Big Acreage and Big Equipment Aren’t Required for an Effective Plot
We’d all love to own hundreds or even housands of acres of land to specifically manage for deer hunting. Just imagine cruising along in that big John Deere tractor and letting the expensive implements do all of the dirty work! And then comes Fall; time to climb into a treestand overlooking a luscious food plot and wait for your target buck to wander by just 18 yards away.
For most deer hunters, though, that’s nothing more than a far-fetched fantasy. Maybe you own just five acres in a subdivision, or perhaps you have permission to hunt your neighbor’s 10 acres. Believe it or not, that’s all it takes to put in your own food plot. Other than that, you need little more than some basic tools, a few supplies, and a good attitude.
It’s no secret that small parcels can produce good Whitetail hunting. Even a small food plot can substantially increase a small property’s hunting potential. Folks who see big opportunities on small parcels are sometimes even fortunate enough to take high-quality bucks. So, if you have a small property and want to improve its potential, this article is for you.
Here’s how to plant a tiny food plot that will attract deer.
Will My Property Work?
Small acreages are often viewed negatively because they rarely hold deer. Deer expert Matt Harper advises, “Are you going to hold deer on a small acreage? No. But, you’ll be able to draw deer to your property and then hunt them.”
To that end, while 10 or more acres is ideal, even one acre of land can work. Regardless, all small properties have this in common: even a fatally shot deer can cross property lines, which can pose a problem for recovery and retrieval.
Before you decide to plant a food plot for hunting on a small parcel, connect with neighboring landowners. Be polite and straightforward about your plans. Try to obtain permission from all surrounding landowners to trail and retrieve a deer on their property if the need should arise. If all give you the green light, and bowhunting is legal, then move ahead with your plot. (Be sure to consider city, town, and village ordinances too, when applicable.)
Size, Design, and Location
How big should you make your food plot? Good question! Since we’re talking about preparing and planting with minimal equipment, consider existing openings or look for locations that require minimal chainsaw work for sufficient sunlight to reach the soil. Plots as small as 100 to 200 square feet can attract deer, so think creatively. I recently planted a 500-square-foot plot on my 1- 1/2 acres, and I had multiple deer visit it throughout the season, including two decent eight-pointers.
Harper shares some insights regarding plot shape and design.
“When folks ask me how to size and shape a plot, I ask them how far they’re able to shoot their bow,” he says. “I try to incorporate a feature that will pinch deer through an area, and then place my stand there. An example is a bend in the plot that deer have to walk around to get to the other end. If 30 yards is your maximum range, make that bend no wider than 30 yards across.”
Now, if you have multiple plot- location options, the Whitetail Institute’s Brandon Self suggests placing it relative to a destination farm field and an adjacent bedding area. This can be difficult to pull off on a small property, but when the opportunity exists, jump on it. Regardless, try to locate your plot in a way that allows you to enter and exit without pushing deer off the plot.
Hand Tools Plus Sweat Equity
For soil preparation and planting, it’s great to have a four- wheeler or small tractor, but if you don’t, you’re still in the game. Chances are that you have what you need in your garage or garden shed.
The Whitetail Institute offers three different seed blends that require only seed-to-soil contact. It’s possible to achieve that with merely a rake, and that’s exactly how I prepared the soil for my tiny plot. Of course, a garden tiller could save you some effort if you own or can borrow one.
Depending upon your property and plot location, other valuable tools include a chainsaw and weed whacker, which will help you clear weeds, brush, small trees, and deadfalls. For my tiny plot, I cut down a couple of dead-standing trees, but cleared all remaining vegetation and exposed the soil with just a rake. If there is too much vegetation, you might need to broadcast a round of herbicide onto the existing vegetation, let it wilt, and then clear the area. With sufficient sunlight and good soil contact, any of the three plantings discussed next should flourish.
Don’t overlook soil testing. Purchase a soil pH test kit from your local farm or garden supply store and determine your soil’s pH. Once you have a reading, reference your seed bag or consult the supplier for soil pH recommendations for your selected planting. Often, you’ll need to apply both lime and the seed supplier’s recommended fertilizer for best results.
Now, let’s talk plantings. Here are those I’m familiar with that work great for a tiny plot.
What to Plant
If you can till the soil, a perennial such as the Whitetail Institute’s Imperial Whitetail Clover can provide great forage during the summer, early season, and into winter. But, if you are merely exposing the soil, try one of the three annual plantings listed by the Whitetail Institute.
“Secret Spot and BowStand are tailored for situations in which you’re unable to till the soil, but where you can at least expose the soil,” Self reports. “Both are similar and will work in limited sunlight and with minimal ground preparation. They’re ideal for tough-access locations or for folks with limited equipment. Then, we have No- Plow, which will grow nearly anywhere.”
The better you prepare the soil, the better your results will be. But, planting a tiny food plot literally can be as simple as exposing the soil with a rake, the way I did on my home property. I also threw down some lime and fertilizer, then broadcasted the seed with a hand seeder.
Self added this tip. “With ground preparation, the better seed-to-soil contact you achieve, the greater your germination rate will be. You’ll also need to fertilize and lime it. Secret Spot has a lime coating in the bag, which helps with pH. Fundamentally, though, the better you prepare the ground, the more productive your plot will be.”
Plant That Plot!
Daydreaming about unrealistic circumstances doesn’t put a deer in front of you. Consider your present circumstances, and if all you have is a small three-acre parcel in a subdivision where bowhunting is legal, then you can plant a food plot right out your back door. You might not attract a 150-inch buck to a 300-square-foot plot—but then again, you might. But you certainly won’t know unless you roll up your sleeves and plant a tiny food plot with the minimal tools and acreage that you do have.