Breaking New Ground

By Joe Blake
New food plots are always a challenge for land managers, but the success of your plantings is directly proportionate to the initial effort you put forth while breaking new ground. My 10-year-old son Ryan’s breathing was labored and his knees were shaking noticeably, but the barrel of his .243 was steady as he focused all his attention on the group of does across the field of Tall Tine Tubers. This was Ryan’s first year of deer hunting here in Minnesota and I chose to set him up in a blind along the edge of this new field. I knew the field was full of deer every night and that there were a handful of dandy bucks feeding on the lush leaves while checking out the numerous does using the field.

This field, tucked away in the corner of a much larger, open valley with woods on two sides, was a sterile, short-grass stand with little appeal to area whitetails three months prior. Now, even though deer had been pounding the Tall Tine Tubers for over two months, there was still a lush stand of foot-tall leaves as well as the turnips poking through the dirt and just starting to attract the hungry deer’s attention. Ryan had already filled his doe tag, dropping a young doe with an 80-yard shot on opening day, and as the field filled with whitetails while the sun painted the western horizon with a kaleidoscope of color, he was hoping one of the big bucks would make an appearance.

Hunting over food plots has become a staple for deer hunters across the whitetail’s range and the reason is simple: deer are tied to their stomachs. A list of a deer’s preferred foods is a long one; however, avid whitetail hunters and managers have learned to provide preferred foods by planting food plots using Whitetail Institute products. Hunters can make sure that area deer and other wildlife are getting all the essentials they need to grow strong and healthy, while producing healthy young and maximizing antler growth. Volumes have been written about what to plant and where to plant it, but it seems that little time is spent discussing the actual breaking up of new ground and how to care for your initial plantings, so the focus of this article is getting your plots started on the right track.
The author's son Ryan is justifiably proud
of this huge doe, taken cleanly through
the heart from 100 yards as she fed hungrily
on a field of Tall Tine Tubers, only three
months after the field was planted.


 Spraying with Roundup or other weed killers has its place, and is a necessary evil under some circumstances, but if you have the time I believe that a better method of weed control for newly broken ground is to keep it black. In other words, work the ground repeatedly throughout the summer, thereby keeping the soil worked up and killing new growth of weeds and grasses before they get a chance to establish. A farmer friend of mine introduced me to this method when I first began managing my property for deer, and if you have the time and equipment, it works. Simply disk or till the soil as you would in preparation for planting, then let it stand until weeds and grasses start to make an appearance, then till or disk it again, repeating the process as necessary until you actually want to plant the plot. Obviously this works well for late summer plantings of annuals but I’ve had good success with it for spring planting as well. Simply follow the process right up until winter, leaving the ground black under the cold and snow, then till it once more as things start to green up in the spring and plant immediately. Each time you work the soil you will kill the weeds and grasses that are prevalent, and when it comes time to plant, you will have a cleaner seedbed with less competition for your desired plantings.
The author uses a broadcast spreader on the back of his
4-wheeler to seed new food plots: in this case with Tall Tine Tubers.


Almost without exception I plant annuals in a new food plot, and there are several reasons for this: annuals require less work and maintenance than perennials yet produce tons of forage for area whitetails. This is extremely important across a deer’s range but even more so in coldweather climates like here in Minnesota where winter can take a serious toll. Annuals are also the perfect complement for the ‘keeping it black’ plan, because the ground can be worked throughout the summer before planting such offerings as Pure Attraction, Winter-Greens, or Tall Tine Tubers in late summer or early fall. This past season I planted new fields with these three products and by the time deer season rolled around all of these fields were getting hammered daily by the local deer. The fields were lush and green and being used regularly, starting in early bow season; and trail cameras showed hundreds of pictures each week including several trophy-class bucks. By the time cold and snow enveloped the landscape, more than a dozen deer had been harvested in or around these food plots, including a pair of big 12- pointers. As I sit in my office and write this, below-zero temperatures and deep snow have settled across the land, but several of these fields are still getting hammered by the deer, most notably the brassicas. The leaves that haven’t been eaten down to dirt are still lush and green in an otherwise barren winter wonderland, and the field of Tall Tine Tubers looks like a minefield where the deer are digging up the turnips themselves, which brings us to a fourth recommendation when breaking new ground.


 Brassicas fit perfectly in a newly broken food plot for all the reasons mentioned previously, but brassicas outperform even other annuals for two reasons — they grow quickly and their huge leaves shade out the soil, limiting the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground and helping prevent germination of weed or grass seeds that may still exist. Two years ago was my first experience with brassicas, having planted a two-acre field of Winter-Greens in early August. By mid-September the stand was close to a foot-and-a-half tall and there were as many as two dozen deer feeding in the plot every evening. Eventually it was eaten right down to the dirt and the field looked like I had just tilled it, but there were literally no weeds or grasses there because the Winter-Greens grew fast and tall and prevented other plants from getting established. This spring the field required almost no work because it was already black, and my only regret was not planting more Winter-Greens…a regret I rectified this past year.

This year I planted five different fields totaling close to 10 acres in brassicas, and four of these fields were newly broken ground. I was extremely impressed with the Tall Tine Tubers, which attracted deer starting in September and is still being hit hard now as the New Year approaches. That’s why I set up the ground blind along the wooded edge of this field for my son’s first deer hunting efforts, and why he was able to have his pick of does to fill his first tag on opening day. Now, as daylight faded on the third day of rifle season, the turnip field once again began to fill up with hungry whitetails.
This monster whitetail was caught on trail cameras regularly in and adjacent to a field
of Winter-Greens in late summer and throughout the fall.

Although he was hoping to get a crack at one of the good bucks using the field, school would prevent Ryan from hunting until the following weekend. Moreover, by that time I would be down in Kansas chasing giant bucks with my longbow, so when a huge doe stepped out at last light he decided to fill his either-sex tag as well. Taking careful aim from 100 yards at the old matriarch as she greedily devoured the lush greenery in front of her, the report was still echoing off the surrounding hills when the big doe spun around twice and fell over dead where she stood, succumbing to a perfect heart shot.

Just a couple short months earlier that deer would have had no reason to be in this corner field, but by following a plan for breaking new ground this little piece of property became a deer hunter’s dream, a dream that you can realize as well wherever you pursue whitetail deer.