The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 2, 2013

Outdoors Insider, with Dale Sunderlin: Whatever floats your boat

For the Star Beacon

— The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is offering free boat safety inspections during Memorial Day weekend as well as May and June at public boat launch ramps and during special events statewide. The agency also released a new promotional video about safety boating.

“Start the boating season safe,” said Rodger Norcross, chief of the ODNR Division of Watercraft. “We encourage boaters to take advantage of a free safety inspection to ensure they have all the necessary boating safety equipment on board and it is in working order.”

The free boat safety inspections help increase boating safety awareness at a time when many Ohioans are launching their boats for the first time in a new boating and fishing season.

ODNR Division of Watercraft officers provide written courtesy inspections that allow boat owners to make recommended improvements to their boating safety equipment. These free inspections typically examine the condition of fire extinguishers, navigational lights, horns and distress signals to ensure they are in working order. Officers also check to make sure that the proper type; size and number of life jackets are aboard each boat as required by law to ensure the safety of all boat occupants.

Information on locations, dates and times for upcoming vessel safety inspections is available at: Additional information is also available online regarding required boating safety equipment, education programs, boating rules and public launch ramps at and by calling toll-free at 877-4BOATER.

Eleven people who died in boating accidents in Ohio in 2012 were not wearing their life jackets. Boat safe and boat smart, and always wear a life jacket.

Food for thought

In deciding to start a food plot there’s only a few steps involved to get it going, right! Sure, here’s the 1,2,3 and 4 of it.

Step No. 1:

Spray Round-Up or some other brand of systemic weed killer to get rid of the weeds. For this task, you can’t beat an ATV-mounted sprayer. I have a 26 gallon one that mounts on the back rack of my 4x4 with a wand and a boom sprayer. Now as for the ATV for food plot work, bigger isn’t necessarily better. My Yamaha Big Bear 400 does just fine and is easy to maneuver.

Step No. 2:

Work the soil. They make several types of implements to accomplish this with your ATV but in my opinion, I’ve tried several of them, they don’t work worth squat, Your best bet is to find someone who has a tractor with a pull behind rototiller and hire them to tear it up for ya.

Step No. 3:

Next, plant seed then cover it to the desired depth. A sure way to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact is by pulling a fence-drag behind your ATV, not really. The best way is to either use a roller or an ATV pull behind cultipacker and push it in. All the drag really does is spread the seed around the top of the soil, my opinion.

Step No. 4:

Keep the taxidermist’s phone number on speed-dial.

Don’t I wish?

Don’t I wish planting food plots were that easy. The high tech seed producers and attractant manufactures all would have you believe that after reading their articles and marketing material.  In all reality it an expensive proposition, 4 wheeler ($3K used), sprayer ($250 new), spreader ($250 new), farmer to rototill it up for ya ($200), lime (up to $1k depending on how big your plot(s) are), fertilizer ($500 to $1k again depending on the size of your plot(s)), seed ($150) and a roller ($200). Oh, I forgot, weed killer, $100. Whew, that a ballpark figure of about $5,550 at a minimum just to get started. Now the cost does go down after the initial startup but you’re still talking $500 to $1,500 a year depending on the size of you under taking.

Save yer money

Do you really want to do this? No offense and please don’t take this the wrong way but if you don’t have the time or money to do it right don’t waste your time or your money. All that’s going to happen is that you’ll be frustrated, it won’t grow and the wildlife you’re trying to help or attract won’t even pay any attention to what you’ve done. Save yer money, buy a new bow, a new gun and you’ll probably still have enough to take a guided hunting trip.    

OK, let’s do it

In retrospect in modern deer hunting culture, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would question the value of planting food plots.

However, back in the mid-1980s many, if not most, of the deer hunting public was completely unfamiliar with the “food plot” concept. Terminology such as soil pH, cultipackers and perennials was foreign vocabulary to the average deer hunter.


A revolution

Finally it was realized that instead of just planting something to attract deer, now you could plant something that attracts and improves the overall quality of the herd. As this momentum grew, what is now called “the Food Plot Revolution” began.

What to plant?

It’s safe to say that, unless you have been hiding in the back woods you are probably familiar with food plots and the tremendous results they can provide. The next obvious question then is, what should I plant? Without exception, this is the most common question asked by both experienced and novice food plotters. And, when you step back and look at all the options available, there is little wonder why this question ranks at the very top of the list.  

Analyze it

To really figure out which food plot product is the right one to plant, you must first understand that there is no one “best” product to plant for every situation. Instead, you need to analyze all the factors that would be involved in planting a particular food plot in a particular situation and then match them to the product that would work “best.”

In other words, look at food plot products as tools. No one tool is the best tool for every job. If you need to drive a nail then use a hammer. Even though a pipe wrench may “kind of” work to drive the nail, the hammer would work better.

On the other hand, the only thing the hammer would be good for if a leaky pipe fitting needed tightened would be to bash the heck out of it when you have lost your patience with the job. Sometimes different tools can be used for the same job but normally; there is one tool in particular that will be the most effective.

To identify the best food plot product to use given the parameters you are faced with, we must first identify the questions we need to ask ourselves. Even though the list of questions can be endless, let’s examine the four most common you will need to answer before deciding what type of food plot to plant.  

Perennial or annual?

Perennials: A perennial is a type of plant that does not have to reseed itself in order to grow and produce for multiple years. In fact, even in our colder northern climate a perennial does not actually die but simply goes dormant with the winter’s freezing temperatures. Clover for example stays green even under the snow. Sometimes, it may look brown on top of the ground but the roots are still alive.

Perennials are typically the mainstay of most food plot programs. They supply a consistent, constant food source for most, if not all, of the year.

Using a consistent perennial food source helps to hold deer on a property at the same time providing a high level of nutrition. In most management programs, at least 60% of the total food plot acres should be planted in perennials.

These perennial food plots will supply the bulk of food over the course of the year; and because perennials typically have good re-growth, a high percentage of perennials will also help to alleviate over-grazing problems.

Here are a few things to consider if you plant a perennial; typically more ground preparation is needed when planting, establishment takes a little longer than annuals and maintenance is necessary for optimal production.  


At first glance, you may ask yourself why any one would ever choose an annual over a perennial. But further investigation shows that each can be used for specific purposes. Annuals are very fast growing and can be used to complement your perennial food plots. Where perennials are considered the main entrée, annuals should be considered as side dishes.

For instance, let’s say you want to plant a food plot that will be at its most attractive during the fall and winter months and at the same time supply nutrition during this time of year. You may want to take a look at planting a brassica product.

Maybe you are looking for a food plot that will supply large quantities of protein-rich food during the dry summer months. In this case, a drought and browse-tolerant spring and summer annual would be your best choice.

Yet another example of how an annual can be used is in a situation where you would like to plant a food plot in an area where tillage equipment would be impossible to use. Because many annuals can be planted with minimal tillage, some sort of no-till product would be the product of choice.

As you can see, annuals can make great complementary plots to your perennials.


After you ask yourself whether you want to plant a perennial or annual, the next question is whether you will be able to get tillage equipment to where you want to plant your food plot. Oftentimes, the best locations for food plots are in areas inaccessible to a tractor and disk. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you must choose a food plot product that is designed for no-tillage or minimal tillage.  

Soil conditions

All the questions you need to ask yourself when deciding what to plant in a particular food plot are important. One of the most important, but often overlooked or not even considered, is the question of what type of soil conditions will you be planting your food plot in.

It is not necessary to know the exact name of the type of soil but rather the general characteristics of the soil located in the particular food plot. The two main characteristics to be concerned with is the soil pH and the capacity of the soil to hold or drain moisture.  

Soil pH

In general, most food plot plantings perform best when planted in soils with a neutral pH that range from 6.5 to 7.5. Many, if not most, soils tend to be low in pH and must be neutralized with the addition of lime.

Taking a soil sample will tell you exactly what the pH of your soil is and how much lime is needed to neutralize that soil. When adding lime remember that neutralization of the soil takes time. Lime neutralizes soil by coming into direct physical contact with the soil. It takes time for the lime to work its way down into the soil.

In fact, a common rule of thumb is that it takes six months for the lime to have its full effect. Therefore, if you have a soil pH of 5.3 and the soil test results advise the addition of three tons of lime to the acre, do not expect to be able to apply the lime and seed immediately.

With excessively low soil pH, you may need to apply lime over the course of six to 18 months while planting a food plot product that is not as sensitive to soil pH. Once the soil has been neutralized, then the plot can be planted with a product that requires a higher pH.

Moisture content

While pH is often overlooked, determining what food plot to plant based on the soil’s water-holding characteristics is many times not even considered. Most forages prefer one type of soil or another, either one that is well drained or one that holds moisture.

This is normally determined by the root structure of the plant. In general, long, deep-rooted forages prefer well-drained soils while plants with creeping, shallow roots prefer soils that hold moisture.

For example, clover has been bred to have a shallow, creeping root system. This creeping root system allows the clover to thicken over time. Because its roots are shallow, clover produces best in a heavy soil that holds moisture. If you have two areas where you are planting clover and one is a low-lying area with heavy soil and the other is a sloping hillside with light, well-drained soil, the low lying area will most certainly produce the best.

It has nothing to do with the food plot product itself, but has everything to do with what type of soil you are planting in.

There are exceptions, however, with food plot products that can be planted in either type of soil. These food plot products have been designed to be versatile and because of the specific blend of different forage types, the products can be planted in a wider variety of soil types.

It’s purpose

The final consideration in your choice of food plot is to determine its purpose. Do you want to plant a food plot with the main goal of supplying a high-protein food source thru the antler-growing season with the added goal of being attractive for hunting purposes?

Maybe you want a food plot designed primarily for use during the fall and winter for both nutrition and attraction. Most perennial food plots offer high levels of nutrition during the critical months of spring and summer. They are also attractive during the hunting season.

 However, if you are more interested in planting a particular food plot designed primarily for fall and winter, you may take a look at a brassica sugar beet or turnip type product. This combination of perennials strategically planted to match your goals and planting conditions can give you the diversity and specificity to result in tremendous improvements in your deer herd and hunting experience.

Bottom line

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the No. 1 question that is asked by deer hunters and “deer farmers” is “which product should I plant” or “which product is the best to plant?”

The answer is, “It depends.”

Many of the products on the market are highly nutritious and highly attractive. They are also tools to be used with independent characteristics that lend themselves to a particular planting situation. But again buyers beware. I’ve purchased some products that weren’t fer squat! Just because it has some big name celebrity on the package doesn’t mean do do. ! Read the label; see what’s really in it and if has the percentage of whatever you’re looking to grow.

Also, pay attention to the date it was blended for, don’t buy old seed that has been on the shelf for a year or two. The bottom line is when you stand and survey a new or existing food plot area ask yourself the above questions.

The answers will lead you to the product that will give you the results you are looking for.

Bigger and better deer!


ORGC Service Rifle Shoot, Orwell Gun Club will be hosting its Service Rifle Shoot on Saturday at noon. The event will be held at the Orwell Gun Club Rifle Range, located at 8089 Higley Rd, Orwell, and will be open to members and non-members. There will be 100-yard targets, slow and rapid fire events. Shooting Positions will be standing, sitting, prone or supported. Shooting squads will be formed by the course you wish to participate in. Cost is $1 per target. All rifle and or calibers used by U.S. Military branches are acceptable. For more information or to sign up, contact Anthony at 256-1070 or email at

Remember, pass it on or it will surely pass on.

Sunderlin is a freelance writer from Geneva. Reach him at