A stiff north wind washes over the pine-covered ridgetop as I quietly approach a new food plot on our hunting land. It’s just after 11 a.m. on opening day of spring turkey season. The bright sun is finally thawing the landscape. A late-winter cold front is pushing deep into the South — wind and cold both forecasted to continue. The weather system and changing pressure had the Toms silent all morning. My footsteps remain brisk and surefooted. Only the hope and optimism of opening day can keep the mind and body motivated by lunchtime. I sneak up to the entrance of the Banana Field — a food plot shaped like a banana — and cast a sultry yelp down into its bright green clover thatch.
A gobble jolts from no more than 100 yards away! I feel my eyes enlarge as adrenaline shoots through my veins. Standing in the middle of the ridge-top road, I quickly glance left for a suitable tree, then right. I stutter step 180 degrees, desperately looking for a set-up spot. I dive off the back side of the ridge road and snuggle up to a 30-foot-tall loblolly pine on the other side. I lay prone with my shotgun barrel pointed across the road toward the entrance to the field. The gobbler would have to walk uphill on the spur-road leading it straight into my position. However, I can’t see the food plot entrance 50 yards below. I slowly ease up, propping up on my left arm. I can see the entrance to the banana-shaped opening. I yelp again; this time louder and with a quickened cadence. A loud gobble thunders over the gusting wind.
I place the latex mouth call against the inside of my cheek and wait. In less than three minutes I hear footsteps getting closer. Then, a full-strut gobbler floats into view at the bottom of the spur-road. I hit the deck and shoulder my shotgun, my face planted tightly against its comb. My sight picture: pine needles on the ridge road in front me, iron sights and a 12-guage barrel. I scan the close horizon for any sign of movement, then the top of a fan appears. He’s close! But he’d have to be for me to see him crest the ridge. He advances and I see his big red head! I quickly line my iron beads up as he stretches his neck, lifting his head high in the sky, hoping to catch a visual of the hen he thinks is up here. In a split-second, I adjust my aim and squeeze the trigger. The bird crumples. The recoil blurs my vision. I jump up and level my shotgun in case the large Tom tried to flee, but he’s done, no longer able to lift his head from the ground. As the Tom expires in the pine needles beneath me , I’m struck with thanksgiving.
It all happened so fast. Yet the plan to kill this Tom started 10 months earlier.
Related: Turkeys All Day Long
Planting For Turkeys
The Banana Field was always viewed as a second-rate food plot. At our hunting property, Borrowed Acres in east-central Alabama, we continually work toward creating better habitat and incorporating practices that increase healthy numbers of deer, turkey and dozens of other species of game and non-game animals.
Banana Field is located on a leased property. Because we don’t own it, we can only work to improve the soil in the food plots. Fortunately for us, this land is owned by a timber company, who cuts and regrows timber on it. This patchwork of cutovers and varying-age pine plantations grow more valuable browse, bedding and fawning/nesting cover, which will also hold more animals on it.
The Banana Field had a couple things working against it in our minds. One, it’s not very big. It’s only about 100 yards long, in the shape of a banana. Two, it’s the first food plot you come to when driving onto the lease. It’s also located right off the main thoroughfare in and out of the property — guaranteeing Can-Am traffic buzzing by. So, instead of creating a spot to receive pressure and educate animals, we just didn’t plant it.
However, last turkey season, I had a gobbler answer my calls twice. He was right around the entrance to this Banana Field, and it wasn’t even planted with crops. A series of steep ridgelines come together in an irregular shaped bowl off the side of the ridge where the Banana Field sits. This must have been a travel corridor for turkeys. As I was planning our fall food plots this past year, I thought, “Let’s put in some turkey-specific plots.”
What To Plant
The good news is turkeys love eating the same mixes you plant for whitetail deer in the fall — oats, winter wheat, brassicas, etc. However, by mid to late turkey season, these cereal-grain plots begin to grow tall and stalky, making them less palatable to deer and turkey. Plus, they eventually grow too tall for useful hunting purpose late in turkey season, though they make great nesting cover if not mowed in the summer. However, a well-maintained annual white-clover plot grows low all season long and the high-protein energy food stays palatable until the hot stretches of summer. And turkeys absolutely love clover!
A great benefit of annual white clover is that once it’s planted and established, the plot can last you three to five years. Clover is also a legume, which means that it fixes its own nitrogen in its roots. This cuts down on fertilizer costs. With an ATV or tractor sprayer and the right herbicide mix, you can keep a thick, weed-free clover plot. These clover plots also respond well to mowing with a rotary cutter. Mowing the plots a few times during the spring will keep them growing thick and lush and reduce weed competition.
You can also sow perennial clover (red clovers and others) seed on top of your deer food plot blends in the fall to make the ultimate food plot mix. That way all your plots will have lush thriving clover in the spring turkey season.
Related: Planting The Ultimate Fall Food Plot
Amend The Soil
As soon as you decide which plots would be ideal for turkeys, take a soil sample to get your dirt tested. Don’t skip this easy step. Here’s a quick video on the soil samples I took for my turkey plots. When filling out the paper work on the kit, put white clover as your crop. When your results come back, put out the recommended rate of lime ASAP and then the recommended amount of fertilizer a week prior to planting.
About six weeks prior to planting, I mow the plot, which is usually full of summer weeds and grasses. Then, I let it sit for about a week, letting fresh new green shoots of grass and weeds sprout up. Next, I spray a 2 to 3-percent glyphosate mixture over the entire plot with my ATV sprayer and give it two to three weeks to die and turn brittle. Then, disk or till under the soil, cultipack if you have a cultipacker, and spread the seed. I prefer to hand-spread clover seed with a good spreader because the seeds are so tiny that it’s easy to put out way more clove than needed. You only need about 8 pounds of annual-white-clover seeds per acre. Whereas, comparatively, you put down 60 to 100 pounds of winter wheat per acre in your fall food plots. So, a little goes a long way. The last step: roll the entire field again with your cultipacker. If you don’t have a cultipacker, then skip this step.
If you’re planting perennial red clover with your fall mixes for whitetails, then top sow about 10 to 12 pounds of seed per acre after you cover your grain seeds. Clover doesn’t require much soil depth to sprout, so don’t disc it back under to cover it. It will sprout right on top. If you have a cultipacker, then be sure to run the entire field with it.
There are a host of other plants that turkeys love to eat, but when targeting turkeys is your mission, a clover food plot is hard to beat. Rarely does a turkey hunt or a plan come together like they both did during the Banana Field hunt on opening day. As I hoisted the 24-pound Tom over my shoulder, I was elated at the outcome of what a little planning and experimenting can do when creating better habitat for turkeys and better hunting for the hunters. Killing my largest gobbler in more than 20 years of turkey hunting was just the icing on the cake.