Permanent Plots

Tired of planting food plots every year to attract deer? There are better ways to draw and keep the herds on your property.

Let’s face it: Plowing, soil testing, liming, fertilizing, planting and killing weeds to maintain a green field includes exhausting work and often great expense. A green field, like a two-edged sword, can and will attract and feed deer.

However, if you hunt over that green field more than one or two times a year, the biggest bucks will become nocturnal and only feed on that green field at night. Or they’ll come by that green field when there’s an estrus doe in the rut.

But another way to feed and harvest deer that’s less expensive and less time-consuming will result in your taking many more bucks than you do over conventional green fields.

John Chapman, born on Sept. 26, 1774, near Leominster, Mass., recognized the future of planting trees for wildlife. Chapman apparently received a good education that helped him later as he became a nurseryman at age 25 and started planting apple trees in the western portions of New York and Pennsylvania.

Chapman, one of the first explorers to go out into the area known as the northwestern territories, which included the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, had the vision to become a world changer. A man of purpose, a man of character and a man who sought to make the world a better place for others, he spent 49 years of his life in the American wilderness planting apple trees.

The legend of the man and his mission lives on today in the man known as Johnny Appleseed. His mission included planting apple orchards all over the country in the wilderness to make better places for the families who settled the nation and to provide food for wildlife.

You don’t have to plant green fields. Fruit trees, nut trees and shrubs can and will produce an abundance of wildlife food for a lifetime with very little, if any care.

Johnny Appleseed knew that, and many of today’s land managers have learned that for the cost and the benefit, you can’t beat planting fruit trees, nut trees and shrubs for wildlife.

Sure you still can have your green fields and take a few deer off them. However, the more variety of food sources you provide for the deer, the better your odds for not only attracting and holding deer but for actually taking more bucks.

The Cost

The Wildlife Group in Tuskegee, Ala., one of the nation’s largest nurseries, specializes in producing trees and shrubs for wildlife. According to a table produced by the Wildlife Group, you can plant a 3-acre permanent food plot for $10 more than you can plant a food plot of small grains that only lasts five months.

Blackberries

“We recommend planting four different varieties of blackberries,” says Alan Deese, nursery manager for the Wildlife Group. “We suggest planting Choctaw blackberries because they ripen early and also Arapaho, because they’ll provide berries when the Choctaw quit producing. The Navajo ripen later, while the Shawnee ripen even later.”

By planting four varieties of blackberries, you can have berries, depending on the USDA zone you live in, from June to October. You need to fertilize these blackberries, like all other fruits and shrubs.

To help the berries survive the deer grazing on them, put a cage over the berries. Deese recommends using 2×4 wire to make an A-frame over the shrub and then boxing in both ends of the A-frame with wire. Wire cages protect the bushes and provide food for the deer and hunting sites. As the bush continues to produce limbs and leaves that grow outside the cage, the deer can feed on them.

Strawberry Bush

Deese considers the strawberry bush, also called hearts-a-burstin’, one of the best-kept secrets in the world of wildlife management. This small, green bush produces green berries throughout the summer, and in the late summer, the berries turn red and have red-orange seeds.

“However, one of the problems with the strawberry bush is that deer will eat the whole plant if you let them,” Deese comments. “Described as ‘ice cream for whitetails,’ the strawberry bushes need to be planted 2 to 3 feet apart and covered with 2×4 wire.”

Deese recommends using the 2×4 wire to make an A-frame over the shrub and then boxing in both ends. Or stand up the 2×4 wire to make a cage around the strawberry bush.

Honeysuckle

For years, hunters have known that deer like to eat honeysuckle. They’ve also realized that if you fertilize honeysuckle, deer will utilize it more than if you don’t fertilize it. Although many hunters say they already have honeysuckle on their properties, they need to decide if they have the honeysuckle in a place where they can hunt over it and attract deer within bow range.

“We suggest that bowhunters buy honeysuckle and plant it in 100-foot strips on the edges of their green fields and build wire cages over the plants,” Deese says. “I suggest you use 2×4 wire, 4- to 6-feet tall, to make an A-frame over the honeysuckle plants. Then use wire to box in each end, and stake the A-frame to the ground. Once the cage is built over the honeysuckle, fertilize it so the deer can eat the leaves and the stems that grow outside the cage. Otherwise, they’ll eat the honeysuckle all the way down to the ground and kill the plants like they tend to do with the strawberry bushes.”

By protecting the honeysuckle plants with cages, you’ll have a high-protein food that feeds deer year-round. Fertilizing the honeysuckle on your land regularly can bring the protein level of the honeysuckle up to 16 or 18 percent.

Persimmons

Most bowhunters, especially in the South, name persimmons as one of the best soft-mast crops to hunt over to bag deer. In much of the South, persimmons begin to fall in mid-October, making them a readily-available food for deer.

But Deese explains that wild persimmon trees have a problem.

“Wild persimmon trees are either male or female,” he said. “Only the female persimmon trees produce fruit. There’s no way to tell the difference between the male and female trees. So if you want five persimmon trees that produce fruit, plant between 10 and 15 wild persimmon trees, and hope that at least five of them are female.”

For a better option, Deese recommends that you plant the Japanese persimmon, which comes in several different varieties and produces a baseball-sized fruit. These trees yield fruit within three years, and all of these trees produce fruit, unlike the male and female trees of the wild variety. Both deer and humans can eat the Japanese persimmons.

“The variety of Japanese persimmon that we grow is called the Fuyu,” explains Deese. “This persimmon starts producing in October, and I’ve seen it yield persimmons until Christmas in North Alabama.

“So rather than planting or hunting strictly over wild persimmons, I recommend creating a Japanese persimmon bow-hunting hotspot that continues to produce fruit after the native wild persimmons are gone.”

Creation Of Sanctuaries

To hold deer on any property, you need to create a sanctuary for the deer consisting of cover at least 4 feet high. Then the hunters can’t see in, and the deer in that sanctuary can’t see out.

Deese recommends planting the Chickasaw plum in a thicket to create a sanctuary and provide food for whitetails.

“The Chickasaw is a small plum tree that’s very easy to grow if you have an open space where you haven’t planted a green field,” he said. “If you’ll plant a patch of Chickasaw plums, you can create food for deer and a thick-cover bedding area where the deer can dodge hunting pressure and grow to those older-age classes that hunters prefer.”

The Chickasaw plum yields its fruit in late July, but produces cover all year long. Turkeys also will nest in regions dedicated to growing Chickasaw plums.

An ideal sanctuary situation will have a plum thicket within 100 yards of a green field with small-grain crops on it. By micro-managing your property, you can provide food and cover throughout the year so bucks will stay on your land instead of drifting off it and onto your neighbor’s property.

Late-Season Shrubs and Fruits

Deese suggests you plant a permanent food plot of bushes and trees for the most-economical way to feed and attract deer. The permanent food plot will feature trees and shrubs planted all the way around a green field that’s filled with annual or bi-annual plantings. Once you’ve set up a quality plot like this, you’ll have a hunting and feeding area that will keep deer concentrated all year.

“On a 10-acre green field, I suggest planting fruit and nut trees, strawberry bushes and honeysuckle,” Deese explains. “The big advantage to planting fruit and nut trees and shrubs for deer around your green fields is that you’re going to plow, plant, fertilize and mow your green fields every year.

“At the same time, when you have all your equipment and fertilizer at the green field, you can mow and fertilize your shrubs and trees, as well as remove unwanted plants out from under your trees and bushes.

“Also you can bush hog a trail to your stop-off sites where you want to shortstop the deer before they arrive at the green field.

“Plant honeysuckle, strawberry bushes and many fruit trees, including plums and pears and blackberries and nut trees in the shortstop areas. The more convenient your trees and bushes are to where you’re planting and fertilizing, the easier taking care of those bushes and trees will be.”

Also, don’t forget to plant fruit, trees and shrubs in the middle of pine plantations that often will have skips where pine trees fail to grow. When beetles destroy pine trees, the landowner must cut these trees down, leaving an open space where you can plant.

Clear-cutting a region means piling-up stumps, logs and brush in a windrow inside a pine plantation. These sites make productive food-plot regions, especially for planting shrubs and bushes like strawberry bushes, honeysuckle and blackberries. Then the deer will have plenty of cover and food inside that pine plantation where few hunters ever go.

Always talk with your county extension agent, no matter where you hunt, who will know the trees and shrubs that will produce best in your hunting area. Or you can contact the Wildlife Group to learn more. You also can check your USDA zone map, or go to the Wildlife Group’s website, www.wildlifegroup.com, which tells the zones where particular trees grow best. You can also contact the Wildlife Group by writing to them at 2858 County Road 53 Tuskegee, AL 36083 or call (800) 221-9703.

Double Dip

If you want to double up on places to take deer, reduce the hunting pressure on your green fields, have more places to bow hunt and gun hunt and spend less time planting green fields, you need to spend more time planting fruit trees, nut trees and shrubs not only this year but for many years into the future.

Remember that the more trees, shrubs and green fields you plant for wildlife, the more deer, turkey and other wildlife you’ll have on your property.

Also remember that the less you hunt each food source the greater your odds will be for finding that big buck at each one of those food sources. The more food sources you have, the better your chances for taking more and bigger bucks.

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