By Bernie Barringer
Think you need a lot of heavy equipment
to plant an effective food plot for whitetails?
It seems like many of the major whitetail hunting magazines and TV shows have forgotten about the ordinary working man, the weekend warrior who loves to hunt but will most likely never have the funds to buy and manage a property just for deer hunting. Most don’t have a big chunk of private land, nor the machinery needed to plant big food plots. That’s me.
I don’t own a tractor with all the pull-behind equipment to create acres of food plots. But I do have some tricks up my sleeve. I’ll explain three low-budget food plots I have used to create a place where you’ll find deer feeding during the hunting season.
Keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better. In fact, small food plots have some key advantages. With cover close by, mature bucks feel more comfortable feeding in a small plot tucked in the woods than they do in an open field — so they’ll more likely be found there during daylight.
A small clearing in the woods can be turned into a food plot with a few hours of sweat. If the ground cover is heavy in the clearing, you can spray it with a glyphosate based weed killer such as Roundup®. I rent a small sprayer to pull behind my ATV, but you can do this by hand. A gallon of Roundup will kill off nearly a half-acre of vegetation and the jug comes with a built-in hand sprayer. Come back two weeks later when everything is brown and dead. Then it’s a matter of taking a garden tiller to it or just turning it up with a spade.
Sow your seed with an ATV spreader, a hand-held crank spreader or broadcast seeds by hand. Then you just rake them into the ground and let nature take its course. Clover works well in the spring and summer. Brassicas such as turnips, sugar beets, forage rape and radishes are a good choice for planting in the summer so they are in their prime during the fall hunting season. A mix called Plot Topper is my favorite. Winter-hardy oats like Buck Forage Oats will still be attractive to the deer until deep the snow covers them.
This Rake-a-Plot method can be done on private land where you have permission to hunt. Also find out if you’re permitted to plant food plots in existing clearings on public land — most states have no restrictions.
2. The Throw-and-Grow Corn Field Foot Plot
The corn field food plot is going to take some understanding by the landowner.
Here’s how it works. Deer relish turnips, and they love them the most when a frost has made them more palatable. For the best timing, they should be planted in July; if you have a late variety, perhaps August. You can choose an area in a corn or bean field near your treestand and hand-seed turnips right into the crops. Walk down the rows of corn and spread the seed on the ground, then simply rake it in. It will sprout and grow slowly until the corn is harvested; then it grows quickly once the corn is gone, assuming there are still some warm days. These plants become the most favorable food in the area and they’re right in front of your stand.
If a farmer wants to till the ground the moment the corn comes out, that can be an issue unless you can talk him into leaving a small section through the hunting season. Even when chisel plowed, much of the turnip plants and bulbs will be available to the deer. They will eat both leaves and tubers until they are gone.
3. Fruit and Mast Trees
Most people do not think of planting fruit trees or nuts trees as a food plot, but it’s a great way to share with the next generation. I have often said I don’t plant trees for myself anyway; I plant them for those who come after me. Once again, there are normally no restrictions on planting trees even on public lands. Two or three apple trees planted in a small clearing in the forest can create a deer hunting gold mine in only five years. Deer love pears even more than apples. Pears will survive mild winters, but do not do well where temperatures stay below freezing for months at a time.
Oaks, hickories and chestnuts are very attractive to deer but they take longer to start producing. Even if you plant well-developed nut trees, you are still looking at close to a decade before they become a hub of activity for deer in that area. But once they do, the deer are drawn to them like magnets when the nuts are falling.
So don’t feel like you need a big tractor and a bunch of farm machinery to improve the land where you hunt. Whether you hunt public or private land, you can increase your odds of bagging a deer by creating these simple dirt-cheap food plots.
About Bernie Barringer:
Bernie Barringer hunts and fishes for a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 600 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored 12 books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is “The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies for the Travelling Hunter.” He is a recognized authority on DIY hunting, and blogs his hunts on his website www.bowhuntingroad.com.
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