Forest to Foodplot: Transforming Your Woods into a Deer Haven in 10 Steps
July 26, 2023
Transforming a part of your forest into a thriving food plot for deer is not only a satisfying and rewarding experience but also a crucial endeavor in supporting local deer populations. By cultivating a variety of plants that provide essential nutrients, you can attract deer and support the health of the herd throughout the year. In this guide, we’ll walk through the step-by-step process of turning a patch of your forest into a productive food plot.
II. Step 1: Understanding the Basics
Before diving into the creation of a food plot, it’s important to understand some fundamental aspects of deer biology and behavior. Deer are ruminants, meaning they have a unique four-chambered stomach that allows them to extract nutrients from plant matter. They typically feed on a variety of plants, including grasses, legumes, and certain tree leaves, depending on the season and availability.
Food plots are a powerful tool in deer habitat management, offering a concentrated source of nutrition to complement what is naturally available in their environment. By offering a variety of plants in your food plot, you cater to the diverse dietary needs of deer throughout different seasons, promoting their overall health and supporting their growth.
III. Step 2: Selecting the Right Location
The location of your food plot plays a crucial role in its success. When selecting a site, consider factors such as proximity to bedding areas, wind direction, and ease of access. Keep in mind that deer prefer plots that provide a sense of safety, so edges of forests often work best.
Walk through your forest and evaluate possible locations. Look for an area with good sunlight exposure, as many of the plants that are attractive to deer require plenty of sunlight to grow. Additionally, try to find a location near a water source, as this will encourage deer to visit your plot more often.
IV. Step 3: Testing the Soil
Before you can begin planting, you need to know the condition of your soil. A soil test will provide you with vital information about your soil’s nutrient content and pH level. These factors greatly influence the growth and productivity of the plants you’ll be cultivating in your food plot.
Collect soil samples from several locations within your proposed plot to get an accurate understanding of the soil condition. Soil testing kits are widely available and easy to use. Simply follow the instructions provided, then send your soil sample to a laboratory for analysis. Once you receive the results, you’ll have a clear understanding of what amendments, if any, your soil needs to support a thriving food plot.
Creating a successful food plot often involves matching the right plants to your specific soil conditions. While a wide variety of crops can thrive under different conditions, here are some commonly used food plot crops and their preferred soil conditions:
- Clover: This perennial plant is a favorite among deer and can grow in a variety of soils. However, it thrives best in well-drained loam soils with a pH of 6.0-7.0. Lime and fertilizer applications might be necessary to adjust the pH and nutrient content of the soil.
- Alfalfa: It’s a high-quality, perennial legume that provides excellent nutrition for deer. Alfalfa prefers well-drained, fertile soils with a pH of 6.5-7.5. It is less tolerant of acidic soils, so lime may be needed if your soil is acidic.
- Brassicas (Turnips, Radishes, Rape): Brassicas are cool-season annuals that are high in nutrition. They can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but ideally, they prefer a pH of 5.5-7.0. They do best in well-drained soils and can benefit from a balanced fertilizer.
- Soybeans: These are highly nutritious, warm-season annuals that deer love. Soybeans do best in well-drained loam or clay loam soils with a pH of 6.0-7.0. They can fix their own nitrogen, but other soil nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium may need to be supplemented.
- Corn: A warm-season annual that provides a good source of carbohydrates. Corn prefers well-drained soils with a pH of 5.5-7.0. It’s a heavy feeder, so a soil rich in nutrients or well-fertilized is ideal.
- Cereal Grains (Oats, Wheat, Rye): These are cool-season annuals that can grow in a wide range of soil conditions. They prefer a pH of 6.0-7.0 but can tolerate slightly acidic soils.
Remember, it’s always essential to conduct a soil test before deciding what to plant in your food plot. The results will guide you in selecting the most suitable crops and determining what amendments your soil may need.
In the next steps, we’ll discuss how to prepare the land and select the right seeds for your food plot. Follow these guidelines carefully, and before you know it, you’ll see deer munching happily in your very own forest food plot.
V. Step 4: Clearing the Land
Once you have your location and soil test results, the next step involves preparing the land for your food plot. Start by clearing out the site. Remove any brush, debris, and trees that might be obstructing the sunlight or taking up space where you want your food plot plants to grow.
Ensure you have the right equipment for this job. A chainsaw might be necessary for larger trees, while a brush cutter can handle smaller vegetation. Always remember safety comes first. Wear protective gear like gloves, safety glasses, and sturdy boots. It’s also essential to have a clear understanding of how to operate any equipment to prevent accidents.
VI. Step 5: Soil Preparation
With your land cleared, it’s time to focus on preparing your soil based on the results of your soil test. Optimal soil pH for most food plot crops is between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil pH is too low (acidic), you may need to apply lime to raise it. On the other hand, if it’s too high (alkaline), elements like sulfur can help lower it. Be sure to follow the recommended rates and guidelines when applying these amendments.
Preparing the soil also involves tilling to create a suitable environment for your seeds to germinate and grow. A good seedbed should be free of large clumps, ensuring that the seeds make good contact with the soil. A rototiller can be handy for this process.
VII. Step 6: Selecting the Right Seed
Choosing the right seeds to plant in your food plot depends on several factors. Consider the deer’s nutritional needs throughout the year, the soil condition, the local climate, and the types of plants deer in your area are naturally attracted to.
Clover, brassicas (such as turnips and radishes), and cereal grains (like oats, wheat, and rye) are popular choices for food plots due to their high nutritional value and attractiveness to deer. Clover, in particular, is high in protein and can provide nutrition throughout multiple seasons.
Deer have different nutritional needs at different times of the year, and the types of plants that can grow can vary by season. Therefore, considering the seasonality of crops is important in planning your food plot. Below are some commonly used food plot crops and the seasons in which they’re most effective:
- Clover: While clover can be beneficial year-round, it is particularly valuable in the spring and summer when it’s most productive.
- Alfalfa: Alfalfa is a high-quality forage that provides excellent nutrition during the spring and summer months.
- Soybeans: Soybeans are a top summer forage for deer, offering both leaves for summer forage and beans for fall/winter nutrition.
- Lablab: This is a warm-season annual legume that’s high in protein and very palatable to deer, making it an excellent summer food plot choice.
- Sunflowers: While not a traditional food plot crop, sunflowers can provide a good food source for deer in the summer, especially when other sources might be less available.
- Brassicas (Turnips, Radishes, Rape): These plants mature in the fall and can provide food for deer well into the winter. They become even more attractive to deer after a frost when their starches convert to sugars.
- Cereal Grains (Oats, Wheat, Rye): These are high in carbohydrates, providing much-needed energy for deer in the colder months.
- Winter Peas: These are highly palatable to deer and can provide a great food source in the fall and early winter.
- Corn: While corn can be beneficial to deer throughout the fall, it becomes especially important in the winter when other food sources become scarce.
Remember, one key to a successful food plot is diversity. By offering a variety of plants that can provide nutrition in different seasons, you can attract deer to your plot year-round.
While some crops are more commonly used in deer food plots, there are also less common plants that can make excellent additions. Here are ten lesser-known options to consider:
- Chicory: This perennial plant is high in protein and can be a great supplement to other forage plants like clover. It’s drought-resistant and can grow in a variety of soil types.
- Birdsfoot Trefoil: A perennial legume that’s tolerant of poor soil conditions, Birdsfoot Trefoil offers high protein content and can be a good addition to any food plot mix.
- Sorghum: This grain is a warm-season annual that’s similar to corn but more drought-tolerant. The grains attract deer during the winter, and the plant structure provides excellent cover for wildlife.
- Millet: A warm-season annual grass that’s highly adaptable and easy to grow. It can provide forage during the summer and seeds in the fall.
- Buckwheat: This fast-growing, warm-season annual is not only great for deer but also beneficial for the soil, as it can improve its fertility.
- Cowpeas: Also known as black-eyed peas, these are highly attractive to deer in the summer months and can thrive in warmer temperatures.
- Vetch: This is a cool-season annual legume that’s high in protein. It can be an excellent addition to a fall food plot mix.
- Egyptian Wheat: While not typically consumed by deer, this tall, warm-season annual grass can provide excellent cover for deer and other wildlife around your food plot.
- Berseem Clover: This fast-growing clover variant is a winter annual that can provide excellent forage in the cooler months.
- Dwarf Essex Rape: This is a variant of rape that can provide high-quality forage in the late fall and winter.
Remember, it’s always crucial to match the plants you choose with your specific soil conditions and local climate, and always to consider the deer’s nutritional needs throughout the year.
If you’re unsure, it might be beneficial to visit a local agricultural extension office or consult with a wildlife biologist. They can provide helpful advice tailored to your specific region and conditions.
VIII. Step 7: Planting the Seeds
After selecting the right seeds for your food plot, it’s time to get them into the ground. The timing and method of planting will depend on the type of seeds you’ve chosen. As a rule of thumb, most cool-season crops, like clover and cereal grains, are best planted in late summer or early fall, while warm-season crops, like soybeans and corn, should be planted in the spring.
First, consider the planting depth, which varies by seed type. Smaller seeds, such as clover, need to be sown very shallowly, just beneath the soil surface. Larger seeds like corn or soybeans require deeper planting.
A broadcast spreader can be useful for spreading seeds evenly across your plot. After seeding, consider dragging a chain-link fence section or harrow over the plot to ensure good seed-to-soil contact without burying the seeds too deeply.
Always remember that proper soil moisture is essential for successful germination. If possible, time your planting just before a forecasted rain.
IX. Step 8: Maintaining the Food Plot
Creating a food plot is not a one-time project; it requires continuous maintenance to remain attractive and beneficial to deer. Regular mowing can help manage weed competition and encourage new growth in perennial plots like clover. If weed pressure is high, consider safe herbicide applications as directed by a local extension office or qualified agronomist.
Soil fertility should also be checked periodically to ensure it stays within the optimal range for your chosen crops. This may mean additional lime or fertilizer applications based on the results of follow-up soil tests.
Watering your plot might be necessary during dry periods, although Mother Nature often takes care of this aspect. Be mindful not to overwater, as this can lead to issues like root rot and fungal diseases.
Rotation planting, in which different crops are planted in a cycle, can also be beneficial. This not only keeps the plot attractive to deer throughout the year but also aids in soil health and pest control.
X. Step 9: Monitoring Deer Activity
After all the hard work of establishing your food plot, you’ll want to monitor its usage by deer. Trail cameras can be an invaluable tool for this. They can help you gauge the number of deer using your plot, their visiting patterns, and even the age and health of the herd.
Track signs such as deer trails leading into the plot, feeding areas, and droppings can also provide clues about how often and how many deer are visiting.
If you notice low activity, don’t be discouraged. It can take time for deer to discover and regularly use a new food plot. You can consider adjusting the type of plants you’re growing or improving the sense of safety around the plot (e.g., providing cover nearby) based on your observations.
Up next, we will dive into the final step, ensuring sustainable management of your food plot. Remember, the goal is not only to create a thriving deer haven but also to integrate it as part of your overall forest ecosystem.
XI. Step 10: Ensuring Sustainable Management
While your food plot can greatly enhance the habitat for deer, it’s essential to think of it as part of a larger system: your forest ecosystem. The steps you take to manage your food plot should align with sustainable forest management practices to promote the health and diversity of your woodland.
For example, if your property has a variety of habitats, consider creating multiple smaller food plots instead of a single large one. This practice can minimize the impact on any single area and spread out the benefits to more deer. It also replicates the natural feeding behavior of deer, who typically forage in several different locations throughout the day.
Hunting can also play a role in maintaining a healthy deer population and preventing over-browsing, which can damage your forest understory and food plot. Adhere to local hunting regulations and ethical hunting practices. Also, consider seeking professional advice to determine a sustainable hunting plan that aligns with your local deer population’s size and health.
A successful and sustainable food plot is a year-round commitment. As seasons change, so do the nutritional needs of deer and the types of plants that can grow in your plot. Regularly revisiting and revising your food plot plan is key to maintaining its success and benefits to the local deer population.
Creating a food plot in your forest is a journey that not only rewards you with the joy of watching deer thrive but also contributes positively to your local ecosystem. These 10 steps, from understanding the basics to ensuring sustainable management, are designed to guide you through this process.
Remember, every forest, like every deer herd, is unique. What works best for one food plot might need to be adjusted for another. Continuous learning, observation, and adaptability are your best tools. The satisfaction of seeing your food plot come to life and become a haven for deer is well worth the effort. Happy plotting!