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qdmalogo DEER MANAGEMENT FOOD PLOTS

PREMIUM FOOD PLOTS FOR BOW AND FIREARM SITES
CREATED BY HAND HELD INEXPENSIVE EQUIPMENT
By Ed Spinazzola (if you want to discuss, give Ed a call at 810-739-8770 or 810-784-8090)


Click here for enlarged food plot photos below with narrative!

The following suggested food plot type and method of creation is the result of trial and error started in 1982 with my first seeding experiment through the summer of 2000. I am excited and confident from the results of the last few years in creating mini food plots and food plot shooting lanes in hunting sites without farm type power equipment.

Basic frost seeding is broadcasting June clover on existing pastures that have been depleted in legumes. The broadcasting is done while there is still freezing and thawing occurring. Late February through early April is an ideal time period. I wait for most of the snow to melt and after a good freeze I broadcast the seed. This also is my choice of time to cruise the woods for a browse survey, look for shed antlers, and scout the deer. With most of the snow gone and the lower areas filled with water and frozen you can literally glide through the woods. Basic frost seeding on existing pastures works best if it has been extensively grazed or mowed the previous fall. This exposes the soil for the most important seed soil contact condition. The freezing and thawing action draws the seed into tighter contact with the soil. In addition, the early spring rains make a slurry of the top surface of the partially frozen soil. This further enhances seed soil contact and the existing sod helps prevent water and seed run off.

I have never been satisfied with the results of my efforts with basic frost seeding in existing sod fields. Almost always the sod would be too much competition for the June clover to germinate and grow in the lower soil elevations or the soil and moisture too poor in higher elevations. The answer was obvious for the poor soil areas. Stay away from them. Since the lower soil elevations were usually the better soil types and had better vegetative growth, it was an obvious choice to concentrate there. Through the years I would put in variations of frost seedings and sometimes the results would encourage me to try further experimentation. Concentrating my experiments the last few years in developing food plots for seclusive hunting sites has led to the following type of food plot which I hope you try and have success with.

equipment

The following are the hand tools you need. A backpack type sprayer (3-gallon minimum) with a hand pump which delivers pressure on demand (example, solo model No. 425 price $90). It works better with a 20" extension, which allows you to spray a 10-ft. wide swath. I would recommend removing the existing plastic flat spray nozzle and replacing it with a stainless steel nozzle No. 8003VS, which can be purchased at farm supply stores. This stainless steel nozzle should last you many years. It has a larger spray volume and wider spray path than the existing one. You need a hand operated over the shoulder broadcast spreader (example: Earthway model 2700A - price $38). This type of spreader is used for both seed and fertilizer. It will broadcast up to a 12-ft. swath and can hold 35 lbs. in the zippered canvas bag. Lastly, you will need a chainsaw. A small to medium size should be adequate. A Stihl model 025 is lightweight but will cut 16" diameter trees.

Carefully select your sites (bow or firearm) even if it means abandoning your long time favorite hunting spot. Give consideration for access to it, heavy cover adjacent, nearby water source or create one, and soil type for maximum production. For your bow site you can clear out an area of 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre (75 to 105 ft. dia.) and/or you can create open travel lanes leading to and from your bow site. These open lanes need to be from 20 to 30 ft. wide depending on overstory. Your plantings should receive a minimum of 50% of the available sunlight. These cleared areas and open lanes are created by your chainsaw and you need not concern yourself about where the trees fall or removing them. Sometimes the more trash the better; it creates a sense of security. These open lanes can meander alongside a drainage in any length you prefer. I have one travel lane that is over Ĺ mile long with 7 strategically located bow blinds one of which I select depending on conditions existing (wind direction, phase of rutÖ). These bow blinds have separate approach paths. This set up does not need bait. Bait may put the deer on alert. For your firearm site your shooting lanes are obviously straight. If you decide to make the length of your shooting lanes about the same as your maximum shooting range or shorter, you can clear an opening at the far end as a feeding site. The size of this food plot clearing can be from 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre or larger. You would need to have most of the trees fall away from the shooting lanes to minimize trimming required for clear observation, unless you have the advantage of an elevated blind. These lane and open area cuttings could be a healthy winter activity.

may woods foodplot Note the vigorous growth of bracken fern in the picture on the right, and on the left, the trash from the previous yearsí vegetative growth, which was killed with three sprayings. Around the third or fourth week of May (wait for the top leaf of the bracken fern to unfold) spray with Round Up. I recommend when buying the Round Up you purchase it at a farm supply store in concentrate form. Price should be $50 a gallon. At 1/4 cup of Round Up per gal. of water you should spray at least 2 2/3 acre per gallon. This is $20 an acre max. Around the end of June spray again and only the vegetation that escaped the May spraying. Again around the middle of September spray the escapes and new growth. This September spraying is most critical. I am not pushing Round Up, but it is very effective, moderately priced and has a low toxic EPA warning label. It can be purchased and used by anyone. You do not need an applicators license. Follow spraying instructions, walk with the wind at your back or walk along the spray path to avoid getting your clothing wet. Wear latex gloves, facemask, and change clothes and shower after spraying. Have a gallon container of clean water handy in case of spills on your person. This food plot is the premium type and you do not plant during the year of spraying. The May spraying starts the decomposition of the vegetation (tops and roots). The additional escape sprayings assures minimal native vegetation competition and by next spring planting time there will be plenty of exposed soil to guarantee vital seed soil contact and yet enough dead sparse cover to help keep the soil cool and moist. Something like the straw spread on newly planted grass seed.

The following late winter, preferably the first half of March, broadcast your legume meadow mix seed. You can also broadcast your first split application of fertilizer at this time. Broadcast 200 lbs. of 7-27-27 (or similar) per acre if seeding legumes. If you are not seeding legumes broadcast 200 lbs. of 16-16-16 per acre. Also itís a good idea to broadcast 200 lbs. of 16-16-16 into the surrounding woods at this time. You may have your own preferred seed type from June clover to rape (plant rape after April 1st) or you can contact your county extension agent for recommendations, but whatever you do, plant the seed type that can germinate without being worked mechanically into the soil. Alfalfa does best with firm soil contact (cultipack). I have had from good to excellent results with the following seed types: all clovers, birsdfoot trefoil, rape, kale, chicory, canola, grass, oats, rye grain, and wheat.

My preferred seed type is a meadow mix of legumes. It consists of 3lbs. ladino clover, 3lbs. June clover (red clover), 3lbs. of alsike and 3lbs. of birdsfoot trefoil per acre. You will need to mix inoculant with the legume seed. A separate type of inoculant for the clovers (ladino, june & alsike) and birdsfoot trefoil is necessary. Purchasing the seed from a complete farm store may make it easier. Some will inoculate and mix the seed for you. These inoculants help the legumes fix a major portion of the nitrogen the plantís use through stimulating nodules that are attached to their root system. These nodules use nitrogen thatís in the air and fix it to surrounding soil. This is the reason there is a difference of fertilizer used when seeding legumes (7-27-27 vs. 32-12-12) for corn. However, it has been shown that these nodules fix no more than half of the nitrogen that the plant is capable of using. So the obvious next move is to add nitrogen fertilizer to legumes. Too much is not good; it makes the nodules lazy. I use 7-27-27, but if you used 16-16-16 you won't go wrong.

My recommended meadow mix of legumes (see below) works well in most lower elevation soils, and can tolerate somewhat acid soil (5.5 ph). The ladino is the most preferred by deer and is self perpetuating through seed and stolon growth. Ladino is nothing more than the native unwanted white clover you see growing in your lawn but is a hybrid and with a little luck can out-live you. June clover is short lived (2 years) but is a good first year producer and nurse crop. Alsike also is a native type clover and is hardy and palatable. Birdsfoot trefoil is one of my favorites. It can take a long time to establish itself (3 to 4 years) but once established it can compete with aggressive native grasses. It is easily recognized by its all summer yellow blooms. It resembles alfalfa in appearance but is not as sensitive in site selection. Alfalfa needs a minimum of 6.3 ph, does not like its feet wet and prefers well-drained medium to medium-light soils. If you can grow it, great! It's very nutritious and deer love it. Alfalfa does not reseed itself and needs good soil contact for germination (best planted with a drill and cultipacker). Birdsfoot trefoil is more than a substitute for alfalfa. It will grow in soil as low as 5.5 ph, can have its feet wet or not, reseeds itself, grows during the summer and dry years, is none bloating, less stemy than alfalfa, has similar nutrient value and if well established is long-lived (30 years or more). I can't say deer prefer it, but from my years of close observation in checking actual plants consumed and watching deer graze in my birdsfoot trefoil fields, I don't have any reservations.

Birdsfoot trefoil may have a downside. If conditions are favorable (moist, loamy clay soil), this plant type can be dominant and as mentioned birdsfoot trefoil is not the preferred food of deer. Also, it has been my experience that a large variety of plants in food plots with spring and late summer yearly plantings cannot be overemphasized as to the value derived. I still recommend seeding birdsfoot trefoil in at least part of your food plots for several reasons. It is a nutritious food, decent digestibility, and is an excellent safety value. Its good points become more apparent in a droughty year. Birdsfoot trefoil is not as drought resistant as alfalfa but it will still grow in a dry July and August when everything else seems to go dormant. When the going gets tough, due to the small stem diameter, the deer will consume the entire plant, summer, fall, and dig through the snow in the winter. This I have witnessed many times. A thick growth of birdsfoot trefoil is an excellent cover and food source for game birds and rabbits.

lush legumes, bedded doe In the picture, note the lush growth of legumes and the absence of bracken fern and other weeds (also the bedded doe).

Planting in the woods in the trashy open lanes does not allow for mowing and this will affect legume productivity and longevity. Also, the amount of grazing done by deer affects it. If your food plots are heavily used and the deer keep it mowed down throughout the summer it will affect its longevity. However, there's a good chance deer will hit it hard in late spring, ease up on it during the summer and then hit it again in late summer and fall and that's just when you want them to. That summer break is most important for the food plot to catch its breath and recharge itself. For this summer break to occur it means deer must have access to other nutritious palatable vegetation.

Fertilization of these food plots is encouraged. In addition to the early season first fertilizer application of 200 lbs. as previously mentioned, I recommend another 200 lbs. applied around the first of August. The first application is for the deer. The 2nd one is for you. It improves your chances of seeing deer during the hunting seasons. If you can only broadcast fertilizer once make it the early August application with 300 lbs. If you apply only once, be prepared to broadcast at least 100 lbs per acre in an emergency dry period, and make this an application of 16-16-16. If you have the time and inclination, I recommend 5 applications, and this is more important the sandier your soil. Apply 100 lbs. on the first of April, May, June, July and the first of August for a total of 500 lbs. Fertilizer especially nitrogen encourages the plantsí root system to make more efficient use of water. Your food plot will have a spurt of growth in spite of an apparent lack of moisture. The more burned out your food plot looks the more it could use fertilizer. Liming for a minimum of 6.0ph in these trashy food plot lanes I realize is difficult and much more expensive. Your soil test may show an application of 2 tons or more of agricultural lime needed per acre. Lime is inexpensive and easy to apply when done in an open field and commercially with large sized self propelled spreaders. This isn't the case if done manually with pellitized lime. Can you imagine manually broadcasting 4000 lbs. on your one-acre food plot with the cost going from $25 a ton to $200 a ton for pellitized lime? If you want the exercise go for it.

Note: The meadow mix of ladino, june and alsike clover along with birdsfoot trefoil is somewhat tolerant of a low ph (5.5). The clovers, ladino, june and alsike and birdsfoot trefoil are tolerant of a variety of soil types (from the lighter loamy sands to loamy clay). I would suggest you initially plant the meadow mix along with a few experimental small, single plant type seedings. Make note of which plant types do best and make adjustments in your future seedings.

Maintenance of premium food plots and options:

There should be none or very little the year of broadcasting the seed. If unwanted weeds or grass appear spot spray them with Round Up around Sept. 15th. Your last broadcasting of fertilizer should be around August 1st.

For the second and hopefully third year of your premium food plot fertilize as previously recommended. Toward the end of May spot spray the invaders with Round Up. Allow for drying time and broadcast the original legume meadow mix or you can add to the legume 12lb. per acre mix 3 lbs. of rape (biologic summer, perennial, fall attractant or the inexpensive dwarf essex rape). Spot spray September 15th.

Using this maintenance program I get at least two years of satisfactory growth. When the grass and other aliens get out of hand itís time to shift into another maintenance phase. You have several options:

The first, which is as follows: Again at the end of May or early June (wait for the ferns to leaf out) spray with Round Up. Temperature should be 65 degrees or above, vegetation dry (no dew) and no rain for at least 3 hours. In two weeks spray again. I add spray-able ammonium sulfate (1/4 cup per gal. water) to the Round Up herbicide solution. Ammonium sulfate is inexpensive and enhances the effectiveness of Round Up. If you use it, make sure you purchase the spray-able type. It is processed to not clog your sprayer. These two sprayings with ammonium sulfate added does a fair job of killing the grass and ferns. I recommend the legume meadow mix with rape added as your preferred seeding. If rape is included change your fertilizer mix to 16-16-16 or equivalent. This mid-June seeding is not the best choice but with timely rains, dead cover to shade your seedlings, easy to germinate, and emerge rape as part of your seeding your chances are good. In addition, to the expected emergence of your seeding you can anticipate a bonus. A little of the old ladino may survive the two sprayings. The birdsfoot trefoil will be set back but after dozens of experiments of spraying with Round Up once, twice, and even three times it has never failed to come back and due to the lack of competition it eventually flourishes.

The second option is three Round Up sprayings with the last around August 1st. Follow this with the same recommended legume meadow mix with rape as noted or other choices such as turnips, commercial wildlife mixes, a straight seeding of dwarf essex rape, or buckwheat. The list is rather long, just remember to plant types that do not need to be mechanically worked into the soil. Whether you choose option one or two should be based on the following, if after the first spraying you observe decent vegetation kill, spray again in two weeks for option one to gain a longer growing season. You also can plant any or more of the plant choices noted in option two.

The third option also has three sprayings with the last and most important one around September 15th. You can use the same reasoning to choose option three. The first two sprayings did not completely kill the pesty plants. Your choice of seed is now narrowed. I like to include a straight planting of oats at this time. Itís nutritious, the deer love it, and it stays green until the first of winter. The following early spring with the oats dead conditions are ideal for the legume meadow mix broadcasting. Other seed choices are rye grain and wheat. Choose rye if you have light soil, wheat does best in heavier soil, and is the better choice for overall deer nutrition. Both provide good nutrition during the fall and winter. Wheat has the edge in spring. It is more digestible, palatable, and stays that way well beyond the point of time deer are no longer interested in rye. You can plant all three together. If you choose rye or wheat for your hunting site, you will need to spray it for your spring planting. Planting rate per acre is 2 bushels with 200 lbs. of 26-12-12 fertilizer at time of planting.

Note: There is absolutely no soil disturbance throughout the process of establishing a premium food plot. The last spraying should eliminate all native plant competition. Disturbing the soil only brings to the surface new weed seeds that would be allowed to germinate.

I intend to continue to experiment with these easy to create food plots. Please let me know your results if you try these plantings or any deviation of them including different plant types used. Hopefully, together we can improve on them. For additional information see our Mid-Michigan Branch QDMA web page www.qdma.net, for membership information call 1-800-209-DEER, for my phone number call 1-810-784-8090.

rainbow

Dear Neighbor:

For the past few years I have been experimenting with warm season food plots and I am very satisfied with the results. Warm season food plots consist of grass / legume mix. They only require yearly maintenance of mowing and fertilizing once established. The longevity of these plots could be 4 years to forever, depending on quality of establishment, maintenance practices , soil type and use. Location, size and number of food plots are important. I have (13) warm season food plots strategically located on 160 acres. The total amount of these acres is 16 with a size of 1/3 to 3 acres, with food plot planted two tracks interconnecting the 13 locations.

Locations of food plots should be based on several thoughts. Use your better soils with at least one side next to heavy cover. These tend to be your lower elevations. You can locate alongside a drainage, a natural travel corridor (or plant one) and deep into the woods. Some of the advantages of planting deep into the woods is the natural feeling of security the deer show by their visiting the food plots any time of the day, better utilization of the food plots, less poaching and the knowledge that you have a better chance of seeing deer even after opening day. Also important is the deer will take their first meal in your food plot and not in your neighbor farmers fields. I find this works well.

The size recommendation by most experts is one to three acres. Most of my food plots fall into this range. However, I have a few plots of around 1/3 of an acre located in dead ends that have proven most interesting. For bow hunting these are especially productive even without bait.

The number and location of plots directly affect the aggressiveness of doe deer during the spring birthing and early fall dispersal times. Maternal doe deer need and demand space during these times. Yet I have observed does with their young claim individual food plots with a similar experience in another food plot 100 yards distant. I am not advocating a large population of deer. That's not what Quality Deer Management is about.

Most hunting property has a variety of habitat some of which is cover, mature woods, etc., which does not produce much wildlife food. Areas converted to food plots can produce 100 times more vegetation in volume than natural maturing wooded habitat. It is these food plots that help keep the deer near or on your wooded property

The following are practices that I have followed with good results:

  1. Proper food plot location size and number as already mentioned.
  2. Contact your county extension agent for recommendations.
  3. Clear out the food plot area with two track access for planting and maintenance. I don't necessarily clear out the whole area. If it looks like some trees belong; they stay
  4. Soil test each food plot separately
  5. Lime for a minimum Ph of 6.0. Four (4)tons per acre max. per application / year when working the lime into the soil. Two(2) tons per acre max. per application / year when broadcast only.
  6. Broadcast fertilizer per soil test recommendations.
  7. Work the lime and fertilizer into the top 4 inches of the soil ( I use a disk, this also prepares the seed bed.
  8. Use a good planter with press wheels or packer and plant the warm season food plot anytime from early spring through the first week of August. Plant only if soil is moist! I have planted 6 different years all around the first week of August with no failures. I am too busy for spring planting and this gives me time to prepare the food plot
  9. Each and every year thereafter mow twice (around June 1st and August 1st) and broadcast fertilizer (300 lbs / acre of 7-27-27. I broadcast fertilizer around August 1st. If you can only mow once some years make it the June 1st mowing. If you don't intend to mow expect much lower productivity. Mowing promotes the growth of legumes and longevity, matches the new growth in June with fawning and the August mowing with fall hunting.
  10. It's a good idea to build up the nutrient levels of calcium, phosphorus and potash in your soil to high level. Some people think if they put out minerals for the deer, that's good enough. It doesn't hurt and it's recommended that you do that but the greatest benefits are gained by putting the nutrients into the plants deer eat
  11. There are many types and levels of intensity available when establishing food plots. Here are some options
    a. Just mowing twice a year an open field and nothing else is good. Try it and look at the different plant types growing in the mowed area. Spreading fertilizer (16-16-16) just adds to it
    b. Working up an old field with a disk sets back the existing grasses and allows an earlier succession of plant types (preferred) to thrive. Again broadcasting some fertilizer doesn't hurt.
    c. Several variations of broadcasting June Clover (frost seeding) in early spring are available:
    1. Basic frost seeding is broadcasting June Clover while there is still freezing and thawing occurring (late February thru early April).
    2. Basic frost seeding and broadcasting fertilizer (7-27-27) at 200 lbs./acre is a plus.
    3. Disturbing the soil the previous fall (disking, rototilling) adds greatly to the success rate by exposing the soil for seed soil contact.
    4. Spraying a contact herbicide (round-up ultra) (1/4 cup per gallon of water using a flat spray nozzle #8003VS) late summer to early fall (Sept. 15 mean date) and then frost seeding the following early spring I have found will work as well most times as disturbing the soil.
    5. Spraying a contact herbicide in mid-spring (May 5) then following in (5) days with a broadcast seeding of June Clover or a meadow mix of legumes I have found to be most satisfactory. Three (3) gallons of spray should cover from 1/8 to 1/5 of an acre.
    6. Getting a little fancy with the above method is to follow the May 5 (approx.) contact spraying (grass should be about 4-6 tall) 7-10 days later with soil disturbance (rototilling etc.) and then follow this immediately with a broadcast seeding of a meadow mix of Legumes. (Ladino Clover 3 lbs., June Clover 3 lbs., Birdsfoot Trefoil 3 lbs. and 1 lb. of Alsike) per acre. This will just about guarantee a lush long lived food plot. If you have gone this far you may as well broadcast 300 lbs/acre of (7-27-27) fertilizer. If you want it to last a few years mow it around June 1st there after, otherwise replant when needed. Small plots of this type of planting in your hunting areas will not do much as far as feeding deer goes but it sure does act as an attractant. If you plant it they will come.
    d. Broadcasting fertilizer and nothing else will help. Right in your favorite hunting spots (bow or gun) broadcast fertilizer (16-16-16) at 200 lbs./acre. You can fertilize individual fruit and nut (oak) trees at 5-10 lbs. each depending on size. Fertilizing the deer's living quarters does subtle things to the habitat. First the plants and their products are more nutritious and the palatability of them is extended for a longer period of time. The wildlife naturally are attracted to the fertilized plants. Don't ask me how they know but it has been shown conclusively that they prefer the more nutritious plants.

    My recommended grass /legume warm season food plot mix:

    AMOUNT PER ACRE

    GRASS
    Timothy - 1 pound

    LEGUME
    Ladino Clover - 2 pounds
    Birdsfoot Trefoil - 3 pounds
    Alfalfa - 2 pounds
    June Clover - 1 pound
    Sweet Clover (Yellow Short)- 1 pound
    Alsike - 1 pound
    Crown Vetch (Option for high soil eroision area) - 1 pound

    TOTAL: 12 pounds / acre

    NOTE: You need to use inoculant for the legumes. Three (3) different types clover / alfalfa, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Vetch. Mix it with the seed just prior to planting. I use a little soda pop (Pepsi) for stickum.

    The low amount of grass seed is all you need. The native grasses will fight to take over your food plot and deer eat very little grass if the higher protein and calcium rich legumes are available. The variety of seed is necessary due to the varying soil types and topography in our area. Also some plant types will do better during a drought and others can have their feet wet, and the deer naturally consume a variety of plant types with legumes at the top of their list.

    NONE OF THE ABOVE IS THE MAGIC BULLET OR FORMULAE TO A SUCCESSFUL HUNT. EACH PRACTICE ADDS TO THE TOTAL PICTURE.

    Ed Spinazzola
    President Mid Michigan Branch QDMA
    Phone #810 784-8090

    The national QDMA has asked me to create comparison growth and rate of consumption test plots in 1998 using a three blend fall attractant planting of rape and kale along side other food plots such as clover, rye, soys, and wheat. The results will be in future Mid-Michigan Branch New's Letters.

    Click here for enlarged food plot photos with narrative!

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