With deer seasons long behind and months before most will be thinking about full-racked, velvet bucks, it’s difficult to picture big deer unless you are picking up a shed. But it is probably never more critical to provide bucks quality food than this time of year if you want them to grow to their potential.
Why? A buck won’t really start to direct resources to growing bigger antlers until his body has recovered from a long rut and winter. It’s critical to provide the fuel to do just that, and there isn’t a better powerhouse than perennial food plots.
When thinking about food plots, most people probably think summer and fall, but creating high-quality spring perennial plots is that piece of the puzzle that can unlock some deer “magic.” Perennials can be planted during several different times of the year. The focus should be to provide great food from the end of winter to spring green-up and then again in the fall. Though usually they will never produce the pure biomass of an annual, like soybeans or brassica, they do provide a steady source throughout the entire year; whereas annuals will provide food for a shorter period.
For most, planting will occur in the early spring, yielding a nice plot for fall. In the south, planting can be successful in early fall, but the food plot development will be less than optimal for hunting season. Another option is to come in during the last few weeks of winter and frost seed them.
(Jeremy Flinn photo)
Though seed can often be a little more expensive than annuals, the longevity of a perennial food plot brings massive return on investment. There will be management required, but a perennial food plot can last four to six years.
The main threats are broadleaf weeds and grasses, which can be handled via selective herbicides and over-browsing by deer, especially in early growth stages. Because it has a long life cycle, it is slower to grow. Often, it helps to provide a little protection in the form of a cover crop such as wheat or oats. This will help attract deer away from the young clover until it is stable enough to sustain deer pressure.
When we talk perennial food plots, we usually think of the three big ones: clover, chicory and alfalfa. Each can be a great source of nutrition, but have their strengths and weaknesses. Clover is probably one of the most planted food plot species. It’s easy to establish and is highly attractive to deer. Its high digestibility and protein levels make it a super antler-boosting food. However, its shallow root system makes it susceptible to drought.
Chicory is one that is not planted very often, unless it’s in a mix. But, due to its deep taproot, it is more drought tolerant than clover. However, with its waxy feel, it can be less palatable than clover and alfalfa. It also is highly digestible and packed with crude protein.
Alfalfa is probably the most difficult to establish. Much more sensitive to pH levels than clover or chicory, alfalfa requires optimum soil to be established. But once growing, it has been linked to producing some of the biggest bucks on the continent.
When planning you food plots this year, make sure to power your herd with perennials like clover, chicory and alfalfa. They are the ones that will fill the gap during those critical times for nutritional requirements.