We’ve all heard the popular phrase: Proper planning prevents poor performance. Well, it applies to food plots, just like anything else. Where you lay out your plots can significantly influence how effective they are. This is true especially of hunting or cool-season annual plots, but also of year-round or warm-season perennial feeding plots, to a lesser extent.
The first step is determining optimal locations for both types. Take out your topo maps and aerial photos and identify where the best soils, slope and aspect (exposure to sunlight) are. Also look at existing conditions and access. Some locations will naturally rise to the top, particularly if they are, or recently were in some type of agricultural production.
You might want to give these top priority as feeding plots, particularly if they allow good access to heavier equipment. Feeding plots are typically larger and square or rectangular, and designed for agricultural efficiency.
These may be planted in annual crops like corn or soybeans, or in high-protein perennials like clover and other legumes. Heartland Wildlife Institute’s Rack Maker is one example of a largely perennial high-protein blend designed for feeding plots. Their Rack Maker Plus (Chicory) highlights why using a blend is good strategy. In wetter years the clover will thrive while the chicory does all right. Because of its deeper root, the chicory will thrive in drier years when clover my not do as well.
In addition to different expected results, hunting plots have different nutritional objectives. In the fall, the whitetails’ nutritional requirements shift toward the carbohydrates they need to lay on fat for the winter. Providing these is best accomplished by planting quick-growing annuals, particularly plants that grow rapidly, reaching maximum nutrition and palatability in a very short time, and during hunting season.
Brassicas meet these criteria nicely, which is why they are so popular among annual fall hunting plot blends. Heartland’s Buck Buster Brassicas has a blend of hybrid brassicas, forage rape and turnips.Rack Maker Extreme meanwhile, also contains winter oats, winter rye and forage soybeans.
When locating hunting plots you need to consider other variables. One is size. Deer tend to avoid large, open areas and are more inclined to use smaller plots in daylight. This makes smaller openings a better option for hunting plots.
Fast-growing annuals like those in Heartland’s Rack Maker Brassicas grow rapidly, reaching maximum nutrition and palatability in a very short time, during hunting season, making them a popular choice for fall hunting plots.
Other things to consider are access and wind direction. First, consider prevailing wind direction. Look at the lay of the land, the topography and the various habitat types for features like hills, ravines or large timber stands that may intercept, re-direct or funnel prevailing winds. Focus on areas that offer favorable conditions, but don’t discount the rest. You may want to put in a plot or two for variant wind conditions. You should also consider wind direction in relation to access points. You’ll want to lay out your plots so you can approach from a direction that will not blow your scent into nearby bedding or staging areas, and will not leave scent on regularly-used travel corridors.
Road layout is another important consideration. If your best approach is from the far end of the property, you may be better off building a perimeter road rather than driving through the middle. A simple two-track big enough for an ATV is all you need.
Because agricultural efficiency is of less concern, you have more flexibility with hunting plot shape. They need not be square or rectangular. In fact, the better ones often aren’t.
Take advantage of natural features like topography and existing cover type to make them irregularly-shaped. A classic hourglass, for example, creates a natural funnel at the bottleneck, making that a great place for a bow stand. A longer, “s” shape may offers multiple funnels and multiple stand sites.
Before going any further, take a step back and look at the big picture. Examine the juxtaposition of plots and other features both on and off your property. By laying out multiple plots to work in concert with one another, and with other features like bedding areas, you double their effectiveness.
Consider placing smaller hunting plots between bedding areas and larger feeding plots. Place some around a feeding plot in various directions to take advantage of different wind directions on different days. Or, you could position several small plots in a spaced, linear pattern to create channelized movements.
When laying out food plots, you’re limited only by your budget, and your own imagination. Take the time and care to examine what exists on the landscape. Then layout a plan to take full advantage of it. In the long run it will more than compensate for the extra time and effort involved.