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9/12/2010

Trophy management is all the rage in hunting and many things have been written on how to achieve Boone & Crockett class bucks, but I've come to find out the best way to learn about managing is to set realistic goals and be hands-on. There is a lot of great information regarding management, but it is only useful if you can put it into practice and adjust it to suit your conditions and goals. The three components of growing big bucks are genetics, age, and nutrition. These components are the keys to managing a deer heard.

Food PlotThe component that can be controlled most effectively by hunters is nutrition. I know... we can control age and genetics too, but not to the degree of nutrition. Genetics is the hardest control, nearly impossible. It takes so many generations of genetic management that no one  would be around to see the benefits of this component and without a huge cooperation of land owners managing genetics the same way there would be no improvements. Age is much simpler... just don't shoot young bucks. The number one statement in deer management is "let'm go, let'm grow". Is it really that easy? Think about where I hunt, there are many small tracts of land owned and hunted by many different people with different ideas of hunting, some with the "if its brown, its down" style of hunting. On our property we can let all the immature bucks go, but we have no control when those bucks cross the property line. So when I say that the deer management component that can be controlled most effectively is nutrition, I mean it. Planting food plots and enhancing natural browse and providing supplemental feeding will provide the best conditions for a healthy deer heard, let deer recover faster after the rut and maintain throughout winter, produce healthier fawns, and, of course, grow big antlers. Improving the nutritional value on your property will also let you control the age of your heard. A more preferable food source will keep the deer on your side of the property line (provided adequate cover and water exist).

Creating food plots is one way to improve nutrition and in effect help manage age, Food Plot Tractortwo of the three components of growing trophy size bucks. When creating food plots for deer it can be a relatively expensive, time consuming, frustrating and rewarding experience.  For many people the reward of spending time outdoors (often with hunting buddies), improving wildlife habitat, seeing more deer, and having the chance to shoot a great buck out way the expense, time, and frustration.

Food plot expense can be one of your limiting factors when getting started. There are many costs to consider: lime, fertilizer, soil test, seed, tractor or ATV, implements, herbicides. Creating a food plot strategy for your hunting land is important to determining what these costs will be. The better the plan you put together the less money you will waste. Determine your budget and make a wish list of food plot locations and crop. The one biggest step to not wasting money is to get soil tests from your plot sites. This will help you determine how much fertilizer and lime you will need. If budget doesn't allow you can always use less, but you never want to use to much. You do not want to waste your money or time by doing more than necessary.

When planting food plots time and timing mean a lot. Taking the time to remove weeds and preparing the seed bed of your plots is important to getting the most out of your food plot. If you do not live close to your hunting area it can be difficult to find the time to get all the work done. if you hunt with friends try to plan times where some or all of you can work on food plots together to maximize your effective work time. Lime and FertilizerTiming of planting can be crucial to the success of your food plot. Spring and summer planting should be done at the recommended soil temp and moisture content for your chosen crop and fall planting should be done 30 - 45 days before the average first frost in the fall and mother nature willing just before a good rain. Without rain you and many other farmers will be frustrated. Predicting the weather will become a side product of trying to plant food plots.

The first component of food plots is to provide nutrition, but not all food plots provide nutrition all year round. In your food plot strategy you should plan to provide nutrition throughout the year as much as possible. If you want to grow big bucks then you want to provide the best nutrition when their antlers are growing during the spring and summer. If you want to manage you bucks age, and see the bucks you grew then you want nutrition when they're most likely to be killed, the fall.

The food plot plan I use might not be the perfect plan or even a good plan, but I know that the food plots that I have planted have contributed me to see more bucks in and out of hunting season and has allowed me to be more selective. So, if you want to grow big deer then you need to grow crops first and see the rewards for yourself.