Standing perfectly still in the neck-high perimeter swamp cover, I tuned in to the sound in the distance. That nearly imperceptible rolling like a far away ocean wave. It was so hot, I broke my own rule and wore shorts in the woods instead of long jeans. Even though I could not see them, I could feel the mosquitoes dancing on my deet covered legs, trying to decide if the acrid taste was worth getting a siphon of my blood. The woodticks were smarter. They would hitchhike on my pigtails, and then drop into my clothing later in the day. This usually happened motoring home on the freeway and likely convinced other drivers I was either on drugs or having a seizure.
There it was again...the rolling sound was getting closer. Was it a vehicle approaching on my gravel drive a half mile south? Neighbors and friends often dropped by to visit. As I stood staring upward on this hot sunny day, with my ears tuned to every sound in the forest, I could feel a bead of sweat trickle down my temple and onto my neck. My mouth tasted salty. The crowns of the popple trees overhead began to flutter and the once distant sound of a hot wave of summer wind now swooped downward and rolled over the top of them with a sudden and nearly breathtaking force... and then was gone. Similar to the wave of an approaching rain shower. With the woods quiet again, I continued to chainsaw fallen timber, prune walking trails and trim out trees for portable stands at three potential bear bait locations. A hunting buddy and bear hunting mentor had helped me scout this area of the woods several weeks before, suggesting this particular area for bait placement. Shortly after that, I found some decent sized bear scat, which proved his theory to be correct.
Bear season would open in two months, and already I had some great photos on my Buckshot35 Scout infrared camera. The two food plots that I had bull dozed smack in the middle of dense forest last Fall, and then planted with Wildlife Buffet seed products this Spring, were now an ocean of wee sprouting plants. I had used strategically placed wooden corn feeders to "train" the deer to visit these areas in the interim. The presence of hundreds of hoof prints cross-hatching the plots, proved the deer were curious about these mystery crops. But, I had not counted on the food plots being of interest to bears in the area. The Buckshot camera was unscathed after being mauled, but one the feeders was clawed up and torn apart. My goal with the plots was to coax the deer from traveling my property borders, where neighboring firearms hunters lined up each Fall. I wanted to bring the animals to the center of my land via the food plots and it seemed to be working. With the help of the Minnesota DNR Woodland Stewardship program, I had located the plots strategically near swamps and dense approach cover, in areas with good drainage. I had also left the huge toppled trees over the winter, so the deer could browse on their tender tops. My IR camera pictures are branded with date/time stamps, and deer were not only following me around all day at a safe 200 yard distance, but were visiting the plot areas within an hour of my leaving. Pavlov had nothing on me!
I had mentally pictured the food plot adventure as being fairly simple. Bull doze in the Fall, spread seeds in the Spring, and by Summer and Fall, bingo: Wildlife Buffet, just as the manufacturers name says. It seemed like a fairly easy task for one energetic woman to accomplish. When the time came to get the seed however, I was told I really should disc and harrow the plots, together with adding lime and potash. This all seemed like a foreign language to this city dweller, but after doing research, I purchased a single gang flip-over disc cultivator manufactured by Farm Star, as well as a reversible tined drag harrow. Both implements were designed to be pulled behind ATV's, something I really needed since the plots were remote and inaccessible by tractor. Soil testing indicated I needed to add 200 pounds of lime and 100 pounds of potash per acre. It's funny what we forget as adults, but the process of disc-ing the fields again brought back a flood of memories of my grandfather plowing his fields at the old farm in Northern Minnesota. I enjoy physical labor, but I had no idea how much toil was involved in being a farmer, even my minor league efforts with two one acre food plots. Plus, I now had a full appreciation for the detestable job of picking up hundreds of rocks from the fields.
I also seeded my ATV trails with Turkey Town seed mix from Wildlife Buffet. This mix is more shade tolerant and would not only keep the mud down from ATV use, but would keep deer on the trails around the plots.
So far my food plot adventure had taught me many new things. For one, even "little" farm implements are REALLY heavy. It took a lot of creativity to move them around and set them up by myself. A medium sized Otter Sled was the ticket for transporting the harrow, soil additives, seed and supplies. The winch on my ATV helped where my strength and size werent enough. Farm implements are also dangerous. For example, when flipping the disc, some well planned leverage is needed unless you wanted to be catapulted over the top of the thing when turning it over. And the tines on a harrow can easily skewer you if you are careless. I had an uncle killed in a farm accident when I was a kid, so I am keenly aware of the very real dangers of working with farm equipment, especially when alone. I also learned about greasing zerks, which in and of itself sounds funny to me, but grease is to zerks, as duct tape and bungee cords are to the rest of my life. Indispensable! Zerks are the little metal nipples where you inject grease via a grease gun, to lubricate the internal moving parts of the disc so it wont rust. Another adventure with food plots, is accessing them. My north food plot required traversing a drainage between two swamps, with the farm implements in tow. This necessitated building a crossover bridge with green treat 2 by 12's, which was an all day project by itself, but better than sinking a 250 pound disc cultivator in two feet of water and mud.
That sense of being tuned in hits the strongest for me as the magic hour of evening arrives, when the forest becomes as still as an empty cathedral and wildlife become most active. Unless I'm in a tree stand, I like to be out of the woods then, so I don't interfere with the natural cycle. At day's end, and after stowing away all equipment and gear, I walked very slowly from the crooked shed to my hunting shack, harassed by the usual hoard of black flies so omnipresent this time of year. The sweaty dirty tired face of the lady in the mirror was smiling. I cannot explain why utter physical exhaustion after a day in the woods is something I like, but I was reveling in it at that moment. My feet screamed for joy at being released from the prison of my sawdust filled hunting boots, and as I collapsed against the bear skin on my couch, a familiar wave of euphoria hit me. This place... is home to my soul.
I'm a bullet point kind of guy (both men and women are guys in Minnesota as I've said before). As I sat there, I felt puzzled at why I could not find a succinct "to do" list about food plots. It seemed that most of the information I found waxed eloquent on minutia, when I just wanted to the bottom line. In my opinion, most people can fill in the details of a food plot effort with common sense... just give them the highlights. Below is my own list, and if I can do it, anyone can do it. The following assumes you are carving your plot out of a forest. Less disc-ing is needed if you are working with an existing field.
1. Have your State DNR or a forester help you intelligently choose a food plot location, unless you feel you have the expertise to do it. Mark the plot perimeters with trail ribbon.
2. Hire a bull dozer to raze the land. Its not worth trying to do it yourself unless the land is relatively devoid of trees, or you own your own equipment. Some timber companies will even doze your land free and possibly pay you for the timber.
3. Its best to doze the Fall before, so root structures of previous growth can begin to decompose. Leave the trees there so deer can browse on them during the winter.
4. Have soil testing done in Fall. Add recommended lime. Lime can take up to six months to be utilized by the soil, so it is best applied in the Fall.
5. In Spring, add other recommended nutrients, like potash. I used a hand held broadcast spreader for my little one acre plots. You may wish to borrow, rent or buy a mechanical spreader for larger plots.
6. Either disc or hire someone to disc the plot areas. Heavy cultivation is key. I found I could not do enough of it.
7. Harrow or drag after disc-ing to remove debris. Remove all rocks.
8. Disc at least twice more.
9. Harrow once with tines down, then with flat side of drag.
10. In the Spring - Seed when the ground temperatures stay above 55 degrees, or in northern latitudes, when the lilacs bloom.
11. Lightly harrow again to incorporate seed into the soil.
12. Once plants emerge, hand broadcast additional seed on spots you missed.
13. Try to time planting of seed when rain will fall within a couple days.
14. Where the manufacturer recommends it, cut or mow the plot on the highest setting at least once during the summer to promote new growth and reduce weeds.
15. By mid-summer, choose hunting stand locations and trim shooting lanes.
Stay tuned for Food Plots Part 3 this Fall. And be aware... you may fall in love with being a part time farmer. I am already planning a third food plot for next year.