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DEER MANAGEMENT FOOD PLOTS

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.


    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 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 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" 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 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 gallon. At 1/4 cup of round up per gl. 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 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.


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