By Cody Altizer
If you have followed my blog posts here on W2H the past year or so, you’re well aware of the passion I have for Quality Deer Management (QDM), food plots, habitat management, and whitetail biology and physiology. The knowledge learned from working with an entire ecosystem never ceases to amaze, and I truthfully learn something new each and every time I step in to the woods.
That being said, you can imagine my excitement this time of year when the world starts to wake up and the natural world seems to come alive before our very eyes. If you’re like me, this time of year, among other things, means food plots! Fortunately , all of my food plots were well established heading into this offseason, so a little frost seeding in late winter was all I had to do to give them an extra kick in the rear to get going this spring. However, there is another added dimension that I have added to my food plot arsenal that I want to share with you all today, food plot screens.
I first realized the impact food plots had on my family’s hunting property during the 2011 hunting season. It was during that year that we first planted food plots in significant enough sizes to attract and hold mature deer on our property. That fall we harvested 3 mature bucks. The correlation was easy to identify.
Unfortunately, though, we never spotted any of those bucks in our food plots during daytime hours. We knew they fed in them heavily, and dogged the does that hung tight to the plots, but they never felt safe and secure enough to expose themselves in the plots.
So, in an effort to improve our entire property and our hunting opportunities in and around the food plots, I decided a major change must be made to the layout of our primary food plots. Through a lot of research, and a little common sense, I decided that we should plan a screen around the food plots. A food plot screen is a planting of tall, thick vegetation that is placed around a food plot, just like a fence. This would seclude the food plot, make it appear much smaller in size than it really is, give mature deer confidence and security to feed in the plot during daytime hours, and also increase our hunting opportunities.
The results were phenomenal! I harvested a 10.5+ year old ghost of a doe my first sit of the year on one of our food plots, and the next weekend my brother harvested a 9.5 year old doe from the same tree stand. Unfortunately, the trail cameras we had monitoring those food plots malfunctioned on us early in the season, and since my brother and I both put some meat on the table early in the season, we left those food plots alone until the late season, so we weren’t 100% sure if the plot screens gave mature bucks the added security to feed in the food plot during the daylight. However, I feel very confident in saying that my brother and I would not have harvested the old matriarchal does that we did had it not been for the plot screens.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of planting screens is that it gives you a lot of room to be creative with the layout of your food plot. Last spring we experimented with egyptian wheat and grain sorghum as screens, and had great success with both. There were, however, noticeable differences between the two. The grain sorghum grew thicker, yet shorter than the taller growing egyptian wheat. The sorghum averaged 6 feet in high (plenty tall to screen off a deer’s line of sight), and was almost impenetrable in places. The egyptian wheat, on the other hand, averaged 8 feet tall and grew as high as 12 feet in places, but wasn’t as thick. Still, it provided enough of a barrier to serve it’s purpose, and I will be planting both again this spring once the weather warms up.
Aside from egyptian wheat and grain sorghum, you can also plant trees and shrubs as food plot screens. In fact, in some instances, trees and shrubs may prove to be the better option. They are drought resistant (once established) and less expensive long term than replanting the same area over and over again every single year. That said, do your research before considering planting trees or shrubs. Choose a species that is insect, disease, and deer resistant, drought tolerant, easy to plant and maintain, and has a tap root system (you don’t want to plant the tree right beside your plot and have it suck up vital moisture and nutrients from the plot).
If you’re looking to improve daylight utilization of your food plots this year, I’d highly encourage you to consider planting a screen around them. It’s relatively easy to do, but very effective.
Keep checking back here to W2H through the spring, summer and into the fall, as I am going to share the progress of my food plot screens, and talk a little bit more in depth about how I will rely on them to increase my hunting opportunities. It’s a fun transition to watch a barren piece of ground grow into an impenetrable 10 ft wall of green nastiness in a matter of months, so stay tuned for more information and photos!
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com