Mar 10, 2017

Looking Back at 2016 Helps Plan for 2017

By: Steve Jordan

The spring, summer and fall seasons of 2016 were close to perfect for food plots in Wisconsin. Most of us had very timely rains, so even the sandy areas did well. A wet year for food plots is always better than a drought. When you get timely rains, the vegetation around your food plots and in the woods remain juicy and desirable, taking some grazing pressure off of your food plots. 

The deer populations in the central Wisconsin areas that were severely devastated by “earn a buck” and “Zone T” seasons have finally started to come back to practical hunting levels. Ten years ago, damage in food plots from overgrazing was almost nonexistent. Now it is fairly common. 

Overgrazing can be a huge problem. One strategy is to spray a deer repellent on a young crop. This will keep the deer away from it for about 3 weeks. This will give the young plant a chance to mature and build a root system that can replenish top growth that has been clipped off. 

I have seen some clever fencing that has worked very well to combat overgrazing as well. Some food plots I have seen uses a fence that will only let deer into the plots for a certain amount of time, gauging the growth of the crops and moving the fencing as needed.

A good quality fertilizer program can also help the plant become stronger and healthier so it is easier for the plant to rebound from grazing. Being early spring, this is a good time of year to shop around for seeds and fertilizer. You can have the seeds and fertilizer all lined up and ready to use for when the soil conditions allow planting of early crops.

Getting back to the weather in 2016, you also have to consider the mild winter of 2015. This ensured good deer herd health coming into spring. The bucks did not have to rebuild much body mass, so more nutrients went into antler growth. Also, the does and unborn fawns were healthier coming into the spring than they were in some other years.

One of my most popular mixes last year was my tall mix. This mix is designed more for cover than food. It consists of three varieties of field corn, sweet corn, three varieties of sunflowers, the tall sorghum, English wheat and sedan grass. I like to use it to create bedding areas and travel corridors. If you plant it on the outer perimeter of a food plot, it also makes a nice place to set up a turkey tent for deer hunting. You can take some of the tall plants and camouflage your tent with the material and be almost invisible while hunting.

The hottest crop again last year was the Roundup ready alfalfa! This crop had the most deer feeding in it by far from early spring and into the winter. The second hottest crop was soybeans. Because the deer were mainly grazing on the alfalfa, the soybeans matured nicely with over 20 pods on each stalk, making it a great fall and winter feeding crop! The third best crop was my turnip, radish, rye, kale, rutabaga and canola mix. The fourth best was the standing corn, and the fifth was my tall mix.

Trees and shrubs can enhance the areas around your food plots, so don't forget to consider planting some. Apple trees bordering a food plot or set up along an open fence line make great consistent scrape lines for bucks in the fall once the apple trees mature. It is a consistent place for the deer to check out daily during midsummer through the fall. Wolfrath's Nursery near Hortonville is having a great bare root “Deer Candy Apple” tree sale, along with other fine trees and shrubs for wildlife. See Wolfrath's advertisement on page …........... of this magazine. 

Put a lot of thought into your plan of what to plant and where. Picture what this food plot will look like in the fall. If any of your early crops just don't look good by the end of July, you may want to rework some of them for a late season turnip mix.

I have one person I do food plots for that could never picture what his food plot would look like in the fall. He was in walleye fishing mode all spring and could think of nothing else. In the fall, he would question my strategy. The last few years I would just plant some corn for him and all of the other areas into Roundup ready soybeans. By late July, I would have his full attention and we would work out a plan to disk up some of the weed free soybeans in strategic places. In those weed free areas, we would plant some of the fall crops like turnips, rye, radishes, etc.

Some of my best planning for the following year's food plots comes from my bow stand.   You can picture your new view easily, using a recommended rotation of crops.

Have a great spring and try to hook a ride with some of the walleye fishing fanatics. Most of them are very serious and are as successful as us food plot fanatics.