Though not nearly as popular as planting fall food plots for deer, planting summer plots is becoming more prevalent in the deer management community. The major reason is that more and more deer managers are realizing that their deer herd may not have access to the high-quality nutrition they need in the summer and even early fall, depending on location.
From antler growing to fawning, the summer months are extremely energy and nutrient demanding on all whitetails. With all that considered, the most frequent question that comes up is, “Should I plant beans or corn for my deer?”
Beans and corn fill two completely different nutritional requirements for deer. Though a common misconception, corn does not directly contribute anything to antler growth of bucks. With protein levels ranging between 6 to 8 percent, it’s barely enough to maintain basic metabolic functions, like breathing and digestion. Meaning, the contribution of protein to antler growth is non-existent.
Although corn has always been associated with producing big bucks, it directly contributes very little to antler growth. (Jeremy Flinn photo)
Where corn earns its keep is in the ability to provide a high-quality source of carbohydrates, particularly in the fall. This energy- and fat-building compound will allow the deer to exit the rut and weather the winter months in better shape. The better the shape a buck is coming out of the winter, the faster he can direct nutrients to growing a new set of antlers.
Beans, on the other hand, provide an extremely high source of protein, typically ranging between 25 and 35 percent depending on the soil quality and age of the beans. This makes them a vital source for antler and fawn growth, as well as helping does recover from 200 days of pregnancy. The high digestibility of the foliage in the summer allows maximum nutrient flow to the different parts of the body. If left standing, and pod production is good, beans will provide a great source of protein through the winter.
It’s worth noting that no matter what is planted, the native habitat will provide the largest staple of a deer’s diet. In fact, in most areas a deer’s diet in the summer will compose of between 50 and 60 percent of native foods, like woody browse and annual forbs. The areas in the best corn and bean production zones, also tend to have the best soils. These soils lay the foundation for the nutritional quality of the native foods deer are consuming.
You really can’t go wrong with either corn or beans for a summer planting; both can provide critical nutrition to your deer herd. If creating a high protein source is your main goal, then planting beans is the best choice. If you are looking to support your deer through the winter months and keep them in better condition, then corn should be your preferred planting.
Often a combination of both beans and corn on a property is optimal. However, both are not very tolerable of deer browsing, so planting on small levels (acreage) is not the best option.