Choosing and Managing Effective Wildlife Food Plots.
Establishing an attractive food plot that enables wildlife to thrive is a rewarding way to extend your hunting enthusiasm beyond the seasonal harvest. Like any other project you take pride in, a successful food plot starts with good thought and careful planning.
Start with a clear understanding of the basic needs of the wildlife you're going to attract. These essentials include food, water, shelter and a place to raise the young. When selecting a site, try to make use of existing meadows, clearings, trails, firebreaks and field corners. Keep in mind that any food plot will need at least a half-day of sunlight. Avoid planting food plots near roads or property lines.
Although the deer population, natural forage available, and amount of crop or grazing land in the area all help determine its size, a food plot should measure about one acre for every 40 acres of habitat. Several smaller food plots attract wildlife better than one large plot. If you create a new opening, a long narrow strip with a bend or two will help wildlife feel more comfortable about using your food plot.
Probably the most critical and most-often overlooked step in food plot establishment is soil testing. It's well worth the upfront effort to find out exactly what kinds of amendments are required to achieve optimum pH and fertility for the best results. Many wooded areas are very acidic with a low pH number and simply will not grow crops unless corrected with lime. Go to Deer Creek Seed's homepage and download a soil testing form. This form will give more details on how to take an accurate soil sample and where to mail it for analysis.
Young seedlings can't compete with established weeds, so an application of RoundUp® herbicide (or other glyphosate chemical) might be required. It kills almost any plant that is green and growing when applied to the leaves at the reccomended rates. It doesn't require chemical applicator certification. Ideally, it should be applied in the fall so the plot will be ready to till and plant in the spring. For springtime application, you'll need to wait until the target weeds have grown to a height of 6 to 8 inches before spraying, then wait 7 days before tilling.
Seed for wildlife food plots is sometimes sold as "no till", "throw & grow," and other wishful descriptions. But the fact is that there is no quick and easy seed magic. For most plots, obtain a small disc or digger that can be pulled behind a four-wheeler or small tractor. If your soil test recommends an application of lime or fertilizer, you can apply them to the soil before tilling. (Note: Lime breaks down very slowly and will require 6 to 12 months before perennial crop should be planted, so a small grain or annual crop is a good interim choice.) Go over the area enough times to break up and mix the top 6 to 7 inches of soil thoroughly. Next, drag the area with a spike-toothed harrow or similar device to remove any debris, level the seedbed and break up any clumps. If your feet sink into the soil by more than half an inch you'll need to cultipack or roll the soil to firm it before seeding. Skipping this step will result in seed placement deeper than a quarter inch and poor germination.
Strengthen the attraction power of your plots by contrasting against surrounding plant life. If there's abundant cropland in the area, plant mixes higher in annuals and attractant crops. In highly forested areas, plant more perennial legumes. Plant the desired seed mix at the recommended rate using a hand seeder, a broadcast seeder mounted on a four-wheeler, a pull-behind seeder or, for larger areas, an agricultural seeder or grain drill. To avoid the expense of over-application, you can seed smaller amounts per acre by mixing the seed with a filler such as Milorganite®, cat litter, clean sand, or appropriate granular fertilizer. To avoid separation, use a filler that's about the same size and density as the seed. However, if seeding conditions are not ideal, planting more seed increases your chances of achieving better results. After seeding, roll or cultipack the area to cover the seed with 1/4" of soil, and to firm the seedbed for good seed-to-soil contact necessary for germination. Now you can pray for rain, but not too much!
Monitor your plot throughout the growing season. If growth on your perennial crop reaches 14 to 16 inches, clip it back to 4 to 6 inches to stimulate new growth. Mowing in mid- to late- August will also create a new growth that will be at its prime for the fall hunting season. Compare what's growing under the protection of a few wire baskets placed around your plot to how much is actually being eaten. If the wildlife population is eating the crop as fast as it grows, the area may require the support of additional food plots.
If your plot has started to thin out, consider frost seeding or overseeding to thicken your perennial crop. Frost seeding is best done in the very early spring when the ground is still frozen at night and becomes very soft during the day. Seed 2 to 4 pounds per acre of the desired legume on top of the ground, allowing it to settle into the soil naturally. There must be enough bare soil to allow the seed to reach a favorable location where it can grow. This method works especially well with clovers. Overseeding is generally done later in the spring after scratching the soil surface to loosen it.
You'll learn something new every season. Get advice and plant crops that will perform well in your soils and growing conditions. Then make adjustments from what you see happening and how the wildlife responds. You can control what happens on your land to provide the best food plot possible to grow bigger, healthier wildlife and hold them on your land for your enjoyment.
Deer Creek Wildlife's Certified Crop Advisors are avid hunters with their own established wildlife plots. Field-testing means our mixtures are perpetually evaluated and improved to produce an attractive and nourishing food source for deer, grouse, turkey, pheasant and other wildlife. Blends of annual and perennial grasses, legumes and other species are carefully selected to supply a dependable and long-lasting food source as well as provide cover for all wildlife. Produced in the Midwest, Deer Creek Wildlife Brand mixtures are specially adapted and specifically blended for Midwestern wildlife and growing conditions-so you can plant yourself in position for a great hunt!