UPDATED ON: May 8th, 2015
My 2011 season actually began in the fall of 2010. As the beginning of the 2010 season was coming near I didn’t have a place to hunt, so I was left scrambling for a piece of property. I searched the plot book in my county and made a shot in the dark phone call to a land owner who owns eighty five acres. I made contact with John the property owner and told him who I was and informed him I would be willing to possibly lease his property for hunting. John met me several hours later. He informed me that when he purchased the property several years prior he enrolled the property into the WRP (Wetland Reserve Program). John had a vision for his property, to provide a quality habitat for wildlife and to turn what was once ditch drained farm land into prime wildlife habitat. He had heard about the food plot craze and began asking me questions about them. John and I envisioned the same goals for his property, to provide the best quality habitat for all wildlife, everything from ducks, pheasants, deer, to song birds.
An agreement was made to assist John in wildlife management and habitat improvement; in return he would allow me hunting access to his property. After talking to John I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. I met a land owner who enjoys wildlife and understands the importance of habitat as much as I do. He asked when I planned on planting the food plots and start on the management of his property. I planned on waiting until the following spring. The reason I wait is so I am able to assess the property and learn what the wildlife is doing throughout the year and not just during hunting season. I also assess if the property possesses the main requirements needed for wildlife to utilize the surrounding habitat. Once an assessment is done then it is time to start establishing realistic goals and plans for your property.
We are all the first step to wildlife management
After hunting John’s property last fall we made plans based on wildlife’s needs for habitat improvement. (For ideas on how we assessed the property and designed these plans please read the blog Mapping Your Way to Success) John had previously built twelve ponds and provided each pond with nesting boxes and habitat for waterfowl and wetland wildlife. The remainder of the property consists of mostly marsh grass with small spots of higher ground and a five acres pine plantation. With the use of game cameras and wildlife observation made while hunting the property, it showed that majority of the deer and other animals would leave John’s property during the winter months for the lack of food. This winter I composed a property portfolio with this springs plans for property management. We looked at possible planting locations of our plots. This spring I then did a soil sample of each of these locations and also researched the soil type to match it with what plants would grow best for the given plot locations. After gaining a conditional use permit from the USDA for planting on WRP enrolled property, we were ready to start improving habitat this spring.
We decided to dedicate one and a half acres to an upland food plot, primarily for birds however it will also be utilized by deer and other wildlife. Our upland plot would consist of sunflowers, dwarf sorghum, millet, and soybeans. The sunflowers, millet and sorghum will provide birds with plenty of seeds to feed on this fall, and the soybean will provide forage for deer late summer and early fall, and the sorghum provides a good food source late fall and early winter for deer.
The upland food plot designed to attract birds along with other wildlife
The next food plot would be a half acre along a two track access trail along the pine plantation. This plot would consist of clover and alfalfa. We wanted a crop that could handle mild foot and vehicle traffic since it was the location of a two track access road, we also wanted to provide a high quality forage during the spring and summer months.
The two track road that will be planted with clover
The last plot was going to be a half acre planted to the north west of the pine plantation. This plot is going to consist of winter peas and oats. We wanted to provide wildlife a good summer food source that would also provide quality forage into the fall. By planning ahead we devised a plan to provide the inhabitants on John’s property a supplemental food source almost year round.
The pea and oat plot; the trees are left in the plot to provide additional cover
With summer quickly knocking on our door we needed to get going on establish our plots. However this year we were constantly battling a very wet spring. A good guide to know when to plant is to watch your local farmers. Farmers are professionals and they not only feed their family but America on the crops they grow. When I see farmers beginning to spray or plant I know I need to be doing the same.
The author preparing the seed bed of his food plot for planting
We applied two applications of spray to kill off and to assist in weed control on our plots. After spraying and waiting at least two weeks for the spray to take effect we began to break soil. Utilizing a friend’s tractor with a rear tine tiller we prepped our seed bed. Once we had a good seed bed all prepped on the three plots and a soil sample of each plot done, I was joined by my brother Clint and good friend Bryce Kish. With our ATV’s, spreaders, rollers and seed we began planting. After spreading all the seed for the given plots we followed up by dragging the seed to establish a good seed to soil contact using an old horse drawn spring harrow being pulled behind an ATV.
Bryce and Josh loading the drop seed spreader with the upland plot seed
Food plots can be as cheap or as expensive as you want, based upon what your plot size, goals, and equipment needed. You can also drop a lot of money in fertilizer and lime. The key is to establish realistic goals based on what you can afford and what equipment you have available. Also make sure that you plant the proper crops to your soil type. You will also want to think outside the box when planning your habitat improvement on your property, don’t just think about planting food plots. You can also benefit wildlife by logging, thinning out around and fertilizing mast producing trees such as oaks and apple trees. Not only on this property did we plant food plots but we also trimmed around the oak trees that were already on the property to provide more sunlight to the trees and provide better growth.
Food plots can be planted with a limited amount of equipment
It is already the end of June and summer is here, the food plots are beginning to grow and we have already observed a higher amount of deer tracks and turkey sign utilizing the management that we have done this spring, the exciting part is that the plots are already seeing an increased amount of activity and they haven’t reached their full potential yet. With game cameras on each of the food plots, a mineral site, and several mock scrapes, we will be able to monitor the wildlife activity and be able to monitor the change and the improvements of wildlife habitat throughout this summer and fall. Each month I will be posting updates of the plots so you too can watch our successes as much as our failures this year. We will also be able to show you any problems with weed control and solutions that we use to help with this common problem.
Even with smaller blocks of property you can improve the quality of wildlife
The goals of these blogs are to be able to show you that we don’t own an elite thousand acres of prime hunting ground. Our properties are just like yours; gained through hard work and positive land owner interaction. We also want to show you what we are doing now for hunting this fall, and to provide you with ideas that you may be able to utilize on your own piece of hunting heaven.