The best off-season investment of time and effort a deer hunter can make is planting food plots that will attract and grow big bucks. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be very difficult or expensive, if you know what to do.
1. Think small: Rather than plant a couple of three- to five-acre fields, scatter five or six or more small plots across your land. Green strips and pockets of a half acre to an acre in size are easier to plant, maintain and hunt.
2. Hit traffic areas: Plant plots in spots where you’ve seen a lot of deer and found numerous rubs each year.
**3. Use aerial photos: **Lay out a series of strips and pockets toward the interior of your property using aerial photos as a guide. This will keep plots away from roads, where people might interfere with your hunts.
4. Plant next to cover: The closer you plant a food plot to thick cover, the better the chances are that a gnarly old 10-pointer will show up to eat during legal shooting hours next fall.
5. Follow the sun: When you plant on hillsides, look for a slope that has adequate sun and good soil. The northeast corner of a slope generally has the most moist soil.
6. Use a compass: Configure plots to run more north-south than east-west. Plants will get ample sun each day but won’t bake in the summer.
**7. Plant logging roads: **Per- ennial clover should be planted in strips 300 to 800 yards long. It’s an easy way to attract and feed deer for several years.
[pagebreak] **8. Do it yourself: **When hiring a bulldozer to clear land, figure on 8 to 10 hours of work per acre. After that, you can do all your planting, fertilizing, mowing and spraying with an ATV.
9. Save some trees: Mark five or six stout trees with good top cover in the corners and along the borders of a new plot. Don’t bulldoze them. Hang stands in those trees and sit in the one where the wind is in your favor each afternoon next fall.
**10. Start now: **Even if you’re not ready to sow them, clear, brush-hog and lime potential plots this summer, says professional habitat consultant Neil Dougherty. “Plant seeds the second or third year for killer plots.”
11. Spray first: Use an herbicide, such as Roundup, to spray areas that you’re ready to plant. A week to 10 days later, plow, disk and seed. “In two weekends, with about three hours of work per acre, you’ll have your plots in,” says Dougherty.
12. Test your soil: Dig five or six cups of dirt from around a plot and mix well for a representative soil sample. Have it tested by your county office for advice on liming and fertilizing.
13. Plan ahead: To establish the proper pH-ideally a level of seven, or neutral-in your soil, you may need to add lime. It takes a ton of lime per acre to raise the pH one point, and lime takes about six months to work. Plan your plots well in advance.
14. Watch the forecast: Sow seed over a well-worked bed just before a steady rain. The water will help work the seeds into the soil.
15. Mow in summer: If you planted perennial clover last year, be sure to mow it this summer. Keep the plant height at 6 or 7 inches. Apply fertilizer once or twice.
**Greens You Gotta Grow **
**Biologic Green Patch Plus: **Sow in early fall. With rain, this annual blend of wheat, oats and clover comes up lush in about two weeks and attracts a lot of deer in archery season. A 20-pound bag plants half an acre. ($18; mossyoakbiologic.com)
**Imperial Whitetail Clover: **Sow in spring or fall. One plot of perennial clover can draw and feed deer for four to five years without reseeding. A 4-pound bag plants half an acre. ($30; whitetailinstitute.com)