Spinner's Food Plot Secrets
By: Ed Spinazzola
SECRET FOOD PLOT FOR BOWHUNTERS
Corn is right up there with acorns as far as the deer’s number one food choice. Let’s plant corn, but with a few twists. Deer love corn as food, but also feel very comfortable using corn as travel cover. Corn needs plenty of sun, moisture, and nutrients for best results, so planting corn for bow hunting can be a challenge. Here are some of my favorite set-ups for bow hunters.
If part of your hunting property is being farmed, work with that farmer to improve your hunting. Any field planted with hay or soybeans — anything other than corn — can be turned into a great hunting spot. Just plant strips of field corn 30 to 45 feet wide along fencerows, along a wood’s edge, and in between any public road and the field. Place your stands in the mature trees along the fence line or just inside the woods along the field’s edge. If you don’t have mature trees along your fencerows, build an inconspicuous tower.
The corn along the roadside provides a shield and encircles the field. The corn along the fencerows and woods provides deer a “safe” travel corridor and source of food.Plant your corn between the first half of May to the first of June with 85- to 90-day glyphosate-ready (Round-up, GLYFLO) corn. If the field has been in hay, I recommend spraying the 30- to 45-foot wide strip the previous fall with a contact herbicide. You can plant it with your ATV or have the farmer do it.
After spraying the previous fall or that spring, thoroughly disc the strips in early May. Then broadcast 300 pounds of 20-10-10 and no more than 20 pounds of glyphosate-ready corn per acre. Then double disc the field with the blades set at a depth of four inches (the seed depth will average half of the disc blade depth). The final, critical planting step is a pass with a cultipacker.
Four weeks later spray one quart of glyphosate with one quart of ammonium sulfate per acre, followed immediately with an additional broadcasting of 100 pounds of 20-10-10 per acre. Now that the planting is done, just dream about the big bucks soon to travel past your tree blind. If the field is going to be planted in corn, plant the surrounding strips into glyphosate-ready soybeans around August 1st. Four weeks later, spray the strips with a glyphosate and broadcast four pounds of a brassica mix per acre. The deer will come.
This plan, with a little creativity on your part, can be implemented just about anywhere. You can even take it to the woods for a dynamite bow-hunting spot. In the deep woods, make a fairly long, open trail at least 60 feet wide with an east-west orientation. Plant a strip of corn 30 feet wide in the center of the strip. In early August, along each side of the corn strip, plant a narrow strip of glyphosate-ready soybeans and a brassica mix. The trail should lead from heavy cover to a major feeding area. Deer will travel in the corn and you will be waiting in ambush.
MAINTAINING A LEGUME FOOD PLOT
It is possible to create and maintain a legume (clover, birdsfoot trefoil) food plot forever without an ounce of tillage. I have several plots, some over 10 years old, that I just spray, mow, fertilize, and over-seed. I stumbled onto this maintenance method over 20 years ago when I sprayed a harvested wheat field in August next to an alfalfa field. Some of the Round-up drifted across to the alfalfa field and it came back better than before the spraying.
One good frost seeding technique is the timely spraying of a contact herbicide three times in one year, with the last spraying in mid-September. Then, broadcast legume seeds in early March the following year. One good frost seed formula is three pounds each of medium red, alsike, and ladino clover and three pounds each of birdsfoot trefoil and a grazing alfalfa plus one pound of chicory. With a few simple steps we can maintain these frost-seeded or conventionally-seeded legume plots.
Wait at least two years after establishing the plots. This allows for a good root structure to develop and mature seeds to drop. Between the first and middle of May, wait for the unwanted grass and weeds to grow to a height of four to six inches. Then spray with a glyphosate (Round-up, GLYFLO) along with ammonium sulfate at one quart per acre each. If the plot is in poor shape overseed with the same legume mix at half the rate right after you spray.
If you see a good covering of clover but you do not like the increasing presence of grass, just spray. The spraying will hurt the clover and possibly kill some of it, but it will do the job on the weeds and grass. In three weeks you will want to strangle me, in another three weeks you just may want to kiss me. The spraying sets back the grass and weeds leaving open areas for the dropped seeds and any overseeding you did to germinate. The almost dead clover and birdsfoot trefoil should come back and sometimes very thick because of their well-established root system. The dead grass and weeds become a perfect mulch of shade and encourage the seeds to germinate and the old legume root system to regenerate.
Repeat as necessary with a gap of at least two years between sprayings. It is important to spray only during the first half of May. I use Round-up because it kills the grass and broadleaf weeds and opens up the soil surface for the old-dropped seeds and newly-broadcast seeds to germinate, yet leaves enough cover for shade. If all things work right, there should be a fairly clean legume plot with little competition. Some feel unsure about using a glyphosate because it does hurt and may kill the existing legume plot. The secret is in the timing of the spraying in early May, provided there is plenty of moisture to ensure preferred plant survival. I have, with experimentation, killed the legume by spraying too much glyphosate in late spring or spraying in drought conditions.
LOW MAINTENANCE COMBINATION BEDDING AREA AND FOOD PLOT
I cannot count the times I have been asked if it was possible to put in a food plot that needed little or no maintenance. Before I give you the formula please remember it is very important, for the greatest return, to plant both annuals and perennials and to plant them yearly in both spring and late summer. Before you begin planting, lime the site to a pH of 6.5.
I have been experimenting with the following method for some time and don’t yet have it perfected. But, I know the deer like it for several reasons. This type of planting serves the function of a bedding, loafing, fawning, breeding, and major feeding area. It should be a minimum of three to 20 acres and shielded from public view. You need to start out with a weed-seed-free field and plan to plant in the spring. Spray a glyphosate (Round-up, GLYFLO) in early- to mid-May and then again in late June. Give the plot two weeks and then disc and till every two weeks through mid-September. That’s right — the plot needs a whole summer of field preparation.
The following year, in early- to mid-May, spray again and do not disc. Immediately following the spraying broadcast 200 per acre pounds of 19-19-19. Broadcast the following seeds separately, because of the differences in seed size and weight. Start with three pounds of big bluestem (warm season grass). Broadcast these seeds together, making sure all the legume-type seeds are inoculated — three pounds of timothy (standard height); two pounds each of medium red, alsike, and ladino clover; two pounds of birdsfoot trefoil (Empire or Norceen type); two pounds of grazing type alfalfa (alfagraze); and one pound of chicory. Make two cultipacking passes in the same direction at around four to five mph (brisk walk) for good seed/soil contact and germination.
Maintenance is minimal, with a mowing in late July every three years and a broadcasting of 200 pounds of 19-19-19 per acre yearly in early August. Expect six-plus years of productive use from this combination field.
Keep the fun in hunting!
Ed Spinazzola of Ray Township, Michigan has been a QDMA member for nine years and a member of the National Board of Directors for three years. Ed, the author of Wildlife Food Plots — Easy as 1 • 2 • 3, has been experimenting with food plots on his Gladwin County, Michigan, farm for over 25 years.