A Beginner’s Entry Into the World of Food Plots

July 7, 2016 | Tips & Tricks

onX Ambassador Jess DeLorenzo provides a simple beginner’s approach to creating food plots. While a project like this might seem daunting, starting small and following a few basic principles will ensure that both the quantity and quality of deer will increase.

We all remember the quote from Field of Dreams—if you build it, he will come. That maxim holds true whether we’re talking about food plots or magic baseball fields. And while it seems like there is an endless quantity of information and opinions on planning and executing a food plot, the simple fact is that attracting more and bigger deer is directly correlated with the amount of work you’re willing to put in.

This is my novice approach to simplifying the food plot process for anyone who’s willing to get their hands a little dirty. You have to start somewhere when learning how to manage deer populations, and I think a food plot is the right beginning. Just make sure you give yourself time before the planting season to do some reading and studying—planting without a plan is a sure way to fail.

Where Should I Put a Food Plot?

Your first step should be selecting prime locations on your hunting property using the onX Hunt App. Identity property boundaries, water sources and wooded areas using the Satellite Basemap. The closer your food plot is to thick cover, the more you increase the chances of deer spending some time in it.

Next, verify that your food plot will have adequate sunlight, optimal stand locations nearby and enough access that getting equipment to the area won’t be a struggle. A good rule of thumb is that if the area is already growing some kind of ground vegetation, it can grow a food plot.

Soil Testing

Our food plot needs to be near cover and existing trails, of course, but it also needs a few other things to encourage plant growth. One of the biggest factors is proper pH levels in the soil. You can buy a pH testing kit at your local farm supply store and, in some cases, have your samples tested there as well. pH testing is a vital step to take before you even think about planting. Also, telling your hunting buddies that you spent the weekend doing soil analysis is sure to impress.

Doing the Work

Next up is the labor-intensive part, especially if you’re like me and don’t own any real farming equipment. It’s time to kill the weeds and existing plant growth. A simple broad-spectrum herbicide can be applied with a sprayer, and this will free up nutrients for your plants instead of requiring them to compete with unwanted grasses and rogue weeds vying for a spot in the sunlight. Make sure you plan ahead for this step and apply the herbicide a week or two before continuing to work the ground. It will be satisfying to watch all the undesirable plant growth wilt away and give you some time to plan your five-star deer dining experience.

The onX Hunt Area Shape Tool.

When the weeds are dead, it’s time to churn everything up and break the ground according to the needs of what you’re planting. If you aren’t tired from the previous work, you will be after this. When the soil is tilled, add fertilizer and, if your pH is low, lime. A lot of math is involved in calculating the proper amount of fertilizer and seed, so use onX Hunt’s Area Shape tool to measure the exact size of your food plot before buying twice as much as you need.

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Planting Your Food Plot

If your brain hasn’t exploded over all the choices you have regarding herbicides and fertilizers, wait until you start looking at the types and combinations of seed—the options are endless. Narrow down your choices by considering when you’re planting, the growth potential in your area and what you want the deer to be eating. Remember that some crops are annual and will need to be replanted each year while perennials will reseed on their own and return in following years.

One common beginner mistake is covering your seeds with too much dirt. Most food plot seeds will not germinate if they’re covered with more than ¼” of dirt, so driving over the plot with an ATV or tractor to press the seeds into the dirt might be all you need. Another mistake is not maintaining the crop after you’ve planted. Most crops will need mowing and weed control, so keep an eye on them and consider adding a second round of fertilizer a few weeks after planting.

A tractor breaks ground.

I live in an area where corn and soy are the main crops in surrounding farms, so I planted alternative crops like turnips, radishes and clover as they can all be browsed long after the corn and soy have been harvested. Remember to plant your seed according to the crop guidelines, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from experienced folks or the crew at your farm supply store. I should have been charged rent for how often I was at my local feed and seed asking questions and going over my plan.

Are You Ready to Plant Your Own Food Plot?

A basic food plot isn’t rocket science—just a little sweat and money will get things going. It’s sure to improve your hunting experiences and get you on your way to practicing some Quality Deer Management on your property.

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Header Image: Heartland Bowhunter