By Mark Kenyon
I love to learn. Even more than that though, I love putting the things I’ve learned into action. Every year I try to do just this when it comes to each new hunting season and the preparation leading up to it. This year I’ve implemented more new changes and lessons learned than I think I ever have, and I’m really excited to see how it all pays off this fall. That said, one area in which I’ll be doing this over the coming weeks/months is with my food plots. I’ve learned many a lesson on food plots over the years, and this year I’m implementing the best plan I’ve put together yet.
That said, I wanted to walk you through the details of my 2013 food plot plan and then explain four ways in which I think this set of strategies will help me kill a Pope & Young buck this fall in Michigan!
Setting the Stage: So before we can dive too far into my plan, it’s important to properly set the stage and provide some context. I hunt a number of different properties in Southern Michigan, but for the sake of this article I’ll be discussing just one of those properties. I do not own this piece, but I do have permission to both hunt and plant food plots, make habitat improvements, etc. This property is about half agricultural land, and half timber and swamp. Surrounding the property are several additional crop fields, and another probably 300 acres of CRP and timber. That said, I’ve worked over the past couple years to both improve food and cover in an effort to keep more deer on the property.
Specifically when it comes to food plots, I’ve created two 1.5 acre plots on this farm – one towards the front and one towards the back. The front food plot serves as more of an early season hunting location and an area to bring friends and family to hunt. The back location I don’t visit until the rut, in order to keep the pressure low on my honey hole until the prime time.
My Goals: As I mentioned, my goals have been to keep more deer on this property, but more specifically my primary objective has been to attract more deer during the hunting season. As I talked about last week, in a situation like mine where I’m resource constrained and don’t have a large chunk of property, I can get the most “bang for my buck” by focusing on making improvements that will have a positive impact primarily during the hunting season. Yes, it’s great to make improvements that will help deer year round – but thats not always possible with limited resources, so in those cases it’s best to impact, at the very least, how and where deer spend time during the season. That said, when it comes to my food plot plan I am trying to provide attractive food sources that will be palatable to deer throughout the deer hunting season, as this can obviously improve my chances of seeing deer while hunting, and also increase the chances of bucks staying on my property more often during the season (allowing them to have a better chance of making it to the following year). Also, as mentioned above, I’ve got slightly different goals for each of my two food plot locations – the front being more early season focused, the back being more rut/late season focused.
Pure Attraction – Given these goals, I’ve chosen several different food plot forages that should provide both great attraction and nutrition to my deer herd during the hunting season months of October – December. For the front food plot I’m going to be planting something new for me this year, Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Pure Attraction. I chose to try this blend because it was specifically designed to provide all season attraction, with an emphasis on a quick start for the early weeks. Pure Attraction is a blend of oats, brassicas and winter peas – with the wheat and peas popping up quickly and beginning to attract deer right away, and then with the brassicas providing the mid to late season attraction. I’ve had great success with the Whitetail Institute brassicas (Winter Greens), so I know I’m sure to get great late usage, but I’m particularly excited to see how the oats and peas attract deer early, as this food plots main goal is to provide that early season attraction. I’ll hopefully be harvesting a handful of does from my Redneck Blind sitting over this plot early, and I’m confident Pure Attraction is the right choice to help me do that.
Winter Greens – My second food plot, the one farther back on the property, is focused on being a highly attractive area for deer in the mid to late season. With that in mind, my forage of choice this year is Whitetail Institute’s Winter Greens. As you may have already read in past posts, Winter Greens is one of my favorite food plot forages (read full review here). Over the past couple years it has worked tremendously well for me as a way to attract deer during my goal timeframe. With a late summer planting, I know I’ll have a lush green carpet of leafy greens come late October, that will be sure to have deer flocking to it all the way through the end of the season. You can’t go wrong with this one.
Egyptian Wheat/Sorghum – Lastly, this year I’m planting a new pair of forages with a unique goal. Specifically, I’m going to be planting a “food plot screen” around both of my plots. Over the past couple weeks, you may have read W2H contributor Cody Altizer’s articles regarding his food plot screens (if not, check them out here and here), but if not, here is the 101 on food plot screens. Food plot screens are essentially plantings that will grow to be tall and thick, like a wall. They are planted to essentially build this “wall” around a food plot to block visibility of the plot from other people, and to also provide more cover around the plot, which should make deer feel more comfortable feeding there in daylight. To establish my screen, I’ll be planting a blend of egyptian wheat and sorghum. I’m really excited to see how this grows, as I think having these screens around my plots should really help my chances of hunting success. Between Cody and I, we’ll keep you posted on how those screens turn out this year, and how it hopefully helps our hunting!
Implementation: So now that you understand my goals and the forages I’ll be working with, lets talk through the actual work I’ll be doing to get these plots in. Both of these plots have been worked in past years, so the work needed to be done before planting again is relatively low. Step one has already been completed, as this was just spraying the plots with glyph (round-up) to kill off new weed growth this year. Once I see a good die off of the weeds, I’ll be heading in with an ATV and disc and begin plowing the fields. I’ll also be applying the necessary fertilizer for the egyptian wheat and sorghum at this time and discing it into the ground.
Next I’ll be packing the soil down with my ATV tires, and then finally hopefully in the first week or two of June I’ll be planting the food plot screen around each of my fields with a hand spreader. Once that’s done I’ll make a few more passes with the ATV to ensure good seed to soil contact.
Next will come a couple month waiting period, broken up by another couple rounds of spraying to ensure that no new weeds pop up in the main sections of the fields waiting to be planted later in the summer. Once August hits, I’ll then begin the planting process for the Pure Attraction and Winter Greens. A similar plow, fertilize, pack, spread, pack process will be used for this planting as well.
Once this is all done, I’ll back out and not return to these locations again until hunting season!
4 Ways This Will Help Me Kill A P&Y Buck
So there you have it, my food plot plan for 2013. That said, I want to point out four ways in which I believe this food plot plan will help me achieve my ultimate goal – which is killing a Pope & Young caliber buck in Michigan.
#1 – Encouraging Mature Buck Movement: I believe given the placement of my plots, and the forages provided, I’ll be able to encourage movement of mature bucks across my property in several different directions. I have great bedding areas directly to the north and south of this property, and my food plots are strategically placed to pull bucks from these bedding areas, but to then also encourage movement across the property East/West between the two plots. I expect to especially see this movement pattern during the rut, which is really the timeframe I’ll be going all in on for this property. With a focus on applying very low pressure, I believe my plots should encourage the travel patterns I need to see mature bucks on their feet during the day.
#2 – Early Season Attraction: 45 acres of this property will be planted in corn this fall, as well as many of the neighboring farms. My goal with the Pure Attraction food plot is to provide a very different, and very attractive food source alternative for deer at this time. With the oats and peas providing this early attraction, I’m confident that I’ll have a chance at a nice buck leaving the nearby bedding areas for a quick snack in this plot. Deer love diversity when it comes to food sources, and I believe my plot will be one of the best options for local deer to get a little something new in their diet.
#3 – Late Season Attraction: Once the corn is harvested in late October, the amount of food available on my property and surrounding areas begins to diminish quickly. With my Winter Greens food plot and even still the Pure Attraction, I’m offering a very tempting food source to local deer that should last right through the season. During the rut, I’m definitely going to have does visiting these plots – and that of coures should put me in a good position to draw bucks to the property as well. Then, once we get into the late season, my plots will most likely be one of the only remaining food sources that is really attractive. At this time, I should draw deer from a wide area and any mature bucks still alive will most likely be visiting this location. Assuming I’ve kept pressure low throughout the season, having one of the only good food sources in the area should position me very well for an encounter with a local P&Y buck.
#4 – Daytime Activity: Another key to my food plotting success will be my ability to encourage daytime activity from deer. I’ve strategically located both of my plots to be in safe areas that should receive little outside pressure and also be within relatively safe cover. Additionally, I’ll be planting food plot screens around both plots to even further improve the sense of safety a deer feels when venturing into one of these plots. Lastly, as discussed in #1, by placing these plots where they are, I should encourage additional movement across my property during the day.
Food plots are a lot of work, but I firmly believe they are worth the effort. With a little sweat, some hard work and a willingness to get some dirt on your hands, you can improve the health of your local deer herd and also improve your chances of hunting success in the fall. I believe the outlined plan for my 2013 food plots should achieve both of those goals, and specifically should hopefully help me close the deal on a P&Y Michigan buck. I’ll keep you posted on how things go over the coming months of food plot prep, and hopefully this fall you’ll be able to follow along as I try to reap what I’ve sown – with a big buck hitting the ground!
– Mark Kenyon