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Planning food plots for wildlife is half the fun

A cold wintery day when it is too nasty to even go outside is a good time to reflect on the past year and plan for the next.

My wife and I, with the help of the grandsons and their parents, put in a fair amount of time making food plots and wildlife habitat. It is always interesting to see what works and what has had only marginal effect.

Last fall, my son Damon and I cleared an opening in one patch of timber. We made several loads of firewood from the hickory, locust and oak trees that were removed. Amanda and my wife stacked the brush at the edge of the field for quail habitat. Quail like to be in cover yet able to see any predators approaching from the timber or air.

The brush piles did not attract quail. The clear cut in the timber did become a major gathering point for deer and turkey. The turkeys seemed to appreciate being able to fly down from their roosts in the big oaks into a clearing that was not entirely exposed. Deer gathered, using the clearing to soak up winter sunlight while being protected from the wind.

In the spring, we planted oats and rye in the clear cut. The rye grass was one of the first things on the farm to turn green. The turkeys ate it as fast as it could sprout. They took a toll on the oats, also. Some of it did manage to head out and were promptly eaten by the deer. By June, everything that grew in the clearing had been enjoyed by the animals.

Our grandson, Zane, planted turnips as a second crop. With great determination, he covered the entire area with a little hand seeder. They would have done better if they had gotten more direct sunlight, but enough turnips survived to make a nutritious winter feast for the deer this year. They will dig down through the snow and eat the turnip in the frozen ground. Overall, I would rate this food plot a success.

Being concerned about a drought last spring, I planted an area with clover and turnips where the ground stays moist even in the driest times. Last summer was anything but dry. I am fairly certain, we had at least one stretch of 40 days and 40 nights of rain. I did not know it was possible to kill turnips, but both they and clover will die if watered continuously. That food plot was a total failure. By fall, it did not even have good quality weeds in it.

Damon received a bag of seed containing mixed clovers, grasses and legumes for Christmas last year. It was designed to attract deer and provide them with a high-quality food source. In the spring, Damon worked up the ground in a protected area next to a water source. The little seeds sprang from the ground and all the deer and turkey in the area flocked to this new food source. The mixture grew well, but did not get ahead of the grazing fast enough to provide any winter carryover. The wildlife enjoyed the mixture and we were able to obtain many pictures on the trail cameras all summer long as flocks of turkeys and herds of deer enjoyed themselves. I would rate this food plot as a total success.

A small patch of sorghum has survived long enough to provide high quality food for birds in the area. The deer did not bother it too much during the summer so it is now able to provide cover as well a winter time nourishment.

At this time of year, a person starts the plan for next season. Each year we become a bit more wise on what works and what doesn't. Hopefully we will learn from our mistakes as we try to make life easier for the wildlife. Not everything we try turns out as planned, but we do have a good time trying.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.