One of the most frequently used methods of creating a better habitat, usually in the form of a food source, is the establishment of a food plot, or perhaps, multiple food plots. The size, shape and location of any food plot are determined by topography, water sources and often the proximity of property boundaries. Consulting with a knowledgeable forester or wildlife manager and the creation of a short and long-term Habitat Improvement and Management Plan should be the first step for success. The second critic must-do step is to conduct soil sampling and then adhere to the results and recommendations you receive in the reported analysis.
The preferred size of a food plot is smaller rather than larger. Depending on the topography of your property, you are much better off developing multiple smaller plots rather than one large plot. Observation over the years has shown that in a large plot deer will first work the outer edges of the planted area and sometimes never make it to the center of a large food plot. Remember in planning that game prefers edges, that is, they feel more secure staying near a forest edge into which they can escape if threatened by a predator. Numerous smaller food plots will create more edges than just one oversized plot.
The ideal shape of a food plot is not one big square or circle, but instead should be a planting area that is in an S shape or in an elongated shape which, again, yields more edges. The exact layout may be dictated by terrain or existing trees that you want to maintain in the forest edge.
WHAT TO PLANT:
Remembering that providing a variety of food is important, a mix of seeds is desirable. Your forester or wildlife management consultant should be able to point you in the right direction. If you don’t have one, check with local nurseries, landscape businesses or feed stores to locate a knowledgeable person for their advice.
While clover is one of the favorites to plant, it should be accompanied by either wheat or oats as a cover crop or nurse crop, which provides shade for the clover as it is in its early stages of growth. Birdsfoot trefoil is a low growing plant that yields a yellow flower and is preferred by grouse and turkey poults. The trefoil seed can be spread at the same time you are planting clover. Buckwheat is a very effective plant to attract deer and can be added to the mix of seeds in the spring.
Once a clover stand has been established it can be made thicker by conducting a frost seeding in late winter. The seed can be broadcast on top of a late winter snow and as the snow melts and overnight freezing and daytime thawing occur, the seed will be slowly drawn down into the top of the soil, ending up in an ideal depth for germination to begin once soil temperatures rise in the spring.
Fall food plots are quite effective for the fall deer seasons, particularly the archery season. For the fall plantings there are dozens upon dozens of seed mixes available. Check with your local feed store for what varieties are available and the best dates for planting in our area. The more popular plants in these various mixes are brasicas, turnips, sugar beets, chicory, rape and often various clovers are included. The plants, other than the clovers, tend to grow large and leafy and remain unpalatable to deer during their growing period, but turn sweet and tasty once the first hard frosts have occurred – which usually happens during the archery deer season.
There is a lot to learn about doing things to improve the habitat on your property to both attract and hold wildlife, but it is a very interesting and often rewarding journey which allows you to spend more quality time in our great outdoors.