We can all agree that food plots are a tested and true way to grow bigger, healthier deer, and bring them in close during hunting season.
There is a plethora of seed options and countless articles available describing how to cultivate the perfect food plot, be it a small honey-hole-type plot, or a multi-acre field. All you have to do is get that seed in the ground and then sit back and wait for the monster bucks to sprout up. Right?
Well, almost. Here some things you can do to make your plot even better and ensure more success this coming fall.
Light It Up
All plants need light to grow. Have you ever noticed that plants and bushes under a heavy forest canopy don't grow as quickly?
Well, if you have a food plot in the middle of some deep woods, you're not going to get the results you'd like. Sure, the canopy directly over the plot is open, but that's not enough.
To get the best growth possible, you need to open things up a little bit. As the sun moves across the sky, getting some of those morning and evening rays on your plot can make a huge difference in how quickly your plot grows and how lush your plantings become.
Take out the chainsaw and open things up a bit. But before you start cutting, think about safety first. Wear the right cloths, gloves, eye and ear protection and some safety boots while operating your saw.
And before you start, make sure your saw is properly sharpened and lubricated.
Keep Pesky Deer Away
One thing that can be a major issue in growing food plots is keeping the deer away from the plot long enough to give plants a chance to grow.
Ever plant something only to see the deer eat it down to the roots so fast that it's gone before it does what you want it to? A makeshift fence made up of twine, a few stakes and some plastic shopping bags that move in the breeze can keep deer from coming in while plants establish themselves.
If you really want to keep deer out, there are portable electric fence systems designed specifically for food plots.
Build A Dinner Driveway
While you have the saws out, you might want to open up some routes to your food plots. Deer may be sneaky critters, but they will almost always take the path of least resistance if they can.
Thick cover is great, but if you can punch a hole through it, it can turn into a deer highway straight to your plot.
Setting a stand along these routes just inside the perimeter of the main plot is a great place to intercept incoming bucks.
Just make sure the wind is right on the day you want to sit in that stand.
Eliminate The Competition
The plants you've carefully suggested for your food plot aren't going to be the native grasses and weeds already growing there. You will have already cleared them out to put the plot in.
If you can keep them from encroaching on your plot, however, it will grow much better. I take a GroundHawg Max plow on the back of an ATV and keep a small row plowed around my food plot.
While running a plow system with an ATV is well within the intended use of the machine, it does put some extra wear-and-tear on the mechanicals.
It is always a good idea to check the coolant, air filter and oil of your machine before you use it, but especially if you're going to be using it under a heavy workload such as plowing up a food plot.
Mow It To Grow It
If you are like me and you have a spring plot that you'll keep going throughout the year, it can get a bit wild by mid-summer. Depending on what you have planted, you can mow it down in late summer to ensure you get fresh new growth just in time for those fall hunts.
I like to use a wheeled line trimmer designed to cut thicker brush and weeds. It's an all-terrain design that handles the uneven ground with ease.
Add Lime Regularly
In addition to adding lime and fertilizer when I put my plots in, I add lime regularly as the plot grows.
Besides having a good effect on the plant growth and being cheap to boot, pelletized lime is easy to put down and it seems to have a solid impact on how the deer react to the plot.
I had one biologist say that he felt a lime routine on plots makes the plants taste sweeter to the deer. I don't know if this is true or not because he was just theorizing, but I have seen deer come in more to the plots where I've laid down a heavy lime regiment.
Add Cover To The Equation
On my hunting property, there is a ridge where deer often bed. There was a natural spot to put in a food plot, but there was sparse cover close to where the plot would work best.
With a few soil tests and a few days of hard work I had a few dozen pines and hardwood trees growing on the hillside. The best part is that I simply transplanted trees from other places on the property where they were growing too thickly.
Planting some type of cover close to a food plot can make a huge difference in the amount of deer you see, especially during high-stress periods, such as firearms deer season.
A substitute for trees that works well while the saplings are growing is corn. A little patch of corn can offer the cover you need to get that big buck in your sights this fall.
Track Your Progress
Trail cameras are a great way to monitor the deer herd and see what bucks you have coming to your food plot on a regular basis. They can also tell you what else is going on with your plot.
I had a great plot a few years ago that should have been hammered by the deer, yet I stopped seeing anything around it.
The camera's turned up photos that showed a couple of the neighbor's dogs that were pestering the deer and other animals in that area. A good camera can also give you insights on the amount of light, wind and rain your plots are getting.
Consider A Watering Plan
During dry months, your plots can shrivel into nothing and all of the hard work you put in can go away faster than you can say "drought."
While it may not always be feasible, bringing in water when and where you can will often make a huge difference in how successful your plots are.
A portable sprayer can be purchased for a few bucks and if you apply water in the morning or evening, that can help pull those plants through until rain comes.
Leave It Alone
From your cameras and experience, you'll have a pretty good idea when the deer are feeding on your plot.
Don't go there during those times!
When you do go visit your plots, wear scent-free boots and try to make as little scent impact on the area as possible.
You don't have to be perfect, though. A little scent here and there, in my experience, seems to condition the deer that there isn't much of a threat. That way, should I screw up something in the fall during the hunt, I still might have a shot.
Food plots are one of the most fun and rewarding tools at a hunter's disposal and one of my absolute favorite ways to grow and hunt big deer. It's a lot of hard work that doesn't stop after you get the seeds in the ground, but it's worth it in the end.