UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
My family and I first became serious about food plots and Quality Deer Management (QDM) in the spring of 2007. We planted roughly 1.5 acres in clover, and became infatuated with the results. Over the years, we became braver and more intelligent (through trial and error, no doubt) in our food plot plantings by offering more diverse forages, planting both perennials and annuals, and experimenting with which seed blend worked best for our personal goals.
During this time, the hunting on our property significantly improved, as did the overall health of our deer herd. We began to see and harvest more mature bucks, and those bucks sported bigger racks, and higher body weights. In addition, the does and their fawns were healthy, and we began to see more sets of fawns than ever before. The correlation was easy to identify; our food plots led to healthier deer and better hunting opportunities.
However, as is the case with anything in life, I always thought our food plots could be better. I thought there was more we could offer the deer nutritionally, that would also lead to better hunting opportunities. For several years, I was blind to what the answer was. Fortunately, though, thanks to some intense (and incredibly simple) trail camera recon, I was able to identify what our food plots were lacking…cover.
The Missing Ingredient
Food plots have become the norm of serious and casual deer hunters alike these days. Inexpensive, easy to grow and establish seed blends coupled with the wealth of knowledge and information available in print and online make growing food plots a simple process. With a little hard work and know-how, you can have a beautifully green buffet of deer food growing in no time.
Planting a food plot screen around your food plot makes the food plot appear smaller and more secluded to a deer, thus increasing the likelihood of the deer feeding there during daylight hours.
Your deer herd will appreciate your hard work, and you’ll soon have trail camera cards full of pictures of deer feeding in your food plot. Unfortunately, though, this is where many deer hunters and managers stop. Satisfied with their hard work, their content with simply feeding deer. However, if you’re like me, you want to be able to hunt those deer. And, if you’re like me, you want to hunt those deer legally, during daylight hours. Enter food plot screens.
Keep it Simple Stupid
It’s actually quite embarrassing how long it took me to learn the importance and effectiveness of food plot screens, simply because food plot screens aren’t a difficult concept. They do what they sound like they should do; they screen off food plots. They can screen off hunter entrance and exit routes, screen off a camp, and block the deer’s vision from basically anything you don’t want them to see. Further, they make your food plot appear much smaller than it really is. But there’s more to it than that and a couple things to consider.
First, you need to consider what you want to plant. Thankfully, the options are limited only by your creativity. A few popular options are Egyptian wheat and grain sorghum. We’ve used both on our family’s property and they both work exceptionally well. The Egyptian wheat can grow up to 10-12ft tall in a matter of a few short months. Meanwhile, the grain sorghum will grown between 5-7ft tall, while producing a seed head that deer, turkeys, and song birds love to browse on. Consider both when making your selection.
Consider Egyptian Wheat when planting your food plot screen this spring. It grows extremely tall, is easy to establish, and does a great job screening off your food plot.
Trees and shrubs are also a popular choice. Though they take longer to establish and grow to an effective height, they’re a one-time investment saving you time and money in the long run. They’re also drought resistant once established, and will provide better cover longer into the season, as sorghum and Egyptian wheat tend to become weak and bend over by the late season, decreasing their effectiveness. Be sure to do some research before selecting a tree or shrub to make sure that species is deer resistant, or able to withstand browse pressure.
I’ve also heard of hunters buying old round bales off of local farmers and staggering them in two rows around food plots. This provides an immediate screen, but also has long-term benefits as well. Over time, birds will “do their business” on the round bales creating an even thicker wall of browse and vegetation. It may not be esthetically pleasing, but it would be a serviceable and effective option. Remember, the idea is to provide cover, not look like an award winning garden.
Spring means food plots, and from henceforth, food plots should mean food plot screens as well.
While food plot screens are simple in idea, they can be complex in design and limited only by creativity. The purpose of a food plot screen is to increase your chances at tagging a mature buck from your food plot during daylight hours, and it may take a little extra effort to make that happen.
This photo shows a food plot screen set up I use on one of my kill plots. The sorghum screens off all activity outside the plot, and provides tremendous cover for my ground blind.
One of my most productive kill plots and food plot screen setups involves a 1/8th acre fall blend of oats, crimson clover, and rye; grain sorghum planted around the plot in an L shape, with a ground blind tucked right in the corner of the “L” in the middle of the sorghum. I cut only two shooting lanes in front of the blind to shoot from, and left the rest for cover and a shield when coming to draw. Unfortunately, pictures cannot do the coolness of this plot justice, so you’ll just have to take my word, but deer routinely walked within mere feet of the blind during hunting season. This wouldn’t have happened had I not planted a food plot screen around the plot, and put the blind where I did.
A shot from inside the ground blind. I only cut two shooting lanes to further increase the sorghum’s effectiveness not only as a food plot screen, but to hide my movement inside the blind as well.
May means food plot season, and there are few things that are more exciting to a deer hunter than planting food plots. However, don’t fall victim to complacency this year and be content with simply planting a food plot. Maximize and optimize your plots effectiveness and efficiency by being creative and sowing in a food plot screen – it may prove to be your most critical planting this spring!