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Bill Starr: It’s time to start plotting – food plots, that is!

I started deer hunting when I was about 14 years old. Back then most folks I knew didn’t even wear camouflage. I used to hunt in blue jeans and a flannel shirt most of the time. Now there are camouflage patterns that will allow you to blend into any environment. You can buy camo that will allow you to blend in with a rose garden if you want to. You can buy just about any product made in camouflage; try finding a camo flashlight that you have dropped in the woods. Deer hunting and hunting accessories have become BIG BUSINESS in our present day.
When I first started hunting there wasn’t much talk of food plots; now it is hard to talk about hunting without talking about food plots. Food plots are definitely one of the hot topics among deer hunters today. Before you go out and just plant anything to attract deer you should give some thought as to what you would like to accomplish and what do you have to work with.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to food plots. No single food plot program is appropriate for all situations. What do you want to accomplish with your food plot? Do you want to increase the size and number of deer on your property, or do you just want a food plot to draw deer in for the purpose of hunting? Too many times hunters look at food plots as a one size fits all propositions, or continue to plant the same thing year after year, without really taking a step back to evaluate their efforts. Before putting a seed in the ground you should put some thought as to what you want your food plot to accomplish. Do you want your food plots to make it easier to see and hunt deer, or do you want to increase the carrying capacity of your property, or maybe your goal is to enhance the nutrition available to deer during times of nutritional stress?
Before the first seed is sown, you can improve your odds for success by identifying your limitations and setting realistic objectives. Most food plot programs are designed to enhance antler size, body growth and fawn development. If this is your goal, then you will need a year-round food plot program including both cool season and warm season forages. A lot of thought should be given to planting a variety of high quality forages that peak in production during different seasons. We have several publications available to help you choose food plot forage plants wisely. Food plots will have little or no wildlife value if they are established at the expense of maintaining cover. Whitetail deer need both adequate food and cover within a reasonable distance of each other. White-tailed deer rarely venture too far from cover.
What size should your food plots be? Unless deer density is high and over grazing a problem, 1- to 3-acre food plots generally are the optimal sizes. At this size, escape to cover is usually not a concern for the deer, and plenty of sunlight is available for the plants to grow well. There are many factors to consider before planting a food plot. It would be wise to consider surrounding habitats, budget constraints, mapping out food plots with regard to soil type, and deer travel patterns. It would also be prudent to plant food plots to complement existing habitats. As you can see, food plots are more than just throwing some seed on the ground; productive food plots require good planning and good management. If you need help planning your food plots, please contact your local County Extension Office. Now if I could just find my camo sunglasses, happy hunting!

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.