No Tractor Needed: How to Plant a Food Plot with an ATV

Any hunter worth his salt knows that there’s more to hunting than just pointing a rifle and squeezing the trigger: it takes a fair amount of preparation before heading into the woods. What you do to prepare for open season can dictate what you’ll bring home at the end of it, which is why it’s important to always plan ahead and give yourself the best advantage possible.

One time-tested preparation tactic that many hunters love to employ is cultivating a food plot. Taking the time to plant and tend a food plot can attract deer in a big way, however it’s going to take some dedicated effort and some know-how to design your plot and keep it attractive to game. Thankfully, with an ATV, a few tools and some essential knowledge, you can get a simple plot up and running in just five steps:

Step 1: Picking the plot

Before you till any earth or plant any crops, you’ll need to pick out an ideal spot for your plot. The average plot size is anywhere from 1/4 acre to 1/2 acre—any smaller and deer will likely destroy your plot before it has a chance to develop; any bigger and you’re going to have a hard time tending and hunting it.

Be sure to pick a spot that’s near a wooded area, or, ideally, one that’s surrounded by woods or heavy brush. Deer prefer to frequent plots that are close to cover and will be less hesitant to venture into your plot if there’s denser bedding nearby. On this same note, try to find a plot that’s longer and skinnier, as opposed to square—this will equate to both a better sightline and a more natural draw for deer preferring to stay under cover.

Step 2: Prepping your plot

Once you’ve determined your plot location and dimensions, it’s time to get down to work prepping it—but, before any prep work can begin, you’ll need to test your soil to make sure it’s viable for what you need to grow.

Soil testing is about finding the optimal pH range—a balance between acids and bases in the soil. You should be looking for pH levels in the 6-7 range, which are optimal growing soils. Testing can be done by taking soil samples from your plot to your local USDA office or agriculture supply store—you’ll get the results in a few days and can take action from there. If your results are ideal, plant away; if they’re low (below 6 on the pH scale), you might have to mix crushed lime into your plot, to help raise the pH. You’ll get detailed instructions of what needs to be done with your soil sample results.

After you’ve tested and made ready your soil, focus on the areas of the plot where you’ll actually be planting crops and other flora—these spaces need to be cleared of any foliage, tilled and graded before anything can be planted. This is where you’re trusty ATV will be doing most of the heavy lifting for you. Use something like a disk harrow ATV attachment to really churn up the earth, followed by a drag harrow attachment to grade everything out.

Shifting focus to the rest of your plot, you’re going to want to leave much of the natural growth alone—especially along the edge of the plot or where the plot meets the tree line. To help blend your planted areas into the rest of the area, use your ATV to haul in things like brush and felled tree limbs to create coverage that will draw deer out from denser bedding areas.

Step 3: Planting your plot

After using your ATV to prep the planting areas of your plot, you’ll need to decide what you’re planting. Take a look at some of the most common options used by hunters to attract deer to a plot:

  • Deer corn: A section or two of deer corn will encourage deer to frequent your plot and, because of its size, corn can be planted further in towards the center of your plot, drawing out game further from thicker brush.
  • Perennials: Alfalfa and clovers are popular perennials that are frequently big draw for deer and, thanks to their resilience, are easy to manage year round.
  • Annuals: Turnips, kale and beets planted during the latter summer months and wheat and oats planting during the early fall are bound to keep deer frequenting your plot.

Along with any of the above options, more enthusiastic hunters may plant a fruit tree or two in their plot, to draw out those very wary bucks that might not take a chance on smaller feed.

Once you’ve decided on what you’re going to use as your plot’s staple, you’ll have to get it planted properly. To make quick work of things, you’ll want to look to your ATV once again. While push spreaders are always an option, ATV spreaders are great for planting and can dramatically cut down the time you’ll spend seeding. And, after spreading, you can simply swap ATV attachments to run a drag harrow or cultipacker over the field to bury the seed.

Finally, if your plot is looking a little sparse, try to plant some taller grasses or shrubs around, to incite a more natural look and to lull deer into the security of cover that denser vegetation can provide.

Step 4: Tending your plot

Tending your plot comes down to making sure all of your plantings get what they need to thrive and that the natural image you’ve worked hard to build is maintained. Hop on your ATV and truck in bags of fertilizer, brush clippings any anything else that will lend itself to your plot! Also, be sure to weed regularly to ensure healthy crop growth and take the time to eliminate any pests that may devastate your yield.

Step 5: Hunting your plot

After the hard work of prepping and planting your plot and a month or two of tending it, you should have a very respectable area that’s appealing to deer and easy to hunt! Be sure to set up both tree stands and ground blinds in optimal viewing areas and make adjustments to your plot where you see fit—such as using your ATV to haul in more “junk” fixtures to create perceived cover for deer.

With the right maintenance and tools, you can repurpose a well-groomed food plot year after year, to make it a staple in your preparedness for hunting season. Happy hunting!