Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Growing Local

I was taking with my friend ,Jim Cates, about a couple of things, one was deer hunting. Jim is not a deer hunter and was trying to understand how people could justify spending the time and money they do on food plots. I had to agree with a lot of what he had to say. Mainly that many people are taking this to extremes. I, being of poor means, don’t have the property or the money to invest in this part of game management. My counter to it was this created jobs, helped add money to the outdoor industry and helped provide for wildlife. He said he could see that and to each his own but that wasn’t how he would chose to hunt. It isn’t how I hunt either but I do use food plots and mineral licks to the small extent I can.

Jim gets to fish beautiful waters in east Tennessee for trout and like he said, all he has to do is step into the river. Getting set up to trout fish isn’t cheap but once you do you are mostly done. Deer hunting was like that but it is changing and some of it, not for the better for many of us. Would I like to go on a guided hunt on the Milk River or in Kansas? Yes I would. Is it going to happen? No. I don’t have $10,000 to $20,000 to pay for a hunt and if I did I would be going to Africa. Hunt and lease prices continue to go beyond the reach of most of us dragging the price of products along with them. This includes seeds, fertilizers and supplements.

I was thinking how this type of game management is affecting many hunters that, like me, don’t have much money. I would love to have huge acreage (own/lease) to plant and manage so I could finally take a buck that might go 130”. I never have even though I take a lot of deer, I have the does scared though. My reality is, I hunt small pieces of property, most don’t have a place to plant, I don’t have the rights to plant or have livestock. Where I can plant the spots are small and I do everything with very little equipment. Only twice have I even had access to a tractor. This is how I came up with ways to cut costs and support local businesses at the same time.

Most people plant food plots using commercially available products. They do work but aren’t cheap. These are bagged in amounts for plots from ¼ to several acres in size. The seeds used in these products are good but the problem is they use what I refer to as the shotgun mix when deciding which seed to use. To be fair, they need a product that will work from Texas to Michigan, from north Carolina to Montana. It must have something in it that will grow under a wide range of conditions but no matter what the packaging says, every type of seed will not grow everywhere. This mix has a variety of seeds that once spread out has something in it that will grow. The rest go to waste and while it does make some nice plots, you waste money by having seed types that don’t grow in your location. I can say this from experience since using these products is where I started.

As I tried a few different brands I decided I wanted seed that grew better where I was planting, there was too much in these that didn‘t work. So I went on a quest to figure out what to do. Back then I lived in Murfreesboro, while running errands I saw Hooper Supply just behind Cannonsburg Historic Village. I stopped in to ask if they had something I could plant and as I walked in the door knew I had found what I needed. There were hand printed signs listing seeds, pictures on the wall supplied by farmers and hunters, folks hanging around talking. From seeds for the farm to, can you believe it, a whole board devoted to deer hunters, it was listed right up there on the wall. On it was a list of seeds meant to work in our area. I didn’t see one listed that was the magic bullet of seeds guaranteed to grow everywhere. I looked around, there wasn’t one bag of mega mix, works anywhere, food plot seeds.

Note my high dollar huntin' rig parked out front.

This is Angie, she runs things and keeps the boys working there straight.

Bruce, introduced himself asking what I needed, he took the time to talk to me, telling me deer stories and asking what I wanted my plot to do. We talked about the place I was planting, fertilizer and what seed would work best with the weather conditions we were expecting. He told me they did not carry premixed bags but blended seed for each person’s needs. He would talk to guys, like me, that were new then provide specific mixes for them. Unlike some of the box stores or outdoors mega stores, the seed here was fresh not held over from last year. Some of the big stores are careful about this, others not so much, here it wasn’t a problem. I made my picks, got loaded up and when I was leaving Bruce asked if I would bring in some pictures of my plot. I said sure and headed out to the woods.

Look close my plot is in the top right corner. Look real close and you can find pics of albino deer.

That first plot was a success for the plants. The turkeys and deer used it but I didn’t take one out of it. I did manage to miss a couple of turkeys with my bow. I shot a couple of deer not far from the plot but the best thing was what I learned from it. That little plot taught me what I could do with a limited budget and seeds targeted to my area. It grew into a beautiful spot and the pictures I took are still on the board at Hooper’s. I still use what I learned there every time I put out one of my tiny spots.

The other thing is the use of supplements such as mineral licks. I have used the major brand for many years, paying an average of $1.00 a pound for the natural blocks. During one stop at the Co-Op one of the guys there asked why I was buying that brand. I said it was because I wanted to use a product with no fillers to get my monies worth. He told me to come to the back of the shop where the feed is kept. When we got there he pulls out a fifty pound block used for cattle and says look at the label. Sure enough, it contained the same things as what I had been using. The difference, $6.50 for a fifty pound block, not $15.00 for 14-15 pounds. For the price of one 15 pound block I could now put out 100 pounds. I take the blocks, whack ‘em with a big hammer, so I can spread it out in several spots.

The food plot board. Notice it only has one bag of mixed seed. Here you buy from bulk, no need to pay for packing and big time ads.

What I learned is to stop paying for packaging and advertising. I now buy products that are fresher, cheaper and work better for my needs. I can buy seed for a fraction of the cost and get just what I need for the time of year and soil conditions. I have knowledgeable, local people to ask if something isn’t working and sometimes get invited to hunt a new spot by one of the farmers dropping by to pick up supplies.

I know many folks may not like the thought of products they use not being the best. Can’t blame someone for that. We all want to think our money is wisely spent. Many times that might not be the case. If you take a look you might find the same problems I did and be able to apply the same solutions. If you plant large areas and your seed cost drops, think of how much more you can do. My money now goes farther, products I purchase work better and I help my community by supporting local business.


Justin said...

I agree completely.. I am lucky enough to have a 93 acre piece of land in the family and a buddy who owns an excavating company, so my big dollar items aren't really costing me. But that still doesn't mean I don't go to the same kind of store you do and buy our seeds and have them blended for me.. I've learned more in the 3 years I've been playing around with food plots, than most "ol' timers" that told me it wouldn't work or that I had to buy this specific brand of seed.. By the way, it all worked out just perfect.

Albert Quackenbush said...

I had never thought about going that route, but thanks for doing the leg work. That is a great way to go about it. I'll be sharing this with my family back in NY so they can get working on this instead of going the big name route. Looking forward to testing this out. Thanks, Tommy.

Tommy Ellis said...

Thanks for the comments guys. This is the most money saving thing I do for my deer hunting.

Rory @ methow gear testing said...

I started my first year with the expensive products and no tractors just a small rototiller. It didn't work that well. I have 11 acres not that big of piece but surrounded by Forrest land. Last year I just did corn, oats and sun flowers. I am gonna ditch the corn and go with wheat. I am just trying to keep it simple. Thanks for the post.

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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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