Tips for Great Fall Food Plots
Start early. About the time you’re wrapping up the spring turkey hunting season isn’t too early to begin your fall food plot.
Plan new plots carefully. Food plots should not be located close to roads or property boundaries. They should also be located, where possible, so hunters can approach without undue warning of deer. Carefully study seeds and plants available and match the plants to your plot size, geographic region and hunting methods and timing.
Cleared roads or trails providing easy access to plots can make them more successful. Creating or keeping these trails clear makes it easier to approach plots for hunting without making unnecessary noise. Cleared trails also allow for easier access with equipment. The edges of cleared roads and trails can also act as travel lanes for wildlife, as well as linear food plots.
If planning a new plot you will have to consider vegetation removal. This may simply be herbicides, or you may need to clear the land, which involves mowing brush and weeds, chain-sawing sprouts and tree removal. Or you may need to have the spot bulldozed. The latter is the quickest, but also the most expensive. All must be done well in advance of planting the food plot.
If eradicating fescue in an old field using herbicides, again starting early is the best choice. Fescue should be sprayed early in the summer while it is making growth. You can then spray it again in early fall to insure better "burn down."
Take a soil test sample. If the food plot area is more than a half acre or so, take several samples from around the area, mix together in a clean, plastic container and then take your sample from this mix. Take or send the sample to local county extension services, or fertilizer plants. You can also get the soil sample tested mail order from Bio-Logic. Check out the website: (www.plantbiologic.com and click on "Soil")
Lime is important. In many instances, especially when establishing a food plot, lime will need to be applied to the plot area. This should be done well in advance of planting time as it takes time for lime to break down or use a pH fertilizer.
Consider planting a smorgasbord of seeds to provide a variety of foods throughout the year or season. For instance, a strip of perennial clover, such as Clover Plus along one outside food plot edge, then follow with a strip of Maximum, a strip of Full Draw, Trophy Oats, and so forth. Alternate the annual strips until you reach the opposite side, then add a second strip of clover. The center of the plot can be replanted in annuals each year, leaving the outside strips in semi-permanent food plots.
Make sure your equipment is in good working order well before planting time. Nothing is more frustrating than to discover a break-down that could be prevented when you’re trying to get in a food plot.
Like garden seed, most food plot seed does best with a well cultivated and broken up soil. Except in dry-land conditions, work the soil as much as possible to achieve a smooth surface.
For tiny seeds, such as clovers, cultipack or roll the soil flat and smooth before planting. For small plots, a lawn roller behind your ATV or even lawn mower can be effective.
Fertilize properly following results of soil-tests. Broadcast the fertilizer, and then work it into the top of the soil before planting.
If possible plant seeds just before a gentle rain, but not a flooding downpour that may wash seeds away. Do not bury tiny seeds such as clovers. Broadcast them, then roll or cultipack the field to press the seeds into contact with the soil.
Follow timing of seed planting according to your geographical area, and to match the timing of your hunting season. Most fall-seeded plots require at least 30 days before the first frost.
Utilization cages will determine deer usage. Fresh fall growth is highly relished by deer, and it’s hard to determine food plot success without these cages.
An abundance of deer can actually eat the plot to the ground before the tiny plants have a chance to become established.
Use BioLogic Plot Protector in areas of high deer concentrations to protect the plot until the plants get a good start.
If you have an already established food plot of clover, or alfalfa, lightly clipping the plot in late summer will cut back on the weeds, and create fresh growth to not only reinvigorate the plot, but make it more attractive to deer for the coming hunting season.
If the plot is located next to a wooded area, create more “edge” between the plot and the woods by “feathering” the wooded edge. Feathering is creating thick and heavy cover, providing a place as a travel corridor into the plot, a place deer can safely watch the field from, or even a place for deer to bed. This can be done in two ways. One tactic is to plant shrubs between the plot and the woods. Another is to half-cut or hinge-cut trees along the wooded edges. The trees are cut so they will fall over, but with the tops still attached to the stump. Many trees cut in this manner will still continue to live, and grass and brush will grow up through the tops. Birds will then create even more edge as they rest on the horizontal surfaces, their droppings providing seeds for more plants.
Use trail cameras for surveillance of trails leading into food plots to determine usage and the best stand locations.
One of the most effective food plots for bowhunting is a mini-plot using BioLogic Hot Spot. Last fall, my nephew Morgan and I used Hot Spot to plant a plot next to his bow stand the day before a rain. His stand is located on a well-used wildlife trail in the middle of a heavily wooded area. One evening three weeks later, he killed both a turkey and an 8-point buck over the spot with his bow. Hot Spot is an annual that contains a scientifically selected blend of winter peas, wheat and buckwheat that is extremely fast germinating. Hot Spot is also extremely easy to plant and is designed to cover a 3,600 square foot area, just about the right size for bow range around a stand. We first used a chainsaw to cut four small trees out of the area, creating a mini-clearing to allow more sun to reach the soil. We also used the cut-off trees to create a funnel to lead deer by the stand. A leaf blower was then used to blow off leaves and forest duff. A garden rake was used to lightly break up the soil surface. A bag of pHFERTILIZER was spread over the soil. Hot Spot comes in a shaker bag and is easily spread over the surface. We then raked the soil to insure good contact with the seed and prayed for rain. In about a week he had germination and by the second week good growth and lots of wildlife activity. By the time of his hunt the plants were really getting hit hard.
If you’re dreaming about that big buck, a fall food plot can be a real help, if planted right.