Food Plot Designs: Thin is In

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A question I often get asked is, “What is your favorite food plot shape?” To me, there is no real obvious “one size fits all” answer. Most often the lay of the land and topography will dictate what is needed, but really the one common denominator is as long as possible…and as THIN as possible. Now of course you have to get enough sunlight into the plot to grow a forage, especially for a “full-sun” variety of your favorite brassica, but that still allows for a fairly thin food plot. How thin? I used to have a great plot on my home property in the UP of Michigan that ran roughly a ¼ mile by 8’. That ¼ acre plot snaked its way north and south through 15-20 year old conifers and was planted on a soil of sandy loam with a ph initially in the low 4s. On my WI lease we have a plot that is approximately 1650’x60’ which is over 2 Acres in total and is surrounded primarily by various tall weed varieties within a CRP field. Both of those long winding plots follow the contours of the land to facilitate dictated deer movements as well as to aid in hunter approach and departure. However, that’s not all a long winding ribbon of food offers! Efficiency in planting, continual movement, “safe passage”, and deadly ambush sites are some of the features that also can be taken advantage of by the savvy landowner.

Contoured Construction

Most of you know that deer are creatures of “edge” habitat. Well, considering the nature of a long thin food plot, it’s safe to say there is an incredible amount of edge to be used. But you don’t need to stop there! By following the contour of the land, for example ridges, hill sides, and the outside of depressions, etc., the hunter can use the elevation to his or her advantage while approaching or departing treestands. I love to come in on the down side of a ridge, paralleling the top, and then silently take a 90 degree turn while traveling straight up the ridge and into the stand where only a deer standing directly in front of you is spooked. And lets face it, there is nothing prettier than the flow of bright green along a long narrow ridge of frosted out grasses and fall foliage.

Efficiency in Planting

On many of my plantings I like to plant one forage on one side…one on the other. Can you picture how easy it is to plant 1 acre of brassica on a 550-yard long plot? Literally, at walking speed with 5#s of your favorite mix you are down, back, and down again with a hand spreader and your are finished. And best of all you just almost walked a mileJ Have a buddy follow you behind in an ATV with a few bags of fertilizer and just about as fast as you can walk that same strip twice, you are finished planting, all by hand!

But that’s not the best part. The best part is that deer are forced to MOVE, while feeding. They browse, they travel, they browse and by keeping them moving towards their destination of food or cover, they don’t sit one spot and mow a patch down to the ground. A good word for the description of that is “Continual Movement”, and it becomes so predictable its fun to watch and know that you encouraged the deer to do just what you wanted them to.

Continual Movement

Typically when I employ a long thin plot I’m attempting to collect the deer from point “A”, and then deposit them at point “B”. Or the other way around depending on if it is morning or nighttime. The last thing I want are deer just lollygagging around getting too socially comfortable, for example, for lack of a more site friendly term…like a mean old doe that scares all of the other deer away. So, by keeping the plot thin, by giving the deer an enhanced destination whether that is a large food source or bedding area, the deer continually move. In fact, a few deer are typically collected by more deer, and as deer filter out of the woodwork they seem to herd along incredibly predictable and fast, finally slowing their pace to settle into their preferred destination. If that preferred destination is a food source…break it up a bit with islands of cover, hidden corners, or planted grain strips and the deer will feel much more comfortable piling in. And the same goes for bedding areas. By specifically enhancing a larger number of separate beds or small clusters of beds within a bedding area, you can effectively collect a larger number of deer within the same area by keeping them separated. Both of those activities result in a less stressful deer herd…and less stress means a higher opportunity for you as the land manager to effectively shape a quality herd including both young and older aged deer.

Again though, keep them moving!

Safe Passage

I can not overemphasize this enough in that you have to let the deer on your property feel safe at all times. At least until you shoot themJ On a large round plot when you spook 1 deer, you spook them all and the last thing you want to do is have 1 acre’s worth of foraging deer crashing through your 40 acres of “sanctuary” that you never enter. And on a side note…is that really a sanctuary if that continually happens? But think in terms of the long narrow ribbon of food. The deer forage by, they are on the way to their destination, and they are gone. Give yourself a lot of outside corners and ridge approach stand locations and the odds of you spooking a single deer, let alone the entire herd…is substantially reduced. And really that is part of the game in that everything you can do to lower deer/human encounters should be done, which in turn equals a low-stress environment for the local deer herd. You will love watching the same family groups cycle by over and over again and as that cycle strengthens throughout the season as your neighbors are not following these tactics, your odds of connecting on that mature buck using the area increases the longer you allow that safe passage to continue.

Ambush

And last but not least you as the hunter and land manager now has the opportunity to wait in ambush like the ultimate predator we should be. Outside corners, continual movement, safe passage, contoured access all allow we as predators to lie and wait quietly and efficiently for just the right moment. That moment might come in the first few days of bow season as fat mother doe comes wandering by about time for us to go eat breakfast…or in the form of that buck of a lifetime that has gravitated to the low-stress atmosphere that a long winding strip nutrition and attraction promotes. But regardless of your management or hunting goals, you will give yourself numerous stand locations, access points, and possible wind directions to take advantage of.

Conclusion

There are so many appropriate places for the installation of a long thin food source. On the outside of bedding cover, connecting major food sources, connecting bedding areas, connecting food to bedding…and it may even be that you are using your long thin food plot to connect to your neighbor’s destination of choice. In the end though think of things like “Safe Passage”, “Low-Stress” property efforts, “Continual Movement” and you will then be on your way to mastering one of the most major components of small parcel design and management…”Do Not Let the Deer Know They are Being Hunted!”

By Jeff Sturgis, www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com

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