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Spring and summer Food Plots? By: Kent Kammermeyer - Certified Wildlife Biologist/Consultant
 

 

Fitting Food Plots into Pines and Hardwoods

Whether you own or lease your deer hunting property, chances are good that you do not have enough food plot acreage to attract and raise a high quality deer herd for maximum recreational enjoyment year after year. Not having the time, money or equipment is one thing but not having suitable sites is another. Most logical and obvious food plot sites are old fields, log landings, pine beetle kills, powerlines and gas lines. Do you have any pine plantations, hardwood drains and old roadbeds running through these areas? I can almost guarantee that you do and I submit to you that many of these areas have potential for food plot establishment. Maybe not big plots, but planted in the right crops with partial sunlight, they are big enough for feeding deer and harvesting deer on a consistent basis. All you need is 1/10 to ¼ acre in any shape, but linear is usually the best.

First, a little background information is in order. The value of high quality agronomic food plots for deer is no longer in question. A one acre plot properly limed and fertilized can produce from two to five tons of dry weight forage for deer and turkeys annually. Much of this production occurs in the cool season stress period when native deer forages are dormant and low in protein and digestibility.  This compares to only 10 to 100 lbs/acre in mature shady forests and up to 1,000 lbs/acre temporarily in sunlit clearcuts. Thus, food plots beat woodlands for deer browse production by 10 times on the low end and up to 1,000 times on the high end, acre for acre!

The next question is how many acres of food plots do you really need to accomplish your goals of more deer or bigger deer with better body weights and antlers? Recent research in north Georgia and other places indicates that as little as 1.5% of the land area in high quality food plots can produce significant results in deer harvest, condition and population! The average deer lease in Georgia is about 500 acres, so as little as 7.5 acres will improve the deer herd and deer hunting success. Since the benefits of food plots is on a sliding scale, 5% would be even better (25 acres in our 500 acre example) if resources and finances permit. If you do not have enough acreage, here is how to find more. 

Plots in the Pines

Hate pine trees? I have been there and I bet you have too, looking down those long straight pine rows wishing for better deer habitat or wishing for more hardwoods. There are lots of pine plantations between 15 and 20 years old that have recently been thinned or need thinning now. Timber and paper companies know this and most private landowners do too. In most of the Southeast, planted pines begin to reach merchantable size between 13 and 17 years of age. Third row and fifth row thinnings are now common forestry practice to thin pines for pulpwood and create improved growth rates for the residual stand. Not only is every third or fifth pine row totally removed, the cutter reaches into adjoining rows and removes crowded and inferior trees. This creates lots of filtered sunlight reaching the ground, often 50% or more! Pine spacing of 6x10 or 6x12 at planting can turn into 12x20 or 12x24 after the thinning.

I first heard about this row food plot planting technique from my friend Joe Hamilton, founder of QDMA, who participated in establishing Aeschynomene (also known as American Jointvetch) row plantings along with Clemson extension agent Marion Barnes in the Low Country of South Carolina. A linear food plot of 6 to 12 feet width can easily be fitted in between the pine rows with 6 or 8 feet to spare on each side without injuring pine tree roots. Another selling point for the landowner or forester is that the fertilizer, lime and legumes in the food plot planting will increase the growth rate of the adjoining pines! Also, if three or four of these lanes are connected and bladed for firebreaks it is much easier to burn the pine needle litter before planting and the breaks can become permanent for future controlled burning. A 12-foot wide plot that is 350 feet long calculates just short of 0.1 acre. Here is your golden opportunity! You do not have to remove the old stumps, but it does work better if you can. Joe says the perfect implement for this job is a Brush Master Disk Harrow that can straddle the rows of stumps while disking on both sides. Obviously, you can also use a 6-foot disk harrow and just disk on both sides of the stumps.

Also, look in the same planted pine stands for holes that were left from planting skips, root rot, beetle and drought damage. No stumps to worry about there. In any case, remove the pine needle ground litter before plowing by burning, raking or dragging it to create a clean seedbed. If live understory vegetation exists, spray in August with 4 ounces/gallon glyphosate (Roundup) mixed with 1 ounce/gallon Quest or Amaze Gold (ammonium sulfate). Fertilize just prior to planting with 300 lbs/acre 19-19-19 and broadcast 500 lbs/acre of pelletized lime/acre. It is best to run 5 or 6 foot disk harrow across the plot but in many cases, a fall seed mix can be broadcast on this bare soil surface just prior to a soaking rain without plowing. It should be cultipacked, raked or dragged for better soil contact. If this is not possible, run over the seed repeatedly with a 4-wheeler or UTV.

There are several appropriate seed mixes possible but the mix must contain mostly small seed and species that are shade tolerant such as clovers, rape, turnips or radishes. A logical mix for Midwest, Northeast and southeast is 5 lbs./acre Durana white clover, 10 lbs./acre red clover, 2 lbs./acre rape, 30 lbs./acre cereal rye and 30 lbs/acre wheat. Timing of sowing is appropriate for August-September and February-April moving North to South.           If the plot is burned in late winter, plowed and sowed in April or May (North and South), use the same fertilizer and lime rates (and glyphosate, if needed) but sow 25 lbs./acre buckwheat and 20 lbs./acre Aeschynomene.

Plots in the Hardwoods and Mixed Pine/Hardwoods 

Any holes in the overstory canopy are fair game for small food plots fitted with the size of the hole and the sunlight reaching the ground. Shoot for 50% sunlight but 30% will work with the right seed mix. If there are no existing holes made by blowdowns, dead trees, previous tree cutting or other means, make your own holes with a chainsaw. Obviously, don’t cut mature oak trees but certainly sweetgum, poplar, maple, hickory, elm, birch, basswood and ash are fair game for the chainsaw. This procedure (described above and below) was first published by Ed Spinazzola in Central Michigan author of Wildlife Food Plots Easy as 1-2-3 and Ultimate Deer Food Plots. While you are at it, pick up a copy of Quality Food Plots, Your guide to better deer and better deer hunting, edited by Kent Kammermeyer, Lindsay Thomas and Karl Miller. All books are available at www.QDMA.com or 1-800-209-3337).

You must realize up front that there are difficulties with this method of establishing food plots in hardwoods because of the dense shade cast by hardwood leaves and heavy leaf drop occurring in October, November and December. One advantage of these sites is that soil fertility is generally better than that on pine sites.

If chainsaw work is not needed, spray understory plants with 4 ounces/gallon glyphosate mixed with 1 ounce/gallon Quest or Amaze Gold in August or May. About three weeks later, return and remove as much dead material and leaf litter as possible with rakes, leaf blowers, drags and whatever it takes. Disk lightly if possible. If not, scratch dirt with drag or rake, apply lime and fertilizer (same rate as pines) then sow 5 lbs./acre Durana clover, 10 lbs./acre red clover, 2 lbs./acre rape, and 50 lbs./acre cereal rye. Scratch again for good soil contact. This mix works North and South except on pure sandy soil.

You may have to blow leaves off the plot in late fall to release the seedlings for better growth. If the plot is hit hard by deer grazing early on, you may lose the red clover, rape and rye but I can’t imagine losing Durana which stands up well under extreme grazing pressure.

If chainsaw work is needed, winter is the best time start cutting. Remove cut brush, spray glyphosate in April, spray again in June and again in August, if needed. Sow in September with the above mix.

Hardwood honey holes are a work in progress as the hole will rapidly try to close from the sides and above at which time you will have to employ your chainsaw and/or glyphosate to keep it open or make it bigger. However, since plants in the mix are either perennial (Durana clover) or reseeding annuals (red clover and cereal rye), your stand should last for several years as long as the canopy hole is kept open and the plot is fertilized. 

Existing Roadbeds in Pines and Hardwoods 

Maybe the best situation for small hidden woods plots if you have the equipment or can rent it is an old roadbed winding through pines or hardwoods. Working on these accomplishes multiple objectives including erosion control, access across property and a linear food plot. They are usually partially or mostly daylighted already but still require some chainsaw work or dozer work to brush back the edges and widen the roadbed while increasing the sunlight reaching the ground. Because of compaction and poor soil, roadbeds often need ripping or heavy disking with a dozer. Establishing broad-based dips and water turnouts in the meantime greatly reduces erosion. Your county state Forestry Commission may have a small dozer with heavy harrows with expert operator for rent for a nominal hourly fee. This machine is likely a John Deere 450 or JD 550, both are more than adequate for ripping or dressing up roadbeds and daylighting roads. These dozers also may or may not be available for use in light or minor food plot clearing projects especially when connected with firebreaks, roadwork and erosion control. Contact them for details and a site visit.   

When daylighting old roads, there is no set width but wider is obviously better. Minimum width should be about 12 feet, obviously 20 feet is much better. Concentrate on getting rid of adjoining hardwoods as again, they cast much denser shade than pines. When big oaks are encountered, work around them without damaging the tree or the root system.

Wherever possible, choose roads that are mostly oriented east/west rather than north/south as these will receive more sunlight during growing season and may mean the difference between success and failure due to sunlight penetration or lack thereof. For roadbeds where erosion is not a concern, use the pine row planting mixture. Otherwise, use the hardwood mixture with the cereal rye nationwide. Keep vehicle traffic off of these as much as possible! 

A Word about Durana Clover

You will note that Durana white clover from Pennington Seed Company is recommended in almost all of the mixes mentioned above. I am a wildlife consultant who has done over 50 consulting jobs all across the Southeastern U.S. I also spent 30 years managing over 900 acres of food plots on North Georgia WMA’s. I was using and testing Durana clover in the late ‘90’s before it even got on the seed market and have seen dozens and dozens of Durana plots since then. I have seen Durana survive dense shade (up to about 75%), low pH (down to about 5.2), record-breaking severe droughts of 2006 and 2007, and flooding of up to four feet depth for over a week. It is in my opinion, the toughest, most persistent clover on the market today. If something manages to kill its extensive root system, it will still come back from seed given the right conditions of moisture, lack of weed competition and day length. I have known Durana to come roaring back from glyphosate spraying in mid-spring after all top growth was killed by the herbicide! It can appear stone cold dead from drought in August and come roaring back from live root segments and seed following rain in September or October.

Durana has one Achilles heel: it is a slow starter, sometimes taking three months or more to put on good top growth because it is establishing an extensive root system to support its strong perennial growth characteristics. Consequently, do not use seeding rates any heavier than what I have recommended above especially red clover, rape, rye and wheat as fast growth of these can choke out or shade out the slower Durana seedlings.

If you decide to substitute a cheaper white clover, do not expect results to be as good as they could have been with Durana. Do not use ladino (big leaf clovers with less persistence and less shade tolerance) but you can use common or white Dutch in the mixes with very good persistence but much lower production. 

Time to Hunt

Finally, as you have surely concluded by now, these unconventional tucked in the woods plots make perfect places to bow hunt and gun hunt from a tower stand, ladder lock on or climber. Deer, especially bucks, feel more comfortable entering and feeding in these small plots during daylight hours as opposed to staging 200 yards back in the woods from a big food plot waiting till dark to actually enter the plot. Just do not over-pressure the small plots with hunting activity. Probably no more than twice per week per plot is maximum, and once per week would be even better. Evenings will likely produce less disruption of normal deer movements and better overall hunting success. Don’t forget to name your holes in the woods: Hidey Hole, Honey Hole, Donut Hole, Hole in the Wall, Bullet Hole, Hole in the Horn……    

 

 

Kent Kammermeyer

This article brought to you by Kent Kammermeyer,
a DeerBuilder.com Contributor

Kent Kammermeyer graduated with a B.S. degree in wildlife management from University of Connecticut in 1972 and received an M.S. in wildlife biology from University of Georgia in 1975. Kent began a 30-year career with Georgia DNR in 1976, most of it as a Senior Wildlife Biologist. He was designated a Certified Wildlife Biologist in 1979. He compiled, analyzed and modeled deer harvest data for 59 WMAs in Georgia. For over 25 years, he was Chairman of the State Deer Committee. Kent has published over 50 scientific articles and over 350 popular articles mostly on deer. In 2000, he received the Southeastern Director’s “Wildlife Biologist of the Year” award, being the first ever recipient from Georgia. In 2005, he was awarded the “Deer Management Career Achievement Award” for Outstanding Contributions to White-tailed Deer Management in the Southeastern U.S. He is Co-editor and Co-author of the 2006 Quality Food Plots book published by QDMA. In 2010, he published his second book co-authored by Reggie Thackston entitled Deer & Turkey Management Beyond Food Plots. He working on a third book entitled Wildlife & Woodland Facts & Fun scheduled for completion in spring of 2012. He is currently a wildlife consultant with over 50 clients in the Southeast. He resides in Clermont, GA with his wife Freda and daughter Vanda.  

Visit Kent's Website at www.deerconsulting.com

KentKammermeyer Book

Deer & Turkey Management Beyond Food Plots
by Kent Kammermeyer & Reggie Thackston.

To order order a signed copy of this book contact Kent at kentk49@yahoo.com or order through his website:

www.deerconsulting.com

$20/book plus $4 shipping.

Kent Kammermeyer
1565 Shoal Creek Rd.
Clermont, GA 30527



 

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