The Best Food Plots for Deer Have A Story To Tell
When you first think of growing the best food plots for deer you probably start thinking about the best seed cover or the location or deer travel paths. But one part of the food plot story that can get overlooked is weeds and weed control. That’s what happened to us.
How to clear weeds in a food plot
The first step, kill the weeds. Spray chemicals? Mow them down? Disc them up? Do it yourself? Hire someone else to spray? All questions and topics we’ve heard about. But what’s the best answer for your property? We all want the best, right?
Without getting too specific, we chose to hire someone to spray glyphosate on 48 of our 60 acres of food plots back in late March. Why? Well, the 48 acres were previously farmed with rotating crops. We have little information about those crops since we just recently purchased the property. The remaining 12 acres were supposed to get a glyphosate application too, but we were still grading that area and schedules didn’t mesh. Like many things in 2021, getting things on time was a real challenge. Even fertilizer and lime as soil amendments were delayed. And like most folks, we did the best we could with what we had, at the moment.
To be clear, we had a plan. We hired a hot rod, tremendously experienced PhD to teach us how to best establish our habitat goals. That hot rod PhD is sponsored by another tree stand brand, so we can’t mention his name. But our mentality was we wanted the best fit to help us with our property goals. Sort of like a tree stand isn’t always the best option for hunting a particular spot. In those instances, we still want the best fit, so we’ll use an elevated deer blind, or a ground blind.
Striving to create the best food plot for deer
We were pretty much food plot rookies. All we really knew is that we wanted a healthy deer herd for a long time. Now that means different things to different people. For us, we wanted to provide high quality nutrition in hopes the deer could reach their maximum potential and stay on our property as much as possible.
We had been in different hunting clubs and the idea of “running corn” was wearing us out. It’s perfectly legal where we are, but for us anyway, we wanted to hunt the best deer we could grow. That has to start with better nutrition than piles of corn. Healthier deer should have a better opportunity to reach their maximum potential. Those are the deer we’re after.
Our goal is to create food plots for deer to find high quality nutrition all year long. That means we’ll likely have 3 different plantings a year; a spring, summer and fall growing season.
Since our property was previously farmed by someone else, we had 48 acres in established food plot areas. That sounded like a blessing because we wouldn’t have to build our own food plot areas. And it was a blessing, but there’s also more to it than that. Sure we saved the cost of installing those 48 acres but we’re going to have other costs associated with recovering soil health.
See, the previous farmer was using chicken and turkey litter as fertilizer. A lot of farmers do, so this isn't a surprise really. The surprise came in late May and early June. In following our plan, we hired someone to spray and then we planted a high quality seed blend.
How to identify food plot weeds when you're just getting started
Once the glyphosate killed everything above ground, what we forgot is that was the first step on this journey. As the Green Cover Summer Release blend began popping up from the ground, so did all sorts of other green stuff. We were so happy! Until we weren’t happy.
Ignorantly, we had never paid attention to Johnsongrass, nettles, orchard grass, fescue grass, and other green things growing so quickly. Our PhD manager noticed some undesirables in pictures we were sharing of our progress. The first thing he noticed were nettles. Then Johnsongrass, then, well you get the idea. Sure enough, we had a weed problem and he emphasized the importance of trying to manage those ASAP.
We thought we had the option of spot spraying for some of these weeds. As we learned what to look for, and saw more and more of it though, the whole notion of spot spraying was no longer a viable option. The number of undesirable weeds were just overwhelming at that point.
To their credit though, the Green Cover seeds were competing with the weeds really well. So the deer herd still had quality nutrition. Albeit not as much as we expected them to have. The weeds were definitely a negative impact on our goals. Between the deer browse pressure and the weed competition, we’re surprised the deer groceries got to knee height!
Spraying using food plot herbicides
Here we are in July and we now understand a few things differently. We didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. But we didn’t give the “weeds” a chance to come out of the ground before spraying.
Knowing what we know now, we probably would do the same thing over again too. The wildlife, deer specifically, have benefitted from the seed we planted in April. Sure, we’ll have to spray again in the middle of August to kill what we have now. But now we have a tremendous amount of biomass on the ground too. That will protect the ground floor from direct sunlight exposure and help with erosion control. It’s better than an abandoned field or bare dirt!
We’re hiring a new person for spraying chemicals in August. Our last sprayer skipped too many spots that actually contributed to the weed problems. Being that we have a ton of weed grasses, the glyphosate will have a surfactant this time. The way we understand it, the surfactant will help the herbicide do a better job. We’ll see!
One interesting point is getting specific help relative to what herbicide to use for your weed problem. Glyphosate as we understand it is a widely used herbicide for many different weeds, but certainly not all. And when you really want to nuke your weed problem, you’ll start hearing of herbicides like Dicamba. But not many people seem to use Dicamba strength chemicals because the wind can drift those chemicals to neighboring properties. Resulting in unwanted killing of neighboring crops.
We’re not sure what blend of chemicals we’ll use in August at this point. It’ll be after a few more conversations and doing our own research to make a comfortable decision.
Food Plot Adjustments Going Forward
OK, we’ve admitted to our weed problem. What do they say, admitting a problem is half the battle? Well we’ve got a battle on our hands. Remember that hot rod PhD, he encouraged us to jump on the weeds this year as much as possible. In other words, don’t do nothing!
Another interesting point in this learning experience for us is the number of opinions relative to a course of action. There are plenty of people who believe weeds are always going to be there, just grin and bear it. It’s a war you can’t win. You’ll never get rid of the weeds. Weed management is a money pit! And they may be right, to a degree.
But with some time, maybe we can give the deer nutrition blends some help to suppress the weeds. That means we’ve already been in talks with Green Cover Seed about a custom blend for a Fall Release blend. The idea is to increase the cereal rye in the Fall Release to help with our weed problem. Now in the southeast, people roll their eyes at cereal rye because deer don’t eat it.
Our theory is the cereal rye will overtake the deer attractants species in the Fall Release blend towards the end of our deer season. In much the same way the weeds are now overtaking the deer nutrition. The difference will be next Spring. We’ll likely need to spray chemicals again, then plant, and then crimp. The cereal rye will be so dense at that point, as we crimp it down, the cereal rye will serve as a protective blanket on the ground floor. These weeds popped out because sunlight reached the ground floor. The cereal rye, once killed and crimped, should protect most of the ground from the sun. Again, we’ll see. This is the strategy we’re comfortable with for our property.
Hunting on private property means constant vigilance for problems
When it’s your property, when you’re the one making decisions about what happens on your property, the game is a little different. We don’t have the answers! There are always challenges, and hopefully there always will be.
Whether you have a weed problem, a pig problem, a predator problem, or some combination of these and other issues, finding help is getting easier and easier. Be careful though. It’s the difference in knowledge and wisdom. Find the best solution for your needs from a qualified person with your best interests in mind.
Our encouragement is to play a game that you can win. Get help from experienced people qualified to help. If your buddies have all the answers, take a tour of their property. See if they practice what they preach. If they don’t have time to show you their food plots, that should be a red flag right there.
Learn as much as possible from others successes and failures. We’ll have plenty of both to share with you as time keeps on rolling. For many of us, the end game is the same. We want to do what we can to improve deer hunting experiences for ourselves and our friends.
We offer up our experiences in hopes you become inspired to chart your own course. Your journey will be different from ours. But we all start somewhere.
Find Your Trail®