Whitetail Weekly, Improving Food Plot Layout

We’ve moved through winter, made it past the initial spring green up and have started running our trail cameras.  The weather is warming, the velvet is starting to grow and food plot work is in full swing.  It’s the rush of the summer “off season” and I can really feel it starting to drive me. 

My mindset has definitely changed a bit in the last few weeks and even though I never quit thinking about hunting and habitat stuff, the mentality of my daydreaming has definitely turned a corner.  The things that had before seemed like distant work or future plans have now become current projects or tasks that I’m already behind schedule on.  The time of year that once seemed so far away is now upon us and, once again, it’s managed to catch me off guard.

With the big changes coming to our property this year there are several things to do this summer but my current area of concern is improving food plot layout.  We are relatively new to the food plot world overall and very new to the management of larger, annual plots.  We have suffered through the trial and error learning curve associated with smaller kill plots and have a pretty good system working for our smaller plots now but last year was the first year we managed a larger plot and we are still feeling our way around that practice.

2012 was our first year managing a large food plot.

Our large plot, which we call the Plateau Plot, is a bit of a partnership between our land owner and us that started back in 2010.  The area was formerly pasture but in 2010 we received permission to fence off several acres of woods from the cows and in doing so we fenced off the area that would later become the Plateau Plot.  Initially (the fall of 2010) the field was left as it was and aside from a few scattered beds and deer passing through here and there it wasn’t used much by the deer.  In the spring of 2011 our landowner decided to plant it to canola in an effort to try and keep the deer out of his cash crop field just to the south.  It didn’t take us long to realize that having this plot in place dramatically changed our hunting for the better and maintaining it quickly became a top priority.

In 2012 our landowner again planted canola for us in the spring then we went in after him and planted a plot screen (consisting of Egyptian wheat and sorghum) along the northern edge of the plot to close it in from the pasture that sits to the north.  In August of that year we went in and turned half of the plot under and planted purple top turnips.  A few weeks later we turned the other half of the plot under and planted that portion to winter wheat.  By the time the hunting season rolled around in 2012 we had a decent screen growing, a pretty good stand of turnips and some sparse pockets of winter wheat popping up as well.  

We were quite pleased with our results last year and the deer used the plot heavily all fall and through the winter.

The success of last year’s efforts really reinforced the fact that not only is this plot is crucial to the overall plan we have for our property but it is also a key component in the fun factor as well.  It was great fun planning things out, turning the dirt and then getting to see the deer enjoying our hard work just as we hoped they would. 

Initially the plan for this year was to handle the spring planting ourselves but as things got closer we decided to take our landowner up on his offer to again plant it for us.  We would then go in after and execute a plan similar to last year to include planting the screen and then going in later and planting a fall crop to be an attractant during the season.  While the core of the plan is the same as last year we did decide to make a few adjustments this year based on knowledge we learned last year.

The biggest change we will be making has to do with the layout of the plot.  During some of my reading (more like studying) on Michigan-Sportsman I came across some posts about compartmentalizing larger food plots.  While reading these posts I was thinking about some of the encounters I’d had in our plot the last few seasons and could see that much of what was being discussed was applicable to our plot.  I quickly began to put together a plan to address these issues in our plot.

This photo shows the Plateau Plot outlined in black. The yellow line is how we will use the plot screen to close in the north side as well as to divide the plot.

The theory behind compartmentalizing your plots is really quite simple and has two main tenants that I focused on.  The first is the idea that the overall goal of a plot you intend to hunt on or immediately around (as we do with The Plateau Plot) should be to create daytime movement as much as possible.  In order to get deer into an open feeding area during daylight they need to feel comfortable and deer are more comfortable in smaller, well protected areas than they are in large open areas.  The second idea is that in order to facilitate buck movement within your plot you have to give them a reason to move through.  By splitting up a plot with a visual screen you can make it difficult (if not impossible) for a rutting buck to quickly scan an entire plot for does while staying safely within cover outside of the plot.

In our situation, we had initially planned to re-plant the plot screen along the northern edge as we did in 2012. This would help to close the plot in a bit and gave the deer an added sense of protection and security as they browsed.  However after reading about the benefits of compartmentalizing, I have now revamped the plan to include some additional use of the plot screen.

Last year we essentially created two separate plots by planting the two sections to different crops but without a visual barrier it still “acted” like one large plot in terms of deer usage and interaction.  This year I am hoping that by adding a strip of the plot screen running north south to split the plot we will create a visual barrier which will help force bucks to move through the plot as opposed to skirting the edges.  Before we used the screen I watched bucks come to the west end of the plot and scan the entire plot before moving along the south edge through the cover.  Hopefully the visual barrier will help to forced them to enter the plot to scan it. 

Adding the screen to split the plot will also create an even more protected feel for the deer, especially in the SE portion of the plot.  In that SE corner they will have good protection on all sides with good cover to quickly escape into should trouble arise.  Hopefully this protected feel will help the deer feel comfortable enough to enter the plot during daylight which is truly the end goal when putting in a food plot for hunting purposes.

While this year’s plan only calls for one north/south strip to create two sections of plot I could easily see next year’s plan involving two strips to create three separate sections of plot.  This would work to further enhance the feeling of protection as the deer feed while also further forcing deer to move through the plot to see what’s going on within.

A possible layout change for next year could inclued enclosing the entire plot with the screen and also creating two dividers within the plot.

Another possibility for the coming years would be to expand the edge screening and run it around the entire perimeter of the plot, perhaps excluding only the SE corner of the plot.  This would again enhance the security of the plot and really force deer to enter the plot to see who’s around. 

As with most plans of mine, there are lots of possibilities that I will debate in my head over and over before finally forcing myself to make a decision.  It seems like no matter how good you think you have something planned out you always seem to see a good way to tweak it or improve it once you see the final production in person.  

I think that is a large part of the fun of food plots and habitat work in general, it is a never ending process that you are always improving on and refining or tweaking.  Just when you think you have it perfect you learn something new and set off to address and improve upon for next year.


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