Growing groceries for wildlife
by Charles Johnson
Aug 17, 2013 | 1635 views |  0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Proper food plot prep will bring the groceries to the deer. (Photo by Charles Johnson/The Anniston Star)
Proper food plot prep will bring the groceries to the deer. (Photo by Charles Johnson/The Anniston Star)
In about two months, archery season will be upon us. Most hunters haven’t given much thought to preparations. One of the main tasks hunters face each season is the planting of wildlife openings or food plots. Wildlife openings, also known as green fields, are designed primarily to provide supplemental food sources for deer, turkey and other wildlife, including non-game species.

While the openings can draw in various species of game for hunting opportunities, food plots provide groceries throughout the year to promote healthier wildlife populations. With some planning, preparation and proper planting, quality food plots can be established. Each year, hunters and land owners spend thousands of dollars on food plots and if done right they can benefit both wildlife and hunters.

Site layout

Advanced planning should include location, size and shape of the wildlife opening. Establishing a workable plan will help make the process an easier when the actual planting time presents itself. One of the first steps to creating a food plot is the location. Sites for food plots should be selected to provide a food source long after hunting season is over.

Dr. Grant Woods a wildlife biologist of more than 20 years, advises choosing a location that is near some thick cover. He says a food plot located in or near where deer normally travel is the best bet. Consideration should also be given to avoid having the area visible from a public road. Think about how easily the plot can be seen after the leaves are gone from the surrounding trees and vegetation. Highly visible food plots from a road may encourage poachers.

Size is another factor to consider for your food plots. Shape and size of the plots can vary throughout your property. In some areas, hunt clubs or land leases may be limited to the size and number plots allowed. Woods mentions plots should be spaced somewhat evenly over the entire hunting property. Depending on the lay of the land, it may be better to have several plots of about three-fourths to one acre in size, than one or two giant plots.

Getting dirty

A soil test is one thing you can do to improve a food plot. The soil test actually can save time and money in the long run when establishing and maintaining quality food plots. Test kits can be found at local Co-Op and garden centers.

“A soil test is probably the most important thing for establishing a quality food plot,” said Bobby Cole, business manager for Mossy Oak Gamekeepers. “A simple soil test can save you a lot of money in the long run.”

Some food plot planters may have a rule of thumb of how much fertilizer and lime to apply, but they are only guessing. A soil test is simple and can provide critical information on what nutrients the soil needs and doesn’t need. The cost of a soil test is about $15 to $20 and can go a long way in savings down the road. Cole recommends soil samples in new plots or in areas where plants have performed poorly in past seasons.

The results from a soil test will give the recommended amounts of the three nutrients in fertilizer; nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. A soil test also will indicate the pH of the soil or how acidic the soil. The pH tells how much lime is required to bring the soil into balance for better absorption of nutrients by the plants.

“Dig down around six inches deep to get a good sample of soil.” Cole said. “While the sample is off for testing other work in the food plot can be done.”

Site preparation

Vegetation and brush must be cleared away and the area readied for tilling and planting. Bush hogging is the most common method of clearing back the brush and weeds to ready the plot location. One of latest methods of ridding a potential food plot of vegetation is the use of herbicides. There are a few herbicides on the market that are environmentally friendly.

Certain herbicides will kill all of the plants and grasses in the plot area and allow the newly planted seeds to grow without any weed competition. Herbicide brands like Roundup or Arsenal will take care of just about any type of weed and grass. If you are unsure about which type of herbicides to use, check with your county or forestry agent and always follow the instructions on the application of herbicides.

Break it up

Prepare the plot area by discing or tilling the soil. The area should be clean of any weeds and plants that would compete for water and nutrients with the selected forage. The soil should be evened out by dragging an old pallet or heavy timber like an old railroad cross tie. The smooth surface of the soil will help in germination of the seed.

A tractor and disc is probably the most common equipment used by most hunters for planting food plots. However, there are other discs and tillers available for all terrain type vehicles that can be used to break up the soil. The ATV type discs are a little smaller and work well in tight spaces of wooded areas.

A few companies offer the all-in-one units that disc, plant and cover the seed ion one pass. The Plotmaster is one brand that can make site prep and planting a one man operation. Models are available for tractors and ATVs.

Stocking the shelves

There is a multitude of seeds, seed blends and forage selections for wildlife available on the market. Some of the top brands are Whitetail Institute, Tecomate and Bio-Logic. All offer individual seed types or blends for food plots. There is also a Co-Op blend which generally has oats, wheat, rye and clover. A majority of hunters opt for the wheat, rye or oats for fall food plot plantings or pre-mixed seeds like a buck blend.

Grains and some legumes, like peas and clover are annuals and have to be replanted every year. However, some varieties of clover, chicory and alfalfa are perennials and can produce forage for about two to three years once established and cared for properly.

“Good germination comes from proper seed to soil contact,” Cole said.

Clover and other legumes are also popular and sometimes planted together in the same plot with the cereal grains. It is recommended to vary the plant species from plot to plot. Mixing the various seeds or over seeding is another option to offer a “buffet” of forages for wildlife.

A common mistake after planting is not covering the seed completely for good seed-to-soil contact. The use of a culti-packer or some type of drag system to cover the seed evenly will work best. An old pallet or piece of fencing with a heavy board attached to the end will make an excellent drag to cover recently planted seed.

Cole recommends planting before a rain or least when there is some moisture in the soil. If the soil is too dry the seeds take longer to germinate.

A lot of the food plot seed used today is expensive; take a little extra time to plant the seed properly for a quality food plot.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at
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