Do you have plans to improve your whitetail hunting grounds? Are you considering whether you can do low budget food plots if you opt for the do-it-yourself method? You certainly can (see my previous article), but for a little more money you can get so much more done. Habitat improvement has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially with reading material so readily available to educate yourself about what improvements to make. In past years, I found most of my difficulties with getting the proper equipment. DIY is a great option and very rewarding, but in the past, for me it cost money that should have been spent on an easier, more productive process. It’s a safe bet that most of you have your spring plot work done already, but if you’re planning on doing some fall food plots, read what I went through, learn from my mistakes, and decide for yourself which route you’d like to take.
I hunt a 96 acre leased property in Syracuse, NY. I have sealed the deal on nice bucks in each of the previous 2 years of hunting, and I am very confident that the 2014 season will be my best year yet. The main reason is habitat improvements. First, let’s go back to 2012. I wasn’t able to start scouting this property until early September that year and I was in a bit of a time crunch as far as getting trail cams up and figuring out where to hang tree stands. I was also working 12.5 hours a day and only had Sundays off, so that didn’t help my scouting efforts either. It is safe to say luck was on my side more than anything and I came away with a nice 2.5 year old 8 point with my bow. There was another nice buck shot by a coworker, which you can read about on Wired to Hunt here, but that’s another story I don’t wish to relive for now.
Spring of 2013 rolled around, and I had my trail cams set up, mineral sites in, and figured all the smaller bucks I had on camera from the previous fall would be putting on a photo shoot throughout summer. I thought I was just going to sit back and watch bucks grow all summer long. I shot my first 8 point and I thought I was just Mr. Hunter. I was wrong, dead wrong! My trail cams showed no bucks and hardly any does. One day in July when I was getting ready to swap out memory cards on my trail cameras. I was standing next to my car, putting my boots on and spraying myself down in scent killer (which was pointless because there were no bucks to hide scent from). I remember feeling the heat pouring off of my property and thinking to myself, “If I was a deer, I wouldn’t hang out in this overgrown heat field either”. (I hunt a field full of overgrown brush that has several pockets of mature birch trees and strips of saplings that run 20 yards wide by 100s of yards long. It is extremely thick with overgrown weeds that are 5′-6′ tall.) I had been reading Grow ‘Em Right by Neil and Craig Dougherty that summer and realized I could attract more deer, hopefully bucks, by opening some areas up and putting in a few simple food plots. Let me remind you I was in Syracuse for work, so I had no access to any equipment, but feeling like a strong, strapping young man, I figured I could get these plots in myself by renting some equipment from Home Depot. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to rent a walk-behind brush-hog to clear out the areas I wanted and then rent a walk-behind rototiller to turn up all the soil. I had plans to clear three strategically located 1/4 acre plots and had persuaded a friend I made through work to help me out. I think we all know where this was going by now: after 5 hours of working our butts off we had barely cleared a 50’x100’ area. The brush hog did not handle 1″-2″ saplings well and did not clear 2/3 of an acre per hour like advertised in a video on the website. I walked away slightly demoralized with the results of our efforts. I knew I had to find another way to finish the job we started. I began looking on Craigslist the very next day and under the “Services” section, I found someone to help me with food plots. I was surprised with how many ads I found for food plot help. After a few calls to figure out everyone’s pricing, I ended up calling Josh VanValkenbrug to come out on a Sunday to get three food plots in. (If you live in central NY, give him a call at (607) 435-3300) The price was $300 for an acre, which I thought was fair. Because my work schedule was hectic, I met Josh at my property, showed him around, showed him where I wanted each plot, handed him 300 bucks and drove off. I had every intention of helping but I was working night shift, needed sleep, and rain was coming that night. He understood. A lot of you might think that was dumb, and it probably was, but I like to think you can still trust a stranger from time to time. He sent me photos when it was all done and that helped put my mind at ease.
By the time September got here, I had three different mature bucks showing up on cameras, and deer sign increased dramatically. I had planted brassicas and clover, and the deer were eating it as fast as it was growing. I shot a 3.5 year old buck on Nov. 14 last year. The last day of bow season was Nov. 15. Without the food plot we had created, there would have been no chance that I would have gotten a shot at that buck. I’d say our efforts paid off. Here is the story and self video of this nice buck from last year.
I didn’t want to just do fall planting this year so I had Josh out this spring and he helped me again. We put in a new plot, about 1/3 of an acre, tilled up two other plots, planted everything, and I was able to con him into helping me do some hinge cutting. I know not everyone has the extra cash laying around or wants to spend their hard earned money like this, but it’s a great option to consider for the future. This is also something to think about doing if you’re a traveling, out-of-state hunter like myself.
Above is a view of the two plots that were tilled up. These pictures are from 6/9, 3 weeks after we planted clover and chicory. I over-seeded a bit because it’s just hard to be disciplined enough not to. Either way, both plots are doing fantastic. The plot in the picture on the left has a strip of clover that was planted last fall. Look how tall and lush it is already! Unfortunately the seed didn’t take very well in the new plot we put in. If this happens, I think it’s best to just maintain weed control throughout summer and then try planting again in the fall. I think I will be trying a rye and brassica mix sometime in mid August. The good news is I have pictures of seven different bucks on this new plot where nothing grew, and one of the pictures captured four of them all at once. I’ve added a short video just to show how quick and easy food plotting can be when you have the proper equipment. Give us a “Like” on Facebook to follow along on all of our projects.
Check out the quick video of the work we did here – http://youtu.be/TcQk1EUarWQ