By Mark Fike
Over the years I have had access to some mediocre small parcels of land to hunt that I ended up turning into great places to bag deer. Most great places my friends have to hunt include large fields of crops or prime wetland habitat with a good variety of other habitat to provide food and cover for whitetail deer.
With one of the properties that I have access to I decided to put just a little time and money into a few small spots to try to funnel or attract deer into an area where I could get a decent shot. I did not have access to a tractor or heavy equipment to do the job.
Instead, I utilized what I did have. The land had been select cut and one of the skidder trails was on a flat at the top of the hill and came to an intersection with a bend in the trail. The spot had decent sunlight and the soil looked good (get a soil test!), so I decided that was the first spot I was going to work.
It was relatively small but most of it was free of stumps leaving me with an area approximately 50 yards long and maybe 17 yards wide but in a C shape. There was a forked maple tree that was quite large on the north side where I built a stand to overlook the intersection.
I did not and could not spend much money on putting in a plot but I did have an ATV and I had a Groundhog Max disc that is small and attaches to my ATV. With this disc I can go as fast as I want, go in reverse and turn as sharp as the ATV will turn, to chew up the dirt.
In short, the Groundhog Max was the perfect tool to do my small plots in the woods and breaks in the woods or skidder trails.
So my next decision was what I was going to plant. I have planted a lot of different things over the years to attract deer and turkey and even dove to my hunting areas. One thing that seems to be a winner for me is oats.
Oats may not be the best crop to plant but it is a reliable one to plant. I also like to mix in some turnip seeds and occasionally I will toss in some leftover seeds from my garden box such as blackeyed peas, green beans, and okra. I have seen the deer in my garden eating these things to the ground, so when I have a half packet of them left I add them in.
Putting in the plot involved me mowing the area with an old lawn tractor with the deck set up as high as it would go. Then I lowered it and made another pass. Sometimes I use a brushcutter.
Next, I attached the Groundhog Max to the ATV and rode through several times at different angles to chew up the dirt really well. I learned over the years to let the dirt rest a few days and go back and chew it up again one more time to kill as many weeds as possible.
Now it was time to plant. I try to pick a day when the forecast is for rain the next day. I also make a quick trip to a farmer that plants and harvests oats (think horse farms mostly) and buy a 50-pound bag for less than $10. A stop at the local feed and seed store will get me a few pounds of turnip seeds for less than $20 too.
With the seeds in hand, I dump them in a big bucket (but you can use a hand seeder or even a pull behind seeder on your ATV) and walk through the plot scattering the seed into the wind by throwing it at chest level.
Then I run it over with the Groundhog Max one more quick time to get soil coverage and contact. Last, I walk through the plot and kick the dirt over areas I miss with the Groundhog Max. Within days I see the oats sprouting.
While I could plant clover and commercial blends of seeds, I find the inexpensive recipe I cook up does the job just fine. I have used the commercially available seeds before but the results have not been noticeably better.
The deer don’t usually hit the turnip tops until the first good cold night and the oats get picked at but really don’t get bothered much until the acorns have started to run out in early November in my area.
The small plots that I place on my hunting grounds like this are almost always narrow. Being narrow seems to give the deer a sense of security. Some have bends in them but all are situated so that the sun can get enough light to them to grow the oats or turnips. Some edges of the plots grow better than others due to the sun or browse by deer.
Interestingly enough, I have taken deer in the plots when a good white oak was dropping acorns less than 100 yards away. My theory is that the deer are using the area to travel back and forth and hitting the small plot gives them variety. I also noticed that the deer tend to use the small plot to gather and possibly “socialize” in it.
If you have a timbered tract or property with some small to medium openings in the canopy, consider putting in a small food plot. The yield from such a project is quite good. I have put a number of meat does in my freezer, giving kids a chance at their first deer and we have taken some nice bucks on the plots too.