By the time this article appears in the December issue, the whitetail prerut should be in full swing here in the Gulf Coastal South.
As I sit at my writing desk in late October, though, my food plot fields are just now planted and established. The tender young shoots of oats, wheat, rye and clover, that now carpet my food plots, are being heavily clipped and browsed by meandering bands of deer that are just beginning to feel the early pangs of the annual hormone fueled whitetail breeding ritual. I was extremely lucky this particular planting season to have all of the necessary ingredients for good wintertime food plots converging at the same time.
A regular reader of “Happy Trails” would by now rightly surmise that I am a very detailed and meticulous person who always strives for perfection and spares nothing in this pursuit. This genetic trait can be both a gift and a curse, depending on the circumstance.
My planning efforts for activities such as food plot planting can, at times, seem more like the preparation necessary for an amphibious invasion. The acreage of each of my individual food plots is carefully measured in advance, as was the desired broadcast rates for seed and fertilizer.
I try to never rely on hope and luck as a plan, and this year was no exception. My battle plan for planting was carefully calculated and laid out. The process of disking, applying seed and fertilizer, and smoothing and covering, would be accomplished in one long, full day with my son’s help.
On the mid-October Saturday that these activities were scheduled to take place, the local weather forecast had mentioned only a very slight risk of a shower late in the day. I had arranged to be free the whole day, and my son and granddaughter were coming up from Louisiana to help. So it was “all hands on deck.”
Having risen well before dawn, I was sitting in my pickup at the loading dock of the local seed-and-feed store when they unlocked the door. After loading up, I hauled the seed and fertilizer to “the farm” and prepared to begin thoroughly disking each field.
All of the disking was finished by about 1 p.m., and we then swapped the disc for the big hopper broadcaster. My selected broadcast rate was 200 pounds per acre using a four-way seed blend and 200 pounds per acre for fertilizer.
I usually spread the seed first and follow up with the fertilizer, but on this particular day, for some reason, I decided to bring along a plastic kayak paddle to blend the seed and fertilizer together as they were simultaneously poured into the hopper.
This method is only as accurate as how well blended the seed and fertilizer are in the hopper, it does cut the total broadcast time in half.
Thank goodness for the extra time advantage, because as I loaded and blended the mixture at about 4 p.m. for the very last field, inky black clouds alive with lightning bolts were rolling in fast from the north.
I jumped back in the tractor and began running circuits back and forth through that final field like a mad man, trying my best to finish before the deluge hit. Literally, 10 minutes after finishing — as I was speeding back to the tractor shed — the bottom dropped out, and as I peered through the rain swept windshield, it suddenly dawned on me that now I would not be able to drag the fields with a harrow to cover the seed and fertilizer.
To me, at that moment, the whole effort looked like a total disaster. All of my careful plotting and planning down the drain — not to mention several hundred dollars worth of seed and fertilizer — due to a random, unpredicted and unforeseen thunderstorm.
But you know, Lady Luck is a fickle old gal, and she can just as quickly decide to shine on you as ruin your plans.
My fields were freshly disced, and the rain was just long and intense enough to wash most of the seed and fertilizer pellets into a matrix of furrows, cracks and crevices, and cover them up with a thin layer of soil.
As the old saying goes, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
My food plots have never looked this good this early. I don’t know how many times over the years I have gone through the whole sequence of steps involved in proper planting and then not had a rain for several weeks, or had just enough moisture to cause germination followed by a drought.
This year it was dumb luck, but I’ll take it.
I definitely learn from this experience, with my main take-away being to plan on following all of the proper planting and covering steps whenever possible but if a high probability of rain is forecast you just might be able to get away with not covering your seed and fertilizer.
Of course, as in my case, this works a lot better if the ground is freshly disced before broadcasting your seed and fertilizer just ahead of the onset of good rainfall.
Planting successful food plots is truly a science unto itself, with the range of potential outcomes being directly aligned with the amount of advanced preparation and effort that you put into it.
To this end, I highly recommend to a guide book to food plots that I have found to be extremely helpful over the years. The title of this book is “Quality Food Plots,” and it is available through the Quality Deer Management Association. This guide book is well written and is chock full of color photos.
My food plots serve multiple purposes: providing supplemental sources of nutrition for deer during the winter months, providing excellent trail camera observation points and serving as attractors for deer.
If you are not currently planting food plots on your hunting property, consider putting some in. If you do, you won’t be disappointed.
Hunt hard, be safe and keep your trail cameras in action.