The bread basket. The heartland. The corn belt. The promised land.
All worthy titles for the land I call home, but most commonly this locale is referred to as the Midwest. It’s a region famous for it’s tremendous agricultural prowess and the miles upon miles of rolling crop fields. It’s also known for the big bucks that consistently hit the dirt across states such as Illinois, Iowa and Ohio. In a land of plenty such as this, it seems like food for deer isn’t a big deal. It’s all around. If there are giant fields full of corn and beans everywhere you turn – why in the world would you invest in planting more food for the deer? Should you?
I would say the answer is a resounding yes. While food is bountiful in the agricultural lands that many hunters call home, there are several very important roles that food plots fill for hunters and deer managers. Carefully and strategically planted food plots can result in significant benefits both in the form of nutrition for your deer and in hunting success in the field. Even in “Farm Country”.
Most folks refer to the bucks in the Midwest as “corn fed”, and assume that the abundance of row crops lead to deer in top physcial shape. And for the most part, that’s true. Compared to many other locations, deer in agricultural areas have a significantly greater amount of nutrion available to them. But let’s be clear – it’s not always available and it’s not always optimal.
With your traditional agricultural area you’ve got soybean and corn fields interspersed with occasional blocks or fingers of timber. Plenty of food – but not neccessarily available all the time. Soybeans usually aren’t planted and sprouting up til May or June. That leaves a huge hole in a deer’s diet from late winter into late spring – a particularly important time when bucks are beginning antler growth and does are getting ready to drop fawns. If you really want the whitetails on your hunting property to reach their full potential they’ve got to have optimal nutrition through the entire year – especially this early spring time period. Food plots – especially something like Imperial Whitetail Clover or the like, which will be one of the first plants to green up in the spring, can provide a terrific early source of protien to get the year kicked off right.
From a quality of nutrition standpoint, there is more to be desired from traditional farm land as well. If you’ve got soybeans in your area, your deer will certainly have a quality protein source. But again, this protein won’t be available til late in the growing cycle. On the other hand if your farm or area is heavy on corn, your deer will really be lacking in the nutrition area for much of the year. Corn provides great energy + carbs, but it’s very low on protein. Again, by planting food plots you can ensure an optimal nutrion source throughout the entire year. Take a look at what the crop grounds around you are providing, and then fill the nutritional gaps with your food plots. Beans all around? Make sure you’ve got food sources high in carbs during that Sept – October timeframe when soybeans lose their palatability and are then harvested. A clover, brassica or cereal grain can be a great later season choice. Lastly, deer are natural browsers – they crave and need variety in their diet. With food plots you can provide tremendous diversity in the types of food available – and this can only help your deer herd.
As important as food plots are from a nutritional standpoint, they are equally vital to hunting success. Hunting in Farm Country is already a pretty great situation. With food sources like soybeans in the early season and corn throughout most of the hunting season, there are plenty of food sources to hunt over – but there’s still much to be desired. With farm ground you’re stuck hunting whatever was planted by the farmer, you’re typical hunting large fields out in the open and you don’t have much control over what and where these food sources are located.
Now on the other hand, if you invest in some food plots you all of a sudden have a lot more control. With a food plot you can place it in a location that is optimal for a specific wind direction or stand location. Additionally you can shape food plots to funnel deer through certain areas as well!
But possibly more important than the control you have with food plots, is the attracting power they can provide. While ag fields can certainly draw in deer, you can be much more strategic with food plots. If you know what your neighbors have on their property, you can ensure you have something unique on your farm with a plot. And if you know that all the beans or corn surroundig you will be harvested by November – you can ensure that you have a plentiful food source on your land when no one else does. For example, during that late season time period when most crop fields are harvested – a brassica plot like Winter Greens from Whitetail Institute can be a huge draw for deer on the surrounding properties. Other awesome plots for this time of year include standing soybeans, turnips, or any other kind of brassica.
While the crops produced in “Farm Country” do provide bountiful hunting opportunities and great nutrition for deer herds, there are certainly many ways that food plots can improve the situation. By providing year round and optimized nutrition, while also improving the control you have over your hunting situation – food plots can be an incredible tool for the avid deer hunter and manager.
If you’re interested in learning more about food plots and strategies – check out the Whitetail Institute of North America website or the Quality Deer Management Association website for various articles on the subject!