Food plot season is still in full swing. It’s actually getting borderline too late, especially if you’re planning to be in the stand for archery opener, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump out in the field now and get a plot started in time to derive value from it. First, let’s define what a food plot is: It’s a strategically placed and controlled food source designed to encourage game (usually whitetail deer) to develop predictable movements in which they come within shooting range. Food plots can be anywhere from ¼ of an acre in size to as large as five acres or more depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
When it comes to actually putting a plot in, it’d be nice to have a big tractor with multiple PTO attachments and all that, but let’s face it: That’s quite the investment and ultimately isn’t necessary. This year we put in five food plots using a side-by-side, backpack sprayer, harrow rake, mower, and a couple of three-point attachments that weren’t 100 percent needed, but were nice to have. If you’re looking to put in a food plot, here are some recommended tools you’ll need in order to get some green deer food out in front of you this fall:
- An ATV (side-by-side or four-wheeler)
- Harrow rake (drag)
- Backpack sprayer
- Hand spreader
- A string trimmer/weed whacker (a lot more work) or brush mower
- Seed of choice (clover is always a good option because it’s pretty low maintenance and it’s a perennial)
- Herbicide concentrate
Identifying the location
First, find your spot. When picking a good food plot location, think about access and what wind you may want to hunt it with. Many spots have a predominant wind, so make sure you’re stacking the odds in your favor and not setting it up where the wind is blowing into the bedding. The idea of this plot is to make them come to you, not for you to have to trample through their bedroom to get to your stand.
Cut it down
Once you’ve found your spot, flag it off and fire up your weed whip or mower. If you can rent a brush mower, definitely do it. It’ll set you up for much greater success and save loads of time, but if the weed whip is all you have, get it out and go to town on your flagged area. Get the grass as low as you can. After this, get your harrow rake out, attach it to your ATV, and get to ripping around. The first few passes you may need to drag, then get off your ATV and clean the harrow.
After the grass is pretty much removed, keep the harrow affixed and work on getting down to the dirt. Make sure the teeth of your harrow are facing down so you can really start to kick up some dust. Sometimes rigging up a way to put some bricks or big rocks on top of your harrow can help the tool gain purchase. Even the tires of your ATV can help tear up the soil, so don’t be scared to give it some throttle in this step. You don’t need as much depth as you might think when it comes to getting seeds to grow. Just make sure you can see a little loose dirt on top. Sure, there will still be some grass rooted in your plot, but we’ll deal with that later.
Time to plant
Once that’s done and you see some bare dirt, get out the seed and the hand spreader. Don’t be scared to really lay the seed on thick. Walk around the edges first, then start going back and forth until you’re empty. After you’ve thoroughly spread the seed, get back on the ATV and rip over it again with that harrow rake. You shouldn’t need to do it as many times this time around. You will need to do this just enough to mix that loose ground around and hopefully bury the seed slightly. Lastly, get that backpack sprayer on, mix up your Round Up, and blast everything. The seed will survive this but the remaining grass in your plot will not. When you come back in a couple of weeks to check it, your seeds will hopefully be popping up and will have taken this area over. After all of this is done, pray for rain!
Food plots take a couple of years to become established, but each year they get a little easier to work on and maintain. Virgin soil is hard to break up, but if you keep at it, the food plot will pop, increasing your odds of encountering game. If you’re having trouble, order a soil sample kit and really figure out what your ground needs to produce lush plots. Your soil may have an abundance of one nutrient but be lacking another. At that point you can get some fertilizer or whatever you may need from your local co-op to achieve balanced soil ready for growth.