May 21, 2018
By Tony J. Peterson
Every so often the debate over whether food plots and bait piles are the same thing crops up. It amazes me how often someone will say they are no different. Maybe (big maybe) once established, a food plot is similar to a bait site, but everything leading up to that moment is vastly different.
For example, setting up a bait site takes about as much time as you need to lug a bag of corn into the woods and dump it on the ground. Setting up a food plot, quite frankly, is a huge pain in the neck. At least it is for most of us, if we even have the ground to put one in. Then there is the question of equipment.
Most bowhunters I know don't own a chunk of deer land, let alone a tractor — or in a lot of cases — an ATV. If a food plot is going to be established, it's going to be the old fashioned way — by hand. This is how my food plots have come to be, and the process is 1,000 times the work of setting up a bait site. It's more expensive, and far more time consuming as well.
And it's generally less effective at drawing deer. Now I know, we are used to seeing amazing food plots on outdoor television or grip-and-grin photos taken in lush acres of brassicas or clover. Those are the exceptions to the rule. There's a lot that goes into establishing even a tiny kill plot.
It looks easy. Find a spot in the woods that catches some midday sun, clear out the brush and leaf litter down to the soil, toss out some seed and pray for rain. This was my first method for trying to establish food plots and it was as close to worthless as you could get.
I eventually had a long conversation with Wilson Scott at Whitetail Institute and he gave me plenty of advice. I ended up getting my soil tested (it needed a lot of lime and a very specific kind of fertilizer). After lugging in bags of lime and fertizlier on my back via an elk-hunting frame backpack, I was left with the choice of seed. In previous years I'd used some kind of toss-it-on-the-ground-and-forget-it seed, but the results were dismal.
With Scott's advice, I ended up going for clover and oats. Clover is simple, comes back for several years, and would work in the northern regions where I've got plots. The oats, which will grow on concrete if they get a bit of dirt, water and sun, function as a good cover crop and an early-summer food source for the critters.
Now, I've got a few kill plots established which draw in deer every year. I've never killed a mature buck on any of my plots, and honestly, probably never will. One of my hunting buddies did shoot a decent eight-pointer off of one last year on Halloween, which was pretty cool.
Food Plot Reality
The thing about food plots is they won't make a so-so hunting area exponentially better. If you've got poor hunting to begin with, food plots aren't your answer to suddenly filling a bunch of tags. They might help, and that's good enough for most of us. For me, the joy of food plots is working on them.
Each spring and summer I look forward to the work, because on the small properties where I've got plots, there isn't much else to do. I like the feeling of working toward something, and it's rewarding to see a plot take off and eventually check a camera to see does and fawns and velvet-racked bucks munching away. In fact, I don't really like hunting over my plots for some reason, probably because it feels like it's not much of a hunt. I know that makes no sense, but if I'm being totally honest, I derive far more enjoyment out of working on food plots than I do sitting over them in the fall. I do love it when someone else arrows a deer on them, which probably doesn't make any more sense.
Seed Quality Matters
If you're interested in establishing a kill plot, choose your seed wisely. I'm an unabashed fan of Whitetail Institute products. They started the whole food plot craze and it's pretty much all they do, and they do it well.
Their latest, Vision, is a blend that incorporates annuals and perennials. This means that for five years after an initial planting, you'll be drawing deer to your chosen site. Vision contains clover, chicory, and kale — all of which are favorites of whitetails at certain times of the year.
Evolved offers a solid choice for food plotters looking to establish a plot that will grow in a wide range of soil PH.
ShotPlot, with its high-protein forage rape and forage turnip, is an annual that can thrive by being planted right on the surface of the dirt, which makes it pretty easy to work with.
I've used Heartland Wildlife products quite a bit on a property in north-central Wisconsin and they've worked out very well.
I've yet to try Rack Maker Brassicas, their latest, but it's a great choice if you want to give yourself a shot at a mid- to late-season buck. This blend of hybrid brassicas, forage rape, and turnips will grow more attractive to the deer as the temperatures drop and the season progresses.
Lastly, a newcomer to the food-plot scene is Little Whiskey Girl.
I have no idea where they got their name from, but I have heard good things about their seed. The best might just be Fall Frenzy, which contains brassicas, rape, radishes, turnips and beets meaning that long after the frost comes and wipes out the top vegetation layer, deer will show up to paw the variety of sugar-rich bulbs tucked into the soil.