water level it will work perfect for giving deer a place to forage. Open, sunny fields can vary from ¼ acre to 10 acres and beyond. With the mix of tilling options, varietals and seasons to plant in it truly allows you to tailor a food plot to any condition.
A soil test is a must before making a planting plan. Creating one without first understanding the makeup of the ground can result in failure and would be likened to driving through New York City without a map. Soil tests give the pH level of the ground so you know which direction to head in order to balance. There are products designed to assist in soil balance like Antler Kings’ Plot Max which increases organic matter by up to 20% and minerals/nutrients by over 50% while also increasing the soil’s pH level. Having the correct pH level in your soil to plant is just as important as oxygen to humans.
Having access to food is vital for deer. They eat 24/7/365. If your local grocery store is out of food you will drive to the next. Deer will move on from your hunting land to the neighbors if you don’t have a good source of nutrition available. Providing year-round options will give you the best chance to increase your deer population. There are three main seasons to plant in, yet the food source can be year-round based on geographical location and variety planted. Food plot seeds come in annuals or perennials. Spring is great for clovers and alfalfa, while mixes with beans and peas thrive in the summer. Fall has a whole host of varietals with radishes, rapeseed, buckwheat, oats and turnips. Some of these fall plot blends have leafy green tops for deer to consume in addition to having bulbs or tubers that sweeten into sugar after a hard frost. Deer will often paw these out of the ground after a freeze. Single plant food plots do not perform as well as multiple variety plots. These single plots can fail because they’re more susceptible to the weather patterns and drought. Multiple variety plots can help by giving a better chance of having at least some of the plants take and mature. Fertilizer isn’t always necessary based on soil and water conditions but can help. Maintaining your herd will become easier with accurate management of your food plots.
Once you have started planting your food plot it is important to not visit too often. Using trail cameras is a great way to see the success of your plot. The Cuddelink Camera System from Cuddeback is a proprietary system that creates a network from camera-to-camera in which you can have up to ¼ mile between remote cameras and the home unit. This makes viewing all images from the home unit easy, so you never have to disrupt the plot until the next round of fertilizer needs to be applied or you are supplementing with a new seasonal varietal.
Don’t expect amazing results after year one. This process is one of patience, persistence and cultivation. As a hunter you need to take the time to learn more about what and where you hunt. Habits, routes travelled, active times and weather reactions. Planting food plots allow you to more closely study the deer you wish to hunt and will help bring your dreams of bagging the perfect buck to fruition.