My Simple No-Till Food Plot Plan

Dan Born
Dan Born

No Till Food Plot

This year will mark the fifth season that I’ve included a food plot plan on my farm. During that time, my food plot strategy has always revolved around small, hard to access kill plots, usually located around travel corridors between the larger corn and soybean fields that make up the crop production on my farm and the surrounding properties. During the early season, this chain of small, ¼ acre food plots acts as a tempting cruising spot for bucks and during the latter half of the season, a high value forage attraction when the larger agricultural fields have been picked. The best part about this method is that no expensive equipment is required; a backpack sprayer, handheld seed broadcaster and a lot of sweat equity will get the job done.

Before you get started though, the first thing you want to do is get a soil test. Make sure the pH level is within the correct range for the forage you want to plant.

Spray and Spray Again

Most of the work that goes into my no-till food plots is in the multiple trips to each plot site to kill off all existing vegetation. I picked up this method from Jeff Sturgis of Whitetail Habitat Solutions who has published multiple articles and videos on no-till food plot techniques. I highly recommend checking out his YouTube Channel where he drops a ton of knowledge on all thing’s whitetail habitat management.

Using a backpack sprayer, I apply a glyphosate solution to the site a minimum of two, but preferably three times to kill off all vegetation and insure exposed soil for good seed to soil contact. I plan the first of these sprayings immediately following turkey hunting season, typically in early June. I then spray again in the middle of July, and once more in middle to late August. While three spraying sessions is optimal, this year due to poor timing on my part, I’ll only be spraying twice. This is a situation I’ve found myself in before. As you can see by the photo below, spraying only twice burned off enough vegetation to get good seed-soil contact for the establishment of clover and wheat just a few weeks later, without ever having to till up a bit of soil.

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Broadcast Seed when the Broadcast calls for Rain

I start praying for rain around early September. I’d prefer to have my food plot mix, an annual blend of winter wheat (40 lbs. per acre), Crimson clover (10 pounds per acre) and Arrowleaf clover (10 pounds per acre) planted by Labor Day, but its better to wait for the rain to come, than throw the seed during a dry spell. A good rain will help drive the seeds into the soil and is a big part of successfully establishing the plot.

Using a handheld seed spreader, I first broadcast the winter wheat, and then walk the plot again, broadcasting the clover mix. And that’s about it. One could walk away at this point, and provided the rain comes, expect to see a growing plot in a month or so. I like to add one more step, to increase my odds of success.

Typically, after the rounds of spraying, there is still a fair amount of standing dead vegetation, usually in the form of grasses. This standing dead material can make an excellent thatch for the seed bed. Depending on the kind of access I have to the site, I will either cut the dead vegetation down with a weed whip or drive over it with my ATV to get the seeds covered. I’ve even went so far as to roll a log over the seed bed which presses the grass over the seed and the seed into the soil.

Applying a fine layer of thatch can have multiple benefits for your plot. The thatch retains moisture itself, but also helps the soil hold moisture, by providing shade for the soil surface. Seeds, especially smaller types like clover benefit greatly from being placed between the soil and a top layer of thatch, with higher germination rates than that of seeds simply broadcast on the surface.

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This reclaimed powerline corridor food plot is located on the top a of steep ridge between agricultural fields. Previously ignored by hunters on the property because it is only accessible by foot, it has proved a fantastic food plot setting for a hunter willing to haul everything in and out on their back, including a buck.

Maybe someday I’ll break down and buy a tractor and put in acres and acres of food plots, spending all the time and money that goes with it, but I doubt it. The more money and time you dump into any one thing, the more important that thing can become, to the point of convincing yourself that success hinges on it alone. We all know that isn’t the case. Food plots are a single tool in a hunter’s toolbox, and in my mind, not even the most important one. By spending the minimum amount of time and money it takes to put in a few of these small, no till food plots and not spending your whole spring and summer from the seat of a tractor, you’ll give yourself more time to focus on the truly important tools of the whitetail hunter; fieldcraft, recognizing buck movements, fine tuning stand placement and more time at the range preparing for what might be your single shot opportunity this season.