Owning your own piece of hunting land has to be every whitetail hunters dream. I know it’s mine and I’m pretty sure it’s yours as well. You don’t have to deal with all the other hunters on public land and unlike a lease, no one can buy the rights to hunt the land out from under you a month before the season starts. But when it comes to owning land, small, tiny, and undersized are not words that most want to hear, but for most of us looking to own our own piece of whitetail heaven, buying hundreds of acres is out of the question and owning small tracts of land is the only option.
Of course owning just a few acres has its drawbacks. If I could own 400 acres or 3, of course I would choose 400. But small, doesn’t mean useless. Quality deer hunting can definitely still be had it just takes a little extra planning to enjoy the best part of owning your own land. Getting little dirt on your hands and doing some habitat management work is a very rewarding endeavor and there is nothing better than improving the habitat on a property and seeing the deer herd improve along with it. And nowhere can you see the improvements you have made help a deer herd faster, than on a small piece of property. One of the best ways to see this improvement is by planting food plots.
Do I Need Food Plots?
Food plots are a great way to improve a small property, but first you need to decide if you even need food plots on your property. Food plots are the “in” thing to do when it comes to deer management and for good reason, but on small properties they may not always be necessary. To do this you not only need to look at your property, but your neighbor’s property as well. If you live in the Great Plains like I do, you know that food is everywhere and cover is the limiting factor. If you have property in this area and your property has the only cover for miles you would be foolish to destroy that cover to plant more food. If you live in the eastern half of the whitetails range and cover is everywhere, food is the limiting factor. If all your neighbors have cover, food plots are a great idea in this situation. So, get online and look at an aerial photo of both your neighbor’s property and yours. What is the limiting factor? Are food plots going to add to the attractiveness of your property or is your money better spent improving another aspect of your property? If food plots are still a possibility, let’s look at where to place them.
Where Should I Plant My Food Plot?
There are many different schools of thought when it comes to planting food plots on small properties and one is to plant them near the middle of your property to keep deer away from the property lines. To me it just depends on how small the property is. If you have 10 acres, it doesn’t matter where you locate a food plot it will be near a property boundary. If you have 100 acres, you can probably locate a food plot near the center of the property; however, one drawback is how you hunt the food plot. If you like to hunt over your food plots, having one in the center of your property means you will create a lot of disturbance getting to and from your stand.
Another school of thought is to plant them in natural openings. Sometimes on small properties you don’t have many options and you are left with planting a food plot in areas that are already relatively open, or will allow enough sunlight to grow a crop. This theory works fine, just remember to check and make sure that you can hunt these locations without doing more harm than good.
The final school of thought is to place a food plot in areas where the deer are already traveling. This is a great idea for small properties because more than likely deer will just be passing through. So by planting a food plot on or near where deer are already traveling you give deer another reason to stop and stay on your land just a little bit longer. One problem with this is that in some areas there may not be any natural openings in this area or it will take more time and effort to create a food plot in this area. But, if you are willing to do the extra work, these types of food plot locations are great.
Each school of thought has its drawbacks and its benefits. Each property is different and it is up to each individual land manager to decide what is best for their property. Also, as mentioned earlier, make sure when you decide to place a food plot in a certain location, that the location is place you can enter and exit the stand unnoticed and take note of the prevailing wind as well.
What To Plant In My Food Plot?
So now that we know where we are going to place our new food plot, it’s time for that million dollar question. What do I plant in my food plot?
Clovers are perennial legumes that make great food plot crops. They are easy to establish and deer love them. Clovers are also shade tolerant so for small food plots tucked back in the timber, clovers are perfect for your food plot. Crimson clover is great in warmer climates throughout the South and is not as cold tolerant as some other varieties. Durana white clover is drought tolerant and is highly productive and it has a high graze tolerance, which is great for small properties to help you get the most out of a small food plot. Both of the above clovers are best planted in the spring.
Forage radishes are cold tolerant brassicas and their long roots act as a great soil builder. Radishes have huge tap roots and succulent leaves that both providing food for wildlife. Because of this they will provide a maximum amount of food for your deer herd in a small plot. Forage radishes can be planted in late August in the North and September in the South. Radishes should not be planted for more than two years in the same plot.
Wheat is a great crop for a small plot because you give the deer an almost year round food source. Deer will consume it in the spring, fall, and the winter providing protein levels as high as 25 percent. Wheat is generally planted in September in the North and October in the South.
Another great way to provide a food source to deer on a small property is by planting trees. Oak trees and the acorns that they produce are a great deer attractant. However, they are relatively slow growing. Mast producing trees such as apples, pears and persimmons are great as well.
Small plots have a tendency to get eaten quickly by deer. It is recommended, if you want a late season food source, that you use some sort of electric fence to keep the deer from destroying the plot early in the growing season.
Small properties and small food plots present a whole new set of challenges for whitetail managers. The good news is that you can still have a great whitetail hunting property, it just takes a bit more planning and thought. The key is to plant and implement strategies on your property to make your property different and better than your neighbors which will attract and hold more deer on your small food plot.
STANDING CORN FOOD PLOTS
Standing Corn Food Plot.
Friend or Foe?
It is no coincidence that states known for growing large bucks are those that are also known for growing acres of corn. In fact the top three corn producing states in 2015 were Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska. Ask any whitetail hunter what their top destinations for hunting whitetails are and all three of those states will likely top the list. The link between the availability of quality food and antler size has been studied many times and as most whitetail hunters know, in order for a buck to grow larger antlers he needs many different things to happen and one of these is quality nutrition.
Because many hunters have made the connection between quality nutrition and larger antlers, corn has become a staple in most property owners’ management plans. But should it be? In states like Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois a bad word about corn can get you kicked out of the state, but is corn really as good as it appears on the surface. It’s definitely a quality food plot crop and it can do wonders for improving a deer herd’s health. However, corn may not be the best choice as a food plot crop for your property because for as many benefits corn can provide, there are drawbacks as well. So, what are some of these benefits and drawbacks? Let’s take a look.
Deer love corn, there is no denying that. Corn is an annual, warm-season grass that is high in fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates is a vital energy source for deer. In northern parts of the country, winter can be an extremely stressful time for deer and a quality source of carbohydrates are needed to get the deer herd into the spring healthy enough to birth and raise fawns, or grow antlers.
Another way that planting a food plot with corn can benefit your deer herd during the harsh winter months is what it can provide in thermal cover. If you live in northern areas of the country or have ever been to these areas during the fall or winter, you know how cold it can get. But it is not the ambient temperature that is the true problem, it’s the wind. Wind chills can easily drop below zero and when these winds really start to pick up, whitetails seek cover that helps protect them from these winds. A corn plot that is left standing into the late season does just that. If deer enter the corn plot just 20 yards toward the center of the field, the wind becomes almost nonexistent. Combine that with the fact that the deer don’t have to travel to get a quality source of carbohydrates and you can see why a standing corn field can be a life saver for deer.
Another great aspect of corn that makes it such a great food plot crop, is the fact that during the late season the corn cob hangs down and is covered by the shuck. This ensures that the corn is not exposed to moisture and will not mold as easily. This makes the corn available to deer throughout the late season providing much needed energy for deer during this time.
Corn doesn’t just make good cover during the winter, but just a couple months after planting, the corn reaches a height where deer can start using it as security and bedding cover. One of the main reasons that deer use corn plots for cover is because hunters rarely enter them. Once a corn plot is planted and the weeds are sprayed, there is little reason for anyone to ever enter the corn plot. Unlike woodlots where hunters may enter the woods every week to check trail cameras, spray food plots, or are just using the property for general recreation.
In some areas of the country like Nebraska or Kansas, a corn field may be the best, or only, available cover. Because of this, deer have no other option but to use the cornfield as bedding cover. In this type of situation a corn field becomes extremely valuable to the survival of deer in the area.
You can see that corn can provide many benefits to a deer herd. You may still be thinking that it will make a great food plot crop for your property. However, it is unwise to make a decision without knowing the whole story.
While corn is a great source of carbohydrates, it carries very little in the way of protein. Only 7 to 10 percent of corn grain is protein. Protein is needed in order for does to produce quality milk for fawns and also for bucks to grow antlers. Other food plot crops such as soybeans contain as much as 30 percent protein, which may make them a better option.
Corn is also not a warm season food plot crop. It provides no food during the growing season. As the days start to shorten during the fall, the corn kernel starts to harden and develop a dent. At this point, the corn finally enters a stage where deer find it palatable.
Another factor to consider is that it’s very hard to get corn to a point where it becomes palatable to deer. Corn requires greater soil fertility and if this type of soil is not available, heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer are required. This is because corn is such a heavy user of nitrogen. Because of this, corn can’t be planted in the same area year after year. This annual application of nitrogen fertilizer can be very costly. That is money that may have been better spent creating a new food plot or doing a prescribed burn.
Corn is also not very drought tolerant and does best in areas under irrigation or areas that receive sufficient rainfall. I doubt that very many of you irrigate your food plots and Mother Nature is rarely predictable in terms of rainfall. Another problem is that if you get adequate rainfall, it leads to the rapid growth of weeds. Corn does not compete very well with these fast growing weeds. Both pre- and post-emergent herbicide treatments are available, as well as Roundup Ready corn. However, these options are expensive. Add to the cost of herbicide treatment and Roundup Ready corn, the price of a fertilizer application and the price to plant a food plot in corn rises quickly. It is also recommended that corn is planted in larger plots to ensure that deer have adequate food throughout the late season. Larger plots means more fertilizer and herbicide, which means a larger bill once again.
Corn provides cover and food all in one location, and that’s great. Except the fact that it limits how much a deer has to travel during daylight hours. If a buck doesn’t have to leave the corn field, it makes it nearly impossible for a hunter to harvest that buck. Large acres of standing corn can hold many deer. If all the deer are in the standing corn, it makes your tree stands that are located in adjacent woodlots ineffective. Your only option is to hunt near the standing corn. This option is risky because the chance of spooking all the deer in the field is greatly increased.
Also mentioned earlier is the fact that corn may be the only quality cover available in some areas. If you harvest or cash rent your corn food plots you may be leaving your deer herd out to dry. When the corn gets harvested it leaves little to no cover available for deer and will force them to move to areas with better cover. This can mean that deer may completely move off your property. That is definitely not what you want to happen.
Corn has many drawbacks, but it also has many positives. These positives can outweigh the negatives in some situations, but for others an alternative crop will be a better option. So what can you do as a property owner if you still want the benefits that corn can provide your deer herd?
First, there are many alternative food plot crops that work just as well as corn at providing quality nutrition. For example, clover is a great early season food plot crop that provides deer food during the summer months and can have crude protein levels as high as 25 percent. Brassicas are also a good choice for property owners because they are full of starch. This starch turns to sugar in cold temperatures. Deer will forage on the tops of brassicas during the early season, then switch to the bulbs during the late season. By planting half of your food plot in clover and half in brassicas or a brassica blend, you can provide quality nutrition for your deer herd year round.
If your heart is still set on planting corn, there are a few things you should consider that can make your food plot and hunting more successful. First, you should rotate your corn plantings with another crop, specifically a legume, because corn is such a heavy user of nitrogen. Usually two years of soybeans should be planted to every one year of corn. The soybeans take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that is usable by other plants. By planting soybeans for two consecutive years you allow the soil to build up nitrogen that the corn can then use in future years. Even by rotating corn with a legume, you will likely not be providing the corn plant with enough nitrogen and a fertilizer application will still be necessary.
Corn is king, and for many reasons it should be. But there are many factors that you should consider before deciding if it is the right food plot crop for your property and your deer herd. Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Can you afford the high price of fertilizer in order to see the benefits of the high carbohydrates that corn can provide? In the end, it all depends on your specific property and your management goals. It is up to you if you want to create your own little piece of Iowa on your land.