Ten Food Plot Temptations To Avoid

By Brad Herndon
I can recall many times when I’ve sat down in a restaurant at breakfast time with the full intent of ordering oats, toast and coffee for my meal. I have a weakness, though. It’s called biscuits and gravy. In fact, Steve Scott of the Whitetail Institute and many other people call me Biscuit Brad. So, even though I have the best intentions of eating a healthy breakfast, when I scan down the menu and my eyes come to the words biscuit and gravy, the temptation becomes too great and I once again succumb to my tasty weakness.

While tremendously enjoyable, my devouring one more order of biscuits and gravy is not without a cost. It takes me several miles of walking and running on the roads to try and get rid of the huge number of calories I’ve consumed, and even then my waistline doesn’t resemble the youthful figure it used to just a few short years back.

Without doubt, each of us have temptations we must constantly battle with. Some are fairly easy to avoid, while others are tremendously difficult to turn down. Regardless of the temptation, however, yielding to any one of them results in a negative aspect in our life, some of which are minor, while others carry great consequences. The life’s lesson to be learned here is to avoid all of the negative temptations you can. Ironically, the same goes for managing hunting property.

Largely unknown to the hunter who is new to quality deer management, there are numerous temptations he will encounter as he attempts to grow quality deer. Many of these temptations will involve food plots. Others, meanwhile, will not seemingly be directly related to the food plot, yet they will influence whether food plots will be successful or not.

Below is my list of the top 10 temptations to avoid, all of which I can speak authoritatively about because I’ve either made the mistake myself, or have friends who have caved in to the temptation.

Temptation No. 1: I want to see lots of deer

Hunters love to watch deer, the more the merrier. They also want top-notch bucks on their property as well. When starting on a new hunting lease, if the land isn’t overrun with whitetails, hunters will typically shoot only a few doe, or none at all. The reasoning behind this is they want the herd “to build up.”

Almost always in this scenario the deer population absolutely explodes. Thinking they can simply plant their food plots a little bit bigger to feed the enlarging whitetail numbers, the property managers are shocked to see these larger plots grazed down to a nub. Then, even worse, within a few years the native vegetation that deer favor is eaten to the point where a browse line can be seen in the surrounding woods.

At this point a natural disaster has occurred that would take the forest 15 or 20 years to recover from--even if all the deer were removed from the property!

We actually had this happen to us. Eleven years ago we leased land in an adjoining county. The deer numbers were good, but not too high. It was fun hunting and we were able to kill several nice bucks. We shot some doe then, but within two years a tremendous amount of the land in this region was leased, and virtually none of the hunters leasing these properties were interested in harvesting more than a doe or two.

Now, 11 years later, the field-dressed weight of the mature bucks has dropped from an average of 175-180 pounds, to an average of 140-145 pounds. The average gross score has dropped roughly 15-25 inches.

Finally the hunters in this region are starting to shoot a decent quantity of does. This will help, but the recovery process is long and depressing. By all means avoid the temptation to let your deer herd increase too much, for it will create the most disastrous results of any temptation you will encounter in quality deer management.

Temptation No. 2: I shouldn’t be too worried about food plot location

The thinking here is that regardless of where the food plot is located, within reason, whitetails will pour into this nutritious food source. However, much more is involved in food plot location than this. For example, if your land is in a hilly region, you should place your plots on high areas if possible. In valleys or hollows in hilly regions the wind swirls and changes directions may times per day. This makes it very difficult to hunt a food plot without getting busted. As we all know, in this situation deer will wise up quickly to our presence and avoid the food plot during daylight hours.

Our food plots are located on high ground where the wind is consistently predictable and where we can take advantage of the prevailing wind directions. Our locations also have great entry and exit locations and deer rarely know we have even hunted the plot.

Food plot location is critically important to your deer hunting success rate and you should give this much thought before determining plot placements. Be sure each plot gets enough sunlight to grow the crop you’ve planted. And also give consideration to the soil types on your property because this may influence your decision of where to place plots. This brings me to temptation No. 3.

Temptation No. 3: There is no need for a soil test

Many people think dirt is dirt. Well, it is, but it isn’t. In each state there are hundreds of different types of soils. There are 75 different types in my county alone. Each type of soil will grow certain crops better than others. A soil test will reveal the nutrient content of your soil, and this will enable you to apply the properly recommended fertilizer for the seed you are planting.

This soil test will also give you a pH number (potential of hydrogen). The pH number will reveal the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Seven is neutral. Anything below 7 is on the acidic side, while anything above 7 is alkaline. We’re shooting for the number 7 for an ideal food plot, but the majority of soils will fall well below that in most areas of our nation, meaning they will need lime to sweeten the soil.

Knowing what your soil needs, and applying what the soil test recommends is critically important to the success of any food plot. But as we all know, following instructions isn’t one of a man’s greatest strengths. By-passing the soil test could be the most important temptation to avoid when planting food plots.

Temptation No. 4: I don’t really need to apply lime

Few of us are farmers. Oh, most of us know someone who gardens, or we may even garden ourselves, and we may know it’s important to put fertilizer on a garden. But applying lime is not something we’re familiar with. Liming, though, is critically important when it’s needed in order to get close to recommended pH levels.

As an example, if you apply a proper amount of fertilizer to an acidic soil (low pH number), some of the fertilizer is not able to be released by the soil for plant growth because it is bound by the soil. In other words, the plants in the plot won’t experience the proper growth rate because the fertilizer you have applied cannot be utilized by the plants. Spread the proper amount of lime and bring the pH up to recommended levels and your food plot plants will grow tall and nutritious because the soil can release the fertilizer you have applied. In short, don’t fall to the temptation to disregard liming recommendations.
Temptation No. 5: I can skimp on recommended amounts of fertilizer

Oh, this one is a big temptation in this day and age since we are officially in a recession. Last spring a friend of mine went to buy the fertilizer for his food plots. When he heard the price, he couldn’t believe what his ears had heard. He purchased one half the number of bags he originally intended to.

Likewise, lime is expensive in some parts of our nation and hunters may either disregard liming, or skip on the amounts they should apply, especially if it is the more expensive pelletized lime.

Falling into the temptation of shorting the soil of what it needs is kind of like us reducing the food we eat by 50 percent each day. I don’t think we would die in this case, but we would be thinner and weaker than normal. The same goes for the plants in a food plot. Short them on lime and fertilizer and the crop will still grow, but plant size and production will be minimal.

Skimping on the quality of seeds also falls into this category. Imperial Whitetail Clover is unsurpassed for feeding whitetails, both in taste and productivity. Don’t buy cheap-priced, inferior clover seed and expect to have a bumper crop.

Fortunately, fertilizer and lime prices are coming back down.

Temptation No. 6: I’ll apply more seed to be assured of a bumper crop

Applying more seed than is recommended does not help your crop; as a matter of fact, it can hurt it. When more than the recommended amount of seed is applied, you have too many plants bunched closely together throughout the plot. While the plants will grow, they can’t get proper nutrition to grow to their full nutritional value. It’s kind of like adding five people to your household but buying the same amount of groceries each week.

Avoid the temptation to over-seed and you will save yourself a bunch of money, while at the same time you will have a better food plot.

Temptation No. 7:I’ll plant the seeds deep to make sure they have a good root system

This one is the devil of temptations. Do you really believe, as the outdoor writers say, that you can broadcast Imperial Whitetail Clover and Alfa-Rack Plus seeds on top of the ground before a good rain and they will come up? “No way,” you may say. “They’ll simply be washed downstream into the next county.”

Or do you believe if you plant these seeds only ¼ inch deep as is recommended that all the seeds will germinate and grow profusely? Well, if past history is an accurate indicator—and it is—many hunters new to food plots will doubt this recommendation.
Because of these doubts, they will disc these small seeds into the ground to a greater depth. By doing this, they are making sure the seeds are established well, and in the process they are creating a final resting place for these seeds-- because they are too deep to germinate. Always follow planting-depth instructions, which, incidentally, varies from product to product. Oats, for example, need to be placed one to 1-½ inches deep to do well.

Temptation No. 8: My friend Billy Bob has great food plots and has killed some dandy deer. I’m going to plant what he plants

New food plot managers fall into this temptation quite often. This strategy can work, by the way, if both pieces of land are the same. However, in many cases the makeup of two properties may be entirely different. Billy Bob’s property may lie in a moist , low area that is perfect for the Imperial Whitetail Clover that he plants, while the novice’s property may be in a hilly, well-drained, rocky region that contains little moisture.

Clover is durable, but normally it doesn’t do well under these conditions. Instead, a product that withstands dry soil conditions should be planted in this area. Imperial Alfa-Rack Plus would be perfect in this case. Do your research and plant the Whitetail Institute product that is perfect for your soil and location.

Temptation No. 9: I can’t believe how good my plots look here in July. As big and tall as the plants are, I’ll bet the whitetails eat them all the way into the fall.

Have you ever eaten a large piece of celery and when you took a bite it was a little tough and stringy? I have and you probably have too. This piece of celery would be called tough and fibrous. Alongside this fibrous piece of celery on the plate may be a short, small-diameter piece of celery. Bite into this piece of celery and you will find it to be tender, easier to chew, and with a better taste.

Food plots act in the same way. When the plants have new growth, they are tender, tasty, and easy for a deer to chew. When the plants get large, however, they normally become tough and fibrous and not as palatable to whitetails. That is why it is important to mow your crops such as clover and alfalfa once or twice per summer in order to keep them tender and appealing to your deer. If you don’t mow and your neighbor who has food plots does, he will end up with your deer. Just don’t mow when the weather is hot and dry.

Temptation No. 10: This plot looks about an acre in size. It will only take me two, four-pound bags of Imperial Whitetail Clover to plant this plot.

From fertilizer, to lime, to seeds, everything revolves around how much you should apply per acre. This means you must determine as accurately as possible what your plot size is, not just take a wild guess as to what the plot size appears to be. Looks can be deceiving. Be sure of your plot size so you don’t apply too much, or too little, of lime, fertilizer or seed.

A square acre (roughly 209’ x 209’) contains 43,560 square feet. You can determine plot size in various ways. Some people take the time to measure plots with a tape measure; some are good enough to step it off accurately; and some are fortunate enough to have a measuring wheel. Most hunters have a range-finder today, and so do I. I simply use a range-finder to determine the dimensions of my food plot, then I multiply this out to get the total square footage in the plot. Simple division using the 43,560 figure then tells me the size of my plot.

So there you have my list of the Top Ten Food Plot Temptations to avoid. In addition, I have listed a few more things to watch for in the accompanying sidebar. Consider each of these temptations carefully and try the best you can to avoid them. It will save you work, money, time and much disappointment. I know, since I have made many of these mistakes in the past.

Fortunately, though, I have been able to overcome all of these temptations related to food plots. Now if I can just do something about those biscuits and gravy.

Many Options Needed for Whitetail's Nutrition

Imagine purchasing or leasing a 200-acre piece of property that had 11 deer living on it. We’ll say these 11 deer consist of two antlered bucks, two button bucks, two doe fawns and five adult does. If none of these deer were shot or died of natural causes, just four years later there would be 97 deer on this piece of land. And this doesn’t figure in doe fawns producing offspring. These numbers show how quickly a deer herd can explode out of control.

Don’t think just one product will serve the nutritional needs of your deer when it comes to quality deer management. Clover and alfalfa are great products but can peter out in the winter. Winter-Greens, a brassica product, provides deer nutritious food in late fall and winter when they need it most. Plant a variety of Whitetail Institute products that will provide your deer what they need throughout the year. Keep you native vegetation healthy too.

Be sure to take care of grass and broadleaf problems as well. Grass and broadleafs can choke out your plots if left untreated. The herbicide Arrest can control your grasses, while Slay can control broadleaf weeds. Always follow label instructions.

If grass and weeds are present, use a product such as Roundup to kill this vegetation down before working your food plot area. If you are capable of doing so, burning this dead material can kill seeds that could germinate and cause you trouble down the road.