11 Easy and Affordable Food-Plot Tips For Deer Hunters

food plot planting datesIf you own or lease some hunting ground, it’s time to get your hands dirty. The better you plan, build and maintain food plots over the next several months, the more deer you’ll attract and hold on your land come September. Here’s a 12-pack of pointers to help you do it.

Design Before You Dig

On an aerial map, look for strips and pockets of open ground toward the interior of your property that you can turn into ½-acre plots. “Inside” planting keeps your plots—and the bucks they will attract–away from roads and the neighbors’ fence lines. Also, the closer you build a plot to thick bedding cover the better your chances that a mature 8- or 10-pointer will pop out into the plot to grab a bite one evening this fall. And think back to past hunts on the land. Whitetails are habitual animals that come and go in the same places from year to year. Where have you seen the most deer and found the found the most trails, rubs and scrapes over the years? Plant your plots in and around areas of established deer traffic.

Think Small

Rather than trying to plant and maintain 3- to 5-acre fields like deer managers did the old days, it’s better for the average hunter (you and me) to scatter 5 to 10 smaller plots across your land. Green strips and pockets of ¼- to one-acre are easier (and cheaper) to plant, maintain and hunt. Small plots are all the rage with the best deer biologists/managers these days.

GPS Your Plots

“Use a GPS receiver to measure the exact area of every food plot you build,” says Bill Gray, an Alabama wildlife biologist.  “Knowing the precise acreage of your plots will prevent over-applying seed, fertilizer, lime and herbicide. Better crops are always produced when the correct amount of seed, fertilizer and lime are applied.”

Plant North to South

“Configure plots to run more north-south than east-west,” says Dr. Grant Woods, one of the top deer biologists and land managers in the world. “Growing plants will get adequate sunlight each day, but they won’t bake in the summer.  The northeast corner of a slope generally has the moistest soil and is a particularly good spot for a plot.”

Logging Road Eats

Is your land crossed with old logging roads? If so, you’ve got a great opportunity. Clear, disc and plant 300- to 1,000-yard strips of wood roads with clover, which will provide tons of feed for the deer. Since the roads are already open, it’s an easy way to feed and attract deer.

Best Soil Sample

I can’t stress enough the importance of a soil test before you plant a single seed. Dig 5 or 6 six cups of dirt from various spots around a plot area, mix well in a bucket and come up with one representative soil sample. Have it tested at your county extension office or a seed company for recommendations on liming and fertilizing. Bonus tip: Ideally your dirt would have a pH level of 7, or neutral. But usually it’ll test 4 to 6. Keep in mind that it takes a ton of lime per acre to raise the pH one point, and it takes lime months to work most efficiently. Plan well ahead of time.

Plant Clover

For more than two decades wildlife habitat expert Neil Dougherty has experimented with food plots across the Northeast. After evaluating more than 1,000 test plots he’s found that planting a 60/40 mix of perennial clover like Imperial Whitetail Clover and chicory in late spring is best. By mid-May the clover, which has 30% to 35% protein, is producing major tonnage, and the chicory (40% to 44% protein) kicks in soon thereafter to provide a steady food source for lactating does and bucks putting on new antlers.

And More Clover…

I have lived in and hunted across the Mid-Atlantic all my life, and I have experimented with lots of seeds and blends in this region. Good old Ladino clover, which you can plant most anywhere there’s adequate soil moisture and sunlight, is still hard to beat here, and in most places. Ladino clover is a high-quality perennial (about 25% protein) that, once you plant it, will last for 5 years and can be easily over-seeded from time to time. It is low-maintenance, and that’s important because many hunters don’t have a lot of time and money to put into plots year after year.

Strip Plant

Here’s a trick I learned from fellow Virginia hunter Jim Crumley. Jim created Trebark Camouflage back in the 1980s, and now his obsession is growing and holding bucks on his farm. Jim clears, works and then plants a 10-yard-wide by 100-yard-long strip of clover…he leaves a 20-yard strip of natural vegetation like blackberry or honeysuckle beside it…then clears and plants another strip of clover…leaves another strip of native growth beside that and so on, until he has a one- or two-acre field full strip planted. “You have a smorgasbord to attract deer year-round, and the strips of native growth provide not only browse but also edge and cover for bucks,” he says.

Oats in the Mix

Here’s a killer strategy for the Midwest, say from Michigan to Ohio to Missouri. In late April or May, plant a couple of 2- to 4-acre fields with soybeans. (If you don’t have the equipment for the big job, it pays to hire a local farmer to do the work.) In August to mid-September come back and plant a 20- to 25-yard strip of Buck Forage Oats all the way around the beans. With rain, the lush, green oats will pop up and attract deer during the October bow season, and the soybeans, which contain 20% to 25% protein, are a great food source for Midwestern deer from November to January.

Kill the Weeds

All plots no matter the size should be treated with a herbicide to control unwanted grasses and weeds. Spray plots when weeds are four to 12 inches tall. Your local farm co-op can recommend a good herbicide and click here to see some great info from the QDMA.

Ohio: 2018 Deer Harvest Down, But Big Buck Kill Up

ohio gary nov 8 2018Hunters checked 172,040 whitetails deer during Ohio’s 2018-2019 season, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). That’s down from last year, when 186,247 deer were checked. Some of the decrease can be attributed to poor weather throughout the fall of 2018.

While the overall harvest was down, the number of big bucks killed with a bow was impressive.

In the photo: Gary Bendele shot this giant (170 net Booner) with his bow on November 8, 2018 in Fayette County.

Ethan  Featheroff’s monster non-typical, shot last October, grossed 220!

Facts about deer hunting in Ohio: Regulations set by ODNR over the past four seasons have been designed to allow for moderate herd growth throughout most of the state; herd growth is achieved by reducing harvest and protecting female deer.  

Ohio ranks fifth nationally in resident hunters and 11th in the number of jobs associated with hunting-related industries. Hunting has a more than $853 million economic impact in Ohio through the sale of equipment, fuel, food, lodging, etc.

Ohio ranks #3 in America in terms of deer killed and tagged with a bow; of the estimated recent harvests of 172,000 to 186,000, some 45% were archery kills.

Wisconsin Woman Shoots Giant 14-Point Buck

WI woman big buck 2018Sarah Van Pietersom hunted the opener of the 2018 Wisconsin gun deer season.

“We went out about 2:30 and didn’t see much initially,” the Genesee resident told the Journal Sentinel. “Around 4 I saw what I thought was a buck. I pulled out my binoculars to get a closer look and thought to myself it was a decent buck. He dropped with one shot. I didn’t realize at that point it was this big buck.” 

Giant! The buck was estimated to be around 6 years old, and he looks it in the picture.

Sarah said she became interested in hunting by sitting with her fiancé while he hunted when they started dating six years ago. Four years ago, she took a hunter safety course and started hunting on her own.

“I’m newer to hunting,” she said. “I hope this inspires other female hunters…. I think it’s good for women to see another woman catch such a big buck.”

Great, way to go Sarah!

2018 Pennsylvania Deer Harvest Highest In 14 Years…State “has never managed whitetails better.”

???????????????????????????????From the York Dispatch: “The (Pennsylvania Game Commission) reported that a total of 374,690 deer were harvested during the state’s 2018-19 hunting seasons, which closed in January.

“That total tops the previous year’s harvest of 367,159 by about 10 percent.”

The 2018 antlerless harvest of 226,940 was up about 10 percent over last year. Data show that most does—64%–killed by hunters were 2.5 years old, and the remainder were 1.5 years old.

The 2018-19 buck kill of 147,750 was down 10% from the previous season. The commission says that steady, heavy rain during opening weekend of gun season was the biggest reason for the decline—it kept a lot of hunters out of the woods, and the bucks didn’t move well in the poor conditions.

During any year, about half of Pennsylvania’s overall buck harvest typically occurs on opening day of firearms season. It’s like that in many states.

In a positive trend that you see in states across the country, the percentage of older bucks in the 2018-19 PA harvest was high. About 64 percent of the bucks shot by hunters were at least 2½ years old.

“That almost two-thirds of the bucks…were at least 2½ years old is a tribute to the science our deer managers use and the sacrifices a generation of hunters made in the commonwealth,” said Bryan Burhans, the game commission’s executive director. “The bucks being taken every day in Pennsylvania’s deer seasons are living proof that this commonwealth has never managed whitetails better.”

In the photo: Longtime BIG DEER blogger Terry “Big Daddy” Murphy shot this buck on October 16, 2018 on his land in Potter County. It was Big Daddy’s 40th archery buck in 40 years of hunting Pennsylvania, which is a 1 buck per year state. 

Weird Deer: Longest “Unicorn” Tine Ever!

unicorn deerThe typical “unicorn” tine–third beam that sprouts out a buck’s forehead—is 1 to 4 inches long. The middle tine in this picture appears to be 13 inches or longer, likely making it longest unicorn tine ever on a whitetail.

Biologists note that a unicorn tine is caused by trauma to the frontal bone on a buck’s forehead. This entire region of the skull is capable of growing antler, and if an area of the frontal bone is injured (such as a tine puncture from another buck) the trauma may cause a third antler to grow from the injury.   

How rare is a unicorn buck? Short answer, very.

Noted whitetail scientist Mickey Hellickson says that during his days of researching wild whitetails on the King Ranch in Texas, he and his team captured more than 4,000 different bucks, and not one was a unicorn!