Trial and error can be a costly and sweaty proposition when managing food plots for deer. At our hunt club, we've learned the hard way that it takes much more than good intentions and a food-plot slush fund to produce a few acres of lush greenery.
Last year we finally got it right. By late June, we had planted a mix of soybeans, corn, cow peas and sorghum. The corn was a bust, but the beans and sorghum turned out just fine.
With the Aug. 15 start of deer season fast approaching, many outdoorsmen and women are already hard at work planting food plots all over the Lowcountry. Many have been at it all year, with early plantings meant to sustain resident deer herds and promote antler growth through the spring and summer.
If you haven't already planted, you've still got time. In fact, most hunters will tell you that mid- to late June is prime time to plant.
Phillip Cordray of Cordray's Grocery and Feed on Johns Island plants 20 to 25 acres of food plots every year on private hunting lands. He also doles out advice, seeds and fertilizer to countless hunters and would-be hobby farmers such as myself.
Cordray plants year round to keep deer, turkeys, doves and other animals healthy and happy. But his planting activity spikes in early June as he readies his plots for the fall deer season.
Cordray plants soybeans, cow peas, and a special variety of corn that matures in about 90 days.
“We also plant sunflower and sorghum — I plant enough to where everything gets a chance to eat,” he said.
After discing and fertilizing fields, Cordray uses a tractor and spin-spreader to top-sow seed, then finishes the field with a light chain drag. He tries to cover the seeds just enough so that birds won't eat them all and so that the seeds are slightly compacted within the soil.
Rotovators, seed drills and other implements can improve efficiency, though most hunters can get the job done without them.
The key, Cordray says, it to keep the deer out of freshly planted fields until the seeds sprout and plants grow enough to withstand browsing.
About a week or two before the start of the season, most hunters let the deer back in the fields, he says.
“If you can keep them out until they produce beans, then you'll get turkey, doves, quail and everything else in there,” he said.
So how do you keep hungry deer from mowing down the field you just spent so much time and money to produce?
“There are all sorts of ways,” Cordray said. “Some guys use Irish Spring soap shavings. I've heard of human hair hung in a stocking. Cheap cologne, perfume — some even urinate in the field.
“I've heard it all.”At our hunt club, we've had some success with a capsaicin-based repellent — the same hot pepper compound used in hot sauces and pepper spray. But the deer still hammer a field of fresh bean sprouts. Maybe they like spicy food.
Cordray uses and recommends a product called Plot Saver. The all-natural compound disperses after a month or so, depending on rain. He sprays it directly on sprouting plants around the perimeter of a field and in a strip through the middle.
The last and most important piece of advice Cordray gives hunters: “Be safe.” Indeed, working with ATVs, tractors and farm implements can be dicey business. Take it slow, and keep out of harm's way.
Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.