Frost Seeding Clover Food Plots for Deer
By: Weston Schrank
Winter is a hard pill to swallow for those of us who love turning dirt over. But hopefully some of your passion for planting food plots has evolved into other aspects of deer management such as timber stand improvement, coyote hunting, or trail camera surveys. I know these things keep me plenty busy through the off-season months. However as we approach March, my mind can’t help but wonder back into food plot planning again. The most relevant thought that comes to mind during this time-frame is my clover plots. Late winter is the time to rejuvenate or establish clover food plots by frost seeding. If you have never tried your hand in frost seeding food plots before then you are in for a treat, this process is easy, effective, and saves you time and money!
Frost seeding is a major item on my to-do list for the 2019 season. The 2018 hunting season for me, had proved the concept of micro-clover plots, kill plots, or “hidey-hole” food plots…whatever terminology you prefer. It also reinforced my confidence in clover as a food plot species over other more expensive options!Photo: Frost seeding needs minimal equipment, often only needing seed or the optional hand broadcast spreader.
Fundamentals of Frost Seeding Food Plots
Before we dive too far into the strategy, lets cover the basics of why and how to frost seed a food plot. Frost seeding, or sometimes called snow seeding, allows you to use the thaw, freeze, and thaw cycle that occurs during late winter and early spring. The last few hard frosts, or the last 1 – 2 inch snowfall during February or March creates perfect opportunities for establishing a food plot. The pickup and settlement of soil as it freezes and thaws can in essence act as a disc or drill, seating a small seed between soil particles. It also happens to establish that seed in a good amount of soil moisture even before the spring rains hit. Due to this activity, frost seeding is also exceptional for thickening existing food plots or even pastures for hay or grazing as it allows time for seeds to settle.Photo: The pickup and settlement of soil as it freezes and thaws can in essence act as a disc or drill, seating a small seed between soil particles.
By nature, frost seeding is only possible with the smallest of seeds and needs an aggressive species to beat out the spring weeds once established. With these characteristics considered, frost seeding is ideal for establishing clover plots. Clover just so happens to be the small, secluded, kill plot king. Clover can tolerate shade, can be easily established, can take a beating from grazing, and most importantly provides enough nutrition to be a very attractive food plot. It provides protein in the spring, and can provide green forage during October, and even warm weather spells throughout November and December.
Frost seeding requires little to no equipment, bearing in mind that the space is somewhat cleared out for a plot unless your over-seeding into existing vegetation. The amount of preparation or maintenance will depend upon the site, especially when it comes to spraying herbicides to keep the weeds at bay if the clover is coming up through already thick weeds and brush. Considering a decently prepped site, you only need your seed, even a broadcast seed spreader is optional. It is also important to note the correct seeding rates for establishing clover food plots. Typically, especially when frost seeding, I broadcast heavier than what the mix or clover seed bag suggests. This helps germination and in my mind allows the clover to establish a thicker canopy earlier than lighter rates. This can save valuable soil moisture come summer, and helps control weeds!Photo: Frost seeding can also be called snow seeding. The snow acts as a disc or drag, settling the seed into the soil.
Now that you understand the when, how, and why behind frost seeding food plots, the next step is to determine where you might establish a plot. The clover plot that had set the stage for my 2018 hunting season just so happened to be one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of where to frost seed a food plot.
The Strategy of Where to Frost Seed a Food Plot
2018 brought on some tough hunting as several of the top hit list bucks I had my sights on had been killed or went MIA during October. Besides that, I had lost hunting rights to one of the properties that had been one of the better mature buck producers in my immediate area. Despite these setbacks I had been lucky enough to benefit from a 2 year old clover plot that was holding its own on a property I had previously neglected. Little did I know that this weedy and mistreated clover plot would turn into the center of my 2018 hunting season.
Photo: Outlined in green, the food plot takes advantage of an already existing staging area between pines, hardwoods, and a crop field edge.
The plot happened to be tucked into a stand of white pines the property owner had planted between a ridge and the tillable acreage of the farm. This habitat edge had been enhanced by an oak plantation that met the pines over a sinkhole nicknamed the “junkyard”. This was named the junkyard for the obvious reason that every sinkhole in the Midwest had been a farm’s personal dump at one time or another. This enhanced edge habitat was then complemented with a south facing ridgeline and 20+ acres row crops.
Considering where the deer bed, and their travel routes to areas of “high browse” predetermined by scouting beans the previous year, a small opening within the pines was an obvious opportunity for a staging area kill plot.
With an ideal location determined, it was time to test the theory by running through the logistics of hunting the plot. With a stand placed between the ridge and the plot, and access covered by standing corn, the plot would offer an ideal interception of any hit-list buck calling the surrounding bedding areas home. In the case of the field being planted in beans, I could use the terrain to sneak into the plot with a little less cover and more risk…but it could work. With thermals considered, the plot could be hunted in both the evening and the morning based on deer movement since thermals would carry the wind above or below the plot.Photo: The clover plot (indicated with apple food source icon) represents a staging area between south facing bedding areas and a larger, bean or corn food source (mapped out with HuntStand).
In terms of keeping tabs on the plot, it just so happened to be the center of the property, and with the help of a mock scrape, would be an ideal place to survey which bucks where on the property and when they were moving. With all of the above in mind, we decided to break ground. We established the plot without a soil test, and simply applied a ½ acre of PlotStart (the plot is roughly ¼ acre sop we were applying roughly a 2 tons of lime per acre equivalent) to help the food plot’s soil ph. We came back numerous times the first year with a cocktail of food plot herbicides. This contained Clethodim (Grass selective), 2-4-DB (Butyrac for broadleaves), and PlotBoost. This strategy and ideal establishment, while neglected the following year, is what led to catching a pattern on the number one hit list buck on the property.
Hunting Strategies for Clover Plots
The buck below showed up checking mock scrapes across the entire property in October. Eventually as the hunting pressure of surrounding properties, including my own failed attempts had concentrated him to only being caught on one camera, the clover plot.Photo: The target buck showed up, coming from one of the sunny south facing bedding areas working through the staging area clover food plot in order to get to the larger corn fields on the property. One of the first, and better daylight images of the buck captured.
The trail camera intel and numerous failed attempts to catch this buck on his feet lead me to believe that this buck might actually be bedded just 10 or 20 yards into the woods on the high side of the plot, and was consequently catching my movements when I came in to hunt him. Still basing the hunt around the clover, I decided to setup just on the other side of this high point, hoping to catch any movements away from the plot.
Late one afternoon after work, on my way into the stand, I caught him bedded near the high point in the standing corn. As he made a break for the thick cover of the ridgeline, he stopped in my corn row at 20 yards for a shot.Photo: Author Weston Schrank pictured with the target buck.
This buck had fell victim to a clover plot. While he may not have fallen directly due to feeding in the plot, the popularity of the plot among other bucks and does, in addition to the community scrape on the plot had made for an irresistible staging area to walk through if he was in the area. While the final hunt may not have played out in the plot, it was what had made the entire season come together.Photo: The target buck, harvested less than 100 yards from the plot, laying in the clover food plot just before being loaded into the pickup.
Final Thoughts on Frost Seeding Clover Food Plots
In my opinion, if a strategic spot exists, it’s a no brainer to try your hand at frost seeding food plots. With time, effort, and cost considered you can’t really afford not to use this food plotting method in some way. Just remember the logistics and fundamentals of a good clover food plot that you are wishing to hunt. It needs to fit in an area that deer already use as a staging area between food and bedding, access should be as close to bulletproof as possible, dominant wind and thermals should be safe for at least a morning or afternoon hunt, and the spot should complement any other food plot or deer habitat strategies in place.
As for my 2019 season, I plan on using the frost seeding method to overseed and thicken the plot. I also plan to hit it with the cocktail of herbicides and PlotBoost again. This small clover food plot and others like it are becoming a critical part of my hunting strategy, and it just so happens that frost seeding is one of the easiest methods for establishing and maintaining these plots.