There are several facets of Game Management. The first one we're going to investigate is the notion of food plots. Food plots are great resources for managing game on your land and are commonly found as a staple in any game management strategy. The core definition of a food plot is "A planted area set aside to act as a food source for wildlife" (Wikipedia). Given that definition a farmer's large field of crops such as soybeans, corn, and peas sometimes serves the same purpose that a food plot does even though that is not the intention of the farmer! Though, farmers will eventually harvest their crops whereas when hunters install food plots they are usually not as big, are of more variety, are located in different areas, and wildlife are the intended consumers of these crops.
It's important to begin by saying that food plots are not a solution to a problem, but rather a supplement that can be beneficial for the game on your land. If you do not have deer on your land, planting a food plot will not make them magically appear. Planting food plots will also not instantly create "monster bucks" on your land or instantly increase the number of deer in your herd. If you expect these kinds of miracles to occur as a result of planting food plots then you're going to be disappointed. Managing your own expectations is important when installing and maintaining food plots. After putting in a lot of work and time with food plots it's easy to feel like "I've worked hard so I should reap the benefits of my work", but this is not immediately accurate. The benefits and effects of having food plots on your land become more prevalent over the course of time. As you might imagine from this blog series, food plots are just one tenant of game management and they are probably one of the most well known in the game management matrix.
Hunters often install food plots in areas that farmers wouldn't, in areas that are deep in the woods or out in some remote location. Creating food plots in these remote locations gives deer easy access to food sources that they need and also provides hunters with ideal hunting locations. Thus, food plots offer both nutritional benefits to the deer as well as benefits to the hunter. Let's look at the nutritional benefit of creating food plots first.
Having food plots on your land during the spring, summer, and fall months ensures that the deer in your area have protein which is important during this time of the year when bucks are growing antlers and does are pregnant and lactating. Adequate nutrition helps the reproduction process, increases the birth weight of fawns, foments larger body size, & raises the likelihood of the doe having multiple fawns. The healthier the doe is the more she can lactate. A healthy adult doe directly helps the fawns out as they mature. Also, during the rut, bucks expend a lot of energy & valuable resources. The availability of nutritional resources helps reduce post-rut mortality rates of these bucks when they run themselves ragged during the rut.
During the winter months a deer's food sources are not as plentiful as Mother Nature naturally reduces the available supply of forage. During this time of year deer don't need as much protein for growing antlers or nursing, but rather they use the nutrients they consume for pure energy. Having food plots available helps deer not have to use fat they've stored up for their internal energy demands. When they can find forage to browse on during winter months it aids in keeping them healthy and decreases the amount of time spent recovering from the rut period. The sooner they can recover from the rut and winter the healthier the bucks will be when the time comes to re-grow their antlers and the more fit the does will be to carry and nurse the fawns. Keep in mind that these benefits won't be noticeable initially as it takes time for these cycles to occur.
Keeping food plots going year round is the best case scenario, but sometimes, for various reasons, we may not be able to manage food plots throughout the full year. If I had to pick one season to install food plots, I would definitely install a food plot during the winter months when the deer's food sources are minimized. Providing deer with ample food sources during this time is more critical for them and will also help you locate deer during winter months.
Food plots also offer hunters some benefits.From a hunting perspective food plots normally increase the number of deer you see during the hunting season, that is as long as you don't disturb them too much. I have friends who want to go and "check on' their food plots all the time & go switch game camera cards out at their food plots way too often. Going out to food plots repeatedly only counters the desired goal and the reason you put them in! I've put in a lot of hard work on our food plots and I still have to remind myself not to overdo it when hunting and checking game cams. Mature deer pick up on these disturbances really easily. I try to be mindful of the pressure I put on our food plots and I don't shoot at every deer I see in our food plots.
On a side note, if you're a turkey hunter, food plots also benefit turkeys. Turkeys will come out and pick at the crops (depending on what you've planted) and also get bugs from around them. I got video just this past weekend of a turkey browsing a food plot. In this respect food plots can serve a dual purpose for hunters if you hunt both deer & turkeys.
From what I've read (and heard) it seems that general ratio is to have 5 - 10% of forested land as food plots. There are tons of different crops you can plant and there is a whole industry ready to sell you any kind of food plot seed and gimmick imaginable. I try to keep in mind the end reason of why I'm creating and maintaining food plots because it's easy to get overwhelmed with options. I try to remember that legumes such as clover, peas, & soybeans are all rich in protein and are great for deer.
We've chosen to work with Tecomate Seed for our food plots because they make quality seed that grows well in our area. Tecomate Seed is coated with a coating called "Yellow Jacket" that helps absorb a large amount of water so the seed can germinate. Tecomate Seed has a trusted brand that's built on years of research and testing. If you've ever seen the TV show "Bucks of Tecomate" then you know what I'm talking about. Hopefully in time we'll have some good deer like that around the areas we hunt, but the same rule applies patience is the key.
We are installing food plots on some areas of our land this year and I'm going to be posting some brief blog entries with videos and pictures of our food plots to keep you posted on our successes & failures with regards to our 2011 food plots. We're planting Tecomate's Max Attract in all locations.
It was around this time last year when we got the green-light and started the Tecomate Seed Food Plot Journey. The first blog entry aired last January and I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I had a lot to learn. Around 25 blog entries and a year later, we've had some successes, some failures, some lessons learned, some memorable hunts, and some really good looking food plots.
I?ve posted some pictures below of the spring/summer and fall/winter food plots.
I'm no guru by far, but even from my little bit of experience over the last year I can tell you that the soil was one of the most important factors in our Food Plot Journey mix. We planted food plots in several different areas and the areas where the soil was best fit for the food plot were the areas where we had the best food plots. Of course rain is crucial, but rainfall is something we can't control. Essentially the soil acts as the "transfer agent" through which your plants will get the nutrients they need to thrive. One of my takeaways will be the quality of the soil. You can get a high quality seed or a low quality seed, but it's all moot if you don't have fertile soil.
If you've been following along then you've seen everything that we've done via video, pictures, and the text in blog entries. I created one last video of some of the before/after shots that happened along the way.
I've had a great time learning, creating, and documenting the food plots in our Food Plot Journey and hopefully I haven?t bored you with it all. A big thanks to Tecomate Seed & the GroundHog MAX for working with us to sponsor the Food Plot Journey.
And if you are on your own "Food Plot Journey" then it won't be long before it's time to start the soil samples again. I know that we're already making plans for the upcoming spring/summer and next fall/winter plots?
Sorry it?s taken me a bit to get this one together, but I?ve been spread thin lately. As you know, we?ve been working on several summer food plots on our Tecomate Seed Food Plot Journey. I?ve been documenting one plot very thoroughly and we?ve been carrying out the same processes in other locations as well. I?ve also documented much of the journey of our remote food plot. We?ve been getting some good rain and the lab lab and lab lab plus is starting to grow pretty well. I?d like to update you on a few of the plots because we?ve got some mixed results that we can already learn some lessons from.
Food Plot Location 1
Food Plot Location 1 is the location where we have been doing most of the documenting and I?ve got some bad news to report on this one. Initially we planned to plant this field with a no-till-drill which would get the seed in the ground without turning the soil up. We wanted to do this because this field had some weeds in it in previous years and their seeds remained on the soil. Using a no-till-drill is beneficial because it gets the seed in the ground without turning up the dirt. When the soil isn?t turned up the seeds of the weeds remain uncovered by the dirt and do not germinate while the seeds in the no-till-drill get planted into the soil. Since we couldn?t get access to the no-till-drill the undesired result has occurred. By not getting the no-till-drill we were forced to disc the field. This field had been sprayed, but spraying it only killed what was living on the surface. The seeds of the weeds remain dormant until they get covered in dirt. The moisture in the dirt causes them to germinate. Add all of this + our actions up and what do you get? a field covered in weeds and food plot product as seen below.
Since we have a mess on our hands in this field we have opted to spray it with 2-4 D + Round-up. We are going to spray it in hopes of killing the weeds in preparation for the fall plot. In short, the summer plot at this location = fail! Since we are spraying the field, we went ahead and sprayed a few different areas as that we are going to work on for the fall plots. I made it out late to the field, but I did get some footage of the other areas being sprayed. You can see how we sprayed it below.
Food Plot Location 2
Food Plot Location 2 has a much better result at this point and some deer tracks are already in the plot. We?ve even seen where some of the plants are getting nipped at the top already. This location has had food plot products placed in it year after year and there are no remaining weeds in the soil. For that reason, we were able to use a disc here without having a bad result (as we did at the previous location). You can see this plot clearly in the video, but here are some pics of it too. This food plot is kind of shaped like what a golfer would call a ?dog leg right? because it?s straight for a long time and then it curves around to the right at the top.
Here is a video contrasting Field 1 and Field 2? seeing the difference is easy
Food Plot Location 3
Food Plot Location 3 is a smaller area and is also coming along well. The soil here is a little more like clay than the sandy soil of the others. We were also able to get some pics of deer in this one on the game camera.
Remote Food Plot Location
The remote food plot is also coming along well so far. We?ve got some exclusion fences up in this location and we have fertilized it as well. The plants are growing well and since putting the fertilizer down, I think the plants look like they are a deeper green. Though, it could just be my eyes or something. See images and video of it below:
We were also able to get some pics of deer in the plot in the last few days. I couldn?t believe this one doe was so close to the camera at 5:00 in the afternoon in 100 degree heat! Then another snuck through at night and you can barely see her because the food plot is growing so high!
As we?ve traveled the ?Food Plot Journey? I?ve learned a lot about what to do and, as you can see with this journal entry, I?ve learned some of what not to do as well! Our inability to come through with the no-till-drill did not benefit us at location 1 because of the resident weed seeds in that location. By plowing and discing the field, we only covered the seeds of weeds (and other unwanted plants) with dirt allowing them to germinate. This happened because some seeds of weeds remained from previous years. Consequently, along with planting our food plot seeds and them germinating and growing, so did the seeds of the weeds. Since we?ve currently got a less-than-desirable food plot going on at location 1, we?re going to spray it with 24-d & round-up to try to start getting ready for the fall plots in that area.
So, we are not batting 1000, but we haven?t got benched by the coach just yet. I?m glad that the majority of the plots are going well, but I?m bummed that the main plot that I was documenting very thoroughly did not turn out. I?ll keep on reporting back with the others though to see what happens and we are planning to have fall plots in these locations as well. There?s a song by Meatloaf titled ?2 out of 3 ain?t bad? so that?s going to have to be the theme at this point.
We?ve got game cameras out in some of these plots and we?ll be moving them around in hopes of getting some good pics. There is a lot out there for deer to eat at this point, but sooner or later they?re going to come through these plots and pose for us. If we can get some good footage, I?ll post it here. Looks like I?m going to have to move the camera higher up the tree since the food plot product is now growing higher than the camera!
Remember when I said that I was taking some new batteries back out to the game-cam on the GroundHog MAX, remote food plot? Well, turns out that if you actually have working batteries in the game camera that it does take pics! Also, lithium batteries work better than the regular. Looks like I?m learning about all kind of stuff this summer.
Since putting new batteries in the game camera, I?ve been able to get some decent pics of does in the plot munching on some Tecomate Seed Lab Lab Plus! Still have not gotten any bucks to walk past the camera yet though. I?m thinking about putting a camera on the other end of the plot as well since it is very long and narrow and I can tell that the deer are browsing the plot and crossing through it at various locations.
Another thing I?ll note is that at the remote food plot, the Lab Lab Plus is growing so much that it?s starting to grow to the edges of the food plot and up the sides of other trees and branches of nearby plants. It?s pretty neat to see it doing that.
Here is a pic of the remote food plot as of August 20th. This food plot made possible by GroundHog_MAX & Tecomate Seed
Below are some of the pics that I pulled from the camera of does browsing the remote food plot. I think it has taken them a little time to get use to this new food plot being in their area and again, it looks like they?re being selective of which plants they eat. Nothing amazing, but does show how high lab lab plus as well as some deer getting tangled up in some Tecomate!
Location 2 Update Pics
I also got some pics from one of the other food plots we?ve been working on. This location grew well and did not have a drastic weed problem like the other area I was documenting so thoroughly. As you can see from the pic to the right the milo is growing strong and is getting tall. I believe these plants are the ones that once they get hit with a frost that the starches in them turn to sugar and the deer will start eating them more. At this location, the deer are accustomed to having food plots in it year after year and are ready to eat as soon as the plants start growing. The deer have wiped out most of the broad-leaf plants already, but they?re still coming through to eat.
Below is one of the pics we got of some does in the plot at night. I could post several more, but it?s the same does in the plot over and over again.
It?s good to get some pics of deer in the plots and hopefully we?ll get some bucks in the pics before too long. Sure hope that I have working batteries in my camera should a monster buck come through?and if he does, I?ll post it here for you to see.
If you've been around long enough (or checked out the Food Plot Journey blog series) then you know that we've been busy for the last year installing, messing up, making, working on, and learning about food plots. I have been the quintessential guinea pig blogging about what we've been doing along the way and we are nearing the end of the journey for this year.
As you have seen, we've been highly documenting the power line food where we put Tecomate's Max Attract and Ultra Forage. We used the GroundHog MAX and a tractor to get the ground ready and the plot has done well. You may have also seen the epic "Hunt of 1,000 What-Ifs" that took place in the power line food plot. When we walk through the plot now the plants are over our ankles and are up to our calves in many locations. Needless to say, this plot has done well.
I will say that early in the season we didn't see a lot of action in the power line food plot. Though as it has gotten colder and the deer's food sources have been lessening, we've been seeing a lot more deer passing through and browsing as they walk. For this reason I think fall food plots can prove crucial to bring deer in front of you as deer hunting season nears its end.
Below are some updated pics from the power line plot to give you visuals for what it looks like at this point in the season.
You can see where we mixed the Max Attract & Ultra Forage in the power line plot
The Ultra Forage is the broad leaves and the Max Attract are the tall skinny blades
Which side of the power line would you go to if you were a deer?
Looks like a deer or two may have laid down in this one!
As you know, we have also been working on other food plots in various locations that we planted a little later on, but have not been reporting as much via the blog because we were just repeating the same processes at each location. The MAX Attract and Ultra Forage are both doing well at all of the different plots that we planted. From what I can tell, the MAX Attract seems to grow a little faster and taller than the Ultra Forage, but the Ultra Forage, when it grows, has very nice, green, broad leaves. Below are some pics from other plots that we planted.
The green in the midst of the brown and grey looks really good!
From the deer we've been seeing in these plots I can tell you that we'll definitely be trying to plant fall food plots again next year! These fall plots give the deer something to eat (and a healthy product at that) when their food sources lessen in nature. Hopefully this will help hold deer in our area and give them the nutrients they need to stay healthy year round.
This week has been very busy with all that we?ve got going on, but that is fine by me. As we continue to monitor the food plots, we have to get ready to plant the fall plots as well. So, when we got back from the Pee Dee Deer Classic, we journeyed out to the woods to check up on the remote food plot. We also went and took a new soil sample at a location where we?re going to try to plant a different fall plot to get an idea of the composition of the soil. Since this will be the first time we?re planting a food plot in this location it will take us some time to get the soil in the best conditions possible, but you have to start somewhere.
Earlier in this series, I covered the reasons why one needs to take a soil sample. You can see that blog entry here: Collecting a Soil Sample in case you haven?t been following along. Even at the Pee Dee Deer Classic, the Tecomate Seed representatives and other food plot experts presented and spoke about the importance of the soil and how the composition of the soil directly affects your food plot?s success. They talked about the ?pieces of the puzzle? necessary for a successful food plot. I may be leaving some pieces out, but what stuck with me were three main pieces: the soil, the seed, and the knowledge. In order to have success with a food plot you?ve got to have soil that is ready and conditioned to foment the growth of plants, good quality seed, and most importantly?you?ve got to know what to do! (That last part is what I?ve been working on for some time now). So it?s the week of August 1st and we?re taking a soil sample and intend to plant a fall food plot in late September to early October.
If you?re in South Carolina and want to know where you can get a soil sample analyzed, just find your local Clemson Cooperative Extension by clicking here. For a small fee, you can send off your soil sample and they will return you a read out with detailed information about the makeup of your soil. If you have trouble understanding the pH and all that, then you can take it to a seed and feed store and they can assist you with interpreting the results. The staff at the local coop can also help you with that as well.
Remote Food Plot Update
The remote food plot continues to grow well. As I continue to be clueless about this all, I was wondering why all of this stuff wasn?t eaten already. I know there are deer out there, but yet some plants continue to grow untouched by the deer. I knew that the seed was a mixture of plants (milo, clover, peas, etc), but I didn?t know that the deer would be eating them at different times of the summer/fall. The deer are being selective about what they eat as they walk through the food plot. That is, they are eating some specific types of plants and not the others. You can plainly see where they are passing through the plot and also which plants they are eating. It appears that they are eating the peas and the lab lab and leaving a lot of milo untouched. I spoke with the Tecomate rep and he said that after the first frost comes the starches in some of the plants will turn to sugar. After that happens then the deer will really get in there and eat the remaining plants. I hope this is right! He also mentioned that the first time you plant a plot it kind of takes the deer a little while to figure out that they can get in there and eat the plants.
Another note to mention is that I have not been getting many game-camera pics. I thought something was wrong and it turns out that when you have dead batteries the camera won?t take pictures! So we have put new batteries in the camera and hope to have some good pictures in upcoming blog entries.
The below video is of us getting a new soil sample where we?re going to start the process of conditioning the soil and attempt a fall food plot install + a current view of the remote food plot. Sorry to spin so fast out there?it made the video a little blurry. Maybe one day I?ll upgrade cameras and get better footage.