Food Plots: Planting to Your Hunting Style
Photo by Todd Mason, NOLA.com
As spring food plots are being planted across the South and last-minute preparations are being made to plant across the North, it’s time to discuss some deeper considerations to make when it comes to planting your food plots.
While there are plenty of great farmers out there who are diehard deer hunters, most of us are hunters with no true farming experience or implications whatsoever. We’re planting food plots to better our hunting experience and to benefit the deer herd. We have to keep that in mind this spring.
It can be easy to throw on your farmer’s hat and forget that you are planting for a specific reason, and that reason is generally for deer hunting. Now, many serious food plotters go all-out and plant destination feed plots and fields. Seeking to provide that extra push of nutrition beyond the scope of hunting. However, most of us are planting food plots in hopes of hunting directly over them.
This is where planting to your style and thinking a bit deeper in the spring can really pay off come fall. Hunters who successfully plant food plots and subsequently harvest quality deer off of them have a plan in mind. Each plot serves a distinct purpose. Each plot is also strategically designed for optimal hunting.
When I think of the best of the best in food plot architecture, I think of guys like Mark and Terry Drury. The Drury boys are some of my role models when it comes to deer hunting and deer management. Nobody designs purpose-built food plots like they do. Each food plot is designed and planted with the hunt in mind. You will often hear Mark and Terry refer to the tactic of “planting to your position”.
Most hunters who plant food plots aren’t going that deep. We’re simply looking for a good spot that we can access with a small farm tractor or even with an ATV. We’re making the preparations, throwing seed, and crossing our fingers. If the food plot germinates and starts attracting deer, we hang a stand in August and hope for the best.
A lot of hunters have found incredible success going with the game-plan I just described above. Most of us simply don’t have the time or resources to plan it out like the professionals do, and we don’t have to. Average whitetail hunters can get the job done, and we can also take a page from the book of the professionals.
Whether you are going all-out and drilling a field full of forage soybeans or simply scratching up some dirt and tossing out some clover, do it with a purpose in mind. A hunting specific purpose. If we’re going to take the time to do any kind of a food plot, we ought to be doing it with hunting at the forefront of our minds.
Know your style and know your setup.
If you are going to be bow hunting over that clover plot in the early season, make sure it works for a bow hunter. Think about where the prevailing winds will be coming from in September or early October. Make sure that the bulk of your clover is within bow range. Don’t plant a clover plot in the middle of a 40-acre field and then hang your stand 150 yards away.
The same goes for those late-season grain sources like soybeans and clover. Realize that you are trying to stretch that food source into November, December and January. That calls for planting larger plots to make sure that summer and early fall browsing does not wipe out the goods. Planting in more of a central location to account for the extended shooting range of rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders during the later gun seasons.
A lot of eager deer hunters fail to pick up on the intricate details in the spring, and they pay for that in the fall. While none of us are perfect and you will definitely have to learn from trial and error, we can all keep hunting at the front of our minds. After all, it’s the reason why we break ground and throw seed in the first place.
If you are planting what most hunters refer to as “kill plots”, envision that final shot. That is definitely a long way from your mind when you are sweating your tail off on a tractor in late May or throughout the summer months, but you have to keep that final shot in mind.
Ask yourself, can I kill a deer over this food plot? If the answer is yes, then how are you going to do it? Will you be hunting with a bow or gun? It may seem simple and almost too obvious to mention, but you would be surprised how easy it is to forget about the final shot.
A lot of hunters plant destination feeding plots when they are hoping to create a kill plot, and vice versa.
As a general rule of thumb, stick to the edges of fields for archery kill plots. Field edges, small openings in a meadow, or even small “hidey hole” food plots in the timber. You want some structure to funnel the deer within bow range. Skinny, rectangular shaped plots on the edges of larger agricultural fields are great.
Think shape, structure, and shot.
Shaping the plot so it is conducive to the style of hunting that you practice predominantly. Structure to dictate deer movement. Appropriate distances to execute that final shot.
In conclusion, what kind of plant you throw in the ground is going to be a crucial consideration. You can design the perfect shape and structure to get that final shot, but you’re S.O.L. without deer actively enjoying that food plot. This is where you have to envision the stages of the deer season.
It’s generally a good idea to think green early and grain late. Things like clover, chicory, or alfalfa for the early portions of the archery season. Things like soybeans, corn, or brassicas during the late portions of the season. You have to think a few steps ahead to predict what the deer are going to be eating and when.
All of this may seem like a confusing mix of factors that would discourage your average hunter from planting food plots, but it doesn’t have to be this intricate. Any food plot on your property is going to benefit the wildlife in some way. We’re just trying to make sure the benefit comes back to you- the hunter.
When in doubt, just think about that final shot. Think bow or gun, phase of the season, and variety in the ground. Use your imagination to create an image of that ideal hunt.
Then, just get out and plant that food plot.