Blog Entry July 4th 2020
The Power of Food Plots
Imagine an open landscape, with agricultural fields sprawling over rolling hills, without a tree to be seen. Seems like an unlikely place to kill a Boone and Crockett buck, right? Well, that’s exactly what Nathan and Josh set out to do on a cold December evening.
Nathan’s friend Josh, from Michigan, came to southern Iowa to experience the big buck paradise Nathan had been raving about. Upon Josh’s arrival the duo spent the first evening glassing along back roads. The next morning Nathan checked a trail camera close to his house. The camera overlooked two acres of standing corn and soybeans that Nathan had left specifically to draw deer during the late season from the timber almost a mile away. Nathan popped the SD card into his computer and instantly their decision on where to hunt that evening was made! A monster Iowa buck had been feeding in the plot that morning.
Nathan and his buddy Josh got settled into a ground blind early in the afternoon with Nathan behind a video camera and Josh behind a 20-gauge Savage bolt action shotgun. In order for this to be a successful hunt the pair was banking on their two-acre food source to draw deer from almost a mile away, across open fields to feed. As the evening waned on a few does trickled into the plot and then Nathan got a phone call from his wife. “Shooter coming!” she exclaimed. Nathan’s wife was coming back from the grocery store when she spotted a big buck loping across open ag country to the food source the hunters waited in. Within minutes they spotted the wide framed giant, and an out-of-state hunter had the privilege of wrapping his tag around his biggest buck to date, a 173-inch stud.
I can’t think of a better story to tell on “the power of food plots” than a Boone and Crockett buck loping across open ag country, in daylight, to feed in an area desolate of any kind of woods or cover. This buck obviously had food on the mind.
Nathan has a three-pronged approach to make sure he is taking advantage of the power of his food plots. This system helps him consistently tag mature bucks and can help you too. The three things Nathan considers essential in his food plot strategy is time of year, flow of traffic, and his “Don’t Skimp” philosophy on soil fertility.
Time of Year
The first thing to consider in food plots is the time of year in which you want to hunt this specific area. As a general rule of thumb, Nathan likes to plant something “green” in which the deer will be focusing on the leafy foliage part of the plant if you are focused on the first half of the season. If you are more focused on hunting in the later part of the season, during gun seasons, grain food sources typically have more of a drawing power; such as standing corn or soybeans.
However, a blend of radishes and turnips, such as Real World Wildlife Product’s Plot Topper is Nathan’s “Go-To” food plot as the deer focus on the leafy foliage in the first part of the year but then as the nitrate levels come down, the deer start eating the bulb or root part of the plant as the weather turns cold. A brassica blend with turnips and radishes can truly provide all season attraction!
No matter what time of year it is, Nathan coordinates his hunts with optimum weather conditions, capitalizing on temperature drops and high-pressure fronts. He also minimizes the amount of human pressure he puts on these food plots with good access and limiting the number of hunts on any one spot.
Several years ago, Nathan had his eyes set on a big framed eight pointer with a split brow tine he had nicknamed “R2”. Throughout September and October, the trail camera pictures showed this buck had been a regular daytime visitor into a radish/turnip plot Nathan had planted. Based on the frequent trail camera pictures Nathan decided to make an October crack at this buck and after a few hunts, had a great encounter but wasn’t quite able to seal the deal. Instead of continuing to put pressure on the buck, Nathan focused his efforts elsewhere and came back in mid-November. His first night back on the brassica plot Nathan slipped a well-placed broadhead into the buck’s ribcage, ending the story of “R2”!
Flow of Traffic
As Nathan sets up his own food plots and his clients, he is trying to establish flow of traffic. In other words, using the shape of the plot is critical to getting deer to move through the plot in the way that you want them to. If you can establish the way the majority of deer travel through the area you can access your hunting location without deer cutting your trail and your wind blowing into an area in which you are unlikely to be detected.
If possible, Nathan likes to create an hour glass shaped plot, or some kind of plot that pinches the deer down in the middle of the plot. Lots of hunters like to set up stands where deer enter a plot, however Nathan has found that entrances to food plots are typically where deer are most skittish, on high alert as they enter a new setting. As deer start feeding in the plot they relax and become more at ease. If you can dictate travel through the plot, by the time they get to the pinched part of the hour glass, Nathan has had more than enough time to judge if the deer is a shooter, and the deer has had more than enough time to enter a calm, feeding mode in which he is less likely to pick off the draw, or jump the string.
Nathan likes food plots that around one and a half acres in size for bowhunting. These are large enough to have some legitimate drawing power but small enough that they can be shaped to pinch deer down to a specific point as they move past. Plots three acres in size or larger can be difficult to get deer within bow range, however they can be fantastic for late season hunting and gun hunters.
Another valuable tip to keep in mind, is that the more a deer is forced to move, the more killable he becomes. Nathan likes to set up food sources far away from bedding, particularly for late season hunts. This forces deer to travel to consume the calories they need in the winter months. With all food plots, Nathan is intentionally dictating movement to the food to best capitalize on the flow of traffic.
Food plots are like many things in life, you typically reap what you sow. If you put in very little effort, buy a cheap bag of seed, and broadcast it a few weeks before season, you can expect to reap very little reward. If you put a lot of hard work and effort into doing food plots right, the rewards can exceed your wildest dreams.
As Nathan looks for a food plot location on new farms, he always consults his Corn Suitability Rating Index or CSR2. This index gives him a 1 to 100 rating of how good each piece of dirt is for growing crops, the perfect reference material for someone wanting to establish new food plots. In addition to figuring out which part of the farm is best suited for growing plots; Nathan also takes into consideration where the stand or blind will be located so that access is undetected. By juggling soil fertility and good access, Nathan comes up with the best plot locations for each property.
In many scenarios, on out of state hunting leases or client’s properties far from home, time is of the essence. Nathan likes to do all the prep work in one day for these scenarios. In early August he will mow, till, broadcast fertilizer, broadcast seed, and drag with a harrow in the same day. This exactly the way he prepped the plot for the R2 buck discussed previously and can be a great tactic for out of state hunters with limited time.
Sometimes a site may take two separate days to prepare if mowing or a spray application requires some time for plants to die off. However, Nathan likes to keep as much green, organic matter in the soil as possible as this helps retain moisture and nitrogen. Like the entire process, Nathan does not skimp on the fertilizer! He typically likes to put on 300# of 19-19-19 fertilizer on his plots, in addition to lime, to increase his soil pH. As an added boost for his plants, Nathan likes to broadcast Urea, straight nitrogen, into his plots before early fall rains. This effort into feeding his plants allows his plots to produce the most tonnage possible. Some of his plots have been in radish/turnip blends for over five years with no decrease in food tonnage.
To talk more on food plot strategy or find a farm for sale in which you can experience the power of food plots yourself, call Nathan Lee today!
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