Whitetail Food Plots: Too Much of a Good Thing?
April 11, 2018
You've heard the old saying that too much of a good thing could actually be bad for you. In today's whitetail-crazy trend of managing property for wildlife, that saying could have real implications.
Read the online ads or look inside the pages of your favorite hunting publication. The whitetail nutrition business is booming. Some of the ad space once occupied by major firearm or ammunition companies has now been replaced by companies such as Mossy Oak Biologic or Big Rack Trophy Products. That means more and more of you are purchasing whitetail products, tilling the ground and sowing seeds. You see this movement across whitetail country on plots large and small.
Whitetails are healthier than ever with the table set not only from your food plots, but adjacent, large agricultural fields and mineral supplements. As you begin planning another planting season, it may be time to take a purposeful review of your food-plot scheme. One of my hunting friends is a good example. Every year he calls me to strategize on where the next best place would be to add a food plot to his farm. He already has a half dozen plots scattered across a 300-acre farm. It's been a boom to the wildlife and hunting alike. His efforts have made his farm a first-stop for area whitetails and as time goes on the population continues to grow.
That's good. Unfortunately, along with the good comes some bad. The phrase too much of a good thing comes into play. Here's a rundown of the good, the bad and a bit of the ugly you may have to contend with as your food plot ambitions grow.
It's easy to see the good in adding extra nutrition to your property whether it consists of 40 or 400 acres. It means there is food for everyone, especially if you design your plots with varieties of crops that mature at different times throughout the growing season. This creates food sources that deer can utilize all through the year, even during the winter months while utilizing species such as turnips. It also means deer won't overgraze your plots since some will provide an early, mid or late bounty.
With this blueprint in play, it's a good thing. Whitetails won't focus on just one plot, especially if it is small. Adding more plots, larger plots and a variety of crops keeps deer from mowing down your efforts and ensures year-round food in addition to native browse.
This means looking beyond the hunting season and having more food than just to attract deer when you have your bow, or gun in hand. A rutting whitetail buck may lose more than 25 percent of its body weight during the rut marathon. Does also lose weight from the chase. A well-stocked pantry going into winter means bucks and does can recover before winter really bears down on them, especially in northern latitudes. If bucks go into winter without a recovery plan, it could mean diminished antlers inches the following year. Their body would push energy toward survival, not antler growth. The same is true of does. If they are stressed in the winter months they may abort fawns to survive. More is better.
Now turn the page back to hunting. By having more crops and varieties that mature throughout the growing season could lead to better hunting, particularly in the early season. Bucks quickly find their favorites, and by late summer you'll see a handful of your fields attracting bachelor groups. If your hunting season opens up early enough, this pattern can be beneficial to success. Bachelor bucks arrive on-time like workers at a high-rise office.
Greg Gilman, a wildlife property specialist with ClubHouse Reality based in Manhattan, KS., helps hunters find the whitetail property of their dreams. He also manages several properties for his personal hunting and constantly tries to improve them through the addition of food plots.
"I'm not sure if you can ever provide too much food on a property," says Gilman. "Planting a variety of crops increases the nutritional value of your improvements throughout the year to keep deer from focusing on just one plot. Of course it also means you're giving bucks more places to visit and that can create hunting challenges."
As Gilman notes, you could discover some bad with your equity additions, especially once the bachelors disband. For some of you, the bad about having too much food may not even be an issue. Your property may only consist of timber, leaving you with no ground to till. You may have to depend on neighboring farms to feed your deer except for native browse or the possibility of mast crops such as acorns. Those worries aside, if you do have plenty of ground to till and the ambition to become a member of the Future Farmers of America, you have to consider how aggressive farming could affect you. It's the honest the truth about too much of a good thing.
Diverse plots feed the hungry throughout the year, but they also can create havoc in your hunting. During the bachelor season you could benefit, but as testosterone rises and bucks become moodier than a teenager, it spurs bucks to disassociate with each other. Mature bucks tend to go underground and begin to territorialize. It's just the nature of whitetails, but if you have multiple food plots scattered across your property it could mean losing track of a buck as it adjusts to the upcoming rut.
If that's not bad enough, your green thumb could make bucks become hard to pattern. One day a buck may show up to survey does on your clover plot and the next day it could be across the farm visiting a soybean patch. If you don't have a target buck in mind it's not an issue, but if you have a hit list it could make you yank your hair out in clumps.
Toss in the madness and inconsistencies of the rut and you'll be reaching for Rogaine quicker than ever. Bucks go into lockdown. They disperse from home territories and with your buffet of plots they could be just about anywhere.
If that wasn't enough to worry about, you may have planted a plot too large to even hunt. This becomes a real challenge for bowhunters looking out over an ocean of crops on a large field. Shots could range from 40 to more than 100 yards. Those distances, when jacked up on adrenaline, create many nightmares bowhunters relive every season. More food is not necessarily a bad thing, but a bigger plate may not be the answer if you have a bow in hand.
As if having a buck bounce around your property like a 3-year-old in a carnival bounce house wasn't bad enough, there is some additional ugly. A single, quality food plot costs plenty. The price varies depending on your equipment, seed and ground preparation, but if you want your plots to succeed you need to invest.
To calculate your true cost, consider the price of soil testing, supplementing for soil PH levels, tilling costs, seed expenses, fertilizer, weed control and mowing. That's just a short list of expenses that has to be multiplied per food plot. You also have to add in the cost of a tractor, implements, fuel and equipment maintenance. ATVs don't have the muster to handle large farming projects. Plus, you can bet a bearing will go out or a hydraulic hose will burst just as you're beginning the first round on a field.
"Don't kid yourself. Farming intensively to create food for your deer is going to be a major investment. I actually enjoy the farming aspect of improving a property, but when you do the math you could probably go on a guided hunt for the same annual cost," Gilman points out.
Even if you hire out the work to a local farmer it will cost you Franklins. And don't forget about paying yourself. Time is money and you'll need to break away from family, work and activities to maintain your food plots. Too much of a good thing could be fewer greenbacks in your wallet and less time with those you love.
Even when you break it all down, adding food plots to your property until you've run out of space has more benefits than harm. You just need to be ready to handle the bucks showing up anywhere and a hit to your wallet. You can't take it with you and too much of a good thing isn't really such a bad deal when it comes to a wildlife property.