Austin Delano | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine
As gamekeepers, we are constantly preaching on the importance of spring and summer nutrition for whitetails. There are huge upsides for your deer herd when they are provided quality high-protein groceries during the growing months. Anyone who has tried to grow a “small” food plot of soybeans, lablab, or other highly attractive warm season annuals, has likely experienced a failure. Although there could be a number of reasons for plot failure including lack of rain or poor seedbed prep, the number one reason for warm season plot failures is over-browsing. Even with low to moderate deer densities, a one-acre soybean plot planted in the middle of hundreds of acres of timber can be destroyed in a few days’ time. In the first few days after germination, popular spring plantings such as iron clay peas, soybeans, or lablab that are browsed off below the terminal bud are killed and obviously are finished growing. So once you have identified the problem, what are some solutions? You need to think about crop protection.
Enter Crop Protection Fences
For the purposes of this topic, let's take for granted that you are doing your part in controlling your deer density through good “trigger finger management,” but are still having problems with over-browsed food plots. Physically keeping the deer out of the plots until they are established and mature enough to withstand the browse pressure has proved to be an effective tactic of crop protection. This can be achieved by utilizing a number of different fencing options. After all, what sense does it make to go to the trouble and expense of planting warm season plots if you know they are going to be over-browsed quickly and provide only a week's worth of food or less? Take the time and make a plan to protect your crops so you get the most for your labor and money.
BioLogic Plot Protector Kit
For many years, BioLogic has had a product called P2 Plot Protector. Along with the liquid concentrate, this kit contains a woven poly tape that will protect an acre, or two quarter acre plots. After installing t-posts or rebar around the perimeter of your field, the tape can be strung.
Also included in the kit is a small jug of concentrated solution to spray on the poly tape. This spray has an unpleasant odor to whitetails and keeps them out of the plot for a couple of weeks after each application. After heavy rains, it is necessary to reapply the spray to the tape to refresh the smell. We have also found it effective to spray the tape from the outside with a backpack or ATV sprayer and allow the overspray to fall on the crop you are trying to protect. In moderate deer densities, the P2 Kit is often all that is needed to keep deer off the plots until you see the crop is mature enough to handle heavy browse pressure.
Another temporary fencing option is a 7.5-foot polypropylene material called Plot D-Fence. This UV-resistant fence is very strong but lightweight and can last 10-plus years in the field. With this type of fencing, when the plot reaches maturity, you have a couple of options to let the deer in to enjoy the groceries. The Plot D-Fence is flexible and can be lifted up and folded from the bottom to allow your deer herd into the plot. The other option is to fold from the top and allow the deer to jump over the now “shortened” fence. This latter method, however, may still keep some lazy deer or fawns out of the plot from their unwillingness to hop the fence. This fence comes in 330-foot sections and can be rolled up and stored away. It’s lightweight enough for one person to carry a roll. This fencing system may be better suited for guys with heavy deer densities than the P2 option.
More Clever Fencing Options
Growing some smaller areas adjacent to the area you’re protecting and allowing the deer to feed on these can deter utilization of your protected area. As most managers who have tried protecting a crop know, a hungry whitetail is hard to discourage. They will be relentless in trying to get at the most palatable food source at the time. So if you give them some, the urge to breach your defenses will be less.
Some situations may require a more heavy duty or more “permanent” fencing system. This can be especially true in areas with feral hogs. Managers trying to grow food plots on properties with high deer densities and feral hogs are in a constant battle. The combination of the constant rooting from the hogs and over browsing of immature plants by large numbers of deer, make growing successful plots seem impossible in some instances.
Some farms have faced this problem by using a 7- to 10-foot tall high-tensile game fence. Although deer are physically capable of jumping these tall enclosures, the majority will not try. A 4-foot section of hog paneling is then attached to the bottom of the fence on the outside. This section of heavy galvanized paneling on top of the ground prevents hogs from rooting and digging their way under the fence.
Another very effective and fairly permanent method of fencing food plots or young tree orchards is called a “jackleg fence.” This A-frame design uses metal T-posts and high tensile electric wire to keep animals out. The 6-foot T-posts are driven one foot deep around the perimeter of the plot and then 10-foot T-posts are welded, or wired, to the 6 foot post at an angle toward the interior of the plot. The bottom of the 10-foot post is then staked to the ground using rebar or other heavy-duty stake.
Electric Wire Fences
One common design uses seven high-tensile wires from Ranchmate Fencing Supplies that are parallel to each other on a steep angle relative to the ground using support wires, boards and battens. The wires are positioned 12 inches apart, arranged with a slope toward the area confined by the fence.
The bottom wire is positioned 10 inches from the ground. The top, third, fifth and bottom wires are connected to the positive (+) post of a grounded, low-impedance fence charger. The second, fourth and sixth wires are connected to ground. This slanted design uses multiple ways to discourage hogs and deer from crossing — one is by encouraging them to go under and receiving a jolt by the wires. The visual effect of the slanted wires is also a deterrent and prevents deer from jumping over.
Ranchmate also has splice kits and dead ends for corner posts and gates to make for smooth and tight wire junctions. Although this fence design is relatively short, selected test areas have shown 100% exclusion of deer and hogs. Obviously with these almost total exclusion fencing designs, one or two gates would need to be installed to open when you felt the plot was mature enough to handle the browse pressure. After all, we do want the deer to eat and benefit from the groceries we grow, but not until you and the crop are ready for them.
When to Allow Access
When to allow your herd into the crop is a decision you’ll need to make based upon your goals, the specific crop, the health of the crop and the herd density in the area. Some crops simply need to meet “terminal velocity” before they are prolific enough to withstand browse pressure. For instance, annual legumes such as Lablab or soybeans after a few weeks growth when they begin to vine they really start to yield forage, but before that point they are very vulnerable to browse pressure. Other crops are best protected for the entire growth of the plot. Obviously grain crops or crops that are most palatable during their last stages of growth could be considered here.
Hunting goals may be your most important determinant as to when to allow consumption. Some may choose to wait until relatives visit or they have time off of work before they open the gates or take the perimeter down. It’s usually best to allow access a few days prior so you can give your herd time to learn you’ve taken down their restraints — that is, if you believe you have enough forage to support a few extra days.
Long-Term Crop Protection Solutions
You must contemplate why you need to use these crop protection and fencing options. Most of the time, the reason is essentially because you have too many animals for the amount of food you are providing. Ultimately, you need to increase the amount of acreage you’re planting or reduce the amount of “mouths” that are consuming. However, oftentimes managers are handcuffed to what they can do. For instance, in mountainous or swampy areas there may not be enough suitable ground to be able to plant an adequate amount of food. In other areas you may not be allowed enough tags to keep up with the doe harvest. For our sake and for the animals’ well-being, we need to look at long-term solutions to the root of the challenge.