Before I start talking about food plots, I want everyone to understand that no food plot, no matter what the blend, can supply everything a deer needs in terms of their nutrition.
So, no matter what you are planning for a food plot, the first step in the Spring should be to create a mineral site and/or feeding station next to the planned food plot location.
Getting deer accustomed to using an area and giving their diet a boost is a great way to set your food plot up for success later in the year, even in places where feeding is not legal during the hunting season.
When I am in the planning stage for a couple new food plots, sometimes I get to the point where I am tired of planting food plots using the same old, run down equipment.
This article focuses on those of us that do not own enough land to justify buying a tractor. But, just because you don’t own equipment does not mean you need to skimp on your food plot prep.
How Much Tractor (and money) Do You Need For Your Food Plot?
First, if you own your own land, you can probably afford a tractor.
Tractors certainly come in all shapes and sizes. But, for the avid food plot planter, something in the 20-35 hp range should be plenty.
I have looked at a lot of different options on the market and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of the price a dealer tells you, a tractor is worth what someone will pay for it.
Tractorhouse.com is a great place to search for tractors for sale, but farm retirement auctions are also a great place to find a lot of good machinery at a reasonable price.
Getting to know the tractor market in your area is a valuable tool before you decide when/if you should buy one.
To buy or not to buy a tractor… that is the question
Around my hunting ground in SE Minnesota, most rental places have small walk behind tillers for garden work. If you have a small secluded area that you cannot get a tractor to, this might be your only option unless you want to wear your arms out using a rake, making what I refer to as a “poor man’s plot.”
Let’s calculate some numbers, which I think you can appreciate if you are wanting to know rental rates on smaller tractors and implements versus owning the equipment.
For ¼ to 1-acre sized food plots it is very economical to rent a riding tractor, but most rental outfits only have landscaping tools available such as skid steers and back-hoes. My local rental shop actually had a 25 hp riding Kubota with a 36” garden tiller attachment for $200 per day.
There was no trailer included in this price, but you could rent their trailer for $50/day. Luckily, I have an uncle with a car trailer I could borrow. Basically, I could spend 2 days tilling food plots all day and be out $400. The problem is that with only a 36” tiller it would take me all day to do what I want done.
Just for fun, I priced out what that same tractor would cost if I were to buy it new with a 48” tiller, and the amount was $27,400. My monthly payment would have been over $400 (60-month financing), so paying $400 for 2 long days of tough tractor labor doesn’t sound so bad.
If I only needed 2 long days of food plot tilling each year, it would take me 47 years to justify buying a new tractor versus renting (assuming I use 4-wheeler for spraying plots).
I would certainly use a tractor for other things such as gardening and snow removal, but I’m focusing on food plot tillage for this article. Granted, the rental rate will increase over time. But, the value will also decrease on a tractor over time. so, both would be a wash in terms of value lost/gained.
I called around to a few different companies and food plot installation ranged from $400/acre (uninsured Bubba with a tractor) to $1,600/per acre (Professional install included soil testing, fertilizer amendments, and consulting/design on where food plot should be placed).
The professional also had access to a no till drill which is great for reducing soil erosion as well as conserving soil moisture.
Some charged by the hour and charged mileage for getting equipment to where the work needed to be done. Others charged for time and materials, meaning you pay for the labor around $75/hr and pay for the seed, fertilizer, or whatever materials are needed to have a successful food plot.
Some would even travel to my location and use local rented equipment to do the job, and charge $100/hr labor, plus a consulting fee ($500).
So, Can I Borrow Your Tractor?
Another option is to find someone that trusts you with their equipment. Why rent a tractor 50 miles away from your property when the neighbor is willing to let you use their tractor?
Even massive commercial farmers sometimes have a small “yard tractor” they use for grading their driveway, or for snow removal.
You could also talk to some of the local farmers and see if they are willing to do the tillage work and pay them for their service.
I define tillage as any sort of equipment that makes the field look like dirt. So, I’m lumping all tillers, discs, harrows, and chisel plow type machinery into the word “tillage.”
One of my plots is adjacent to a farmer’s field, and if I need tillage work, I pay him $50 just to make a few passes with his massive machinery. Basically, I’m just paying him for the inconvenience of having to make a couple extra turns. This will not work in the smaller kill plots located inside of the timber though.
Just like with anything in life, you get what you pay for, and doing it yourself is always cheaper. It is also the only way to be certain the food plot is done to your standards.
I’ll save the fine details of hunting food plots for another article. Feel free to share your food plotting and habitat management equipment in the coments below or on Ani-Logics Outdoors social media pages.
Just like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two food plots are the same and you should use your own judgement as to what equipment works best for you.
As I sat there 20 feet up in that oak tree, trying to figure out what happened, I heard something behind me coming down the same trail. I turned to catch a glimpse of a wide Kansas buck heading my way.
I couldn’t believe this was happening so soon after I had missed the other deer.
This time, I was even more determined to settle my pins and connect on this nice Kansas buck!
As I released the arrow, I watched intently as it found its mark and sent the buck bolting through the woods to certain death.
Finally, after two years of hunting in Kansas, I was able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. It was a very exciting moment for me, as I anxiously texted my hunting buddies… “Big Buck Down.”
What makes this hunt even more special is the fact that I got it all on video.
Videoing my hunts allow me the privilege to watch them anytime I want to.
The scenario above happened almost a year ago. I went back and watched it five minutes before I wrote this article.
When I’m having a bad season and not seeing very many deer, I can always go back and watch the moment I killed my first Kansas buck. It is a very rewarding experience.
With today’s technological advances, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to get started filming your own hunts. Keep reading for two things that you will need to get started…
Obviously, you cannot film hunts without a camera, but what camera do you choose? That’s a great question that gets asked often.
First, It is very important that you choose a camera that is “High Definition” and has good low-light capabilities. The high definition will help you have clearer footage and the low light capabilities will help you get a few extra minutes of film time in the morning and the evenings. After all, you never know when you’re going to see something so rare that you’ll wish you had footage of it later on.
It is also important that you get a camera that has an external mic jack. If you are self-filming, it is important for you to choose a camera that has a good auto focus setting.
We currently use a Sony Ax-53 ($800) and a Canon 6D Mark 2 ($1500.)
Secondary cameras are also a big help to capture extra footage, such as GoPro, Spypoint or Tacticam.
It wasn’t until a recent hunt that I realized how important stabilization was for a camera.
We were on a hunt and managed to forget the arm plate, so I had to free-hand film the hunt. A doe came into our location and circled around the tree and put me in an awkward position while filming.
When we watched the footage back on the TV, I was shocked at how shaky I was. This one experience made me even more of a believer in good camera arm.
It’s important to choose a camera arm that has some length to it. This will help when the deer puts you in an awkward position of filming across your body or around the back of your tree.
Fourth Arrow has some amazing camera arms that are affordable, ($100-$300) adjustable, and easy to use. Muddy also has some great camera arms that are reasonably priced ($100-$300) and easy to use.
Every camera you buy comes with a built-in microphone, and they work decent most of the time. However, they are just not as clear or as sensitive as they need to be when capturing the sounds of the woods.
There’s just something special about being able to hear the leaves crunching under the deer’s feet when you are watching your hunt on TV or on social media. You will hear a lot less of those types of natural sounds without an external microphone.
Another problem with not having an external microphone is when you put distance between the camera man and the hunter. An external microphone will give you a lot more range of distance than your standard camera mic.
It is true, most people will watch bad footage with good audio before they will watch good footage with bad audio. Rode Mics offer a variety of microphones for most cameras.
Trust me when I say, you will want to get an external microphone!
Yeah I know, I thought the same thing when I heard about “fluid heads.”
So, what is a fluid head?
It’s an attachment that fits onto your camera arm that works by hydraulic fluid. The hydraulic fluid head allows you to make smoother movements with your camera. This creates better, higher quality footage for your viewing.
Pro Am has some very good fluid heads at reasonable prices. ($100-$300)
A remote control for your camera is very important, especially if you are self-filming. It enables you to basically do everything with one hand so you can use your other hand to grab you bow or your gun.
Most cameras have remote controls that can be purchased for them. I prefer to use the remote controls that are wired and plug directly into the camera.
Camera remotes are made to attach to your camera arm handle and can be a lifesaver when a deer walks into range. They help you minimize movement while your target animal is close.
Second Thing You Need: PASSION
Passion is nothing more than a strong desire for something. And, if you are going to film your hunts, you are going to need a strong desire to do so.
I promise you there are going to be moments when you will wake up and you are already late to your stand and taking time to get camera gear to the tree will make you even later.
Then, there will be times when you will forget pieces of equipment and the thought will run across your mind, “I don’t know why I even mess with this junk. I’m not doing this anymore.”
Possibly, even worse than that, you will have a big buck bust you because you were reaching for the camera instead of your bow. It’s during these moments that it will take passion to help you keep going.
To successfully film your hunts, the second thing you need is to have passion in the following three areas…
Passion for hunting: Passion for hunting is probably the most obvious one. You have to love the hunt! Passion for hunting is what is going to keep you in the woods experiencing all of the things that are film-worthy. If the idea of being perched up twenty feet in a tree with a bow in your hand anticipating a big buck coming near gets you excited, then congratulations, you have a passion for the hunt!
Passion for telling the story: I had a man tell me once, “You tell stories really good.” That’s because I have a passion about telling stories. When I tell a story, I want people to feel what I was feeling, hear what I was hearing and see what I was seeing. Being able to take your camera and video everything that you are experiencing in the woods is being able to tell your story. It gives the viewer an opportunity to see what you saw, hear what you heard and feel what you felt. You will need a passion for that in order to overcome the difficulties that come along with filming.
Passion for new challenges: It is an understatement to say that filming your hunts is a challenge. It is actually beyond a challenge to be able to put it all together and film a successful hunt, but it sure is fun trying. One of the hard parts is learning all of the new things that make you better at filming your hunts. Anything from positioning your camera to learning how to edit your videos. Each one of these things can provide its own set of challenges, so you will need to be excited about learning new things. If you have a passion for new challenges then you are going to love filming your hunts.
There are so many more things that can be written on the subject of filming hunts.
The further you dive into the process more questions will come about camera equipment, editing, producing episodes for social media, etc. However, if there was one more piece of advice I could give you on this subject, it would be to remind you to have fun.
The camera is just a great way to share the memories of the love of the hunt, it is never meant to replace the love of the hunt. Sometimes the pressure of trying to get it all to work out on film can rob you of the fun of the sport of hunting.
Make up your mind before you begin the journey that you will always love the hunt more than you love the camera.
Whitetail hotspots… everybody seems to have them, yet many have a hard time understanding them. I know I’ve made my share of mistakes hunting the coveted areas of different properties over my many seasons of chasing deer.
For years, my dad, brother and I hunted a 30-acre property with three stands; and one “hot spot.” Most hunting weekends meant stiff competition for that magical stand – and if you happened to have the place to yourself, there was nothing to keep you out of it.
Years of seeing the best bucks from this stand ruled our brains. However, after a few seasons, the cold realization set in that our encounters with the best bucks occurred almost exclusively during the peak rut. Nothing real profound there.
The fact was, we hadn’t really taken many big mature bucks from the stand since the first three or four years. Only after the biggest buck ever taken from the place was shot from the other stand did the wheels start to turn.
The hunting gusto of my younger years represented a time when, less educated, I thought I was bullet-proof in the woods. I thought I had it all figured out. This was an era when I wanted to shoot the biggest buck without really having to work at it.
Sure, it took getting up early in the morning and braving the cold weather, but that was about it. I quickly learned that much of my whitetail hunting ways needed rethinking – or thinking at all. Further, I started to realize that whitetail hunting is much more of a chess match than a free-for-all.
No more scrambling for the “good stand,” regardless of hunting conditions. A hunt-smarter mantra overtook my hunt-often mindset.
Are You Getting A Deer Education or Just Educating Deer?
Perhaps the most essential shift in thinking was realizing that I was habitually educating way too many deer to my presence.
My aha moments finding rubs and trails were really nothing more than sloppy field trips. What was worse was my half hazard route selection when traversing to and from this honey-hole stand. The same could be said about the other properties we hunted.
Stand locations were based on the best buck sign and past experiences with little regard for prevailing winds and entry and exit routes. If I was sitting over a rub line – or for that matter a urine-soaked cotton ball, I was golden.
When the buck sightings didn’t materialize (or came to a halt), I assumed the deer had simply changed their patterns. And I continued to taint the woods like an open tank of gasoline.
Coming to My Senses
Like the deer I hunted, I started to exercise more caution and logic. The fact is that, though all deer have great senses, they continually get better with age – especially bucks.
I had heard these things from other hunters and read about them in magazines. In fact, my father had often preached these basic facts. However, with a few bucks under my belt, I had just chosen to ignore them.
After this reckoning, I finally made the decision to maximize my time in the woods.
So, how do you keep from compromising your best hunting setups during the season?
First, regardless of property size, prepare multiple setups for different wind directions. This will usually provide a good hunting alternative for a given day’s conditions. If possible, vow to never hunt a stand during marginal wind situations.
Next, consider ahead of time how you will enter and exit the stand. Hopefully, some stands are set up within a heavy travel corridor between food sources and/or bedding areas. However, with this positive placement comes a higher chance of disturbing the peace.
If your entry or exit will likely upset the area, be resolute about finding an alternative spot nearby. If not, hunt another area or make the dreaded, yet sometimes necessary decision to stay in.
Longer sessions in your blind or treestand can pay real dividends. It’s common knowledge that it’s a great strategy during the rut, as it increases your chances of catching a buck that is either cruising or on the heals of a hot doe.
The fact is, if you have the time, it’s a great practice from a pressure standpoint as well.
The best scent management doesn’t come from a bottle. If you have an all-day sit, you eliminate additional entry and exits to and from your stand. So, consider exercising addition by subtraction by settling in for longer hunts, hence applying less pressure to the areas around your most precious setups.
Few stands offer even near perfect advantage for the hunter. The save-a-stand-for-best-conditions approach works. Particularly if you are hunting an exceptionally old and impressive buck, use this philosophy and completely ignore your best setups until favorable dates.
There is only one first time to hunt a stand during the season. Saving it for a time when bucks are seeking does is great, but there are more things to mull over. When you do, you greatly improve your chances at even seeing your hit-list buck.