For those of you that may not have planted food plots before, I thought it might be helpful to cover the basic info on several of the most popular types of food plot forage. Food plots are one of the most important aspects of effectively managing your land for whitetails, but there is much to be considered before becoming a hobby farmer on your little piece of deer paradise. So here is the 101 on the top food plot options you may want to check out.
Clover: Clover is considered one of the most universal and succesful food plot forages ever. It is easy to maintain and grows well in most regions of the United States. Clover can be a great source of protein and nutrition for your deer, for example the Imperial Clover Blend from Whitetail Institute produces between 30-35% protein year round. A perennial clover is an easy and cost effective option because it can last several years without needing to be replanted. One downside to consider though is that some clovers will go dormant and lose their nutritional punch after the first hard frost of the year. So clover can’t always be counted on to produce in the late season.
Rye: Rye is a good choice for fall hunting plots, as rye is pretty hardy in cool weather. It can produce 14-16% protein and is very palatable to deer in the late season. Rye grows best in dryer soils and is particularly effective when used in a blend with something like clover. Rye has been particularly popular in southern states, where its drought resistance has led it to be especially successful. Be warned though that other grains such as oats and wheat will be preferred over rye, and most all of these grains will be unpalatable once late spring hits.
Oats: Oats are another great cold weather food plot idea. Oats may be in fact the most preferred of the grains for deer. Typically oats are best in fall hunting plots and they can produce 14-18% protein. Drawbacks must be considered though, as oats require well tilled soil and do not handle extreme cold well. Keep this in mind if you are planting your plots up north, oats may not be your best option.
Wheat: Wheat is another great grain option for the cooler seasons. With a high protein content of 14-20% and good cold weather resistance, wheat is a good choice for fall hunting plots and early spring food sources. Wheat is also well suited for heavy wet soils. Keep in mind though that once the calendar pushes past spring, your wheat will not be nearly as attractive to deer.
Rape: Rape is a great option for hunting plots, as deer will mostly ignore this brassica until a good cold front hits. This will allow you to have an attractive food source to hunt over when the cold weather rolls in and the rut hits hard. Look for rape to grow quickly and be mature in between 30 and 90 days. Rape is very tolerant of cold and drought, which makes it a particularly hardy choice. Plant rape between spring and early summer, depending on when you want it to be flourishing. If you want to hunt over it in October or November, planting in early summer is your best option.
Alfalfa: Alfalfa might be the most preferred food source by deer as it can produce protein content up to 16-28%! There are few better sources of protein for deer. A well maintained alfalfa plot can sometimes last between five and seven years and even can provide income from harvesting of alfalfa hay. That being said, alfalfa also has it’s down sides. It can be very difficult to establish and maintain for several reasons. Alfalfa requires just the perfect blend of soil moisture and pH level, so optimal growing conditions can be tough to find. It is also easy for alfalfa to be overrun by weeds if it does not grow up fast enough. Alfalfa is also commonly quickly eaten or damaged by deer, but also by many different insects. Also keep in mind that alfalfa is primarily a summer food source, once a frost hits it will go dormant and lose its appeal to deer.
Corn: Obviously we know that corn is a great food source for deer and this is mostly because of the carbohydrate and fats that corn provides. These important nutrients make corn an important food source for deer in the fall and winter as they look to get as much energy and sustenance as they can. That being said, corn is not particularly easy to plant and it’s not a great source of protein. Corn only has 8-10% protein and it is very much effected by drought and soil conditions.
Soybeans: Soybeans are another great choice for your food plot, especially if you’re looking for great nutrition for your deer. Soybeans can produce up to 20-40% protein and are easily digested. As a forage choice, soybeans handle most weather, soil and grazing pressures well. They can provide great food all the way from summer through winter. Keep in mind though that soybeans are still susceptible to drought and overgrazing if planted in small quantities and if they are hit hard early in their growth.
Have any other favorite food plot crops that I didn’t mention? Definitely share with us what we missed and why you think its a great food plot option!