Food Plot Patterns for Deer Habitat Designs

*www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com

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In 2005 I made a major blunder on a very important planting on our WI Lease. It was a brassica planting and before some of you bemoan brassica plantings, consider it was not the variety of seed that was the problem. On our lease we have an incredible SW leg of a food plot hidden within a “horseshoe shaped” idle agricultural field flanked by various bedding areas on the sides, as well as the west end. We’ve harvested quite a few bucks within the area, as well as taken in total the best collection of mature buck pictures on the property. To say this area of the property is important to us is an understatement…it’s “where dreams are made of”.

The planting was perfect, the results were outstanding, and in October we were left with a brassica mixture of various seed varieties that totaled 2 acres and over 30” tall. LOTS of food! However, the 550 yards planting snaking its way along the north side of the slight ridge through the CRP field was barely getting touched. As the pre-rut approached we were getting worried, but still it was barely touched…just a leaf here, a leaf there and between that and the problems we where having with daytime temperatures into the 70s our November rut hunt turned out to be pretty slow. I feel we effectively wrote off that entire area of our property because instead of maintaining that pattern of feeding in that location of the parcel, we destroyed it and expected to the deer to slam into the pattern of the brassicas in late October like they had been there all season…only they hadn’t.

It was at this time that the term “Food Plot Patterns of Use” really began to be cemented into my practices. I’m  going to explain to you what a pattern of use is, why it needs to be established, and how it relates to the majority of your management efforts. I don’t mind admitting my mistakes and I’ve found the more I’ve made, the more I’ve learned. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and effectively establish the patterns of use on your parcel that will keep both you and the local deer herd happy throughout ALL of the months of the hunting season.

What is a Pattern of Use?

Many of you have probably seen those fancy food plot chain examples that are in theory supposed to move deer from “Point A”, to “Point B” through the use of varying quality forages. “In theory” it sounds great! Deer like variety, deer like to move, and deer like to forage while moving…sounds good, right? The problem lies in the fact that certain forages are not attractive during certain times of the hunting season. The above example includes brassicas as an example, which are typically increasing in attraction towards the beginning of December at the earliest. At the same time, alfalfa might have been stemmy, yellow, and dormancy a full 2 months earlier. Put the two on adjacent plots you are attempting to encourage the deer to travel through within the “chain” of movement and you have one giant 2 month gaping hole in both attraction and nutrition. The deer will not follow any intended pattern of use in that situation.

Instead, an actual pattern of use in the above scenario would be if you were to offer both alfalfa and brassica in each field, but even then that is only a start. So, add some grains such as wheat or rye to offer a bridge for the months of usage between the alfalfa and brassicas and NOW you are establishing a pattern of use, as well as effectively manipulating the deer movements. The variety of forage needs to be in each plot…not in separate plots.

If you expect the deer to use your small hunting plot on the way to a larger food source or bedding area, the pattern should be started early and often, and that goes for any habitat improvement within a line of movement you are attempting to create, including long thin plantings of forages designed to facilitate deer travel. In that case the variety of forage need so run LENGTHWISE along the planting so that when one forage is more attractive than another the deer just step over and continue the movements.

Maybe you are attempting to move deer through separated food plots on the way to a larger destination? May sure those gaps aren’t too thin, meaning a deer has to feel secure enough to travel through the area in the both the early AND the late season, which means cover has to be at a premium or you won’t be able to facilitate those movements on your parcel.

Why Establish Patterns of Use?

Without effective patterns the local deer herd experiences a chaotic movement in and around your parcel of land. You instead want the deer to “flow” through your land, feeling comfortable and having many hours of habitat features and use to work through so that they spend more time on your property, instead of your neighbors. When the patterns are chaotic the deer simply “jump ship” to other areas that potentially may or may not be on your parcel.

Also, those patterns of use need to be consistent so that you as a hunter know exactly where to define their travels. The more you can define the deer’s daily travel patterns, the easier they are to hunt. At the same time, the more defined the pattern is, the easier it is to keep the deer within that pattern so they don’t cross over to your neighbors land.  On a small parcel you simply can afford to not establish effective patterns of use on the parcel, early and consistent throughout the season.

When those patterns are consistent, the deer tend to feed more efficiently and consistently on your plots as well. For example, that lone brassica field you are attempting to slam the local deer herd into feeding on in early November have a hard time adjusting all of their pattern up to that date just because the forage you are offering suddenly ripens. In some locals by the time the brassica is really attractive the deer are already onto greener pastures and heavy cover never to return during the winter months. Instead, offer those early season crops such as forage soybeans planted in late July, buckwheat, and even various grains planted just a few weeks prior to the season within the same plot, running lengthwise the way you want the deer to travel.

How Does a Pattern of Use Relate to Your Goals?

Simply, without consistency in both food and cover throughout the season the deer will attempt to find that consistency somewhere else. Gaps in food and gaps in cover all add up to chaotic movements in and out of your parcel. Buck age structure is effected because you lose a higher % of those bucks to your neighbors, while at the same time you fail to attract your potential of mature bucks during the season because there may be times when deer just don’t have much of a reason to re-located to your parcel during mid-season. As far as your hunting efforts, it’s not out of the question to consistently be the one in your neighborhood to shoot the majority of the mature bucks. When your parcel features a high level of security and quality food source throughout the entire season you can experience a very high level of success IF your mature buck hunting tactics are ready for the challenge…but that is another article topic!

Conclusion

I’ve learned a lot since that 2005 season blunder and I should have known better at the time. The plot was a GREAT one…just a very bad application. Through consistency of quality you have the ability to collect deer as the season progresses, but you cannot have holes in either nutritional attraction or cover. If you want the deer to move from “Point A” to “Point B”, it’s critical that you not only give them a reason to do so, but that you establish that reason early enough in the season to make sure that they follow the script at a time when the hunting season is in full swing.

By Jeff Sturgis, www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com

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