Food Plots for Very Busy People

By Capt. Michael Veine

 Read on for some awesome food plot strategies that require a minimal investment of your precious time.

In today’s modern world, people are busier than ever. The demands of work, family and other important functions make finding enough time for hunting activities difficult to say the least. Unfortunately, many people are turned off from food plotting because they mistakenly believe that they just don’t have enough time in their busy lives to take on food plot projects.

I can certainly relate as my busy spring and summer work schedule as a Great Lakes charter captain makes finding time for food plots very challenging at times. My main hunting property is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and is approximately seven hours of driving time away from my home in southern Michigan. My fishing charter business keeps me extremely busy from ice out (March) though mid-September. I typically fish seven days a week throughout the spring and summer. During my charter season, I’m busier than a rutting buck in a deer herd with a 1-to-20 buck-to-doe ratio. Fortunately, I have lots of time to hunt after my fishing season is over, but finding time for food plots is always tough. I steal away a day or two during the late spring and head to the U.P. and steal another day or two for a second brief effort later during the summer, but that is about all the time I can spare during my fishing season. Even with that meager effort, I still maintain nine food plots that encompass about eight total acres. Those food plots have really helped me to achieve a high level of consistent success on adult bucks for over a decade. If I can do it, you can too.


The key to having great food plots on minimal time is planning and timing your efforts to maximize your efficiency. It also helps to have a food plot strategy tailored for minimal upkeep in the first place. You’ll also need the right equipment, which doesn’t necessarily mean expensive stuff. An ATV with food plot implements can be great for small to medium-sized food plots. I have been using such equipment for many years with great results. I use an older 4x4 with an ATV disc, drag, boom sprayer, broadcast spreader and a drop-style lime spreader. I mow with an old lawn tractor with the deck modified to rise up to a height of about seven inches. Sure, it would be great to have a tractor and all the accessories, and someday I will invest in those niceties, but it’s just not in the cards for my immediate future. Besides, most of my food plots are small little rascals that I created and maintain with just hand tools. I can’t even access them with an ATV. It’s those little micro plots that really put the deer in my sights during hunting season so they are priority-one. The basic hand tools that I would consider essential are a backpack sprayer, leaf rake, shovel, chain saw, string trimmer and a crank-style seed spreader.


 In a past life, I used to be a project leader where I managed huge computer upgrades that would sometime involve more than 100 people and years of work. That job taught me the huge value of time management and task lists. I’m still a big-time task list guy. You can use a simple word processor to maintain task lists of all the projects, big and small, that need to be done on your land. When I head up to my hunting property for a work stint, I always have a prioritized, coordinated task list showing what I want to accomplish. I try to estimate the time each task will take and will hit the highest priority jobs first and then I’ll knock off the lower priority tasks as time permits. As I accomplish tasks, I cross them off the list and update my main task list when I get back to my computer. That way I can start planning my next work trip to my property. My hunting property task list is a living document. Before a work trip, I like to shop ahead to make sure that area suppliers will have any needed bulk materials such as fertilizer and lime. By shopping ahead, I can oftentimes negotiate favorable pricing on bulk purchases, and they will usually have my order ready for me to load up when I arrive, which saves time too. I always pre-buy all the hard-to-find items though, like seeds and herbicides. That way I know I’ll have the right critical ingredients for my food plots and won’t waste time searching for supplies.


When available food plotting time is very limited, perennials give the most bang for the buck. I rely very heavily on Imperial Whitetail Clover for the bulk of my food plot acreage because it is easy to establish, hardy, takes minimal time to maintain and the deer love it. Imperial Whitetail Clover is hard to beat when it comes to a spring-through-fall food plot. I feel that it gives me the best overall performance of any product given my time constraints during the growing season. One of my Imperial Whitetail Clover plots was planted 10 years ago. Every year the deer graze it down to the dirt by season’s end, yet it still keeps coming back strong; now that’s the kind of hardiness and performance anyone will appreciate. I plant Imperial Whitetail Clover everywhere possible on my U.P. food plots. My main food plot is several acres and it is seeded entirely with Imperial Clover. I also have two medium-sized plots and they too are 100 percent Imperial Clover. Those three larger plots were bulldozed out of the forest and the seedbed was prepared using an ATV with implements. I also have a bunch of small micro plots that are of the no-till variety. All those micro plots were prepared the same way, using nothing but hand tools. I first cleared the site with a chain saw and removed all the debris from the ground by hand. A soil test was taken at each site and lime was applied as prescribed. I sprayed with Roundup throughout the growing season until everything was brown and dead. After that, using a large, handheld leaf rake, the sites were thoroughly cleaned up, exposing and loosening the bare dirt. Then, either during late summer or the following spring, I seeded the plots with Imperial Whitetail Clover and fertilized liberally. It is amazing how well Imperial Clover will thrive on a properly prepared, no-till seedbed. I have a few locations where seasonal flooding, tough soil types or heavy trampling by deer or turkeys is not conducive to perennials of any kind. On a new food plot, I typically seed the whole thing with Imperial Whitetail Clover because it requires minimum annual maintenance. If any zones of the plot fail, like areas that flooded, I’ll then plant annuals on those failed zones from then on. That way I’m maximizing forage production while keeping things as simple as possible for minimal maintenance. I’ve had exceptional success using annuals like Imperial No-Plow and Secret Spot. These products are extremely easy to use and super attractive to deer. Site prep is simple: Proper pH is achieved by adding lime. Spraying with Roundup using a backpack sprayer will kill all the plants off. After everything is dead and brown, rake the site down to the dirt, spread the seeds and fertilize liberally. I have a bunch of plots that are a patchwork of Imperial Whitetail Clover and select annuals. Those plots have proven to be deer magnets.


 Because my time is often very short for food plot work, I’ve learned to compromise by cutting as many corners as possible on my plots, but there are some tasks that are critical for optimal food plot forage production. Using herbicides on a smart, regular maintenance schedule has been a huge time and money-saver for me. Weeds, grasses and other nuisance plants can out-compete your desired forages. As I mentioned earlier, I free up a couple days during the spring and this is a perfect time to spray herbicides and kill unwanted grasses in my perennial stands. The Whitetail Institute’s Arrest grass herbicide is perfect for this application. Mixed with Surefire Seed Oil, Arrest typically clobbers 99 percent of the grasses with one application and it does not harm clover or alfalfa. During my spring trip, I also spray Roundup on all my annual seeding locations to kill anything taking root there. The Whitetail Institute’s Slay broadleaf herbicide mixed with Surefire Seed Oil is perfect for knocking out those tough weeds that can take over a food plot. It is also a selective herbicide that will not harm clover or alfalfa. I have found that it’s best to vary the application date of Slay from one year to the next. For instance, one year I will apply the herbicide during spring and the next year I will spray it a little later. This way you’ll key in on different types of weeds as they emerge and ultimately keep the whole plot more weed free. During my spring work trip, I also fertilize my perennial stands. I fertilize my food plots using three methods. On my larger plots, I use a broadcast spreader that I pull behind my ATV. On my smaller plots, I use a hand-crank spreader or on the real small areas, I just toss the fertilizer out by hand from a bucket. I’m looking for speed and efficiency. Lately, due to financial reasons and time constraints, I only fertilize my large plots once a year. However, my small plots get two fertilizer applications annually—one in the spring and the other during the late summer. My soils are very acidic on my U.P. property, so I’m constantly soil testing and applying lime to keep the pH up. I typically do the soil tests during the late summer or fall every year and spread lime whenever I get the chance. On my small plots, I typically apply a little lime every spring. On my larger plots though, liming is a major project that requires a bulk lime delivery and a couple days of labor. I shovel it from a pile into my drop-style lime spreader and then deposit the lime onto the fields using my ATV. To be honest, I hate liming those big food plots, but it is a necessary evil. Because I just don’t have time for a regular liming routine on my big plots, I lime very heavy when I do get the chance. Oddly enough, I typically find time for big liming jobs right during the fall deer hunting seasons after all my deer tags are filled. It’s a symbiotic relationship: Imperial Whitetail Clover feeds and draws deer so I can fill my tags early. Then in turn, I have more time to feed and care for the Imperial Clover. I did some testing where only portions of some food plots were mowed. I found that the unmowed areas actually grew better. Based on that, I’ve stopped mowing my food plots on my U.P. property over the last couple years. It’s true that mowing helps to stimulate growth and that new growth is highly preferred by deer. However, on my plots, the deer are doing the mowing for me. I have put up small fencing enclosures in my plots and was shocked to see how much grazing the deer really did all through the growing season. I still mow my roads and trails and if needed I can mow problem areas in my food plots at that time. Mowing also helps control weeds, but the only way mowing can be skipped or reduced is if you maintain a rigorous herbicide spraying regiment. I suggest doing your own testing with herbicide applications and mowing strategies. You’ll be able to see what works best and may be able to save some time and money.