Expert Food Plot Tips
By Chris Larsen
Food plots are becoming increasingly popular among deer hunters across the country. The quest for trophy deer and a desire to be stewards of the land and deer herd is the driving force. To reach maximum potential, a buck needs genetics, age, and food. Plots fulfill the third component. Foremosthunting.com recently spoke with Todd Stittleburg of Antler King in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Antler King is one of the top food plot and deer supplement supply companies in the industry. Todd believes there are three things you need to keep deer on your property; food, cover, and water with food being the most important component. “It’s really no different from you or I. If we come home from work today and there is nothing in the refrigerator, we have to make a move.”
It is easy to see the value in food plots in heavily forested areas with little agriculture. However, even in heavily farmed habitats food plots are vital. Stittleburg says food plots provide year round food supplies. “Farmers fields may offer deer a source of food during the spring and summer. But once those crops are harvested in the fall, there goes their food.” If the food source dries up, deer will look elsewhere to find it.
When it comes to getting started planting food plots, a book or informational DVD (Check Out The Working For Whitetails DVD from Antler King) is a good idea. After you are ready to jump in, take a soil test where you intend to grow plants. The pH level is the most important factor to look at when soil testing. It should be over six, but preferably at a seven or neutral. Low pH means the soil is too acidic. Stittleburg says pH is to plants as oxygen is to humans. If the pH is to low, plants will not grow properly. Lime is needed to bring pH levels higher. Stittleburg says fertilizer is simply plant food and has no effect on pH levels. “If you and I had a steak in front of us, yet we didn’t have oxygen to breathe, it doesn’t matter how nice of a steak that is we’re gonna die.”
Once soil is at acceptable pH levels it’s time to decide what to plant. Perennial mixes offer deer something to eat during the spring, summer, and fall. These are crops like clover and chicory. Corn and turnips are thought of as fall and winter food sources. Stittleburg recommends some of each for a balanced food plot program.
When planting, a granular fertilizer should be applied prior tilling the soil. There are some no till products on the market, but those should only be used in cases where tilling is not an option. To get the most out of your plots, tilling is vital. If planting with a drill, when you’re done, you’re done. If broadcasting the seed, Stittleburg recommends dragging or cultipacking the area to get good seed-to-soil contact. If you don’t have access to farming equipment or the plot is too remote to access with large equipment, there are a variety of ATV mounted options. Most can be rented for a reasonable charge.
Many plots are planted early in the season to provide food to deer all year long. However, it’s never too late to plant. In fact some hunters wait until late summer to put plots in. Late plantings provide young, lush plant growth in September and deer can hit these areas hard. Forage soybeans, forage peas, buckwheat, clover, chicory, and rape are great late season food plot crops.
Stittleburg says there are two distinctive types of food plots. One is just that, a food plot. These plots are designed to provide a source of food to deer throughout the year. He recommends planting food plots in areas that are not visible from roadways. Trophy deer will use it more if the plot is secluded and of course, potential trespassers won’t be tempted by the antlers in your plot. The other type are hunting plots. These are generally smaller plots. “They are most effective if you can create a pinch point that the deer like to enter or exit the food plot,” said Stittleburg. Hunting plots are usually positioned closer to bedding areas but it’s important to have a strategy to get in and out of your stand without disturbing bedded deer.
Once your food plot program is established, Stittleburg believes you should focus on creating enough food plots to support a healthy herd. He says a good goal is to have five to ten percent of your property in food plots. “With normal deer densities, if you are lower than five percent, I will guarantee you there will come a time when you run out of food and deer will leave your property in search of food… I do not ever want to give a deer a reason to leave a property.” If planting five to ten percent of your property is not possible, it is important to get maximum productivity out of the plots you have. Stittleburg uses soil conditioners and fertilizers to get the most out of his plots. He says a good program can double the amount of forage a food plot produces.
Stittleburg stresses that proper nutrition can completely transform a resident deer herd. On one of his properties in Northern Wisconsin, he is seeing 160 to 170 inch bucks at just three and half years old. The key is age and nutrition. “I believe the genetic potential is there in most deer throughout the United States to grow 150 inches or more. It’s just a matter of most deer never receive the nutrients they need for maximum antler growth or the age.”
Food plots are one of the most effective ways to see bigger bucks on your property. You can’t control the genetics of the deer herd and even a strict deer management strategy may not succeed if neighboring hunters are shooting young bucks. To listen to the entire conversation with Todd Stittleburg, click the play button at the top of this story.