February 08, 2023
We are fortunate to call David Brothers a good friend. The habitat and conservation work that he conducts throughout each year is unmatched and we are thankful to have Mr. David share some of his thoughts regarding food plots. Regardless of the size of the ground you are able to work, implement a few of David’s thoughts and try something new to enhance that ground and the resulting satisfaction and rewards can be great.
1. Welcome! Please introduce yourself and share with us a little history about how you got into hunting whitetail.
My name is David Brothers and I’m a Land Agent with Midwest Land Group. I was fortunate enough to be part of a hunting family. However, growing up in New York state at the time, you could not hunt big game (deer) until you were 16 so I only had one year of actual deer hunting under my belt before I headed off to college. I moved to Lansing, Michigan right out of school. I met a girl there and asked her to go on a date. She agreed that I would pick her up at her home. When I walked in, there was an old Bear Whitetail II “compound bow” with steel cables and a handful of mismatched arrows sitting in a corner. I asked her if she bow hunted, just to be funny. She said, “NO! That was my ex-boyfriend’s stuff and I’ve asked him 3 times to come get it. But he’s never been by. If you want it, get it out of my house.” She didn’t have to ask me twice before I had it loaded in my truck. We never did make it to a second date, but that day started my love affair with archery and bowhunting, which has lasted 37 years!
2. Properties can vary on many fronts. When searching for specific locations for food plots, what land features are most important to you in choosing those locations?
Entire books have been written regarding this question! So, to keep it short for the purpose of this article I’ll give you a few quick points that I look for in determining a proper site. I planted my very first food plot in 1991. I scratched up a ¼ acre area of dirt and slung a bag of Imperial Whitetail Clover seed over it. Surprisingly, the seed germinated but that’s about the extent of it. It never matured and I saw very little deer utilization of my plot. Looking back on that first endeavor, location was one of the biggest factors in my failure.
If I intend on hunting over a plot, I look for areas that are generally on higher ground versus lower areas. Winds tend to swirl in low lying areas, and I am more prone to thermals exposing my position. I want my food plots as close to bedding cover as possible. Deer are more likely to show up in my plot during legal shooting hours if it’s tucked in close to a preferred bedding area. The location I select will also receive a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight per day. Shaded plots do not grow anything well. Period. And I will typically get excellent utilization of the plot if the intended area is already part of an existing deer travel corridor. So, if I find a smaller open area close to bedding cover, on higher ground, with a well-used deer trail going through it, it’s usually money!
3. Once the site is selected and cleared, speaking all things soil, what steps should a new food plotter be doing regarding the soil to allow for success?
If there is a mistake that someone could possibly make with food plots, I have made it. I have learned that the more effort you put into it, the more you will certainly get out of it. Over the years, with much trial and error, I’ve gotten to the point where “real farmers” are envious of what I grow! The first step in giving your plot a fighting chance to produce, is obtaining a soil sample and having a lab analyze it. It’s easy to do and fairly inexpensive. Without a soil sample, you’re trying to drive with a blindfold on. For instance, soil ph is an exceptionally important piece of information that comes from a soil analysis. Most soils in the midwest tend to be very acidic. If your plot has a ph that is in 5’s, the plants growing there cannot efficiently take in nutrients for optimum growth. That means the fertilizer you spend good money on will be wasted. You would be better off correcting the ph by working lime into the soil before you go any further with your plot. The soil analysis will also give you an indication of existing nutrients in the soil. Things like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium which are all very important in plant development. You may not need as much fertilizer as you think so a soil sample can also save you money. Bottom line, the more you can work and amend that soil, the more successful you will be at growing anything.
4. Let’s talk shapes and sizes and assume most have a smaller parcel of ground to work with. As a food plot architect what shapes and sizes do you prefer and why? And, if you prefer to break up your plot with something in the middle? ex. Grasses
Well terrain, existing open areas, and proximity to cover are all things that play a part in food plot architecture, but all things being equal, I prefer plots that are narrow and/or irregularly shaped. When coupled with close proximity to cover, a deer is just a jump or two away from safety and I find greater utilization of these plots during daylight hours. Plus, with an irregular shape, a cruising buck can’t simply stand at one end to survey the entire plot checking for does. I want to force him to come out into the plot to see around the next corner. My plot architecture makes a buck work for his dates! Equipment availability, will often, dictate size. On my farm, I have ½ acre plots tucked into cover and my biggest is a 7 acre plot! I plant about 30-35 acres in food plots per year. I feel that deer density in your specific location plays a huge role in plot architecture. Having realistic expectations is also key. If all you have available is a half-acre to plant, in an area of high deer densities, the deer could literally wipe out that food source before you even get a chance to hunt it. On my bigger plot I will plant strips of screening cover in the form of tall grasses, to divide it into thirds. Again, that forces a buck to travel out into the food plot and visit each quadrant to check for does as opposed to standing at one end on the edge of cover to survey the entire field. Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat!
5. For a new food plotter to start a new plot location what would you use to kill off all current plant growth? A follow up question, suppose we have an established food plot of clover, what would you do to kill off all undesirable grasses in that plot?
The plotters burn-down chemical of choice on a new plot is glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup. That said, there are some broadleaf weeds that have developed resistance to gly, so often I will tank mix a combination of herbicides like glysopahte and 2-4D. Just be sure to read the product label on any chemicals you use and only use according to their recommendations. More is NOT better.
Grasses are probably the easiest things to kill in a food plot. But in an existing food plot like clover, you have to be careful what you spray so that you don’t kill your desired plants. There are grass selective herbicides that you can use that will kill grasses but won’t affect broadleaf plants like clover. Chemicals like Post, Post Plus, Clethodim, are all examples of grass specific herbicides. For broadleaf weed control in clover, you can simply mow the plot, just before the weed develops a seed head or you can use a specialized herbicide like 2-4DB.
6. What to plant? When the time comes to selecting a seed for your food plot, what’s your favorite early season plot seed and late season plot seed and why?
In my opinion, anything green in the early season is awesome. In early fall, natural vegetation and forbs that deer commonly eat, are dying out and are beyond maturity and palatability. When you have tender, green plants growing, the deer can’t help themselves. Clovers are always a great choice for early season utilization. Cereal grains like winter wheat, rye, and oats are excellent choices. Brassicas like turnips, daikon radishes, and rape are outstanding. Late season, the deer will jump on any easily available food source, especially as temperatures plummet. When the temps get brutal, it’s darn near impossible to beat standing soybeans or freshly mowed or harvested corn. Clovers, alfalfas, and some oats can go dormant in late season so other cereal grains (wheat or rye) can be excellent attractants at that time. I’ve seen many a deer paw through snow to get to a radish or turnip. And I’ve seen 75 deer at one time in the same plot, chowing down on standing soybeans when the temps dropped down to single digits.
7. When timing your plantings in the spring and fall, what factors are important to you in making those decisions? (Weather forecasts and planting dates)
About the only things I plant in the Spring anymore are soybeans or corn. I’d like to try sugar beets one spring, but I haven’t yet. Soil temps will dictate when you plant either of these. Timing is easy. When you see farmers in the area planting, you should be planting too! I always plant perennial clovers and cool season annuals (cereal grains, brassicas, etc) in the fall. I like fall plantings because again, grasses and weeds are dying back naturally towards fall so when you put your seed in the ground your tender new plants don’t have the same competition for water and other nutrients. I will say this on timing…..work your ground, fertilize it and smooth out your seed bed. But I have learned not to put the seed down until you are reasonably sure that rain is expected in the following 24-48 hours. Your fall plots will turn out so much better if you do this. I have had seed in the ground for more than a week before it rained and the germination of the seed once it did rain was about 50% of what it should have been. Plan accordingly!
8. For a new food plotter, what are the necessary tools and equipment to allow for food plot seed germination in a desired area?
The better you can work the soil, the better your plots will turn out. If you do not get good seed to soil contact, your seed will not do well and may not even germinate. It’s really that straight forward. For a quick hidey-hole food plot near timber, I’ve seen folks use rakes & shovels to scratch out a plot. Let me tell you that THAT is a lot of work! It’s easy to find a store that will rent a walk behind rototiller. That alone will save your sanity…..and your back. There are many small implements available that you can pull with a lawn tractor or ATV. Bottom line is that your budget will dictate the tools used. A handheld broadcast spreader can do a very capable job in slinging seed. Try to ensure even coverage throughout the plot area.
9. Of all the things you briefly touched on, what’s the most important tip that will bring success to first time food plotters.
Keep good notes, EVERY YEAR, on what you did that worked and what you did that did not. What you planted and where you planted it. Everything from fertilizer and seeding rates, implement settings, planting depth, ATV speed (if using to plant or spray herbicides), specific dates for planting, etc. That is huge. But of the things discussed…….a soil test is a must!
10.Please provide us with a unknown/fun fact (non-hunting related) about Mr. Brothers for us to get to know you better!
I obtained my private pilot’s license at the ripe age of 17. I also spent 3 years in competitive bodybuilding in college.
We are thankful to have Mr. David share his thoughts and hopeful, that you review your current property at this late winter stage and plan/implement some aspect of what was mentioned prior. An increase in wildlife sightings during the hunting season based on individual efforts put forth earlier in the year can be very rewarding. Get outdoors…where food plot memories are made!
If, by chance, anyone may be in the market and searching for recreational/ag ground, please reach out to David and we’re certain he can guide/help you pursue your possible land ownership desires. He can be reached via Email at email@example.com.
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