Lee says flexibility and a backup plan are important when it comes to food plots. In the event that a hunter can’t get corn, beans or clover into the ground this spring, Lee says you could potentially roll the plot back and put it into turnips, or something of the kind, come mid-summer. Should your mid-summer planting go awry because of drought or other reasons, Lee says you could always roll it back and put it into wheat instead. If the spring is too wet to get your equipment into the field in a timely fashion to plant corn or beans, Lee also talks about hand seeding the area with wheat for a short-term food source. Once it starts to head out mid-summer the deer won’t be feeding on it anymore, but you can kill it off easily and then prep that same food plot to turn around and plant turnips, rapeseed or something else. Having an alternate plan ensures that your fields won’t sit fallow and create a missed opportunity. By having year round food sources available, you condition deer to come to those plots in the off-season as well as later in the year, when you’re waiting in a blind or stand.
Using food plots for attractants and food plots for nutrition are two entirely different things. Many new land managers and first-time food plotters may think that a single food plot will improve the overall availability of quality nutrition on their property for the long term. However, small food plots or a single food plot within a large acreage cannot sustain a lot of deer for a long period of time. Those kinds of plots act more as attractants. A half-acre food plot can be mowed down by deer very quickly so it’s important that hunters and land managers decide what purpose they want their plots to serve, plant them accordingly and if necessary, fence them off until they are ready for them to be utilized. Clover is great for this reason, Lee says. The deer can eat it right down to the ground, but as long as they lay off for a little bit, it will come back. Clover provides a lot of food, it’s easy to grow and it’s a good available food source in the summer months. Because they work to feed the overall population of deer that call their properties home, Lee says that he tries to have a little bit of everything available for the deer there – clover, corn, beans, turnips, radishes, rapeseed, wheat, forage oats and more. Each crop matures at a different time of the year providing available balanced year-round nutrition. One very successful strategy for him has been destination fields – 15 to 20 acres fields, several of them per property, plots big enough to sustain a lot of deer even in the late season.
While they wait for the ideal conditions to start planting, Lee says they are focused on habitat projects like working in the timber and hinge cutting trees. Food plots aren’t the only food source for deer. In fact, close to half of their diet or more is comprised of grasses, leaves, brush and the natural browse they find in the timber. For that reason, it’s important that hunters work to improve habitat as a whole, and not become completely distracted by food plots. By hinge cutting trees, hunters can achieve a few different things. First, it thins out the areas of thick timber allowing sunlight to come through the canopy and make it to the floor which will encourage new growth and regrowth of the natural browse there. It also creates a food source that was once unreachable to deer. By hinge cutting trees, the leafy tops fall to the floor making that vegetation available to the wildlife. Furthermore, those partially fallen trees with live vegetation also create fantastic cover. The deer can enjoy the security of that cover and hunters can use it to their advantage as a buffer to help mask their movements while going to and from stands. Lee says he has many food plots that are surrounded by timber and working to feather the edges is something he focuses on. Not only does hinge cutting some trees surrounding the food plots allow him to address any issues with too much shade that could impede the growth of the plot, but it also breaks up sharp boundaries from the timber to the field. By feathering those edges, hunters create a substantial amount of cover for wildlife, for themselves and if done right they can also use feathering to influence the direction that wildlife come to and from a food source. Moving away from the edges and directly into bedding areas, Lee says he likes to hinge cut within the ridges where deer frequently bed. By bending the trees over it creates a canopy and by leaving logs inside it creates ideal places for the deer to rest up against as they bed. Hinge cutting in bedding areas also allows the sunlight to come through and provide places where they deer can sun themselves and warm up during the colder months. Aside from managing the existing timber, Lee also talks about planting trees. In areas where forests and large stands of timber aren’t prominent, Lee says now is the time to plant hardwoods, not later. It takes time for hardwoods to mature, so it’s important to get them in the ground sooner rather than later. However, with plenty of mature timber on their properties, Lee talks about planting pear and apple trees and how he’s been working with a professional to find different varieties that drop their fruit at times of the year.
Listen in as Lee Lakosky talks food plots, natural browse, habitat management and more!
Watch “Crush with Lee & Tiffany” on Outdoor Channel, Sundays at 7:30 pm ET. If you miss it, don’t worry because you can watch previous seasons of “Crush with Lee & Tiffany”, stream them anytime with MyOutdoorTV.
When in doubt, always remember, WWTLD…“What would the Lakosky’s do?”