A Three Ring Binder Your Prime Tool for Better Food Plots

By Charles J. Alsheimer

Developing a great hunting property requires a lot of work. Unfortunately, most landowners struggle to fulfill their dreams because they underestimate the importance of building a solid data base for their property. Philosopher George Santayana said: “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which sums up why documenting every aspect of your land management practices is so important. If you can’t remember what you did in the past, it’s hard to track your property’s progress, because as the years pass, memories fade. After all, Babe Ruth’s 60-home-run season in 1927 wouldn’t have meant much if someone hadn’t kept track of Major League home run totals through the years.

The bottom line is that acquiring historical information as it pertains to environmental issues, soil types, which seed blends work best for different parts of the property, and how deer navigate the land are keys to building a first-class hunting paradise. So, as with athletics, documenting the past is the key to both current and future success.


 Getting a handle on documenting the past is daunting for many hunters and land managers. In too many cases one’s failure to write down and organize what takes place on a property makes it difficult to make a property better. When you consider what it costs to develop a great hunting property the least expensive thing that can be done is recording what went into making everything happen. And the easiest way I know to accomplish this is by having everything about the property organized in a three-ring binder. Neil Dougherty of North Country Whitetails makes his living consulting and building great hunting properties. One of the first things he does is build a reference document for the landowner to use. Regarding this he told me, “It’s important to have a quick, easy-to-use reference guide for use in the field. What I find that works well is an expandable three-ring binder that is set up to hold different pieces of information about the property; everything from soil type, its topography, to food plot locations, to the forages that have been planted in the past. This information allows me to know what has taken place and gives me a better handle on what to recommend in the future. Basically, this type of filing system tells me nearly everything I need to know about the property, and it’s simple to use.” Over the years I’ve used this system as a tool to help me manage all aspects of our farm, from food plots to forest management. Here is how it works.


 To get started I recommend obtaining a quality aerial photo of the entire property in question and insert it in the front of the binder. Next, note the prevailing wind direction as well as north, south, east and west coordinates on the photo. This will help you identify where feeding and hunting food plots might work best.
As you look at the photo understand that all prospective food plot locations will probably not have the same growing potential because of their orientation to the sun. According to Dougherty, “Here in the North, all things being equal, east/southeast-facing food plots have the potential of being great set-ups because they get early morning light, when the day is still cool. As a result their soils tend to stay moist, and warm afternoon temperatures don’t bake and dry out their soil. Such locations are great for seed blends like Imperial Clover, Alfa-Rack and Chicory Plus.

“North-sloping sites generally have cooler, heavier soils that stay moist, making them great locations for a blend like Imperial Clover. However, because of their angle to the sun they tend to begin growing later in the spring and stop growing sooner in the fall than plots with a more direct orientation to the sun. “Though great in spring and fall, straight south or southwestern facing openings are the least favorable food plot locations during warm months because they receive a lot of direct sunlight. Because Chicory Plus, Alfa-Rack and Extreme have the ability to grow well in drought conditions they are great choices for these locations. However, when it comes hunting season a food plot with this orientation to the sun is the best because the ground stays warm enough to allow the plant to continue to grow.”


 With potential food plot locations identified, it is important to name each food plot in such a way that everyone using the property knows the location. Once done, keep detailed soil information on the plot, beginning before the first sod is turned. Doing so starts the data base and makes it easier to see what’s needed for the plot to reach its potential.

Prior to working with Dougherty I tested our food plot’s soil pH before tilling the location, and applied lime as recommended. Thinking I had covered my liming bases I seldom retested the plot’s pH until it was three years old. It wasn’t until I heeded Dougherty’s suggestion and began testing each new plot’s pH every year (for at least the first three years) that I saw the error of my ways. The data base I was building with each year’s testing showed that some plots needed more attention than I was giving them. Had I not kept records I never would have known.

Along with knowing the food plot’s pH, attempt to determine if its soil is loamy, sandy or clay. This will aid you in deciding what seed blend to plant, as well as when to plant. By way of example, sandy soils do not hold moisture well and tend to dry out quickly, making it difficult for plants to grow in the summer months. So, in sandy soil it is best to plant a drought resistant seed blend, like Extreme, Chicory Plus or Alfa-Rack. Blends like Tall Tine Turnips, Chicory Plus and Alfa-Rack do particularly well in well drained loamy soil. Shale and rocky soils have a tendency to dry quickly, especially if they receive direct sunlight, so a forage like Extreme, which has seeds with a very deep root system, does well in this type soil.

The United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service has documented the soil types of all the land in the United States. You can obtain a photo copy of your property and its soil types by contacting the Soil Conservation Service office in the county where your property is located. This is a vital piece of information that should become a part of your property’s data base.


 As time passes, strive to keep detailed notes in your file on each food plot—everything from when it was prepped and tilled to what was planted. By documenting the history of each plot you’ll be able to determine which seed blend works best for the location. The plot’s historical record will also make you aware of when the plot needs to be rotated to a different blend. As an example, my farm’s records indicate that with proper maintenance I can get four to five years out of an Imperial Clover plot. Though possible, my data base also reveals that year four and five do not provide the tonnage per acre that year one to three does. So, instead of trying to milk five years out of my clover plots I now replant after the third year. Record-keeping has also aided me in my approach to planting annuals. I’m a huge fan of planting Tall Tine Turnips for late season utilization by the deer. Though I’m able to obtain good results planting turnips two years in a row in the same plot, the second year’s production is not as good as the first. Recording this kind of information allows me to see when I should consider crop rotation. It’s important to note that some herbicides have residual effects on the soil to the point that they may affect future plantings in a particular food plot site, so record-keeping is a must when it comes to herbicide application. Arrest (spray for grasses) has no residual effects on the soil so there are no lasting traces of the herbicide, regardless of how many times it is sprayed. Slay (spray for broadleaf weeds), on the other hand, does have a residual effect. The benefit of the residual effect of Slay is that after one or two spray applications you may not have to do a spring spraying the following year because the chemical is still in the ground. The down side of Slay and other residual herbicides is that if you decide to till and replant the site in something other than legumes (i.e., corn) the crop may not grow. There is no end to the benefits of accurate record-keeping because of what you can learn. Information is power and when you have the proper data at your fingertips it will be much easier to develop a hunting paradise. The bottom line is that if you know where you’ve been, you will be able to better chart your future.