Food Plots and Deer Attractants
There are many things today’s whitetail hunter can do to improve his or her hunt farm to attract and successfully hold whitetail deer herd. Fortunately over the past several years this is one arena in which the hunt industry has continued to offer furthering education as well as high quality products to attract whitetail deer. In fact with properly managed food plots and attractants it is likely you can draw deer off the neighbor’s farm and vastly improve your hunting success. Couple this with a Quality Deer Management Program and you’ll soon start producing and harvesting trophy whitetail deer.
Prior to the onset of this article I would like to go on record as saying as a Whitetail Outfitter of 13 years in 5 States, I strongly recommend only using products for food plots and attractants from Wild Game Innovations or Evolved Habitats. I have struggled with many seed and attractant companies over the years and believe me as a full time whitetail deer outfitter its my job to know what is the best.
The two kinds of fields that we use to give the whitetails good nutrition year round are clovers and brassicas. The clovers are perennials that will come up year after year.
Brassicas are annuals that need to be replanted every year. The Brassicas consist of Rape, chickory, and turnips. They start as starches then turn to sugar after the first frost.
The are two kinds of fields to plant; forage fields and hunting fields.
The forage fields are to provide the deer with year round feed. These fields should be large enough to support many deer.
The hunting fields will be in or near the woods you plan to hunt. They should be irregular shaped and secluded so the deer won’t be afraid to come to them during the daylight. Really, you will be able to plant a variety of foods that deer prefer at different times of the year so that there is always something attractive on their plate. In a perfect world, each spring will provide a leftover bounty of high-carbohydrate grain and an early green-up of winter wheat or rye. As spring advances the deer will quickly shift to your high protein clover plots. During the heat of summer they will be hammering your soybeans and alfalfa. In early fall sorghum seed heads will be the tastiest thing around, as deer shift out of the beans and into the grains. Then, in late fall and winter they’ll flock to the high carbohydrate content of your corn plots to fuel their furnaces.
Unfortunately, this smorgasbord approach requires a lot from the deer manager. Obviously, there is the need for good tillable land, and lots of it. Without adequate acreage the deer will wipe out each seasonal planting before it even has chance to produce benefits. High quality food plots aren’t cheap and there is plenty of hard work involved.
How to Plant Successful Food Plots
Step 1 Sample and test the soil where you are planning to start the deer food plot. You need to ensure there are enough of the proper nutrients in the soil to grow the types of crops you intend on planting. Take random soil samples throughout the area you intend to use for the food plot. After obtainment of soil samples you will be able to test PH levels and apply lime to maximize the fertility of the soil in the area you are planting the food plot. One can either decide to use pelletized lime or bulk powder lime. Prices vary dependent upon which type of lime you elect to utilize. The most common and potentially devastating mistake made by food plot managers is failing to take the time to get a soil test performed. The soil test is, by far, the most crucial step in the planting process. Even with great soil preparation and adequate rainfall, the plot can struggle to survive due to unbalanced pH and/or fertility levels. A soil test is inexpensive, easy to do and is the most important preparation step in creating a healthy food plot.
The pH level determines the acidity of the soil. On the pH scale of 1 to 14, 1 is extremely acidic while 14 is extremely alkaline. Most soils in North America are acidic, and high levels of acidity prevent plants from absorbing nutrients. Whitetail Institute products prefer a neutral pH level in the 6.5 to 7 range. A soil test will determine the pH of the soil and recommend the appropriate amount of lime to disperse. Lime neutralizes the acidic elements in the soil.
Always lime and fertilize, because most woodland soils are low in phosphorus and tend to be acidic. A soil test will tell you how much to use, and information on taking soil tests can be obtained from your local County Extension Office here.
Step 2 Size the food plot. While there is no set size for a deer food plot, it should be large enough to feed and attract quite a few deer. Generally, a food plot should be at least 1 square acre. The closer you build the food plot to a brushy, covered area, the more likely deer will be to frequent to the plot, since they have a covered area in which to seek shelter. A minimum of 50% sunshine is essential for a healthy, productive food plots so make sure and select the correct locations to optimize food plot growth.
Step 3 Decide what types of crops to plant. Most crops should be planted between early April and mid-May. The amount of seed you need depends on the size of the food plot and the type of crop you are planting. Specific directions for planting should be on the bag of seed you choose. Don't over-seed the food plot. This could hamper the growing of the crop. Generally, deer enjoy eating corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, sunflowers, clovers, buckwheat, turnips, (Our beginnings into such winter food plots beyond corn were the planting of turnips. While these can be planted in the spring and allowed to grow throughout the warm growing season, it is best to wait until late summer to plant them as early season planting of turnips often lead to the turnip becoming soft and mushy by the time the deer come to utilize them. The green tops of the turnips will start to be eaten after the first few frosts occur as the sugars in the plant top withdraws down into the stem, upon which they become more favored to the deer. The actual beet itself will be eaten after the frosts occur as well, but are utilized the most during the latter winter months of January and February. We have seen deer dig through as much as two feet of snow to get to the turnips buried below. We tried several different varieties but we had the best success with the Purple Top turnip variety. We then began our own seed mixes as this is often cheaper than buying premixed commercial brands by mixing the turnips with brassica, kale and rape.) and rye. Another good winter food plot to plant would be forage oats. While they can be planted in the spring, studies have shown that if they are planted in early August the actual tonnage per acre is higher than those planted in the spring. It is also possible to get two yields of grain from one planting if harvested while it is still in the boot stage. If the crop receives the proper amount of nutrients, it is approximately 60 days to the first cutting upon which the second growth will be left standing to be grazed naturally.
If you have the proper equipment you can harvest the oats and either bag them and save them for a winter feeding source for a variety of game and non game species, or sell them to offset the cost of your food plot planting program. Another alternative is to use a brush hog and cut them down, leaving the oat heads to lay and allow the birds and animals to find them naturally. It really comes down to what equipment you have available and how much time and work you want to put into it. When planting the brassica, kale, turnip, or rape varieties not much soil tillage is necessary. Deep plowing isn't necessary as only ¼" of soil coverage is necessary. I would recommend spraying the area for invasive weeds 3-4 weeks prior to tilling. Once the area has turned brown and enough time has been allowed for the herbicide to have diluted enough not to harm your chosen plant varieties, tillage can begin.
Seed Name Plant #/ac How Deep Min. pH N2 Fixer Annual
Perennial Far South Mid North Innoculant
Alfalfa 20 0-1/4 6.5+ yes Perennial Oct-Dec Sept-Nov 15 Aug-Sept Yes
Joint Vetch 15-20 1/4 5.5 yes Annual Mar-Aug May-Jun Jun
Buckwheat 50 1/2 5.5 No Annual Mar April-May May
Chicory 6 1/4 5 No Perennial Apr/Sept-Oct April/July May-Jun
Chufa 30 2 5.5 No Annual Mar-July Apr-July July
Clover, Alyce 15-20 0-1/4 6.2 Yes Annual May-July May-July n/a Yes
Clover, Crimson 25 1/4 5 Yes Annual Oct-Feb Sept-Feb Aug-Apr Yes
Clover, Subterranean 20 1/4 5.5 Yes Annual Sept-Oct Sept-Oct Sept-Oct
Clover, White Ladino 10-30 1/4 6.0 yes Perennial May/Mid-Sept-Oct May/Sept-Oct May/SeptOct
Cowpeas 60-80 1 5 Yes Annual May May-Jun Jun
LabLab 10 1 5 Yes Annual Apr-Aug Mid-Apr-Aug May-Jun
Rape, Dwarf Essex 10 1/2-1 5.5 No Perennial Mar/Aug-Sept Mar-Mid-May/Aug-Sept May/Jul-Aug
Millet, Brown Top 40 1/4 5.8 No Annual Mar/Sept Apr/July-Aug May/July
Ryegrass, Annual 35 1/4 5 No Annual Mid-Sept-Oct Sept-Oct Sept
Soybeans 60-100 1/2 6 Yes Annual Mar-May/July-Sept May-June May-June
Winter Wheat 60 1 5.5 No Annual Sept Or Later Aug-Sept Aug No
Step 4 Make sure the type of crop you decide to grow is not growing in any fields nearby. By giving the deer something out of the ordinary.
Step 5 You will need to spray the area chosen to plant a food plot with a product like Round Up in order to burn weeds and grasses to expose soil for discing and preparation of a seed bed. The alternative to spraying weed and grass killer is to burn the plots with controlled fire management techniques.
Step 6 Till the ground after the weeds and grass have died (usually 5-10 days after spraying). Always prepare the soil by plowing or discing. You must break ground. This is where the modern day food plot ATV Implements have failed. I’ve spent many a dollar on different ATV Discing Implements and none have done the job. This is where you almost have to have a tractor and disc. Of course this can only be done after Step 5 is complete with roundup or burn off.
Step 7 Now its time to plant the seed. Make sure that you plant your food plot seeds to the recommend planting depth. If you plant them too deep, they won’t grow properly. You may choose to broadcast seed and work the seed into the ground with rakes, or use a drag-behind ATV spreader or a Culti-Packer.
Broadcast seeding by hand or with a spreader can produce good results if you are careful to cover most seed no deeper than ½ inch and use a log, heavy drag, or culti packer to firm the soil after planting. One of the most common mistakes when planting is the amount of seed applied. If you plant more seed than what is recommend for your size of deer food plot, you increase you risk of stunting the growth of the plants. As a rule of thumb, 1 acre is nearly the size of a football field (4840 square yards).
Be sure to , smoothe and firm the seedbed. Good seed-soil contact is essential for a thick, productive stand. Once you have a smooth and firm seedbed, you can then spread your seeds. Covering the seeds will depend on the makeup of the soil, such as the amount of clay that's in it and how much moisture is in the soil. If the soil is extremely dry and powdery, the need to disk in your seeds isn't necessary as a moderate rain will embed the seeds just fine. Soils that are coarser require a light disking and a roller to insure good seed to soil contact. Using a roller is important to help with seed to soil contact. This will insure a faster initial growth period as the seeds can utilize soil nutrients more quickly that if loosely covered. Other winter plot seeds such as beans, peas, sorghum, corn and oats require a deeper planting. With these types of seeds it is best that you thoroughly till the area and insure you get approximately 2" of soil coverage over the seed. Another way to plant these varieties is with a no-till drill. This method is a less invasive way to do it and will help reduce erosion issues, as well as not turn over new weed seeds that were buried too deep before to grow. Even with the no-till method, be sure to apply the proper amount of lime prior to planting.
There are also other things to consider when preparing a plan for your food plots for the year. Ideally when planning your food plot plan for the year you want to have 25% of your total food plot acreage to be planted in foods dedicated to winter food sources. Also, choose areas to plant those winter food sources that are closest to thermal cover that deer and other wildlife will be using for bedding or yarding areas. This will insure that they don't have to travel as far to feed which means they will expend less of their much needed energy to obtain it.
Step 8 Weeds and grasses can hamper even the best-laid food plot plans. Weed and grass problems actually lie deep within the soil. Over many years, billions of weed and grass seeds have been deposited and can sit dormant until the day the soil is tilled and they move close to the surface. As the seed moves to the surface, the combination of oxygen, temperature and moisture causes the weed and grass seeds to germinate. It is only a matter of time until the grasses and weeds are aggressively competing with the crops.
Weeds and grasses can cause many problems in a field. First, they compete with desired forages in the food plot taking moisture and nutrients from the soil, which are the life-blood of food plot forages. When moisture and nutrients are stolen by weeds and grasses, huge holes in the food plot can develop. If left unchecked, the weeds and grasses can eventually take over the entire plot. This will require replanting earlier than anticipated, which can be quite expensive. There is not only the cost of the seed but also the lime, fertilizer, fuel and time involved in replanting.
No doubt, weeds and grasses can be costly, frustrating and depressing. Mowing can often rectify the problem, but other times that is not enough. So what can a land manager do? Until now, few options were available. Utilize Weed and Grass Control Herbicides.
Grasses come in many forms, both perennial and annual. Fescue, Johnson grass and foxtail are just a few that commonly plague food plots. These grasses produce lots of seeds and are very aggressive, taking incredible amounts of moisture and nutrients away from desired forages. If not dealt with in fairly short order, they can damage or even destroy the plot. Applying Herbicide with several mowings of the food plots throughout the season will deter grasses and weeds from taking over. Make sure you use a herbicide that will also control broadleaf weeds.
Herbicide application is not difficult and can be done in various ways. A common method is to use a 4-wheeler sprayer as it is an economical piece of equipment and allows effective spraying of small food plots. Tractor sprayers can also be used and for small areas or spot spraying, a hand sprayer is sufficient.
Step 9 You may want to keep a record of each plot which can include planting and fertilizer information and number of animals observed or harvested.
Attractants Outside of Foodplots
Deer Cane by Evolved Habitats
We use attractant products from Evolved Habitats and Wild Game Innovations. I am most impressed with a product called “Deer Cane”. This product is a salt mineral with added nutrient for antler production and deer health that is literally a deer magnet. The Deer Cane is applied onto the ground in a 3 foot to 5 foot radius clear of debris. The deer will soon discover this high tech salt lick and begin to ravage it. In fact we have salt licks that we have had for years we maintain with Deer Cane that are as big as the hood of a pickup truck and are 2 feet deep in the ground. It literally looks like you tossed a hand grenade. Here are the instructions and Deer Cane products produced by Evolved Habitats.
Deer Cane is a beneficial mineral supplement that attracts deer by releasing a mineral vapor trail. After initial application, moisture will cause these minerals to keep reacting and attracting deer. Bucks seeking minerals for overall health and rack development will be drawn to the site to lick, paw, mark and consume the minerals.
Bucks will want to protect the Deer Cane site by rubbing, scraping and rolling in the mineral site to mark it as their own. The buck’s action will naturally lead to the attraction of more deer. Over time, a large deer wallow will be created as many deer develop the habit of frequenting the site to consume the beneficial minerals.
1. Select Site.
2. Clear all vegetation in center of site. (approx 4’ circle)
3. Pour Deer Cane into 6-8 gallons of water, stirring the water as Deer Mix is added into the container.
4. Slowly pour this mixture onto the cleared bare spot to allow the solution to soak the site.
For Instant Results... Mix entire contents of bag with 6-8 gallons of water. Apply to a bare spot.
1. Select Site.
2. Clear all vegetation in center of site. (approx 4’ circle)
3. Shake Liquid Well.
4. Slowly pour entire gallon of liquid onto the cleared bare spot allowing the solution to soak the site.
For Instant Results... Shake well then apply to a bare spot 4’ in diameter.
Time Release Block:
Place one or two blocks in an established Deer Cane or other mineral site to provide months of attraction without having to return to the site. To establish a new site, place one or two blocks in the middle of a bare spot, 4’ in diameter. Rainfall will be needed to activate the site, allowing the minerals to fully leach into the ground.
For Instant Results... Use in combination with Deer Cane Mix or Deer Cane Liquid.
To obtain this product travel here http://www.evolved.com
Sugar Beet Smash by Wild Game Innovations
During the summer of 2009 we setup 18 different areas in which we used Sugar Beet Smash. The results were phenomenal. Deer love the Sugar Beet Smash and devoured them in a short amount of time. We placed them near the Deer Cane sites in an effort to optimize the speed with which deer would locate the attractant.
Sugar Beet Smash
Real Smashed Sugar Beet Attraction
• Ultra Sweet Sugar Beets
• Powerful Sugar Beet Drift Scent
• The Power of Bushels in Every Bag
Sugar Beet Smash contains real sugar beets smashed and blended into an ultra concentrated pourable attractant powder. The smashed powder has powerful sugar beet drift scent that attracts quick! The power of bushels in every bag!
To obtain this product you may travel to http://www.wildgameinnovations.com
Greens N Raged by Wild Game Innovations
This product is also a wonderful tool for attracting deer. In short Wild Game Innovations is redefining food plot mixes and attractants in an effort to help whitetail enthusiasts reap the rewards of their whitetail hunt outings.
Harvested Greens Ready to Eat
• Extreme Green Attractant
• Processed food plot, DO NOT Plant
• The Perfect Pourable Food Plot Attractant
• Harvest Greens Ready to Eat!
• Enticing Natural Food Plot Flavors
• The Power of Acres of food plots in every bag!
Greens N-Raged is a new product from 2009 from Wildgame Innovations! It is a hybird formulation that combines the TOP HARVESTED FOOD PLOT GREENS with Nutritional Food Supplements into a ready to eat "Pourable Food Plot" Attractant!
To obtain this product you may travel to http://www.wildgameinnovations.com
If you take care of your deer herd the deer herd will provide you with trophy buck encounters time and time again. Anything less is just climbing into a tree and hoping.