If you plant food plots for deer on your land or lease, they should be in and coming up green, especially in regions where we’ve gotten good moisture this spring. (Here in Virginia, I can’t remember a year with more rain through June.) If you plan to put in a few fall (cool-season) plots to attract deer for archery season, you won’t do that for another month or two. Time to chill and do some fishing and golfing, right? Yeah, love the summer man, but don’t neglect to set aside a couple more weekends for work detail. A little more sweat now means more deer, and bucks, on your 50 to 500 acres this season.
Deer will keep small plots (½ acre or so) browsed down (often too low) but larger fields should be mowed at least once with a tractor or ATV with pull mower. Cutting helps to control weeds, and the plant tops regrow more tender and palatable for the animals.
“Mow when the clover, weeds and grasses reach 10-12 inches tall,” says Steve Scott of the Whitetail Institute. “Mow everything down to 4 to 6 inches high.” He adds to remove clippings if possible because a proven clover like Imperial Whitetail (30 to 35% protein) does not have to re-seed to grow for up to five years.”
If you planted a seed blend of, say, clover and chicory, “don’t mow it too low, just clip the tops off the plants,” says Biologic’s Bobby Cole. He adds you’re generally okay in June and early July, but don’t cut your plots too much or too short and burn them when it’s hot and dry in late summer.
On the way to or from your plots and near where you plan to hang tree stands, bush-hog strips of grassy road/field edges, sides of berry/brier thickets…you get the idea. Mow these low. Native plants will pop back up tender and green after late-summer rains, and the deer will love them. You can’t create too much feed, both planted and native for deer. BONUS: Whitetails will quickly find those cut trails and begin to walk on them. This fall, a good buck might follow one of those trails close to your stand.
All plots no matter size should be treated 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 selective herbicide. The Whitetail Institute has tested and recommends the Arrest and Slay herbicides. “Arrest is used to control grasses, and Slay is for broadleaf weeds,” says Steve Scott. Both herbicides curb weed/grass growth within 48 hours of application.
Do two things now to make your cool-season plots better than ever. “Disk spots where you’ll plant several times in two-week intervals prior to sowing the seeds,” says Scott. This will not only work the soil, but also help to reduce weeds and grass that come up later.
Fire your Chainsaw
Cut dead trees from roads and ATV trails for better access around your land. Thin non-mast-bearing saplings/brushy bushes on the edges of food plots to let in more sunlight. While you’re at it cut (and maybe follow up mow) some access trails to and from your plots and the stands/blinds you’ll locate there. Say a west wind will pre-dominate come hunting season. Okay, come in from the east with your saw, pruners and mower, and clear lanes to the best trees where you’ll hang stands. Your work and noise won’t bother the deer too much now.
And when you come back to hunt in 3 or 4 months, sneak quietly on those cut trails from downwind, climb quietly into a stand and smack one those bucks you’ve been growing.