All Hunting Sites Can Be Improved In Attraction By Sweetening…

I’ve been seriously working on sweetening food plots for a few years. The subject is not new and perhaps some of you have experienced a flush of especially green grass after an application of fertilizer high in nitrogen in late summer. When I say sweetened I mean exactly that, we are increasing the sugar content in the plant.

We did much trial and error late last summer and fall on this sugar thing working with soil scientist/farmer, Ray Rawson of Isabella Co. The following tips and advice is not the super sure-fire method of pulling in deer from miles into your line of fire. It is another edge, a major edge, in your favor to improve your odds of success. You will need to create other edges, such as remote bow or firearm sites with more security for deer as they access your ambush site, which has lush, nutritious and palatable forage available for deer. If you have good cover to encourage deer to bed on your land, you have another edge, for the secret to controlling the movement of deer on your land is to have them bed there during daylight.

All hunting sites can be improved in attraction by the sweetening for deer whether you have food plots or natural habitat. A strategically located bow site nestled against a cedar swamp that has many raised mounds of soil ideal for deer bedding. This site was planted with soybeans in mid-July at the rate of 50 lbs per acre, sprayed four weeks later with Roundup and lightly broadcasted at three lbs per acre with a forage rape blend. Around the first of September about 50 lbs of winter wheat was broadcast per acre. Bow sites work best when food plots are planted at no more than 1/4 of an acre, with 1/8 acre preferred.

You may experience less deer and a shorter visit but your access and departure security improves. Get busted by deer just once and that site is useless. By the bow opener the neighbor farmer’s soybeans will be turning brown and losing leaves, your soybeans well be still green lush and growing on that date. If the deer found the soybeans and finished them off or there was an early killing frost you still have the forage rape and winter wheat. Now add a mock scrape where you want that buck to stand?

Now for the finishing touch. When you planted the soybeans you broadcasted 400 lbs of pellitized dolomite lime per acre whether the soil needed it or not. Work the lime and broadcasted fertilizer four inches into the soil. You do not need to broadcast the lime on the entire food plot, just where you want that buck to visit. For that bow site that could be a radius of 25 yards or so of the stand. You want to broadcast pellitized lime not ag lime, you want fast action and another edge. You will probably broadcast no more than 2,500 square feet or .06 of an acre. That’s about 25 lbs of pellitized dolomitic lime per bow site. The bow site is prepped to the max and now you will do the sweetening thing.

Around mid-September, (or two weeks prior to site use) you broadcast 150 lbs of urea, (46-0-0) per acre on that same .06 of an acre or about nine lbs. Caution; we are giving that forage a buzz and the leaves must be dry when the urea is applied or you might experience some foliage burn. That urea application should be effective for close to a month. Remember it is broadcasted in September and the cooler weather slows the denitrification, (evaporation of urea to nitrogen gas), You have fed the root system of your forage. For longer lasting effectiveness you can buy slow release urea. There are several types with different degrees of nitrogen release. For a long period of 60 days of nitrogen availability there is XCU, which is 43% urea with sulfur and coated with a polymer. If you use the slow release you can apply it at 200 lbs per acre. You will probably need to order it in advance if your feed and seed dealer handles it. If you cannot find any slow release urea and you want a site to be effective for an extended period apply 50 lbs of urea per acre one month after the first application, but do not apply it later than mid-October. The foliage must be green and growing when applied for desired results.

For the leaves we spray the foliage with nitrogen. You can use ammonium sulfate, AMS, (21% nitrogen 24% sulfur) or liquid nitrogen, (from 18% -28% nitrogen). I use the sprayable granulated type of AMS at the rate of two quarts per acre. You spray it the same time as the broadcasted urea and at 10 days to two week intervals thereafter. While the urea will release nitrogen for a month or more, the nutrients in the sprayed AMS or liquid nitrogen will be 90% absorbed by the plant leaves within two hours. If the ten day interval of spraying two quarts per acre is undoable you can spray six quarts of AMS or liquid Nitrogen at one time for a month of action. Then repeat if desired. For those small bow sites you can use a backpack sprayer. For a four-gallon backpack add two cups of AMS and spray every ten days or six cups for a month’s action.

Be careful, the amounts of applied urea, liquid nitrogen and AMS are the maximum amounts recommended! Our trial and error efforts last year showed us where that wall existed, where an increase of nitrogen would not improve the effects and in fact may do more harm than good. Use discretion when applying Nitrogen.

There are differences that will be noted but in general use the same principal as shown for bow sites. Firearm season normally occurs much later in the year versus the opening day of bow season and this change in dates affects a change in weather. Any application of nitrogen will only be effective if the plant is green and growing. For best results applying nitrogen two weeks before site use is paramount. If one is hunting only during the late muzzle-loading season they may miss the mandatory green period of nitrogen application when following the two-week formula. We have found that applying nitrogen does an excellent job of keeping the forage green and growing well below the normal minimum freezing temperature.

I have photos of green and growing sugar beet leaves of January 9, 2009. Sugar beet leaves start to turn brown around the end of October. This is a sign that the plant is through growing and will not create any more sugar. It’s the green leaves of plants that create sugar through photosynthesis. No more green leaves, no more sugar. There are green leaves and plenty of them making sugar under the snow and keeping that sugar beet root alive and growing well beyond the normal dormancy date. The answer obviously is to apply nitrogen well before the freeze date to experience sweet action during the late firearm seasons. Mid October is a good start, with adjustments where needed. Sugar beets get sweeter as the season advances, with mid-November being close to their sweetest date. Sugar beets are biannual, meaning they do not die over winter thus maintaining their sweetness through the winter while most other forages are losing their palatability. This is where forages such as sugar beets that maintain their sweetness well into winter out compete other forages and are very effective as attractants in late seasons. That field of sugar beets of January 9, 2009 held over 90 percent of all deer and that includes standing corn. This all was possible due primarily to the action of the sweetening thing.

Firearm food plots are usually much larger than bow sites. Doing the sweetening thing in that entire firearm food plot may be cost prohibitive. So only sweeten the plot where we want the deer to stand.

We covered the sweetening thing with the sweetened forage being planted food plots and for sure this works. How about natural forage and can it be sweetened? Many lease land where the owner does not allow planted food plots. There is the possibility that Michigan citizens will one day have the opportunity to create food plots on their public land. When that day arrives I advise that hunters first try to create plots of natural forage using no-till and no seeding. This is the practice of spraying twice during spring and broadcasting lime and fertilize. In addition I suggest the sweetening thing, yes, on public land and not on planted forage. You spray twice in spring setting back existing forage; you broadcast lime and fertilizer soon after the spraying. You are creating plots no larger than 1/8 of an acre. New forage appears that is an earlier succession and that new forage consists mainly of forbs that deer prefer. These forbs replace the existing grass and other uneaten vegetation such as bracken fern. These forbs can be sweetened the same way as above with exciting results. The other sweet thing is, nobody knows or sees what you did or how well it works. I call that system where no seeding takes place, thus invisible. “No seedum no seeum.” As that man on the old TV programs said, “How sweet it is!”

I’m not a chemist, certainly not a soil scientist such as Ray Rawson, but I do a heap of trial and error and see results I do not understand. With the help of my friend Jim Wetters, a real chemist retired from Dow Chemical I will attempt to explain what happens when one applies nitrogen to growing plants.

If you paid attention to your science teacher in the seventh or eight grade you would remember about the story of photosynthesis. The green stuff in leaves is chlorophyll, which is a form of protein. The chlorophyll molecule receives energy from the sun’s rays. This energy triggers a chemical and electro magnetic reaction within the molecule. The nucleus of the molecule is a magnesium particle, thus the reason for broadcasting dolomitic lime, which has 12% magnesium. Surrounding that nucleus are nitrogen particles, thus the reason for applying nitrogen. Surrounding the nitrogen particles is carbon dioxide, water, oxygen and hydrogen. The chemical and electro magnetic action creates carbohydrates, known by us as sugar. The more nitrogen and magnesium fed to the plant the more chlorophyll molecules created thus a factory now exists producing sugar big time. I hear that deer have a sweet tooth.

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Ed Spinazzola, is on the Board of Directors for the Mid Michigan Branch QDMA and National QDM.