July 28, 2015
It is likely the number one question I get asked as a deer biologist every year. What should I plant in my food plots?
The fact is, the questions isn’t as easy to answer as it used to be. That’s not because deer have evolved their palate toward different plant species (well not much at least), but more because of the wide selection of food plot seed available to today’s food plotter. What usually surprises most, is that there are some old standbys that you pretty much cannot go wrong with. But they might not be as common sense as one would think.
Why? Though some food plots are planted in the spring and early summer, the overwhelming majority, especially for hunting, are planted in the late summer to early fall. So it may come as a surprise to many food plotters, where my Top 3 fall.
Without a doubt the most reliable food plot that a hunter can plant is the clover plot. From its nearly year-round nutritional output to its all-season attractiveness, you almost can’t go wrong planting and hunting over a clover plot. Surprisingly, it even gets a little better. From wide open fields, to tucked away shaded honey holes clover is adaptable to a wide range of sunlight availability as well as vary soil conditions including low pH. However, it doesn’t hurt to add a lime or liquid calcium to bump up the Calcium component and pH. For most deer hunters, planting a white clover is going to be the most versatile, as well as attractive and nutritious to deer. Better yet, it can last four to six years as a perennial if managed appropriately through grass and weed control tactics. For most, planting clover in the early to mid-spring is the most suitable, catching cool temperatures and rainfall. However, you still can get away with planting in the late summer or early fall if needed.
Though there are several options for cereal grain species including oats, rye grain, and triticale, wheat tends to reign supreme in my experience. For the northern part of the country, wheat is much more cold tolerant than the others, so it lasts longer into the season. It also seems to stand up to deer browsing better, so it can be planted in those small ¼ acre or less “kill plots.” Attractive as soon as it breaks ground, and mainly planted in the late summer to early fall, wheat is a great food plot species to get after deer early.
This one may come as a shock to many, as we are discussing the food plots that are most likely to drive success during the hunting season. For many, soybeans rarely stand for more than a few weeks at the beginning of the season, before combines clear the landscape. But for those planting soybeans for deer, you know the truth. Soybeans not only provide great early season hunting when the foliage is still green, but in the latter part of the year, the pods becomes one of the hottest attractions around. The challenge with soybeans is first, planting enough that the deer don’t wipe them out, and second, make sure you plant a forage variety that stays green a little longer and pods that won’t shatter as early. If you do those things, you will have a heck of a food plot to hunt over this season. Just like farmers, plant your soybean food plots in the late spring or early summer in order to also maximize the nutritional aspect for growing antlers and fawns.
There are lots of choices out there for food plot seed. Deciding which brand or mix can be difficult, but if you stick to making sure you have these three food plot species on the property, you will be more likely to succeed this deer season.