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Poor Man’s Food Plots
Exploiting Food Plot Locations
One shortcut you should never take, however, is planting a food plot where it’s more convenient for you than the deer. If you know your land, you already know the deer’s traditional travel routes. Although it’s possible to divert deer a short distance with an attractive food, don’t expect them to act as if they’re on a string and will go wherever you tug them. Poor man’s food plots are more about creating slight diversions than putting deer on remote control or autopilot.
Whenever possible, create these food plots along their travel routes and close to their bedding grounds. In the evening, you want them to drop in just before dark as they begin foraging. In the morning, you want them to make one final stop before bedding for the day.
What type of sites are you seeking? In many cases, you’ll be best served by making sun-exposed, deer-friendly sites even more attractive. These sites can be walking trails, logging trails, an old loggers’ landing, natural forest openings or a place where several large trees fell, opening a spot in the canopy. These sites should receive at least two to three hours of direct sunlight daily. If the ground is covered in thick leaves from the previous fall, rake them aside to expose the dirt or fire up your leaf-blower.
“I like those backpack blower units,” Woods said. “I’ll find a small opening and clear it out in a few minutes with a good blower. I don’t bother cutting up logs or large branches that fell. I’m trying to prepare as many of these small spots as possible. I don’t worry about making each one of them perfect. I’ll only get a couple of weeks’ use out of them anyway.”
If you’ve found clearings or openings covered in grasses and weeds, chances are you can enhance the spot. Just don’t expect your seeds to take over the site without some prep work. One option is to burn the site before planting, but carefully weigh the risks. Even if you have a burning permit, you won’t be absolved of legal responsibilities if you lose control of the flames and damage someone else’s property.
Once again, the better choices are Roundup and/or a rake. “If you only broadcast your seed over the grasses, make sure you choose a plant that grows from small seeds,” Dougherty said. “They have a better chance of falling through the grass and hitting dirt. You can expect about 30 percent of the seeds to germinate in those conditions.”
And if you’re the sort who plans for next year, check out new sites for your food plots in early fall. Spray them before the first frost, which ensures the grasses and root systems will rot away over winter. Then, go back in early spring before the new crop of grasses and weeds try to re-establish themselves and broadcast your preferred seeds.
Another good option is to create your own honey hole using man’s best gasoline-powered friend: your chain saw. After studying the area’s deer trails, land contours and prevailing winds, mark off boomerang- or hour-glass shapes where you’ll remove all brush and trees, being careful to consider which trees you’ll leave for your tree stands.
Then, go to work. Limited only by the price of gasoline and oil for your saw, you can create whatever size opening your time and muscles allow. One benefit of creating your own site is that you can stack the cut limbs and tree tops around the opening to funnel deer into strategic entry and exit points.
And don’t worry about removing the tree stumps. They produce perennial woody browse that deer grab to supplement the softer foods you plant. No matter how many times these stump sprouts get eaten away by deer, they return the next year, seemingly in triplicate. And if you never intend to drive a vehicle into your self-made openings, cut only partially through the tree so it remains connected to the stump by living wood. This creates even more succulent woody browse for deer, because new sprouts will pop up all along the partially severed trunk.
Annuals or Perennials?
When choosing seeds for your economy-class food plots, a big consideration is how much time and effort you can provide for maintenance. Most seed companies suggest sticking with annual plantings, figuring that hunters with a “poor-man’s” attitude won’t want to do the mowing, fertilizing and supervising perennials require. Some argue, though, that if you can make the commitment, you’ll get more bang for your buck with perennials.
Either way, most companies recognize that deer hunters are as varied in their approach to food plots as they are in choosing broadheads. They also realize most bowhunters want one package that can do almost everything. Therefore, seed companies offer seed mixes that provide a range of forages, which vary in performance by climate and growing seasons.
Most perennials work well with the poor man’s approach, because they’re small seeds that don’t need you to till the ground. Just expose the dirt and broadcast seeds like clover and chicory. It’s always good if you can work the ground to aerate it and help the plants establish better their roots, but that’s not always possible with plots tucked deep in the woods. Even if you just lightly drag the soil, all you need is a little rain to put the seeds in contact with the soil.
Most serious food-plot manages can make an argument for annuals or perennials, since they both have advantages. If someone wants a good trophy clover mix, it might cost more up front and require mowing whenever it reaches 12 inches, but it lasts four to six years, depending on how well you fertilize and take care of it. With food plots, you get out of them what you put into them.
Even so, most “poor man” plots get the annuals. These hunters want to plant them just before the season, and get the growth and benefit soon afterward when the season opens. Once the season’s over, they just want to forget about it until it’s time to plant again the next summer. Some guys don’t mind fertilizing, running the Brush Hog, and keeping things mowed. But if you can’t do that, you’ll never get the benefits of true perennials.
That’s one reason blends that contains ryegrass, clover and brassicas are popular for small plots. These small seeds require no tilling, and produce ample sugar and protein to attract whitetails. Even so, not all grasses, clovers and brassicas grow fast or reliably, so read or ask what works best in your area.
Protect Your Food Plot Investments
Once everything is planted, make sure your little plots aren’t wiped out before it’s time to hunt. Some brassicas don’t become desirable until after the first frost. But, depending on where you live and when you have time to hunt, if you’re not careful, deer might vanquish your plants before you hunt. You might try fencing and elaborate brush-pile obstacles, but both require much work.
One affordable alternative is a ribbon-and-scent deterrent from PlotSaver. Run the ribbon around your food plot’s perimeter, loop it around trees, saplings or fence posts, and then spray it with PlotSaver’s deterrent. The smell emanating from the ribbon acts as an invisible wall, persuading most deer to approach no closer. When it’s time to hunt, remove the ribbon and store it for the year.
After all the costs and back pain involved in food plots, this is a good way to ensure you see some benefit from what you grow. Nothing works 100 percent of the time, but for about $50 you can protect your food plots for several weeks.
Keep in mind, of course, that no matter how attractive it might be, a small food plot won’t have the “magnetism” or pulling power of a larger food source with equally attractive foods. That’s especially true if your property doesn’t provide cover deer feel comfortable using in daylight. If that’s the case, they’ll probably hit your food plot at night until they burn it out, and then quit visiting, leaving you only with nighttime photos from your scouting camera.
Remember, when using the poor man’s approach, the most you’re hoping for is a daylight diversion. You want to provide something that delays deer as they head toward their ultimate food source, which might be an orchard, oak stand or large agricultural field. But if you know your land and invest whatever time, muscle and money you can spare, the small diversions you create can give you the edge that’s vital to consistent success.