March 24, 2016
With winter slowing disappearing with the arrival of spring, deer season is still many months away. However, the fact is bucks are entering one of the most critical time periods for antler and body growth.
After a grueling rut and scarce winter food source options, bucks are in critical need of high-quality nutrition to repair their bodies and begin antler growth. The longer it takes to recoup from the winter, the less time a buck will have to grow – both body and antler wise – before the arrival of fall.
This means the early spring period is extremely critical. During the spring green-up, more abundant, high-quality native food will be available. In addition to native food sources, land owners and hunters also can provide supplemental deer nutrition in terms of food plots.
Though the majority of hunters only think about food plots during the late summer early fall, food plots in the spring play a much more significant deer nutrition role than those in the fall.
So what are the top options to plant for spring food plots?
You absolutely cannot go wrong with most varieties of clover; it’s a great protein source. It’s easy to establish, and is tolerant to many soil and climate conditions. Due to seed size, which is small, planting depth isn’t much of a concern with literally just seed-to-soil contact being sufficient in many cases.
Clover is great option for year-round plots. But is especially good in early spring, whether it’s a perennial white clover coming out of dormancy, or a freshly planted food plot. For the latter, mixing a fast-growing annual clover, like Crimson Clover, with a perennial, like Ladino White Clover, will yield a plot for many springs in the future. Try planting about 5 pounds per acre of Crimson Clover and 3 pounds per acre of Ladino White Clover.
A more difficult plating to establish than clover, and only in perennial varieties, alfalfa is still an amazing food plot option for the spring. Because it’s slower to establish, it’s best to plan a spring in advance. That’s not to say there won’t be anything to consume the first spring it is planted, but it will be much more establish the second spring.
In fact, to protect it during the slow growth of the first spring, typically it is planted with a cover crop like wheat, oats, or even annual clover. Alfalfa seeds should be planted at around 15 pounds per acre, with either a 25-pound-per-acre grain or 3- to 5-pound-per-acre annual clover.
The least likely planted of the group, yet it’s one with characteristics making it very desirable, chicory is packed full of protein in the spring. Though it isn’t as marketed as many of the other food plot options, chicory has a huge advantage when spring fades into summer and temperatures rise.
With a large taproot, chicory is one of the most drought-tolerant food plot species. Though, like alfalfa, it is only available in perennial varieties and can provide great nutrition year after year.
Chicory doesn’t need as much cover-crop protection as alfalfa, but it isn’t a bad idea to mix some clover in with it during planting. Chicory is planted at between 3 to 5 pounds per acre with about 3 pounds per acre of clover.
With the next deer hunting season in mind, think about the food on your property available in spring. Not late summer when food plot crops should already be established. By planting any of the three mentioned – clover, alfalfa, chicory – deer on your hunting property will have another food source option in addition to native sources. Spring food plots are a good way to get bucks on the pathway to growing bigger antlers for fall.