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A Hunter’s Paradise: Growing Food Plots for Deer and Elk

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Hunting season is just around the corner and hunters everywhere are scouting the forests, sighting in their equipment and preparing for opening day. There’s something special about hunting for and harvesting your own meat. It offers us a deeper, more meaningful connection to our food and a greater appreciation for nature and the life of the animal. Once you’ve been hunting, it’s almost impossible to pick up a pound of hamburger at the grocery store without acknowledging that it was once a living, breathing creature. This week I want to talk about ways to attract wild game to a particular area by establishing food plots. While most gardeners want to keep deer and other wildlife away from their plants, this form of gardening attempts the opposite. 

Selecting the Location

crimson clover food plot by Florida Fish and WildlifeThe first thing to consider when establishing wildlife food plots is location. This is often the most limiting factor for hunters. Not everyone has acres of land available or access to land that they can work with. In this situation, seek permission from landowners before you start planting anything. Once you have permission, you can begin scouting out the ideal location. Look for clearings on the edge of wooded areas. The best location is between known deer and elk bedding areas and primary feeding areas. Make sure the location receives adequate sunlight. If you’ll be using a tree stand during the hunt, identify a good tree downwind from the food plot. 

Timing and Soil Preparation

Once you’ve found a location, plan to plant either in the spring or late summer. Spring plantings will provide forage for wildlife throughout the summer, increasing weight and overall health. This can also be an important time for establishing predictable patterns of movement for deer and elk – a nice advantage come hunting season. However, late summer plantings will provide lush, young forage that deer and elk prefer during the hunting season. You should also consider which season your area receives most of its rainfall since moisture is crucial for a successful establishment. For best results, you’ll need to prepare the area first before seeding. Clear off the existing vegetation by mowing or trimming. Use a tiller to break up and expose as much soil as possible. Good seed-to-soil contact is a must. 

What to Plant

elk eating cloverNow that you’ve found a spot, decided on a planting season and prepared the soil, it’s time to plant. There are many ideas out there about what to plant for deer and elk. Stick to the more tried-and-true materials. One of the best plants, and probably the standard of any wildlife food plot, is clover. While all clover species are excellent choices, white clover is especially good at attracting big game. As a perennial, white clover will stick around for many seasons. It’s fairly easy to establish and tolerates a wide range of soils types. Other perennial legumes, such as birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa, sainfoin and Utah sweetvetch are also excellent choices for including in a wildlife food plot. Flowering forbs such as forage chicory and arrowleaf balsamroot should be considered, as well as members of the Brassica family. The Brassica family includes turnip, rape, spinach, kale and mustard. 

Also be aware that you may need to adjust your wildlife food plot depending on the type of animal you’re trying to attract. Deer prefer tender broadleaf plants and tend to leave grass alone while elk readily graze on both broadleaf plants and grasses.

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