You had big plans for planting food plots last spring to improve your odds of tagging a trophy whitetail come fall. But turkey season, fishing and honeydo chores took precedence. Suddenly, it’s Labor Day and too late to plant. Or is it?
Bill Peneston, a Quality Deer Management expert with the Heartland Wildlife Institute, claims that you still have time to do a planting that will drastically improve your odds for tagging a late-season bruiser buck.
“I recommend planting before Labor Day, but you can plant until mid September throughout much of the Midwest and even a little later in the South,” Peneston said.
There is no time left to spray a herbicide, Peneston stresses. Till the soil before you plant for the best results. At the very least, you must scar the ground so the seeds can take root.
“For late plantings, I till the ground and wait until rain is in the forecast,” Peneston said. “Then I plant the seeds just before it rains so they root deep.”
That’s the ideal scenario, but rain is an iffy proposition in autumn. You may have to spread the seeds first and hope for rainfall soon afterward.
What to plant
A cereal grain, such as Buck Forage Oats, should be one ingredient in your late season food plots, Peneston said. A few years ago, Peneston tested Buck Forage Oats against other cereal grains, such as barley. He planted the various grains in alternating strips, one after another.
“The deer chowed down the Buck Forage Oats like a putting green and let other plantings sit there,” Peneston said. “They would eat the other stuff only if they didn’t have the oats.”
However, Buck Forage Oats don’t grow reliably everywhere, Peneston points out. To ensure that your food plot still attracts deer in December and beyond, he recommends a mix, such as Heartland Wildlife Institute’s Buck Buster Extreme ($43.95). It includes Buck Forage Oats, rye and three kinds of brassicas. A 25-pound bag will plant a 1/2-acre foot plot. (heartlandwildlifeinstitute.com)
“Whitetails will feed on some of the brassicas through October,” Peneston said. “In November they’ll start to pile drive for the forage turnips. They get sweeter and more succulent after being frosted. That will last through December.”
The rye in the mix is an insurance policy. Should the oats be exposed to extremely cold weather and a lack of snow cover, they could freeze out and not come back in the spring. Rye can tolerate the cold and ensures that the deer will have sustenance in late winter and early spring when there is little else for them to eat.
The smaller brassica seeds come in a separate bag inside the Buck Buster Extreme mix. Peneston recommends that you broadcast the larger seeds first and then broadcast the brassica seeds separately. If you attempt to broadcast all the seeds at once, the brassica seeds settle to the bottom of the seeder and are not distributed evenly throughout the food plot.<
Where to plant
Ohioan Mike Dickess does late season plantings that attract deer through January, the final month of Ohio’s bow season for deer. A noted trophy whitetail hunter, Dickess is president of Mike’s Archery, a bowhunting equipment distributor in Ironton, Ohio.
His plantings consist of Buck Forage Oats, alfalfa and clover. The oats provide late season forage for deer and they also come up again in the spring, along with the alfalfa and clover, to provide a food source for deer and turkeys.
“It doesn’t take much moisture for the oats to get going,” Dickess said. “I’ve had spilled oats start growing on concrete in my garage.”
In the hilly, wooded, Appalachian country that Dickess hunts in southern Ohio, he plants food plots on small flat spots where he can set a tree stand or shooting house downwind of it. If Dickess hasn’t tagged a buck during the first few months of Ohio’s bow season, his late season food plots are his ace in the hole. It’s not too late to plant your own ace in the hole.