This comprehensive guide will take you through the process of preparing a new fall food plot on a budget and in real-time.
This three-phase article series is written with budget-conscious land managers in mind. It’s going to mimic the Poor Man Plot idea made famous by Bill Winke. The goal of this series is to show that you don’t need fancy and expensive equipment or large tracts of land to plant successful food plots for your deer herd.
The process will focus on small (under one acre) fall food plots that are doable using mostly commonly available hand tools or small power tools.
It’s also an experiment to show you some new methods and let you see the results in as close to real-time as possible. We’re preparing and planting our land immediately before you see these articles. That way, you can apply these same tactics simultaneously this fall, and start improving your property for deer as soon as possible.
- In this first phase, we’ll cover the preparation of your new fall food plot, which includes planning, location, and land clearing.
- The second phase will include actual planting procedures, good seed options, and seedbed conditioning methods to get you on your way.
- The third and final phase will show the final product: a productive fall food plot to feed your deer herd and provide some more hunting opportunities for you now and down the road.
First, some disclosure items. I was fortunate enough to receive many of the products used in this guide from Cabela’s Wildlife and Land Management and Deer Gro. These companies partnered with us to show you what small landowners are capable of doing with just a little sweat equity and very little other costs.
First you need to decide what you are capable of and willing to do. Don’t plan on planting a three acre field if you have limited time and resources. If you can’t properly maintain it, your plot likely won’t succeed. So why invest time and effort into something that is doomed to fail?
Also, determine if you will be hunting over your new fall food plot or if you want it to serve as a safe food source near a sanctuary. Will the area you choose require a major investment of time (and sweat) to clear, or is it fairly well-suited to a food plot already? These are all questions you need to answer before going forward.
For this plot, we chose a decades-old agricultural field that has grown up with old field species (e.g., daisies, goldenrod, milkweed, various grass species, etc.), but is mostly free of woody species. There are a couple young birch trees, and some immature spruce trees we will avoid by planting around them. Most of these will actually be left for additional security cover due to an otherwise very open exposure.
The plot is located in northern Minnesota, where there are hard winters, natural predators (gray wolves, coyotes, black bears, etc.), and intense hunting pressure, all affecting deer herds.
The goal is that adding a small food plot will provide a few additional calories to help rut-weakened bucks through the winter, and provide a nutritional boost to nursing does next spring.
Plus, it should add some nice hunting opportunities, which is really the ultimate goal of a fall food plot!
We are planning on leaving a 10-yard fringe of old field habitat, raspberry canes, and alder shrubs around the edges of the food plot to allow a little more security cover for deer. It should allow deer to feel more comfortable to step out into the plot during daylight hours. We may also feather the edges of the forest to thicken it up and add some horizontal cover.
Best Locations for Fall Food Plots
When first mapping your new food plot, I found Google Earth Pro to be a priceless resource. You can easily eliminate many areas just from this program, and maybe find some new spots you hadn’t thought of.
In addition, you can easily calculate the size of your new plot using the measuring tool. We measured our plot by locating trees or shrubs as a guideline, and calculated it to be roughly 2/3 of an acre.
Try to find locations with a water source and heavy cover (e.g., thick conifers, dense alder thicket, native warm season grasses, etc.) nearby, as there will already be deer in these areas and it will be an easy transition for them.
If you’re doing a nutrition plot near a sanctuary area, try to situate it in a triangle shape with water, cover, and food at each point.
Our fall food plot is situated immediately adjacent to a large white cedar swamp, a band of alder swamp and thicket, old field habitat, and a beaver pond (cover, food, and water all in close proximity).
If, however, you want a fall hunting plot, try to locate it in an area with good entry and exit opportunities. Some examples would be off the side of a larger destination plot, or along a trail going from cover to water.
Though our plot is small (less than one acre), it will be the only source of agriculture within miles (i.e., deer only have native browse in their diets). As such, it is more of a destination food plot that will likely pull deer in from other areas and get a lot of browsing pressure.
Because of this, we will use utilization cages to determine the browse intensity and monitor how well our plot is truly growing.
Now the work really begins! Because we are using simple and inexpensive hand or power tools and will not be disking our plot, our approach was to first cut the thick vegetation mechanically to remove some of the biomass, and spray herbicide afterward to kill the plants. Once the plants are dead, we plan to rough up the soil to create a good seed bed.
We removed the existing vegetation by cutting it using weed whippers (one with regular line on it, and one with a brush blade on it). Despite the July humidity and water breaks, both styles easily cut the weeds down to about 4 to 6 inches within three hours.
After cutting our fall food plot, we raked some of the debris off the field as it was a very thick layer in certain areas.
Here’s what the plot looked like after finishing the first and toughest part of the process. It’s a big improvement already compared to the first picture!
We waited two weeks for vegetation to start actively growing back, and then got out the sprayers. We filled them with a generic 41% glyphosate herbicide mixed with water (at 2 ounces herbicide to 1 gallon water).
With glyphosate herbicide, you want the plants to be actively growing so that they can absorb the herbicide through the leaves. Another option would be to spray the field first and then mow, but our field had grown past the stage of truly active growth and it was unmanageably thick.
It took us approximately two hours to spray this 2/3 acre plot with 2-gallon hand sprayers.
Our strategy will be to wait another two weeks to let the herbicide kill the plants, and then clear the plot of debris using rakes and dragging an unusual household item you might not expect. After all, this is a cheap and easy food plot, so no fancy equipment here!
We will also hand-spray any remaining weeds. By that point, we should have a fairly clean seedbed that is ready for planting.
If you’re choosing to undergo this journey along with us, we wish you good luck with your own fall food plot. There’s a lot to be said about sweat equity and determination, and you really can get a productive plot going on the cheap.
Be on the lookout for the next installment, Phase Two – Planting, in early August.
Until next time, happy food plotting!
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