Whitetails 365: Protecting Grain Food Plots

By Tom Peplinski

Why? Why would any hunter want to protect or fence off a food plot so that deer can’t get in? Sounds counter to every reason a hunter would plant a food plot to begin with. And while it’s absolutely true keeping deer from getting into your food plots might sound a little off, I can tell you today with unwavering truth that it is part of my yearly critical strategies in making my hunts successful.

The idea is not my own. In 2012 I was met with a unique situation I had never encountered before. Upon purchasing my first ever farm and becoming a landowner, my thoughts immediately went to improving the farm with better habitat and hunting techniques. Without going into all those details, my new farm had about 45 acres of CRP on it…the rest was timber and brushy draws. The one problem I had was the CRP contract limited food plot size to only 10% of tillable ground and only 10% of any one field. This meant the largest plot I could establish was about 1.5 acres with the rest being smaller and spread out across the farm. My goal was to provide season long hunting with grain plots for the late season attraction.
As it turns out, 1.5 acres and a bunch of smaller plots wasn’t working all that well when it came to having grain plots in January. It took me one season to figure out that even on a good year…even with substantial doe harvests and keeping the population at good levels, having a great late season plot of grains to hunt was going to be a challenge. My experience told me I needed grain plots for late season hunting because I was in a neighborhood where many hunters were establishing and leaving corn and beans. But how would I do it under the restrictions I had?
I am never shy about finding better ways of doing something. In 2012 I started researching ways to protect my plots from over-browsing in the summer, so that I could save corn and beans for later season hunting. There were a few ideas back then that I thought held merit. I wanted something more permanent, that was reliable, and allowed me to choose the timing for when I could release the plots for the deer. A three wire, two row electric fence seemed to be the ticket!

Electric Fencing Food Plots
There are many ways and ideas around how-to electric fence off food plots. One method uses a single wide poly tape, another uses a poly tape baited with peanut butter. The method I chose (and adjusted several times) is to use two parallel rows of electric fence. An outside run of one wire at a height of about 20 inches. This wire faces away from your plot. Then an inside row closer to the plot about 36 inches away with two wires at heights of about 16 and 36 inches high. It creates a three-dimensional dilemma for a deer trying to cross it. Normally deer will either approach a fence and either crawl through a weak spot, or jump a low spot. In this case, the two rows confuse the deer. Not wanting to jump what seems like a wide fence, they inevitably try to crawl through and get shocked by the first wire. A strong jolt gets them considering other food sources. After a few attempts, deer will generally leave my plots alone. It is not fool proof, but if done correctly, very few deer will use my fenced off grain plots until I take the fence down in the fall or late summer.

So, how do you make this electric fence correctly and maintain it so that it works from the time your soybean or corn plots come up until after the growing season? First, you need to make the fence and have it up and charged at planting well before your plots are up and out of the ground. The last thing you want to do is have a bunch of deer coming to your soybean plot, and then you try to erect an electric fence when they have already established their preferred food source. It is much easier to train the deer if they aren’t using the plot when you turn it on for the first time. Put it up early and get it turned on early. Deer make cost/benefit decisions all the time. If the cost is electric shock, and the benefit is low because the fence is put up when the plot is still dirt it makes for a much easier training period.

Next, make sure to pick a fence charger that has a good shock to it. This is one area you don’t want to skimp in. Electric fencers can run from $50 to as high as $300 or more. In most cases, a solar fence charger is going to be required because your plots simply aren’t close enough to plug a charger in. I have three different solar fence chargers I use for three different plots. All work, but are not created equal. The least effective is a Zareba model. Zareba makes good chargers but I cheaped out on this particular one and the shock is not very strong. I then bought a Gallagher. It is a nice unit, and offers a pretty good shock. My third unit is a Parmak solar fence charger that really packs a punch. Not only will it shock a deer to its senses, but it has a very nice analog meter on the front to tell you how strong the charger is performing. This makes it really nice when determining if there are weeds on the wires drawing down the shock, or if an insulator broke and the fence is no longer working. All three brands are good…just get as powerful a one you can afford.

The wire itself can be poly tape, wire rope, stainless wire, aluminum wire, or galvanized wire. I’ve tried the rope and different gauges of galvanized wire. The best I’ve found is the heavier 14-gauge galvanized wire. It lasts for years and years, and has only broken a couple times in the past 8 years for me. The rope and tape are more visible to the deer, but doesn’t last as long.

I use a combination of tee posts and fiber poles with insulators on them to hold up and guide the wires around the plots. For corners, I’ve found the cheapest, fastest, and easiest is to just use two steel tee posts pounded together at the corners. This requires 4 total tee posts for each corner. I pull the wires tight using fence tighteners, and leave one electric gated opening in the plot so that I can access for spraying and planting. To make sure your fence charger gives a maximum shock and so the battery doesn’t go dead, you need to keep grass and weeds off the fence. The best way to do this is by spraying multiple times throughout the year under the fence, or by using a product that lasts all growing season like Ortho Ground Clear.

My fence stays up all growing season. I’ll leave the fence intact, but pull it down to the ground about 2 weeks to a month before I want to start using this plot as a food source for hunting. And of course, at this time the charger is removed. In my experience, a properly installed double electric fence system will keep deer out of your plots until you let them in. Then it’s nothing but good hunting! Fencing off food plots to protect them during the growing season can help hunters who desire grain food plots on small tracts of property or those who are limited in tillable acres. It is a tactic that has worked for me for almost a decade with great results.

Next month, I’ll be answering some reader questions!