Many hunters want to maximize their hunting success by planting a food plot but might not think they have the equipment to do so. However, if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and add some extra elbow grease, you too can plant a food plot with minimal equipment.
We’re not talking about planting multiple acres here, just small 1/8- to 1/4-acre plots in strategically placed areas that will get the deer to slow down or stop long enough for a shot. These “kill plots” often have very attractive forage planted for deer and might also be in a hard-to-reach area where a tractor or ATV can’t go.
If you head out to your garage, shop, storage building, basement, or wherever you keep your tools, chances are you probably already have the majority of the equipment needed to make your own food plot.
What’s the Plan?
The first tool you will need for your new food plot is a plan. Decide where you want to place the food plot based on deer movement and when you want to hunt it. I prefer to plant in late summer, so my plot will be ready for bow season. There is typically less weed competition with my preferred crop at that time, as well.
You can also use a soils map to locate the better soils on your property, which could help you potentially save money on lime and fertilizer.
While you’re in this planning stage, pick your treestand or blind location for the food plot based on entry/exit accessibility. This will prevent bumping deer as you get in and out of your stand or blind. Measure and tape off the area where you will make the food plot, so you know the exact square footage and don’t get too carried away when using the next tool.
Maybe you already have a chainsaw, and if so, you can use it to create an opening in the forest canopy so that sunlight will reach the forest floor of your new food plot. I recommend opening the canopy at least 20-30% to get enough sunlight on the plot.
If you don’t have a chainsaw, just look for a natural opening in the canopy where the sun is already hitting the ground. There may already be some native vegetation growing there, which is a good sign that what you plant will have adequate sunlight.
If you do end up cutting some trees out of your new food plot area, you can use the felled trees to create deer funnels for the entry/exit area of the plot. Try to avoid covering up your own entry/exit route to your treestand or blind!
Pick up that string trimmer out of the corner and make sure it is gassed up and ready to go with a full spool of string. This tool can be used to knock down any existing vegetation that is growing in your new food plot area. If you don’t have a string trimmer, don’t fret!
You can also use a small prescribed burn in your food plot area to get rid of the excess vegetation during the dormant season or after killing the vegetation with herbicide. These two tools are often used in conjunction for maximum results. Use your string trimmer first to knock everything down and return in a couple of days when it has dried out to burn it. Make sure to follow your state and local regulations before conducting your burn.
Even if you have placed your new food plot on the best soils according to the soil map of your property, you will still need a soil test. Soil tests are probably the biggest help and most overlooked part of planting a food plot. Take a soil sample using a small shovel or soil probe from several spots in your food plot, and send it in for a soil analysis. Your local county extension office or university are generally where you can get your soil tested.
There are other options that will analyze your soil as well. If you know what you want to plant in your food plot, some places will even give specific recommendations for lime and fertilizer application based on those food plot species.
For the few dollars it costs for the test, it is worth its weight in gold to get a soil sample done! Don’t skip this step! It will tell you exactly what you will need to get the soil to its optimum levels for production. Don’t just go out there, throw some seed and expect it to grow. It doesn’t work that way. This is one way that you can also save money by removing all the guesswork of how much and what kind of lime and fertilizer to apply for your crop.
Sprayer & Herbicide
Put that jug of weed killer to good use. If you are planting during the growing season, you will probably have to use a bit of herbicide first. I recommend using glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) to kill out any vegetation growing in the food plot area.
You can use a small hand sprayer or a backpack sprayer to get a good even coat over the existing vegetation. Always follow the instructions on the label of the herbicide when applying! After spraying, you have two options:
1. You can wait until the herbicide does the trick, kills the vegetation, and then conduct your prescribed burn to clear off the duff layer on the soil or
2. You can broadcast your seed right after you spray. The herbicide works on actively growing vegetation, not seeds, so it won’t have a negative impact on seed germination.
I have a couple of rakes over in the corner of the garage that I use occasionally for yardwork, and chances are you do too. Some folks like to have a clean slate to work with when it comes to their food plot seed bed. If that is you, then take your rake and remove any of the duff layer that is in your food plot area to expose bare mineral soil.
I usually use my garden rake for this, which also removes some of the larger rocks while raking. I also like to use a leaf rake if I am going to burn the duff layer instead of raking it off with the garden rake. That same leaf rake will also come in handy later after I broadcast my seed as a “drag” to ensure I get good seed to soil contact.
The seeder that just sits there gathering dust most of the year can be put to good use for several different parts of creating your food plot. It can be used to spread lime and fertilizer over the area according to your soil test results, and to broadcast your preferred seed blend.
To ensure good seed-to-soil contact, it is recommended to use a drag or cultipacker after seeding. Some folks just use a piece of chain-link fence with a couple of 2x4s attached to the front and back, and a rope tied to the front 2×4 to pull the drag over the seed bed. If you don’t have a piece of chain link fence, or can’t get a cultipacker to the plot location, you can use your leaf rake to rake over your seed bed to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Pray for Rain!
Try to plan your food plot construction in between rains. You don’t want to be planting seed in a dust bowl or drought, so wait until after a rain to plant seed to ensure there is some moisture in the ground for the seeds to germinate. I also like to plant seed when I know there is rain on the horizon, maybe even that day, so the rain can work the seeds down into the soil and provide that much-needed moisture for germination at the same time.
Hopefully by this point you’ve figured out that it doesn’t take a lot of equipment to establish your own food plot. This “poor man’s food plot” technique does take more time, energy, and effort on your part versus using an ATV or tractor to do the work, but sometimes the best food plot spots are in areas where the ATV or tractor can’t go. This method works well and usually costs less to boot. Good luck out there and happy plotting!