Every hunter I know is intrigued by the thought of planting big, beautiful, shimmering-green food plots. The kind of plots where you might see 10, 12 or more deer grazing each afternoon.
But many people can’t or don’t do it for a number of reasons. You might not own the land you hunt. The landowner on the property you lease or have permission on may not be in love with the idea, or you simply might not have the time or money. And how many of you own a tractor, a dozer, trailers and thousands of dollars’ worth of implements needed to clear, level and plant green fields?
Here’s how to create small and affordable food plots that whitetails will love, and are actually easier to bowhunt than those big green plots we see on our TV screens.
Roll out an aerial photograph of your property and pull up the Google Earth coordinates as a secondary source. Look closely for strips and openings where you might plant some tucked-away clover — this is key — in areas where you don’t have to cut down many, if any, trees or brush.
Look for easy-to-work spots that are part of the natural landscape and your herd’s habitat. Think back to previous scouts and hunts on the property. Where are major deer trails and staging areas near acorn flats or farmer-planted fields? Where are the thickets where deer like to bed? Where do rubs and scrapes pop up each October? Develop and plant your strips and openings in areas of high deer traffic.
Most hunters do own a chainsaw and an ATV or ORV. Now just add a few implements, hand tools and bags of seed, and you’re good to go. Here are three easy and cheap plots to try.
One of the farms I hunt in Virginia is 750 acres of woods laced with an old homestead and logging roads that date back decades. My friend Jack Hazel, who owns and manages the land, works those trails into his food plot plan.
On flat, open stretches of roadbed that receive some sunlight, Jack clears away deadfalls and rocks. He mows the grass and weeds in the roads short with a small tractor or ATV and sprays Roundup. He comes back after a few weeks, tills the dirt with either an ATV or hand spreader, and sows ladino clover.
“Planting 150 to 200 yards of road bed is like putting in a quarter-acre plot, and it’s a heck of a lot easier,” Jack said.
The green strips grow well for years. Keep in mind that clover grows best on north/south roads that receive 3 to 5 hours of sunlight each day. Fertilize road strips once a year with a 10-10-10 fertilizer mix.
In our part of Virginia, deer walk and nibble in these clover strips year-round. Bucks love to rub and scrape along the green road edges in October and November. We hang bow stands in wide spots and bends in the roads, generally on the south or east sides as we play the predominant northwest wind. Our road plots are 20 yards or so wide, so it’s easy to shoot right across them.
Outdoor Channel personality Mark Drury is a self-described mad scientist when it comes to food plots. One of his favorite strategies on his Midwest farms is to look for a strip of open, easy-to-work ground between a field of corn or soybeans and a timber edge. In that strip, which is typically 25 or 30 yards wide, he mows and kills the grass and plants a ribbon of clover, chicory and/or oats.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched bucks come out of a corn or bean field and feed out into a low, green strip,” he said. “The edge of the timber on the opposite side of the corn or beans creates a natural funnel right to your treestand.”
A spot like this is a cinch to plant, and setting up an ambush is just as easy. “Determine the predominant wind during the time you’ll hunt there,” Mark said. “Hang a stand in a good tree just back in the woods on the edge. Plant the clover and fertilize heavily next to your stand to pull bucks your way.”
Missouri biologist and bowhunter Grant Woods looks for remote spots in the woods where most people would never dream of planting seeds — a 200-yard strip near a creek where he has seen deer cross, the flat slope of a bench, a 50-yard hole in the woods near a staging thicket where he knows deer bed — you get the idea. “The only criteria is that there must be enough soil moisture and sunlight in a spot to grow plants,” Grant said, “and it must be easy to sneak in and hang a stand.”
To create a spot for a micro plot, Grant sometimes mows and kills the grass or simply clears away leaves with a blower or rake. He treats the soil with a lime/fertilizer mix, works up the dirt with a rake and plants a fast-growing fall attractant blend just before or after a rain.
“Locate little spots like these this spring and summer, clear them out and get them ready,” Grant said. “But don’t plant until much later. I would say about 14 days or so before your bow season opens in late September or October.”
These tiny spots are not designed to feed and grow deer, just to attract them for hunting in the fall. If you plant little spots too early, deer will find them and eat them clean before you start hunting.
“Hang your bow stand downwind of a tiny plot and there’s a great chance you’ll nail a doe for sure,” Grant said. “And who knows? You might get lucky and shoot a good buck the first week of bow season.”
Sidebar: 4 Land Tips for Better Hunting
When planting both large and small food plots, give deer a buffet. As a rule, plant 60 percent of your plots with a perennial clover/chicory mix, which will provide a steady food source for about 3 years. Plant the other 40 percent with an attractant like oats or wheat.
Mow or bush-hog a lane through a weed field or thicket right up to your favorite treestand on a wood’s edge. Keep that lane trimmed low all summer. Deer will find the lanes and use them. One day this fall a buck might walk smack down the strip to your stand. Trimmed lanes are great places to plant micro plots of clover or fall attractant.
Check sunny edges of logging roads you planted for blackberry bushes, greenbrier and other brambles. Deer love natural browse more than the clover you just planted. Fertilize the browse with 10-10-10 once or twice this summer to grow it lush.
Right now, scour old farm/weed fields for hidden fruit trees like apple or persimmon. Open up the trees by clearing away brush. Then prune and pour some fertilizer over the roots. A tree should make soft mast just in time for bow season.