Haste Makes Waste Developing a deer property takes time and planning

By Charles J Alsheimer

I picked up the phone after the second ring. On the other end of the line, a voice said, “Charlie, I’m John Henry. Last spring I attended one of your seminars, and ever since, I’ve been thinking how I might improve my property for hunting.

Do you have time for me to ask you a few questions?” “Go ahead,” I said. “I have a few minutes.” “I own 125 acres of woods that my son and I hunt on. The property is totally wooded and consists of about 75 acres of hillside and 50 acres of bottom land, which has a small stream running through it. The primary tree species on our land is red oak, and when the mast is falling we have great hunting. But in years when there is no mast our hunting is poor. After reading various hunting magazines and hearing what you had to say about food plots, I thought I might try to create some food plots on the property.

“Next week, I have a dozer and operator contracted to make three 1- to 3-acre clearings on the property for food plots. I know it is August, but I’m hoping I can get them planted so that I can hunt over them this fall. Do you think I can pull it off in 60 days?” “What are you thinking of planting,” I asked. “Well, I’ve heard a lot about the various clovers and thought I might try a good clover blend, and possibly some kind of brassica. What do you think, can I do it in two months?”

I could tell by the tone in his voice that he was looking for a quick fix and was hoping I could give himthe answers he was looking for. It didn’t take long for me to realize he was in over his head. He was clearly in a hurry, and based on what he was sharing, I knew he was headed for failure. He was under the assumption that he could have a dozer sculpt out a few clearings, plant the seed and have it grow into the food plot of his dreams in 60 days. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Great food plots and great hunting take not only time but also a well-thought-out plan.

Through the years, I’ve encountered numerous people like this, and I’m convinced that if hunters were not in such a hurry to succeed, they’d fail far less often. Here are critical steps to keep you from failing when you think time is of the essence.


“Failure to plan is a plan to fail.” The first thing a land owner/hunter needs to do is come up with realistic goals for his property. It takes food and cover for whitetails to want to call a property home, and quality is the name of the game when it comes to both. If you have great food and great cover, the table is set to have great hunting. Few landowner/hunters are schooled in what it takes to have great habitat, cover, and hunting setups. For this reason, it might be well worth the money to hire a consultant who can flatten out the learning curve for your hunting property. The thought of doing so might seem expensive at first, but in the long run, it's money well spent when you consider that a good consultant can help you reach your goals faster. Time is money, and in many cases, a good consultant can help you reach your goals five years sooner than you can by learning as you go.


Do you know what kind of food potential your natural habitat has at the present time? Do you know how many deer your property currently has? The number of deer you have will determine the quality of your natural habitat. Every deer using your property needs approximately 1-1/2 tons of food per year to survive, and it’s not uncommon for half of a deer’s food to come from natural habitat.

Also, what kind of cover does your property have? The quality of the cover will play a huge role in determining whether deer use your property as a bedding area. The thicker the cover the more attractive it will be to deer.


Wind currents that blow across a property might be the most overlooked aspect of what it takes to truly know a property. In reality, understanding how air moves is essential when it comes to food-plot layout and planning hunting strategy. Unfortunately, wind patterns are not always taken into consideration when laying out a food plot location for hunting. In most cases, a site is selected based on appeal to the hunter rather than how the wind blows through the location.

The bottom line is that if you intend to hunt a food plot, the prevailing winds should be right.


Too often, landowners lay out their food plots too close to roads or property boundary lines. Think long and hard before you do the same. The last thing you want to do is grow ’em and have your neighbors or poachers kill the deer you’ve worked hard to feed and raise. Strive to make your food plots secure from road hunters and neighbors who might not think twice about shooting across boundary lines or harvest the deer you would pass up.


Always remember that plants are the delivery device for the nutrients in the soil. Before a food-plot location is selected,make sure that the soil has the potential of providing you the biggest bang for your dollar. The best way to determine this is by having a good soil analysis done by Whitetail Institute. For less than $15, you’ll be able to know what the liming and fertilizer requirements are. To grow great Imperial Clover, Fusion and Winter-Greens, the soil pH needs to be 6.0 to 6.5 or higher. By way of example, the fellow I described in the opening had pH levels of about 5.5 in the wooded areas where he wanted to create his food plots. For him, the three previously mentioned Whitetail Institute blends wouldn’t perform their best until he could increase his soil’s pH level through liming.

However, his soil could grow Imperial Extreme, Imperial No-Plow or Secret Spot, all of which can perform in soils with a pH less than 6.0.


For food plots to be productive, they need light and time to reach their potential. In most cases, it takes a minimum of four hours of sunlight a day for seed blends to produce. For optimum results, it is best that food plot sites not receive direct sunlight during mid-afternoon, when summer air temperatures are highest. Food plots that receive direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day do not grow as well because of very warm ground temperatures. In addition, elevated ground temperatures at such sites can suck the plant’s needed moisture from the soil. Therefore, it’s important to select food plot sites that are angled away from the sun in such a way that their soil can hold moisture while having temperatures cool enough so the seed blend can perform as designed.

Last, plants don’t grow as fast as most think. If adequate moisture is present it takes forages like clover, chicory and brassica about 45 days (in the North) to be big enough for deer to begin using them. In comparison, grain forages, such as wheat and oats, will generally begin to be used within 30 days of planting. So, when it comes to deer forage nothing is quick; it takes time.


It takes money and time to develop a successful hunting property. In most cases, however, it is not a lack of money that causes landowner/hunters to fail. The killer is time. Money may well be the fuel that fires the engine, but time gets you there. When developing a plan, make sure to calculate how much money and time will be required to accomplish your goals. If you don’t factor in both, you may be frustrated with your effort. For example, it takes approximately eight hours for a bulldozer to clear one acre of brush and timber for a food plot. After this is done, thought can go into planting the plot. If you hire someone to put your food plot in, it will take about four to six hours to plow, disk, lime (if needed), fertilize and seed the site. The costs of planting a food plot will vary by region and will largely depend on how much clearing is needed as well as how much lime and fertilizer will be required.

Of course, developing food plots is only part of the equation, because creating natural habitat is as important as creating food plots. In reality, creating natural habitat is a time-consuming process. I’ve found that the best way to get a handle on this is to hire a good forester who understands what you want to accomplish and knows how to develop a forest-management plan for your property. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can destroy thousands of dollars of valuable timber in a day, so leave this to the experts. It cost me $1,000 in 2000 to have a reputable forester develop a forestry plan for our 200-acre farm. It turned out to be one of the best thousand bucks I’ve ever spent in my quality-deer-management journey.


As you contemplate ways to make your hunting land better, look at the big picture to ensure haste doesn’t make waste. Getting from the starting line to the finish is a journey made up of many parts, and when done right, it can reap great rewards. So don’t be in a hurry to fail. Plan for success, because if you do, you’ll be in a position to win every time.