Hunting with Food Plots: A Beginner's Guide
It’s that time of years, forsythia is blooming, apple trees are blooming, and the grass and trees are beginning to green. The warm temperatures are finally here to stay, well for a few months at least.
With the knee jerk reaction to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shut down baiting last year in Michigan.
A few guys were still found munching on an apple or two on stand, some had a hard time explaining the Sugar Beet they were gnawing at, but for the most part baiting shut down. Deer patterns were altered significantly and many hunters had to adjust if they wanted to fill a tag.
With the new regulations food plots have become even more popular. A certain TV Show, with a certain comedian, displaying big southern bucks taken on ranches that survive thanks to good land management using food plots, hasn’t hurt either.
The truth is, these days most of us do not have the time or resources to spend weeks in the woods. Many of us are lucky to be able to hunt on the weekend at a friends, instead having to find the nearest pumpkin patch to try our luck at a Swiss cheese deer.
If you have a spot of land where you can hunt and make some minor adjustments, then you need to take a close look at food plot hunting. It is truly superior to baiting at drawing in deer. Food plots have several advantages over traditional baiting tactics.
First, plots are always there and the deer know it. Deer will establish a regular feeding pattern often times. They become a natural part of the environment and a place where deer can feed with little pressure. You can establish a pattern for many deer. Noting when they visit and which routes they use.
Second, deer are far less wary on a plot, causing them to act more freely. There’s nothing more irritating than drawing on a deer only to see it get spooked by the wind before you shoot.
Third, plots provide year round nutrition. This impacts the overall health of the herd and can result in bigger bodies, increased antler growth, healthier fawns, and less “die-off” in winter.
Fourth, plots are easier to work with. Food plots can take a lot of effort to establish depending on the size and quality to want to achieve. They can also be as simple as throwing seed onto the ground a few times.
The quality is up to you. Even more important is that once established, they are there. You don’t have to throw a wet bag over your shoulder or carry a pail by your side.
There is nothing to worry about in the fall, unless you want to do some fall plantings to enhance the plot. Instead, the work is all done in the spring, under ideal weather conditions, and at your leisure.
Basic food plot set-up requires mainly a few hand tools but power equipment and even a tractor or ATV with the right implements can be used. For small, simple food plots you can get away with a few items from your garage.
First step, pick a spot. This requires only a shovel and maybe some pruning shears. Food plots should be placed in a place that receives over four hours of direct sunlight. The vast majority of the plants used for plots prefer sun.
You can put them right out in the open for full sun or in a wooded spot with partial sun. Shade is not recommended. There are some specialty seeds that allow for minimal light but the general rule should be more than four hours of direct light.
Once you have found some areas that fit the light requirements, it’s time to check the soil. Take your shovel and turn the dirt over in a few spots where the food plot would be. You looking for dark, moist earth if possible. Trying to plant on hard packed clay or bare, dry sand takes a lot of effort and offers poor results in most cases.
If the spot has ground that you can work with and gets adequate sunlight, then it’s time for the final test. Can you hunt nearby. Plots will draw deer, plain and simple. You have to be able to take advantage of that fact. Being able to hang a tree stand or setup a hunting blind nearby is imperative.
If you have all three requirements met than you have found your spot and can begin preparation. This is the most labor intensive part of the process. You’ll want to clear vegetation.
Pruning shears, a gas powered weed trimmer, a leaf rake, a steel rake, a chainsaw, a tractor, and round-up are all items that can get the job done. It all depends on the size of the plot and how much clearing is needed.
I think it’s important to remember that clear cutting an area for a food plot is not the most responsible thing to do. Leaving a few small trees or pieces of brush will provide security for the deer.
Clear the land and till up the soil if needed. You want bare dirt or close to it for larger plots. For small woodland plots, having grass or other small, natural plants mixed in is a good idea. Check back for more information regarding plot seed choices and final ground preparations.
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