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Deer Hunting & Food Plots Part I - By: Bobby Edwards - Aug. 2004

Deer management practices have been the hottest new topic this past year in the mid-Atlantic states. Other mid-west and south-east states have been doing this regularly for the past five to seven years with awesome results.

In our region, there are two times to plant - spring and fall. Spring planting should be done during early April to mid-June. Fall planting should be done late August to early October.

Soil preparation is the most important ingredient to a successful plot. Proper fertilizer application and liming will allow your plot to meet both the attraction and production expectations. Don't skimp here guys and gals!! Start with a soil test that will show you what nutrients are lacking and will show the ph level. Most Agri supply stores can do this for you or have it sent out. A 6.5 ph level will allow the soil to utilize the fertilizers that you apply.

Weed control is one of the toughest factors. Roundup and thorough disking before planting will reduce weeds and will add to the utilization and life expectancy of perennial plots. Using proper herbicides in addition will minimize the computation of weeds. I will cover more on maintenance of food plots in part 2 of this series in our September issue.

There are two seasons and two nutritional needs. The "warm seasons" management plots are used to provide bucks with nutrition during their annual antler growth cycle. Bucks must first start to rebuild their muscle and body mass that was lost during the stressful rut and winter. Protein is the most important product a buck needs during the spring and summer growing months. Biologists tell us that deer need about 16% protein to reach their size potential. Good native browse only provides about 10-12% protein. Most legumes produce a whopping 30% plus protein. For comparison; a well-fertilized one acre plot can feed more deer than 100 acres of natural habitat.

A buck's body must first regain muscle and be nourished before the antlers get their share. Does also need to nourish the fetuses during their gestation cycle as well as nursing fawns after birth. Legumes are the most popular warm season plot and provide nutrition almost year 'round in our region. The most popular legumes for food plots are clover, alfalfa, soybeans, cowpeas, and lablab. Some legumes are annual and some are perennial. Chicory is an up and coming crop that also is a perennial and produces 50-73 pounds of forage per acre almost year 'round and is easy on the wallet. Chicory also is super during the drought and heat because it has a long taproot and is excellent to mix in with other seeds. Though some might be shocked; corn is not a good summer source of protein.

The second nutritional need of a whitetail is the "cool-season plot". During the late fall, bucks and does need fuel to sustain the high energy expended during the rut and cold conditions. If they don't get the energy then they will burn muscle and fat reserves which will be harder to replace come spring and will especially make bucks susceptible to cold winter rains that can lead to hypothermia and death and the loss of fawns as they develop in does. Cool seasons plots are also great attractant plots for fall hunting. Cereal grains, such as oats, triticale, rye and wheat, are favorites and provide high sources of energy. One of the best late fall attractants is brassicas (rape, turnips, kale) where once the frost hits and the plant becomes "frost cured", their sugar content increases.

It is best to mix in a variety of the cool season choices with clovers, winter peas, vetch and chicory with the fast-growing, high-energy annuals. This will provide for better attraction and essential nutrition in winter/spring. The proteins that legumes provide also let the deer turn protein into energy.

So how much food plot forage do you need? One acre of year 'round plot will provide forage for about three deer. So, if you estimate that you have 15 deer regularly using your land you will need five acres of plots. Studies have shown that deer typically travel 1/4-1/2 mile to utilize plots. A quarter mile radius typically encompasses about 160 acres.

Food Plot Position is a hot new topic that is often overlooked. How do you select the proper place for a food plot? The most common approach is whichever spot is easiest though not as effective. If you're lucky you already have the best of both worlds. Feeder plots don't matter as much as hunting plots. Feeder plots should be larger in size and will be the primary food source of deer at night. The idea is to position these in areas that will allow you strategize the position of several hunting plots.

Better-positioned hunting plots will pay off big during hunting season. Select areas that lead from bedding areas to feeder plots. Somewhere in between the two that gets a least six hours of sun will allow the hunter to ambush deer on the way before dark or on the way back to the bed just after light. A well-positioned plot will also draw deer during mid-day hours. Hourglass shaped plots will allow the bow hunter to gain the optimum position to be within shooting range. If possible, position the plot so that the prevailing wind blows through the narrow part of the plot so that you can hunt from ether side. Break up your small hunting plots so that you leave natural cover mixed in to give the deer a sense of security. Leave a few trees and let vegetation grow up around the base of it or leave small islands. Narrow strips work well, too for hunting plots. Bow hunters will need to keep these short while black powder and gun can make longer. The problem for bow hunters is guessing where the deer will enter the strip when using multiple trails.

If done correctly, you will active plots throughout the entire season and will see impressive results. There is work involved but well worth it. Don't let your hard work go to waste and be certain to select the proper seed from well established companies that specialize in food plot management. Most companies have a great support staff to answer any questions you may have. Most farm and seed co-ops and sporting goods stores are now carrying specialized blends and understand more about food plot management. Hunt hard, have fun, be safe, and take a youngster!


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