PREMIUM FOOD PLOTS FOR
BOW AND FIREARM SITES CREATED BY HAND HELD INEXPENSIVE EQUIPMENT.
The following suggested food plot type and method of creation is the result of trial and error started in 1982 with my first frost seeding experiment through the summer of 1998. I am excited and confidant 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.
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.
The following are the hand tools you need. A backpack type sprayer (3 gl. min.) 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 and 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" dia. 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 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 your bow site. These open lanes need to be from 15 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. 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.
Around the third 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 gl. At 1/4 cup of round up per gl. of water you should spray at least 2 2/3 acre per gl. 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 only. You should not have very many and the cost is minimal. 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 backwards to avoid getting your clothing wet. Wear latex gloves, face mask and change clothes 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. You may have your own preferred seed type or you can contact your county extension agent for recommendations. You may want to plant a variety of seed type from June clover to rape, but whatever you do, plant the seed type that can germinate without being worked into the soil. Planting early helps, especially if there is still freezing and thawing occurring. This phenomenon along with splashing rain seems to suck the seed in tight contact with the soil. My recommended meadow mix of lequemes 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 seeding. 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 corp. 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 min 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 neighbors Birdsfoot Trefoil field I don't have any reservations.
Planting in the woods in the trashy open lanes does not allow for mowing and this will affect lequeme 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 breathe and recharge itself. For this summer break to occur it means deer must have access to other nutritious palatible vegetation.
Fertilization of these food plots is encouraged.
I intend to continue experimenting with these types of 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.
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.