During summer months where possible Ned uses a bush hog mower to widen game trails entering a food plot. Just one mower’s width cut a few yards back into the timber is all that is necessary. He chooses trails near his stand sites to widen. This enhances visibility and shot opportunities as deer approach and sometimes hesitate at a field’s edge before entering.
Sometimes he gets creative with the mower. Occasionally he finds a super stand site but a heavily used trail entering the food plot is just out of bow range. To reroute the deer he blocks the trail with brush from the field edge to a desired point in the woods. From that point in the deer trail he mows a new trail to the food plot within bow range of his stand site. Deer tend to follow the path of least resistance through cover when undisturbed and take advantage of trimmed out trails. Many soon become well-used deer trails.
When possible, locate suitable trees and blind sites along trails some distance from the plot. Deer tend to stage in cover near food plots before dusk. These are good choices early in the season when mast is falling. Later, as hunting pressure increases deer tend to wait for the cover of darkness to enter fields to feed. Be ready to adjust to changing deer patterns and head for the timber to hunt if necessary. Food plots are productive only if deer feel safe enough to use them during daylight hours.
Plots Near Hard, Soft Mast Trees Are OK
Openings near hard and soft mast producing trees are good choices. Early in archery season in most states deer are keying on these foods. Tender green shoots nearby add the “salad” to the main course. Deer savor the new growth in early fall since most of the natural browse has matured by this time.
Plots near watering areas make a good choice especially if the weather has been dry and these areas are limited. Choosing the best site near water and hardwoods can be tricky in some areas, especially the south. Avoid low areas that tend to get boggy and stay wet in the fall and winter. They may look great in summer, but conditions during hunting season are the determining factor. Which brings us to Ned’s advice on soils.
Because there are many types of soil across the country, Ned strongly recommends a soil test for each plot. Your county’s local extension office provides soil boxes and test forms. They will identify the soil type and make fertilizer and liming recommendations for the types of forage you plan to grow. Charges for soil tests are minimal and it’s definitely money well spent. Following the recommendations is important in producing nutrient rich forage deer naturally seek. This translates into quality hunting for the archer.
Most importantly, Ned looks for well-drained soil while determining a location for a food plot. Most winter grasses, clovers and grains grow best in this type soil. However, there are many drought, flood, pest and disease-resistant varieties capable of growing successfully in a variety of soils under less than favorable conditions.
Interest in wildlife and land management is growing at an astounding rate. To meet the needs for quality nutrition plant varieties have been developed specifically for wildlife food plots. These are hardy plants, many of which require less cost and labor to grow nutritious wild game forage successfully. Numerous seed companies, specializing in wildlife forage, advertise in most major outdoor publications. Shop several for the best prices.
Plotting For Deer
Once an existing plot or area has been chosen, with location, stand sites, prevailing winds considered, and soil tests and cleanup have been completed, Ned breaks the ground. Regarding existing plots, which were planted for the previous deer season, Ned allows the crops to mature through spring to allow wildlife the benefit of any seeds or grains.
Here in Alabama in mid- to late-June, Ned turns new and existing plots under. He may choose to bush hog (mow) high stems and weeds prior to plowing or disking. Whether he uses a tractor or ATV with plow or disk, he prefers to cut deep enough to kill existing weeds. This may require several passes over the ground to chop the weeds and loosen the soil. This allows moisture to easily reach the subsoil level.
From experience he has learned that this first turning under is best done with a tractor and implements. However, an ATV and smaller implements will do the job equally well if the soil is damp enough to break easily and one doesn’t get in a big hurry.
As weeds and grasses return in summer, Ned disks or harrows once or twice to keep the surface clean. This allows the rains to readily absorb and creates what he calls a “dust mulch.” This is an important factor in retaining sub-soil moisture into the fall as planting time approaches.
His target date for planting fall plots is the third week in September. Archery season opens in Alabama on October 15. If there is good subsoil moisture he will plant anytime from the first of September on. If dry conditions have prevailed he watches weather forecasts closely for an opportunity to plant either before or after a predicted rain. He will plant before on a forecast of showers and after on a prediction of heavy rains, which could wash seeds too deep into the soil. Ned is quick to point out that Mother Nature doesn’t always watch the Weather Channel but adds “that’s farming!”
A rotovater or rototiller pulled over the ground prepares a fine seed bed but may not be available to most. A spike-tooth harrow will do an adequate job of smoothing well-disked soil instead. Follow your extension agent’s recommendations and time schedule for applying necessary liming and fertilizers to each plot.
He prefers to apply fertilizer just prior to planting. After it is disked in he pulls a spike tooth harrow over the plot to prepare the seed bed. When possible Ned plants winter forage such as a mixture of wheat, rye, oats and clover with a grain drill. This method puts the seed at the proper depth and uses less seed.
One reason he tries to drill as many plots as possible is because the local flocks of turkeys easily find seed left uncovered from broadcasting and dragging to cover. Turkeys love free food. In small bow plots two or three days of furious scratching by wild turkeys can result in a need to replant.
If broadcasting is necessary, Ned uses a section of chain link fence pulled behind an ATV to lightly cover the seed. A spike tooth harrow pulled behind a tractor can be used to cover seed without burying it too deep. Shallow depth planting is critical for emergence and growth of most grasses, clovers etc.
Rollers for pressing soil are also available for ATVs. They can be an important tool for planting ground with limited subsoil moisture. After planting and covering the seed, Ned uses an ATV and roller to compress the soil. This aids in conserving the moisture needed for germination and growth.
Midway through deer season, (which is December in Alabama) he top dresses plots with ammonium nitrate to enhance growth and palatability. He attempts application to coincide with a forecast of showers to enhance absorption into the soil.
Plant A Broadleaf In Early Season
To help draw deer within bow range on food plots early in the season he plants some type of succulent broadleaf in addition to winter forage. These broadleaf varieties are planted only around stand sites. Odds for shot opportunities soar when they are planted within a 40-yard semicircle from the stand. Tender shoots of winter grasses mixed with succulent broadleaf plants have proved to be the fatal undoing of mature bucks. They are simply an added attractant in the fall that deer favor. Ned has had success with iron clay peas, Austrian winter peas and Mossy Oak’s Biologic.
First he plants the entire plot with winter forage seed either by drilling or broadcasting. He then hand broadcasts the broadleaf seed in selected sites. A section of chain link or spike tooth harrow is used to cover where needed. Keep in mind some of theses broadleafs do not survive freezing temperatures.
Ned has one final tip for those who plant corn for deer. He prefers tropical corn, which is suited for the south’s climate and some Egyptian wheat mixed together. Using a corn planter he plants around July 1. This may sound late but the reason being is to time the corn and wheat maturing close to the opening of archery season.
Ned discovered the benefits of a mixed crop of corn and Egyptian wheat quite by accident one year. He had some Egyptian wheat left in the planter and decided to use it up while planting corn. That fall as the crop matured he noticed that deer fed heavily on the wheat heads till they were gone before tackling the corn.
Egyptian wheat seed is inexpensive and grows easily, and can reach 10 feet in height. The seed heads resemble a very loose milo head. Wild turkeys eat it readily. The corn lasts longer into the winter without early season feeding pressure.
By taking some time, thought, good old hard work, and a few of Ned Randle’s tips any bowhunter can increase his or her success in hunting whitetail deer.
Well designed and managed food plots increase the health and quality of our deer herds. The results serve to enhance our hunting experiences.
As Ned puts it, “Plotting for deer is a labor of love. The thrill is not the kill. It is the ultimate reward for planning, hard work, self discipline and respect for our natural world.”
For a fine selection of food plot seed and minerals, click here.
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