CREATING AWESOME FOOD PLOTS ON MARGINAL SITES Tough Conditions Challenge Savvy Food Plotters

By Michael Veine

Imagine this: food plot locations with well drained, loam soils that are well-nitrified with neutral pH. Let’s make these locations flat and rock free, too and as long as we’re cruising down Fantasy Lane, it sure would be nice if all food plots received just the right amount of rain as well. Reality though is a far cry from idyllic. Most food plot conditions are less than perfect, yet savvy food plotters can still create deer magnets even in tough locations. It’s just a matter of preparation, execution and good plot maintenance.

Even though I’ve been dabbling with food plots for nearly 20 years, all of the plots I’ve created have been on marginal sites. I’ve just never been lucky enough to own land where food plots would be a cinch. Instead, I’ve had to deal with challenges on all of them. Nonetheless, my food plots have been very successful endeavors that have improved my property and attracted the attention of deer big time.


Some sites are just going to be parched, especially during the summer months. The first food plot I ever created was in southern Michigan in the 1990s and it’s still one of my best hunting spots on my property to this day. Parts of that plot though look like the Sahara Desert from July through early August. It wasn’t always like that though: When I first installed the plot the location was a relatively open area with no big trees nearby at all. The soil is pretty good too, consisting of a loamy dirt. Establish a thriving stand of Imperial Whitetail Clover and hunted from a ground blind there because there were no good trees nearby. Over the years, though, things gradually changed. When I first created the plot, there were only a handful of wild cherry and maple saplings nearby. I planted a bunch of pine and spruce trees in the area to provide much-needed cover. Twenty years later those little seedlings and saplings are a bunch of towering trees. The cover the trees provide have certainly improved the deer-attracting powers of the site, but even though I’ve kept them away from the edges of the plot, their roots have still invaded under the food plot and literally suck some of the plot dry during the hot summer period. To make matters worse, turkeys dig up one end of the plot with a vengeance. Fifteen years ago when I created the plot, turkey sightings in the area were a rarity. Now I probably have more than 100 turkeys that frequent my 39-acre parcel at certain times of the year, and it seems like many of them like to dig up the north end of the small plot. By the end of summer, that part of the plot is nearly void of plant life. Things drastically improve by late summer as the cooler temperatures and more frequent precipitation dramatically bring up the soil moisture. Now I maintain a stand of Imperial Whitetail Clover on the south end of the plot and plant annuals like No-Plow or Secret Spot on the north half, which works great. The end result is a food plot that no deer in the area can seem to resist. The deer trails leading into the plot look like cow paths during the fall and the area is ringed with rubs and scraps like never before. Another option for dry plot sites is to choose a perennial seed blend that is designed for arid conditions. Imperial Whitetail Extreme is an excellent choice for dry sites. This forage blend can grow with as little as 15 inches of rain per year. It’s also remarkably heat resistant, drought tolerant and it stays green in tough conditions.


Deer just seem to love wetlands. My properties contain lots of low lands and it’s no coincidence that they also have an abundance of deer. The wetlands on my properties usually flood during the spring and then dry up during the summer. I have a bunch of food plots along the edges of those swampy areas where the plots typically end up partially under water. I’ve remedied that problem two different ways: I like to dig water holes in or near my low land food plots and dig holes in a spot that is prone to flooding. I’ve also channeled the water into the water holes, which moves standing water and prevents flood damage to the forage. Another remedy for plots that flood out is to just plant annuals on the wet spots during the dry period. Depending on the site, some of the plots have perennials on the high spots mixed in with annuals on the low ground. One of my best hunting spots is on a food plot located in the middle of a marsh that floods entirely every spring. I created the plot by spraying the site with Roundup repeatedly to create an opening and then removed the dead debris using hand tools. If the summer weather dries up the marsh, as it normally does, then I seed and fertilize the plot during late summer. Secret Spot pulls in so many deer to that plot that the trails leading there also look like cow paths. If it’s a rare wet summer, like the one we had this past year, then I just don’t plant it. Even so, ducks and geese will be drawn to the watery opening in the cattails like crazy, so it’s a win-win situation regardless.


My Upper Peninsula hunting property consists entirely of highly acidic soils with pH levels running in the 5.0 range. Correcting low pH is quite simple, but certainly not easy. It just takes the application of lime and in my case, lots of the white powdery stuff. Buying bagged lime works OK for small food plots, but it’s just not practical on larger fields. On big plots, bulk lime is by far the best way to go. It really pays to shop around when buying lime. In my area, I’ve seen 50-pound bags of powdered lime range in price from $2 to $10 per bag. The same is true for bulk lime deliveries. Calling around to several co-ops that sell lime can save you a lot of cash. I have one plot that encompasses about four acres and two other plots that are about one acre in size. Those larger plots require a bulk lime delivery to get the job done. I typically lime those plots every four to five years and spread it on heavy using a pull-behind ATV, drop-style spreader. Most of my U.P. food plots though are small in size and of the no-till type. Small plots are limed lightly every year by just buying bagged, powdered lime, and spreading it by shaking the lime out onto the ground. I lime those small plots at the same time that I fertilize each spring. Imperial Whitetail Extreme is also specially designed to thrive in soils that are somewhat acidic. In fact, with a pH tolerance range of 5.4 to 7.5, Extreme can grow on just about any soils found in North America. This product provides a high-protein, nutritious food source for deer and other wildlife year round. With proper maintenance, Extreme plantings can last five years.


Some of the most impressive food plots I’ve ever seen (judging by the lushness of the forage and the sheer number of deer using them) have been located on sites with soil best described as gravel. Rocky sites can produce awesome food plots, but they will require some hard work to get them in shape for planting and plot maintenance. If you plan on using no till practices on your plot and won’t be using a mower, then you really don’t have to remove any rocks at all. If you plan on tilling or mowing though, then all the big boulders and rocks that are in the way need to be removed from the site. This is best done with heavy equipment. I’ve rented mini excavators to clear food plots and those machines are really nice for removing big rocks. A tractor with a rake attachment and a bucket also works great too. I’ve also removed rocks by hand plenty of times. I just dug them out with a shovel and put them into a dump trailer pulled behind my AVT. The real big ones (several hundred pounds) I had to dig out, attach to my ATV and then drag them off the plot. My U.P. land is very rocky, yet that property grows some excellent food plots nevertheless.


I have some extremely good food plots growing among stumps. In fact, two of my most productive deer stands are located over plots littered with old, dead stumps. These are no-till plots that I created with just hand tools and while they may not look very pretty, they do in fact pull in lots of deer. What I don’t like in plots however are live trees. They tend to suck the moisture out of the soil and cast shade on the forage, so in my opinion all trees should be removed from within food plots. I also like to keep big trees away from the edges of my plots too, except for those trees that offer excellent stand locations.