In January 1994 I went to Texas to attend DR. James F. Kroll’s week long Deer Boot Camp. And it was a boot camp; up at 3 am the first day with a venison dinner served that evening at 11 pm. I consider Dr. Kroll number one as the all around deer expert. We covered many subjects from an actual deer autopsy, personal fitness, firearms, scouting, food plots and hunting tactics and much more.
One of the points in hunting tactics was a repeated statement to ‘go after the deer.’ We have all heard this mantra from many respected deer hunters and it is still true. In February of 1995 I met and listened to a young vegetable farmer from Coldwater at Lansing’s ‘Deer and Turkey Spectacular,’ Tony LaPratt. One of Tony’s messages was to ‘have the deer come to you.’ I was farming then and had been creating a variety of deer food plots since 1972. I thought Tony was onto something for it fits into my thinking and I was Tony’s first, land and deer management client.
Search For Best Forage
One of my quests was to find forages that are deer’s first choice and what needs to be done to enhance that feature even more. Example, one year we seeded fifty small test plots with wire enclosures to determine deer preference. We also seeded the same seed type or variety at different time periods for information. We had a cash crop farm operation, which included oats, hay, wheat, corn and soybeans. We already knew some things that pleased deer, but there were unanswered questions. One that baffled us was why did deer actually run to the farm wide open soybean fields in June, July and early August then later still visit them but not with the same gusto. By mid September with brown leaves appearing these fields were used more as a travel lane than preferred forage. We found that deer only ate the leaves not the stems or bean pods. Deer finally came onto to beans starting in late November and actually preferred soybean bean trash over green and growing winter wheat in late winter and early spring. Working with agronomists and farmers with a penchant for plant and soil research such as Ray Rawson of Isabella County helped to unlock the mysteries.
Here’s an example…let’s use soybeans, deer’s favorite forage when it is young and growing. The leaves of plants are the factories working with the suns rays and nutrients collected by the root system that create new leaves, stems and seeds. First thing first, and that is growing the plant to its mature size and that means developing stalks, stems and leaves. Depending on plant variety, soys need around 60 days of growth before they start to flower. The plant is now near mature size. The leaves are still creating new and lush leaves but also feeding the flowers and soon the developing seed pod. The plant will soon stop growing and now the nutrients within the leaves are directed to the rapidly developing seed pod, thus the reason for the leaves to lose its taste. Much was learned that year in the late nineties, the following years and we are still learning. Our belief is that nothing beats young and growing soybeans for deer with timely seeding dates and fertilization of nitrogen adding to the soy’s attraction.
Sugar beets are okay in early October and improve in preference with time to the point that sugar beets are number one over any thing else in December’s muzzle season, yes, even over corn or acorns. It’s not unusual to see deer fight over a sugar beet.
The brassica family is an interesting one. Our experience was mixed at first, some plots were hit hard the first year providing they were located in the woods, while plots in the open fields took as long as three years for action. All brassica on our lands in Gladwin and Clare County are now awesome and a major choice until there is no more left. Same story as the sugar beets in that as the seasons get cold the action gets hot.
Grains have a role in the deer’s nutrition plan. First, deer need and demand variety of forage so plant a variety of grain such as oats, Rye grain and winter wheat as a blend. Corn, what can we say after we just say corn? We consider corn being used as deer cover as important as its winter carry over food value. We believe there is no plant that puts the deer at ease as well as corn does. Watch deer move through the woods toward your corn field. They never seem at ease, constantly searching with their nose, ears and eyes. Note the change when they enter the corn, they are not the same animal, must be some chemical relaxant in corn.
Note that the above are annuals not perennials and our experience is that annuals are preferred during the hunting seasons. We still insist that perennials such as clover, chicory and alfalfa be a major part of your seeded forage for several reasons. Also make that plot of perennials a field of variety, like five different clover types. Clover in early April is what the doctor ordered for deer coming out of winter and of course that includes does carrying unborn fawns. Some bow hunters experience a drop of deer activity in clover plots in mid October. Nitrogen applied in mid September and again in mid October as noted above just may be the answer for clover re-attraction. (Check our web site, www.deerattraction.comand check the article, the sweetening thing).
Ultimate Bow Kill Sites
One of the first rules for food plots to experience deer activity during daylight is to make them small and this applies to both the bow and firearm seasons. Small means kill plots as small as 1/10 acre, 65 feet by 65 feet square. The reason is obvious, deer do not like to move about in large open areas during daylight especially during the hunting seasons. One kill plot 65 feet square has little chance of surviving to be still there for the bow opener, let alone the firearm seasons. An obvious solution is to make 10 or more of them all around your area. This is a very good solution. We have other options that will not constrict the plot size, in fact you can make that plot as large as conditions permit. This change allows you to easily create an effective combination bow and firearm site.
Hopefully you have a site prepped. If no soil testing broadcast 300 pounds 19-18-19 per acre per acre. Size can be anything you desire. This is a bow site and best located in your woods. If this site is located in an open area with the bow stand in the wood’s edge. We recommend a large food plot site that is bordering the woods on either side of your blind. You can create a travel lane within the woods that enters the plot on your shooting side, right handed have a lane on their left. Now you can ambush the deer within this travel lane that leads to the kill plot. The enclosed photo shows an open area within an apple orchard with 20 fruit trees and a mature maple tree, where we have a ladder stand. Behind the picture taker is a drainage that borders the orchard and includes good deer cover and bedding created by Tony. The tilled lanes between the apple tree lanes will have the following seeding method. Above we suggested three set ups for your pleasure.
The time is late July or early August. We will assume you have minimum equipment such as a quad of at least 400 cc, small disk, spreader, sprayer and a cultipacker. You have tilled the broadcast fertilizer four inches deep. Now broadcast 50 pounds per acre of soybeans. Till the soys at least twice crosswise if using a disk, once slow if you have a rototiller three inches deep. Now we will create the cover that gives deer that feeling of security to move about during daylight. You will mix no more than three pounds of forage sorghum or forage sorghum sudan with no more than three pounds of any brassica blend along with twenty pounds of pelletized lime per acre. Accuracy is important here, the sorghum or brassica if seeded high will give too much competition for the soys, (soys are magic). The pelletized lime allows you an easy way to be accurate. Broadcast the above mixture per acre. Bagged lime comes in 40 pound bags. Make sure it is pelletized. Now we use the farm tool designed by God. Cultipack twice slow crosswise. Buy a bag of oats, winter rye grain and a bag of winter wheat. No need to buy certified seed you are not seeding for a crop, these are called bin seed, jerry oats etc. We will improve these livestock feed seeds to surpass the highly touted expensive stuff.
The first of September mix ten pounds of each grain for a total of 30 pounds and broadcast the blend for one acre, no more than 30 pounds per acre. The seeds planted around August 1 should now be growing and giving shade. Don’t worry about the broadcast grain germinating. We are almost done except for the sweetening thing. Here at minimum we broadcast 100 pounds of urea 46-0-0 per acre around mid-September and again mid-October. (See the complete story of sweetening on our web site for even better action). Deer do have a sweet tooth.
Note the sweetening thing should be applied within the kill plot at a distance you feel comfortable shooting your arrow. This is to pull deer in close if the plot is large. The sorghum gives us the cover. Corn works better but you will need acres of it to maintain cover. Deer like sorghum and mill around it like kids in a pool. Deer will eat the immature seeds of sorghum. Sorghum does not stand up well after a frost but will do for the early bow season. We intend to have the effects of the apple orchard ultimate bow site which will be seeded in this manner along with other methods in future articles. Tony LaPratt is working with me on this extensive project and we expect to create a
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For additional info check our web sites www.tonysulm.com or www.deerattraction.com or call 586-784-8090. Mr. Food Plots, Ed Spinazzola will be giving seminars on this very topic at the 28th annual Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend Sept. 5-7, 2014 at the Eastern Michigan State Fairgrounds in Imlay City. For more information outdoorweekend.net.