The Most Common Food Plotting Mistakes
Photo by Gameandfishmag.com
As part of our ongoing spring and summer food plotting series, we figured that covering some basic mistakes made in food plotting would be a good idea. Lord knows that myself and most other food plotters have made the same mistakes, and sometimes more than once.
It is far easier to make those mistakes that lead to failure than to stumble upon success in food plotting. You can surely get lucky by tossing seeds out there and having the right combination of factors in your favor, but that is a rare happening in food plotting. Growing successful food plots for wildlife requires a lot of know-how and some luck along the way.
When it comes to the know-how, the recipe for success has generally been developed and distributed throughout the outdoor industry for years. There are pillars for success and pillars for failure.
We will be focusing on the pillars of failure in this post. Again, these are mistakes that any food plotter has stubbed his or her toe upon at some point. You can do everything seemingly right and still get nabbed by one of these common mistakes.
So, listen up and make sure you give these general areas a lot of thought and plenty of effort this spring and summer. If you can successfully clear these hurdles, you will be well on your way to sitting over a nice food plot with your bow or gun in hand this fall.
1. Losing the Weed Control Battle
If I had to guess without actually polling food plotters across America, I would say that losing the weed control battle is the number-one detriment to success. Nothing chokes out a food plot and ruins a hunter's dreams like a field full of thistle, golden-rod, or any invasive weed or grass. Remember, weeds and grasses have an inherent head-start on anything us humans throw into the ground. If we fail to kill those invasive weeds off before we plant our desired seeds, the weeds are just going to win the growth battle.
Food plotters often misstep by failing to successfully till or kill weeds away. I am personally a bigger fan of killing weeds off entirely via herbicide, but you can simply "till it black" until you're clear of weeds and grasses. Regardless, you have to try and get your food plot as weed and grass free as you possibly can before planting day arrives. Our crops have to be given the best chance to beat the weeds in the race to the sky.
2. Ignoring the Soil
If losing the weed control war is not the top reason for food plot failure, ignoring the soil would have to take the crown. Nothing slips the mind of a hunting-first "farmer" like getting a professional soil test done. Hunters are not overly concerned with all of the chemical analyses and statistical figures, and rightfully so. Most of us are not adept at reading a soil test like a farmer or agronomist, but that is no excuse. There are extensions and seed shops across America that can help you get on track. You simply have to try.
Just remember that your food plot and your deer herd will only be as healthy as the soil on your hunting grounds. Everything derives from the soil and grows from it. The nutrients on that boring, confusing soil test are inevitably the base from which your deer herd will obtain its nutrition. If your soil sucks, so will your food plots. Tossing some soil in a bag and sending it off is far easier than buying seeds, investing your time, and experiencing epic failure. Believe me, I've been there and back a few times.
3. Wrong Variety, Wrong Way, Wrong Time
So, you have cleared the weed control hurdle, obtained a soil sample, and now you think that it's as easy as tossing seeds and getting a little rain. Wrong! You have to gain more of that know-how to have concrete success. You have to know what to plant, how to plant it, and when to plant it. The seeds we sow are the star of this show!
It is key to understand your planting varieties. Perennials versus annuals, grain crops versus green crops, and spring planting versus fall planting. There is so much to consider that we could not possibly list everything in this post alone. Just realize that every seed variety has an ideal way of being planted and an ideal time to do so. As a general rule of thumb, green crops like clover or brassicas can be broadcast and should be planted in the fall (August-September). Grain crops should ideally be drilled in rows, but not always, and they should be planted in the late spring or early summer. Just don't be the guy who broadcasts corn seeds in August. Not understanding your variety, planting method, and ideal time can waste a lot of money and make you look like a real fool in deer camp.
4. Not Going the Extra Mile- Lime and Fertilizer
Lime and fertilizer are often viewed as extra-mile measures in food plotting, and I really don't understand it. If soil is arguably the most important factor in the food plotting equation, why would correcting or treating that soil be so overlooked? More than a few hunters with food plot aspirations have said that they don't need to go that extra mile to correct the soil PH and add vital nutrients via fertilization, and they undoubtedly failed or performed poorly. We may not be farmers, but certain things are a must.
Having an appropriate PH for what you are planting and giving it some fuel to grow is a must. Unless you are blessed with some of the ideal soils across the Midwest, you really need to focus upon liming and fertilizing. If you are going to invest your time and money in food plotting, buy yourself a load of lime and a few bags of fertilizer. Even if you are blessed with great soil, your plots can hit new levels with a small amount of effort and cash. I'm talking about a couple hundred bucks and some time spent broadcasting on your ATV.
5. Setting and Forgetting
This point is more applicable to perennial food plot varieties, but it can apply to all. Because most hunters are planting on a property that they do not live directly on or even nearby, it's incredibly easy to set it and forget it. Meaning that a lot of hunters throw their seeds and simply bank on the idea that their plot will grow flawlessly. Just show up and hunt on opening day.
If you are planting a perennial like clover, you will be in for a rude awakening if you set it and forget it. Perennials of all kinds need constant attention. Mowing, liming, and fertilizing are ideally done twice a year. Not to mention that you should be treating perennials like clover with an application of selective herbicide twice per year. Planting and walking away will likely result in a weed-ridden and dying clover plot. Even brassicas and grain plots need some care here and there, so avoid being that guy who plants and walks away.
Food plotting is a highly involved hobby for the hunting enthusiast. If you aren't prepared to be invested significantly in your time and money, don't waste either.
As you have now learned, it's far too easy to make critical mistakes along the way. Sure, those mistakes can and will be learning points for you. But let's be honest, nobody enjoys learning the hard way.