Always see alot of questions from first time food plotters. Bill Winke has a great write-up about cheap food plots with little to no equipment.
Making a Poor Man's Plot - Midwest Whitetail
We end up doing a number of videos each year where we are either making, or hunting over, a Poor Manís Plot. These are the food plots we construct using very limited power equipment and on a ďPoor ManísĒ budget.
Not only do we have great fun making them (who doesnít like burning stuff and running chainsaws?), but we also have great success hunting over these plots. Creating a couple of Poor Manís Plots is something many deer hunters can do even they only hunt on permission. And there is nothing you do to make your hunting area more productive this fall.
In this blog I am going to touch on the main points of the Poor Manís Plot. I am sure will do several videos on the topic again this off-season, but it never hurts to have the process in writing too.
Poor Man's Plot Aerial PhotoThis is another of my best hunting spots. This opening is about four acres and started life as an overgrown pasture with a number of locust and hedge trees that I had to first remove.
WHERE TO CREATE IT
Sometimes you donít have control over where the openings in the cover occur, but maybe you can select between multiple site options or maybe you have the ability to create the opening itself. In both cases, you want to select sites that give you an advantage and hopefully take away some of the advantages the deer enjoy in most of the places we hunt them.
Clean entry and exit routes are the most important single factor to consider when choosing a location for your efforts. It has to be a spot you can sneak into and out of without any deer knowing that you are, or were, there. Look for areas near natural low profile travel routes like creeks (where you can sneak below the bank) or even near a roadway, lake or other obstruction that will keep the deer from being on one side of the small plot.
Locating your Poor Man's PlotYou can often find potential locations for Poor Manís Plots on aerial photos and topo maps. Look for ridge tops (ideally) with small natural openings or the very ends of narrow ridge top crop fields.
Further, I like to place my small plots just inside the cover from larger fields whenever I can. This often works well because farmers till the ridge tops but arenít too excited about trying to turn big equipment at the back end where the ridge starts to get narrow.
Thus, these areas often grow up to brush that you can hollow out to form your plot. The upside to this arrangement is the fact that deer also like to bed and travel on ridges so your Poor Manís Plot will be the first spot they hit before transitioning to the bigger fields nearby. I call these ďstaging area plotsĒ and they work like a charm.
HOW TO BUILD A POOR MANíS PLOT
I am going to give you the method I have settled on, but there are tons of alterations you can make to suit your own work ethic, budget and creativity. My method relies on almost zero power tools (just a chainsaw) to build and some kind of creative way to mow it later.
Making the opening: Normally, this process starts with a chainsaw. It is the tool of choice for clearing small trees and brush from the selected Poor Manís Plot location. When cutting trees and even large brush, you want to cut them off as close to the ground as possible.
The location will usually suggest the best size based on the area that can be easily cleared and the amount of level ground. However, if you are dealing with a large opening or have to create the entire opening from scratch, the perfect size seems to be roughly 1/4 acre Ė roughly 20 yards wide by 50 yards long.
Killing the foliage: In a typical site, cutting down everything woody with a chainsaw will still leave lots of thin undergrowth and even some grass. Most of the Poor Manís Plots I have built were previously openings that had overgrown. Grass and weeds are very common.
It is time to get the backpack sprayer out and fill it with a RoundUp solution to whack everything green. It will kill brush and even some nasty briars, so donít be shy. Spray everything. Backpack sprayers arenít real expensive, around $65, and they will come in very handy later in the maintenance stage of the plot Ė or when creating another one. It is a good investment.
Wait until everything dies: Once you have sprayed (with due care for your safety when applying the chemical) you will need to wait 10 days to two weeks, depending on the chemical used and the density of the growth. When it is all dry and dead you can get rid of it.
Burning Off your Poor Man's PlotOnce all the vegetation is dead and dried down, you can either try to rake it off or use fire to burn it off. It is hard to broadcast seed into a mat of debris. To create the kind of seed to soil contact needed for good germination, you must remove the residue.
Clearing the debris: In order for seeds to germinate, they need to have good contact with the soil. They wonít germinate and start to grow if they are lodged off the ground.
There are likely several ways to do this, but I have learned the easiest way to get all the debris off the plot and prepare it for seeding is to burn it. This may require a permit in some areas. At the very least, if you are burning near other residences you should let them know in advance to head off an undue visit from the fire department.
The easiest way to control the fire is to burn it into the wind. If it goes too slowly, you can always move a short ways into the plot and burn small stretches with the wind. Discretion is the better part of valor when dealing with fire. Be very careful and have a plan and a back up plan!
Fertilizing and liming: A soil test is a big part of any food plot, but you can assume it needs help and remedy the condition without actually seeing the numbers. Generally, plots found in the timber (or very near the timber) are acidic in nature resulting from the decay of leaves that have fallen on the ground over the years.
Fertilizing your Poor Man's PlotThe best way to determine the needs of your soil (regarding fertilizer and lime) is to take a soil sample. In the absence of a soil sample, you can assume most plots created in the timber will need a lot of lime and moderate fertilizer.
You can assume that your Poor Manís Plot is going to need something to raise the pH. If you are real farmer, you know all about spreading bulk lime on your fields to maintain proper pH (normally in the 6.5 range, for most plants).
However, it can be very inconvenient to spread bulk lime on a small food plot tucked in the woods without access to a tractor and equipment. You can do it with a hand-crank broadcast spreader, but it takes time.
Possibly, you can buy lawn lime and a walk-behind lime spreader. If you can find them, this will work. Check with your local lawn care store (if you have one) to see if they carry lime.
I am going to recommend clover as the first planting for reasons I will get into in a later discussion. Clover likes phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These are central ingredients of the normal fertilizer formula. The third is nitrogen (N), which clover doesnít require to grow well.
We can get bogged down in a bunch of fertilizer jargon here related to numbers and actual rates, etc. Just keep it simple. Tell the person you buy the fertilizer from that you want roughly 15 pounds of actual P and K on your ľ acre plot. If they donít know what that means, just get 100 pounds of Triple 13 (the nitrogen in that blend is not needed but it may be hard to buy bagged fertilizer that doesnít have nitrogen in it).
A walk-behind spreader like the one I discussed previously, or even a bag-style over-the-shoulder spreader will do the job (more about these later). You just want to make sure you clean it out well with water after applying fertilizer so it doesnít corrode or gum up.
Whatever method you use to apply them, get the fertilizer and lime down and move on.
ďTillingĒ the Poor Manís Plot: You have options here depending on your budget and access to equipment. Ideally, you will till the plot with something like a lawnmower-powered rototiller or even a walk-behind tiller. Just a shallow till will greatly improve germination of the seeds by nearly guaranteeing seed to soil contact with the next rain. With a tiller, burning off the residue is not as critical.
Tilling also works the fertilizer into the soil better, which will improve long-term uptake of the nutrients.
In the absence of a motorized tiller, and in the true spirit of the Poor Manís Plot, you can rake the ground aggressively with a large garden rake or large (36 to 48 inch) landscape rake (find them online) to loosen the top 1/4 inch of soil slightly and make it easier for the seeds to find a home. This is what I do. It is laborious because every root and stem from the brush you killed and burned will want to snag the rakeís tines and make the work nearly unbearable. But if you stick with it, you will eventually end up with a really nice seedbed.
Seeding your Poor Man's PlotUse an over the shoulder spreader to broadcast your seed onto the ground.
Planting: I already recommended clover. Clover is pretty easy to establish, pretty easy to maintain and will stand up to deer browsing pressure and still produce forage. Moreover, deer like it and it is good for them.
The clover should be OK for the establishment year (when it will be somewhat thin compared to years two and three).
After year three, it is generally a good idea to kill the clover, ideally till it under and plant something else in its place for a year. A good choice would be a brassica blend (turnips, radishes, etc.). You plant brassicas in late summer, and then back into clover the next spring.
Plant a clover blend. I used Frigid Forage Pure Trophy Clover. They are easy to find from good food plot companies and usually come in small portions. They also have enough variety in the mix to tolerate a range of climate and soil conditions.
The same bag-style spreader you used for the fertilizer is also a great way to disperse your seeds. The most economical, good model that I have used is the Earthway Ev-N-Spred Model 2750. I recently bought one online for $30.
Big N Beasty in Poor Man's PlotAfter growing clover for two to three years, it is time to rotate into something else. I love going with brassicas at this time. My choice is Big N Beasty.
Set the spreader opening small to start so you donít over-seed as you get started. Even opening it just 1/8 inch, enough to let some seeds through, will work. You arenít wasting a lot of time because the plot is so small. You just keep going over it until all the seed is gone. This will give you a uniform covering. With experience you can figure out the setting to cover your plots in one pass.
Pray for rain: Now, all that remains is a few good rain showers to get the seeds started and feed the young seedlings for the first critical month or two of their growth. The biggest cause of failure with a Poor Manís Plot is typically dry conditions, so plant as early in the spring as possible to catch at least a few weeks of decent rains before the summer sun bakes the plot.
Maintaining the plot: Three steps will keep your clover plots growing well for three years. You need to mow it each summer (early June is a good target) and you need to keep fertilizing it each winter. The third maintenance requirement depends on the outcome of the planting.
Sometimes you have to spray the plot with a grass selective herbicide (kills just the grass not the clover). If the plot is grassy, this is an important step. You can find basic grass selective herbicides online if you search for them. I have used mixes with clethodim as the active ingredient. Examples are Arrow, Select, Grass Out, and several others. You donít need much and the label will tell you the rate to apply. Again, the backpack sprayer is the tool of choice.
You are done. If you add up the cost of all the tools, fertilizer and seed, you will see that a 1/4 acre Poor Manís Plot is reasonable, and once established it will quickly become your favorite hunting spot Ė well worth the investment. By the second year, you will be looking for places to build more of them. This is probably the single best step you can take to create better hunting this fall.