Sometime in the next week or so, I have to go to Sumner County to consult with some folks on food plots for deer. They are moving here from South Texas and bought an 80-acre place with good deer and turkey populations. They want to plant some food plots to both maintain and feed the wildlife. Of course, they will hunt them as well.
Food plots are often misunderstood. They can serve several purposes. Usually they are just there to attract wildlife so they can be shot.
That pretty much undermines any nutritional benefit from them. It doesn’t take long before the deer wise up and become nocturnal or totally avoid them. In addition, our deer here need little if any nutritional boost. In most areas, they get all they require from natural browse and mast. Since they can only utilize so much, adding to their intake does little to benefit them.
Over the years, in designing food plots for lodges and hunting operations, there was one hard fact I learned: Deer do not prefer squares or rectangles. Deer are edge or fringe animals. They like to feed close to the edge of cover. They will “use” that type of feed over the pretty squares or rectangles that is the design most fields.
Of course, that is a far easier field to clear, plant and maintain. However, a field that looks like a rattlesnake slithering along is preferred.
The planting of food plot(s) is relatively simple process. It begins or should begin with a decision as to size. Usually, the terrain dictates that. However, an acre planted in the shape of a crawling snake will draw far more usage than a pretty, square field. The reason being, a curve in a field puts a deer out of sight and curved fields have more edge. The field is “skinny” rather than fat. Some of our most used food plots were simply old logging roads that we slightly widened.
The next step is to have the soil tested. Unless you know what your soil needs, how do you know what to add? Often, the addition of the proper fertilizer is of utmost importance. That is what determines the flavor and value of your crop.
Then, what do you plant? Are you looking for a late season forage to carry deer over, an early season forage to attract them or something that is easy to maintain and is green? In other words, what is the purpose of your food plot? Do you want to truly benefit the wildlife or just draw them in and shoot them? Or, do you wish to do both?
If your game plan is to draw them in during hunting season, then almost any green forage will work. It is hard to beat a mixture of clover and rye. Maybe add in some forage turnips. It is relatively cheap and grows well. However, it is of little nutritional benefit to deer. It just tastes good. A good crop is not mandatory, just have something different from the forage in the surrounding woodland. Even a bad greenfield will attract some deer.
If you want a late season crop to carry deer through the winter and into spring, your choice might be turnips and forage carrots or actually any late season crop.
If I were to have unlimited funds and the area to work with, I would have a combination of corn, turnips and beans. I would plant 8-10 rows of corn followed an area or turnips, then, 8-10 rows of beans. None of it would be harvested. From time to time, I would just run over the crop with a tractor or something and knock some down.
Picture a sharply winding field, long and narrow and surrounded by good cover. In the field would be that alternating food source.
The field width would be just about as wide as 10-rows of corn and every 75-yards it would turn so that you could not see around the bend. The key ingredient to attracting wildlife to a food plot is simple. It must be something they want and is not available in the surrounding woodland.
A 20’X20’ plot of turnips will draw deer.
Of course, it takes a lot of property to do that. But I did design just such a field near Auburn, AL.
It circled the near outside edge of the property and boy did the deer ever hammer it.
In the center was a two-acre pond. The total property was just over 1,200 acres and although we had several other food plots, that snake around the edge was never hunted and was by far the most used.
Our agriculture extension folks can help you with soil analysis and picking the right crop to plant. They are good that way.
We even have TWRA biologists who can aid you. Let me plant this seed. Instead of clearing two or three acres in a square and hunting around the edges of it, why not clear the same amount of land by making a four-lane road in a rattlesnake pattern? I believe you will like it better and I know the wildlife will.
Whatever you do, don’t put out feeders and pour the corn in ever few days. Don’t kid yourself. You are not benefitting the wildlife at all and may very well be harming them.
Contact John L. Sloan at -- email@example.com