Bowhunting.com Submit your photo

Food Plot 101

by Jordan Howell 23. April 2012 10:52
Jordan Howell

One of the hottest topics in the hunting industry today is Food Plots.  Some hunters will argue that they are absolutely necessary to kill big bucks; others will say you don't need them.  Despite the fact that there is no magical big buck potion, food plots definitely have their place in deer management and can drastically increase a hunter's success….IF they are done right.  For a bowhunter who may be a novice when it comes to food plots, trying to figure out everything on your own can be a nightmare.  For example, what to plant, where to plant, and the never ending when, how, and why’s associated with growing food plots can drive a person crazy. Quite often, these are questions many landowners and managers don't have answers to. As a result, many guess or take the advice of friends.  This trial and error method produces mixed results because not everything works in every situation. Hunters also have many misconceptions about food plots; such as you must have access to large equipment to be successful. This isn't true in most cases.  The only thing a hunter really needs is a determined attitude and the patience to do things right. So, if you happen to be one of the many bowhunters who have wanted to start your very own food plot, but didn’t because you thought you couldn’t do it for one reason or another----then this article is for you. Let’s begin with the basics....the EXTREME basics.

Establishing an intimate knowledge of your hunting area will go a long way toward reaching your management goals

It has been said that you must have long term goals to prevent frustration with short term failures. This is definitely true when it comes to habitat management.  Planning and forethought on the part of the hunter will have an immeasurable effect on the success of his/her food plots.  Because every piece of property is different, there is no food plot strategy that works for everyone. In order to be successful, one must carefully examine the needs and capabilities of his/her particular property before starting. The first question a hunter must ask himself is WHY do you want a food plot?  Is it to attract more deer to your property, or perhaps grow bigger bucks? Maybe it is to hold deer on your property by providing them with added nutrition. Before you plant the first seed, take a minute and write down what your short term and long term goals for the property are. This will help determine the starting point for your management plan because not all hunters want the same things, or can realistically achieve the same goals. For example, in the Southeastern part of the country, growing a “Booner  Buck” is not exactly an attainable goal. Many hunters in that region would be happy to simply see more deer while they are hunting. When it comes to your own wants and needs, think about what it is you ultimately wish to accomplish on your property.  Then, evaluate what your property's current short term and long term potential is; writing down its strengths and weaknesses. This will help you come up with a list of goals for the management of the property. 

 

Mineral Sites are an excellent means for not only attracting deer, but also helping bucks maximize their antler potential.

Once you have determined your goals, you can begin formulating a plan to carry them out.  The first thing that I like to do on a property is find out what kind of deer herd I am dealing with.  Although walking the property will give me clues about terrain, available forage, cover etc, there is no way I can accurately inventory the deer herd on a farm without added help.  One of the best tools for helping you do this is a good trail camera.  It will serve as your eyes in the woods….24 hours a day. When selecting a site to place a camera, I always pick an area where I can monitor and check it with minimal pressure to the local deer. This means placing my camera on the fringes of the property; places I can easily drive to or get very close to with my truck, thus minimizing the amount of human scent I leave in the area. This is a key step because the less intrusion I make, the more apt the deer will be to use the area. If placing minerals or attractants is not legal in your state, then pick a location that gets a lot of natural traffic, such as water holes, openings in fences, or where fence-rows meet the woods.  If putting out attractants is legal in your area, then by all means do so. This will increase the number of deer images you capture on your camera. Putting out minerals is also the easiest and cheapest way to establish deer numbers and develop a management plan on your property.  After that, the only decision you will have to make is do you want to simply attract more deer to your property or are you interested in growing bigger and healthier deer?  I know that is a simple question, but remember, we're taking baby steps here. If pure attraction is what you want out of your property, then a product such as Monster Raxx's Whitetail Magnet will work great.  It is a highly concentrated oil based attractant and deer find the sweet smell irresistible. On the other hand, if you want to attract deer, while at the same time, benefit them nutritionally, a product such as Monster Raxx's Trophy Minerals would be a suitable choice. This particular product still has some salt to attract deer, but has many different macro and trace minerals that will help with antler production and doe lactation which will lead to healthier fawns.  Mineral sites serve several roles to a hunter/ land manager. In addition to immediately attracting deer to your area and providing them with a nutritional boost, they help you inventory and keep track of your deer herd by documenting each visitor to the site. Plus they require very little effort on the hunter's part. I can't think of a product that gives a hunter more bang for his buck! 

 This plot was selected to be a "kill plot" inorder to intercept cruising bucks during the rut.

Once you have completed your mineral site setup, you can then begin to evaluate your property's food plot potential. The most important thing to remember is that without a clear picture of what your farm needs or what the conditions are, no one can offer a “catch-all” solution that will work.  The number one reason for food plot failure is improper site and/or forage selection. I cringe when I hear a plethora of different answers to questions regarding “what to plant” or “what to do” to improve a particular plot. While suggestions such as plant clover, plant beans, or add lime CAN be good, first and foremost, site selection and “plot purpose” must be taken into consideration. 
For example, currently I am working on a new plot on a piece of property that presents some unique challenges. I have hunted this particular farm for seven seasons. The entire southwestern corner of the property is roughly made up of 20 acre’s of impenetrable thicket; so thick that I can’t walk through it, much less hunt it.  The northeast section of this farm contains a swamp and holds a lot of deer.  The deer feed to the south in large agricultural fields. The swamp is the sanctuary on the property, so I don't hunt there. The center of the farm has little timber and is difficult to hunt.  I have put in a couple of plots in the center to provide late season forage for the deer.  This year I have decided to utilize the thicket that I haven’t been able to do anything with. 

 Treestand view from the "kill plot".

I have basically cleared out a section of the thicket where several trails crisscross and planted about a 1/3 acre “kill plot” in this section. I plan to utilize this particular area during the rut when I hope to capitalize on bucks cruising from North to South in search of does.  The addition of a plot surrounded by security cover will give wary bucks a spot to stop briefly and scent check for a receptive mate. Also, access to this location is perfect. With a North or Northeast wind I will be able to walk up the tree-line to the west and climb into the stand without alerting any deer to my presence. I cannot stress enough the importance of a covert access when hunting a food plot, or anywhere for that matter.  A good spot with perfect access is better than a great spot with bad access. If the deer know you are hunting them the greenest plot in the world won't do you any good. Once you have selected a location, you must decide on what type of forage to plant. Before doing this please remember to do one thing……A SOIL TEST!  This information will prove to be invaluable.  Not only will it provide you with soil PH, it will tell you soil type and nutrient levels as well. This will help you determine what kind of plot will grow the best on your land. 

After a site has been selected for your new food plot, it is vital to conduct a soil sample test.

In the case of the new plot on my farm, the soil test indicated my PH was low, and the soil was sandy, but organic matter was high. This is fairly typical of plots in the woods that have never been cultivated.  I wanted a clover plot, but typically clovers do better in heavier soils because they need a good amount of moisture. Based on the information in my soil test, I decided on a blend of annual clovers and brassicas, as well as alfalfa and chicory. I want a plot that will have peak attractiveness during the rut; when I plan to hunt it. The clovers and brassicas will provide that attractiveness, while the alfalfa's large roots will help hold moisture that the soil won’t; which allows the clover to attach to and utilize the water in its root system.
There are forages that would be easier to establish, but again I want peak attraction to be late October through November. The annual clovers will provide a quick green-up and will give the plot attractiveness while the lime builds up in the soil to raise the PH. Once the PH reaches 6.5, hopefully by next year, then I will plant a perennial. 

Success is failure turned inside out.  No matter what your goals are for a property, careful planning will make all the difference in the success of your food plots.  It isn't rocket science by any means, and anyone who wants to do it can.  All it takes is effort, determination, and creativity.  Just remember that to reach a destination, you must first know where you are going.  Make a list of management goals for your property, stick to them, and don't cut any corners achieving them.  If done correctly, food plots will be another deadly weapon in your arsenal of tactics. In my next article we will discuss soil testing a little more in-depth and move forward with the over-all food plot construction.

Conducting Your Own Trail Camera Survey

by Josh Fletcher 12. September 2011 12:59
Josh Fletcher

Conducting surveys and censuses on deer populations have been around for years. There are formulas such as the SAK formula, aerial surveys, track counts, spotlight surveys, and just recently with the popularity of game cameras, trail camera surveys to estimate a deer population for a given location.

Formulas such as the SAK formula or aerial surveys are often used by large ranches or state game agencies. Surveys such as track counts or spotlights surveys need open terrain and large tracks of property to be conducted on. However, with the development of the trail camera survey now you to conduct an estimate of deer population on your own property. Whether you own fifty acres or a thousand acres, you can utilize your trail camera data to give you a better idea of the deer population on your own property and providing better and more accurate information for managing your hunting area.

I first want to say that with all surveys they are an estimate, and there is no way to be 100% accurate, however they are accurate enough to provide a good data base for whitetail management. By using your trail cameras, not only can you identify possible trophy class bucks and travel routes, you can also estimate the buck age ratio, number of bucks, number of does, buck to doe ratio, fawns per doe ratio, and acres per deer. So stop deleting those pictures of small bucks, does, fawns and start estimating and tracking deer populations in your hunting area.

To begin the survey you will need a minimum of one game camera per 100 acres, however if you have more cameras for a smaller piece of property the more accurate your survey will be. For example, if you have 85 acres and four game cameras, you will have a better chance of a more accurate survey versus one camera for 100 acres. It doesn’t matter if you only own 20 acres; you too can run a very accurate deer population estimate on your property. The goal is to try and capture a photo of every deer that is on your property.

 The CamTracker MK-10 is an excellent trail camera with it's fast trigger speed to conduct a trail camera survey

 Experts recommend that you run your cameras for 14 days; however you can run your cameras longer to ensure a better chance of photographing the majority of deer in your hunting area. Next researchers recommend placing your cameras over bait or mineral sites to ensure photos of deer on the property. Keep in mind that results can very during certain times of the year. An example of this is a large acorn crop; most deer won’t abandon the acorns for corn.

If baiting or mineral sites are illegal in your area, you can utilize natural food sources such as food plots or fruit trees such as apple trees to capture photos of as many deer as you can on your property. 

Apple trees are excellent for conducting trail camera surveys if baiting is illegal in your area

Once your survey is over, begin by compiling all your photos. If you cannot positively identify a deer as a buck, doe or fawn, do not count it in the survey.
Count all the pictures that you have of bucks. It doesn’t matter if you are counting the same buck several times as this will be factored into the formula for gaining a doe count. Once you counted all the buck photos write that number down.

Next, out of your buck pictures count the number of individual bucks or unique bucks and write that number down. For example on my hunting property I had 19 pictures of bucks, out of these 19 pictures I have identified 9 different bucks.
 
Now you want to figure out the variable of “repeat offenders” or pictures of the same bucks. The reason you want to know this is to average the same idea for does. Since does are often harder to identify as being the same deer photographed, you want to figure out an idea of how many repeat bucks you have and to apply the same concept to does for a more accurate survey. This may seem confusing however is very simple. Just divide the total number of bucks by the number of unique bucks (individual bucks). An example is that I have 19 buck pictures divide that by the 9 unique bucks = 0.47 (pop. Facture) write that number down.
 
Now total up all the number of does you have pictures of. You will then divide your doe count by the pop. Facture. (The results of the buck division you just did earlier.)  An example is I had 24 does divided by 0.47 = 11.28 does.  I now know I have 9 bucks and 11.28 does utilizing my property during the given time frame I conducted the trail camera survey.
 
Now you want to figure out your fawn population. To do this count the numbers of fawns you have pictures of and divide that by your Pop. Facture just like you did with the does. For example, I had 18 pictures divided by my Pop. Facture of 0.47= 8.46 fawns on the property.

A healthy deer herd consists of a balanced buck to doe ratio

Now with the numbers complete, I now know I have an estimate of 9 bucks, 11 does and 8 fawns for my 85 acres.To figure out your buck to doe ratio for the property, divide the number of does by the number of bucks. I had 11.28 does divided by 9 bucks, gives me a ratio of 1.25 does per buck. Experts recommend a ratio close to 1:1.

To figure out your fawn to doe ratio simply divide your number of fawns by the number of does. I had 8.46 fawns divided by 11.28 does which gives me a ratio of 0.75 fawns per doe.

To figure out your acres per deer simply divide the amount of acres you have surveyed by your total population of deer. My hunting property is 85 acres divided by a total population of 28.74 which gives me 2.9 acres per deer for the property I hunt on.

My data for the trail camera survey looks like this:
9 individual bucks/ 19 total bucks = 0.47 (pop. Facture)
24 does/ 0.47 (pop. Facture) = 11.28 does
18 fawns/ 0.47 (pop. Facture) = 8.46 fawns
11.28 does / 9 bucks= 1.25 does per buck
8.46 fawns/ 11.28 does= 0.75 fawns per doe
85 acres/ 28.74 (total deer population) = 2.9 acres per deer
9 Bucks, 11 Does, 8 Fawns.
 
I know all these numbers are over whelming and seem complicated; however once you put your pen to paper you will see just how easy it is to conduct a trail camera survey on your property. Don’t just stop there. By doing trail camera surveys every month, you can track and watch as the deer population in your hunting area fluctuates throughout the year. By tracking this data allows you as a manager to analyze the reasons for the fluctuation for that given time of the year. It may be that the reason your deer population drops during the summer is because of the lack of warm season food source. If you notice this on your property, you might want to begin planting a warm season food source to hold deer on your property during the summer and early fall months. Doing these trail camera surveys gives you one more tool to better track and manage your hunting area.

With all surveys, the trail camera method is not 100 percent accurate; however is a very reliable source for information on your property. Also, all of the information that you are already gathering from your trail cameras can be utilized to conduct a trail camera survey. Have fun with it and utilize your trail cameras this year to better manage deer on your hunting property.

2009 Buck Harvest By Age Class - You Might Be Surprised!

by Mark Kenyon 28. February 2011 16:22
Mark Kenyon

As I laid on the couch today, waiting out what I hope is one of the last arctic chills of the year, I paged through the most recent Whitetail Report published by the Quality Deer Management Association. This incredibly informative report contains a plethora of information in regards to the newest trends and topics pertaining to deer and deer management in America. When I hit page seven I came to an immediate halt and my eyes grew wide. Could it be true? Just as recently as 2007, in my home state of Michigan, 62% of all bucks harvested were 1 1/2 year olds! Today, in the era of monster midwest bucks breaking records every year, how could there still be so many yearlings being shot? Further investigation showed that Michigan was not the only state being plagued by this epidemic of dead yearlings! But as bad as that seems, as I dug into this issue further, I found that it's certainly been worse in the past. According to a Kip Adams article found on QDMA.com, at one point in Pennsylvania history over 80% of bucks harvested were yearlings and less than 1% of bucks ever made it to maturity! All that being said, all is not glum when looking at the harvest rate data by age class provided in the Whitetail Report.

 

As I glimpsed through the chart of harvest rates, an interesting story line of two ends of a spectrum became apparent. I saw the incredible improvement by some states in just a few years, I saw some states that have incredible ratios of mature bucks and saw other states that are just as bad as Michigan. And while I was surprised by how many states still are clearing out the vast majority of their deer before maturity, I was also surprised and encouraged by how many states were on the other end of that spectrum! For instance, over 2/3 of all bucks taken in Mississippi in 2009 were 3 1/2 years or older! Talk about a great age structure!

After seeing this kind of data, it's obvious that deer hunting and management has certainly come a long way in recent decades. That being said, there is still plenty of room for improvement in regards to herd age structure and hunter opportunities for mature bucks. For those interested in having more opportunities at 3 1/2 year old or better bucks, the first step is letting those younger bucks live. As the saying goes, let them go, let them grow. For anyone curious, I've included below some of the top states for harvesting 1 1/2 year old and 3 1/2 year old bucks.

2007 Highest Harvest Rates of 1 1/2 Year Old Bucks


Minnesota - 67% (2009 - 41%)
Maryland - 63% (57%)
Michigan - 62% (52%)
New Jersey - 62% (60%)
New York - 62% (59%)

2009 Lowest Harvest Rates of 1 1/2 Year Old Bucks
Arkansas - 10%
Mississippi - 14%
Louisiana - 16%
Alabama - 25%
Rhode Island - 27%
Nebraska - 31%

 


2009 Highest Harvest Rates of 3 1/2 + Year Old Bucks

Mississippi - 66%
Lousianna - 65%
Arkansas - 64%
Kansas - 50% (2008)
Missouri - 37%

To see the full list of states and their harvest rates by age class, check out the free digital copy of the 2011 Whitetail Report on the QDMA website.


 




About the Authors

The Bowhunting.com staff is made up of "Average Joe" bowhunters from around the country who are serious about one thing - BOWHUNTING.  Keep up to date with them as they work year-round at persuing their passion and bring you the most up-to-date information on bowhunting gear and archery equipment.

» Click here to learn more about the Bowhunting.com Staff.

Editorial Disclaimer

The opinions expressed by Hunting Network LLC bloggers and by those members providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Hunting Network LLC. Hunting Network LLC is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by bloggers or forum participants. Hunting Network LLC is not responsible for any offense caused inadvertently through interpretation of grammar, punctuation or language.


Sitemap