How to Plant the Best Food Plots with Minimal Equipment

By Bob Humphrey

 For most folks, the term food plot conjures up images of an expansive sea of green filled with unlimited potential. As the sun slowly sinks in the western sky, you watch the first deer filter out; a couple of fawns followed soon by a watchful doe. Soon, more deer appear, at first peeking from safe cover, and then, seeing a few of their kind feeding in the open, venturing out. Next come the young bucks, alternately feeding and harassing nearby does that aren’t quite ready to receive their affections. In time, the herd grows, and, nestled comfortably inside your shooting house, you watch, patiently waiting and wondering if the painstaking effort, time and money you put into building the plot will pay off.

Building big plots is an effective way to coax whitetails into the open, but it’s not the only way. Very effective alternatives exist for folks who lack the ways or means to build big plots. You might not have the acreage, equipment or time, or conditions might make hot areas inaccessible with larger equipment. Whatever the case, you have several ways to create attractive plots with minimal equipment. One of the easiest and least expensive is to let someone else do most of the work for you. Chances are you have some timber on your property that you might occasionally have cut for lumber, pulpwood or firewood. It can be a great source of income for other management projects, but the process of cutting or thinning also creates more attractive deer habitat. Cut-over areas will soon grow back with stump sprouts and coarse, woody browse, which makes up much of a deer’s fall and winter diet — creating an instant food plot. Later, it becomes dense bedding cover. Skidding and hauling logs also creates linear stretches of bare ground that provide the ideal starting point for small food plots.

Again, the hard work is done for you with someone else’s equipment. You need only add a few of the right ingredients and let Mother Nature do the rest. Those ingredients include fertilizer, quality seed and maybe lime. Whether it’s 100 acres or 1/10 acre, you should first test the soil and get a prescription. After the fertilizer and lime, if necessary, are down, you need only add your seed mix, and Whitetail Institute has three products ideal for such situations. No-Plow, Secret Spot and Bow Stand can be planted with minimal ground preparation sufficient to expose the soil to establish good seed-to-soil contact. They can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and as little as three to four hours of sunlight per day. Further, they’re fast growing and will provide nutrition and outstanding attraction for up to nine months. Even if you aren’t logging, you can still create small deer-attracting plots with the aforementioned blends and minimal equipment. All you need is willingness to work hard, a few hand tools and an opening in the canopy large enough to let sufficient sunlight in for three to four hours. The equipment list consists of seed, fertilizer and a rake. I actually prefer the rake because I can scarify the soil a little when I’m clearing my plot, which helps enhance germination. For seed and fertilizer, an area of 4,500 square feet (22 yards multiplied by 23 yards) calls for about four pounds of seed and one 50-pound bag of Triple-19 (or equivalent) fertilizer. The total cost is less than $30. To build the plot, rake the leaves, sticks and any vegetation away enough to expose the soil, and then broadcast the fertilizer and seed by hand or with a hand-held spreader. Walk over the area a few times to tamp down the soil. This will provide better seed-to-soil contact and enhance germination. If you want bigger plots but don’t own heavy equipment, there’s another option. Most hunters own an ATV or know someone who does.

Add a few small implements, such as a disc harrow and a spreader, and you can build medium-sized plots without a tractor, often in places you couldn’t access with a tractor. An ATV of 400 ccs or more will work, but bigger is better, and fourwheel drive is highly recommended. Preparation will vary with conditions, but you want to start with loose, bare soil. Treat and plant it the same as you would a larger plot. If you don’t have a drag or cultipacker, ride over the plot a few times, flattening the soil before and after spreading the seeds to promote better seed-to-soil contact. In addition to being quick, cheap and easy to build, smaller plots can also be built at the last minute. You can locate a hotspot just before, or even during, hunting season, plant it and then hunt it, all in less than a month. Your biggest limiting factors are sufficient rain and growing season. Obviously, you have to plant the plot to be able to hunt it.