At the trade shows where Midwest Monster exhibits and at the seminars we do for hunting organizations, I'm often asked this question: "How do I get started with food plots?"
The other common question I'm often asked by those who have tried a few small plots and are now bitten by the Food Plot Bug is, "How do I expand?"
It's tempting to jump straight into the fun part--buying equipment, turning dirt, and putting seeds in the ground, but I always want to first talk about strategy. Every hunter and property manager is different and everyone has different goals. What, specifically, do you want to accomplish with your food plots?
What's your food plotting goal (or goals)?
Here's a really important question for every food plot grower to answer: What's your goal? This seems simple. To grow stuff for deer to eat, right? But if you think about it, there's more to it than that.
Every property manager has their own goals, but when I ask the question of the growers I talk to, here are the most common goals that eventually come out:
Attracting more deer to a property in an area with a low deer population density.
In areas with high hunting pressure, a common goal is growing better and more attractive plots because now all the neighbors have plots too.
Some hunters want to establish plots so young hunters can see more deer from the relative safety and comfort of a ground blind.
Some hunters want to attract more deer at a certain time of year.
In areas that have little agriculture, some property managers want to grow more crops to help the deer get through winter and to provide early-spring food for recovery.
Whatever your goal is, it's good just to have a clear goal (or goals) in mind, because it helps you focus on what you are really trying to accomplish and make decisions that will help you toward that goal.
Now for the food plot strategy...
Now that you have your goal(s) clearly in mind, it's time to take your goals and develop a food plot strategy.
Here are the key considerations:
How do you hunt and when do you hunt?
Many important decisions about your food plot goals should be driven by how you hunt and when.
A firearms hunter, in an area where the season starts in mid-November, is going to pursue a different food plot strategy than the bow-only hunter who starts hunting in early September, but then hunts to the frigid end of the late season in December.
Hunting method and when you intend to hunt drive critical plot strategy decisions:
What plot crops to plant.
How to plant each plot, including the size and shape of the plots.
How you should manage the plots that you plant. Mowing times, protecting the crop, etc.
How much time can you devote to food plots?
If we all had unlimited time, everything else would be a lot easier. But we don't, so you have to craft your food plot strategy around how much time you actually have available.
If you live on your property and can mosey on down and hop on the tractor for a little after-work food plot work any time you want, well, life is good and you have a lot more options available. But if you're traveling a considerable distance to your property and can only make a limited number of trips each year, you have to be careful that your strategy for plots keeps this constraint in mind.
Simply put, annual crops (crops that must be planted each year like corn, soybeans, brassicas, grains, etc) require more time over the long haul than do perennial crops (crops that come back for multiple growing seasons) like clover and alfalfa.
Much of the work in food plotting is in the soil prep and planting phase. So it stands to reason that if you have to do this prep and planting every year, it's going to require more time to plant, say, soybeans each year rather than plant a good clover plot and then simply maintain and enjoy it for 3-4 years.
The key is balance. Making sure you select the right crops to fit both your goals and your available time.
So now you have your food plotting goals and your strategy. In the next entry, we'll look at turning that into a food plot design.
Food plot strategy questions?
We want Midwest Monster customers to be successful. If you have any questions at all about food plot strategy, what to plant and when, or any other question, drop us an email or see our give us a call at 651-387-1233.