Food plots are cultivated sites planted with specific crops to attract and feed wildlife. Plots can vary in size from several acres to tiny “hidey-holes” resembling backyard gardens.
Unlike commercial agricultural crops, plants in food plots are not harvested, even though some consist of corn, alfalfa or soy beans. Planting food plots and later bowhunting over them has become a popular strategy in recent decades, but food plots are illegal on public hunting land. If you own or have access to private land, check state and local regulations before establishing a food plot. Some states regulate how food plots can be used for hunting.
If you’re ready to test your green thumb and give food plots a try, consider these tips for getting started.
Picking, Preparing a Site
The first step in establishing a food plot is determining its location. Look for secluded, natural openings. These sites require clearing less brush and trees, and make animals feel relatively secure while feeding. Depending on your hunting area’s terrain and habitat, clearing a food plot might require a chain saw and farming equipment. However, some sites require only a handsaw and weed-whip for the prep work.
Once you’ve removed all tall vegetation, spray the area with an herbicide to kill all the weeds and other existing plants. After the herbicide kills everything and dissipates into the soil, which takes one to two weeks, you can work the ground and plant the seeds. Depending on the ground, the plot’s size and its accessibility, working the ground might require a tractor or ATV with implements like a plow or disc. In some cases, however, a hand rake is sufficient. If you’re new to food plots, consider starting small and increasing the plot’s size as you gain experience.
What to Plant
Many things determine what you’ll plant in a food plot. These factors include climate, soil type, how often you want to replant the plot, and which animals you hope to attract. Food plots can be tailored for turkeys and other game birds, but they’re most commonly used to attract big game, especially deer.
If you hunt areas with mule deer or black-tailed deer, you might try planting alfalfa and prairie grasses. But don’t be surprised if you learn that most food plots are specific to whitetail country. Maybe that’s because many companies offer whitetail-specific seed blends.
If you want a seeding to last several years, perennials might be your best choice. That said, don’t rule out annuals, which live only a year or less, but provides many seed options.
Cost is another factor when deciding what to plant. Some plants like corn, alfalfa, and soybeans are fairly expensive food-plot plants compared to oats, wheat, and even clover. Although clover isn’t a bargain at the cash register, its long lifespan makes it cost-effective over time.
The time of the year you hunt the most – when you want your food plots to be most effective – also factors into the seeds you’ll plant. Some whitetail-specific seed blends contain several brassica plants that deer find most attractive in autumn once frosty nights settle in. But, if you live in a warmer climate or enjoy hunting earlier in fall in moderate temperatures, you might choose clover or chicory blends. If you’re unsure what to plant, visit your archery or sporting-goods shop and browse the seed blends while asking advice about what grows best where you hunt.
When to Plant
Timing when to plant your seeds is fairly straight-forward, because the two determining factors are region and seed type. Seed packages generally have planting-date recommendations labeled for each region. If you’re unsure when to plant, contact the seed manufacturer for its guidelines.
No matter what your background might be in hunting and gardening, food plots add another dimension to bowhunting. Even if you can’t keep a potted plant alive at home, don’t assume you won’t find food plots worthwhile. Providing forage for animals you bowhunt is rewarding, and harvesting lean, organic venison that grazed on plants you’ve grown means you’re 100 percent certain where your food comes from.