By Mark Kenyon
“What should I plant in my food plot?”
I hear this question dozens of times every spring from friends, readers and listeners – all looking for the secret food plot product that will make their whitetail dreams come true. Unfortunately, I can never answer that question. At least not the way most people want, and that’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all perfect food plot prescription that will accomplish everyone’s goals in every different situation.
That said, if I had to answer that question as best I could, I would tell you about the food plot solution I’m currently utilizing on my own property. And by doing that, I believe it might help you learn how to answer the question for yourself. So let’s do that.
My “Food Plot Context”
So, first a little context. And remember, context is key when it comes to answering this food plot question, as certain types of food plot forages and strategies will be better for different areas or different goals. So here’s what I’m working with and what my goals are.
I don’t own land, so I’m limited to planting food plots on a property that I have permission on, but can only plant in already open areas that won’t impact any tillable farm land. With that being the case, I’m only able to plant a couple relatively small plots of .5 to 2 acres. This property is in an agricultural area with plenty of corn, beans and other food sources in the nearby vicinity every year. That said, since deer have plenty of other options, providing spring/summer nutrition is not a high priority for me. What is high priority is hunting season attraction. I want deer to be utilizing my property from the beginning of the hunting season to the end, and I want deer using those plots in a consistent enough fashion that I can take advantage of their patterns while hunting. Finally, this property is in Michigan, so I need a food plot that accomplishes the above goals in a relatively cold environment for most the season.
So for those taking notes, before determining what I’m planting, I’m considering the implications of my region, climate, size of property, habitat on surrounding properties, and the goals for my food plot plantings. Of course, I’ve also conducted soil tests to better understand what kind of forage my dirt can support, and what amendments might be needed to improve that.
My Go-To Food Plot Combination For Consistent Hunting Season Use
Given that I’m working with relatively small food plots and have a goal of consistent hunting season attraction in an agricultural Northern environment, here’s what I plant.
In both of my food plots, I plant the same thing. 50% oats, 50% brassicas, split in two (or in strips, as is the case on one of my plots).
For those interested in the specifics, I personally use Whitetail Institute’s Whitetail Oats Plus (which includes their proprietary variety of oats, and small amounts of winter wheat and triticale) and Winter Greens (which includes a variety of brassicas such as kale, rape and turnips).
First, why do I plant two different forages in the same plot and have them split, rather than blended?
Well it’s because the two forages provide primary attraction at two different times of the hunting season. By including both, I have a very attractive food source throughout the entire season, resulting in consistent deer activity across my property from the beginning to end. And by splitting the plot down the middle (or stripping), I can rotate the crops every other year and avoid some of the issues that pop up when you plant the same forage in the same place over and over again (which is especially an issue for brassicas after ~3 years in the same plot). This also allows me to fertilize each forage to an ideal/unique level.
Why the Oats?
Now, as far as the actual forage I’m planting, lets start with the oats. I like these for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, my main goal for these plots is hunting season attraction, so I’m planting these annuals just about a month before the season. One of the main reasons oats work so well in this situation is that they establish very quickly, and within just a few weeks are pulling in deer. Oats are also a very attractive food source to deer, so even though there’s plenty of acorns, soybean and corn fields in the surrounding areas, I’m still getting deer coming in to chow on my plots. In my situation, with lots of ag surrounding me, I view my food plots as whitetail ice cream. Deer in my areas have lots of options, but because I provide a very palatable AND unique food source relative to the environment (aka ice cream), my plots still get heavy use. These oats are especially attractive early in the season, so with this planting I get deer hammering my plots hard by mid September and they continue heavily right on through to November. It’s worth noting that, from my experience, the Whitetail Institute variety of oats seems to be more cold tolerant than others, as I do see deer feeding on them much later than most experts say deer will eat oats, even well into December.
If oats are my starting pitcher, brassicas are my closer. As the oats start to trend down in attraction around the time of our first frost, somewhere in the early November timeframe, the brassicas really kick into gear. I’ve found that my local deer do feed in the brassicas even early in the year, but they start hammering them hard once cold weather rolls in. Brassicas are highly palatable to deer once a good frost hits, as it increases the sugar concentration in the plants and makes them uniquely attractive. Again, like I mentioned above, this fits well into my “ice cream strategy”, as I’m providing something relatively unique to the environment to drive use in an ag-heavy area. So, once my oats start trending down in November, the brassicas start pulling the deer and given their great cold tolerance, they’ll continue to do so at a very high level all the way through the winter. Both the oats and these brassicas seem to stand up to browsing pressure well and even with my small plot sizes, forage remains present for the entire season and beyond.
So What Should You Plant?
So, what food plot should you plant?
If you’re goals and circumstances line up with mine, then you might want to give something like my above strategy a try. It’s worked wonders for me and has consistently attracted large numbers of deer throughout the entire hunting season, mature bucks included.
But on the other hand, if you’ve been dealt a different set of cards or have different goals or hunt in a different area, this food plot plan might not be right for you.
Get a soil test, do your research, find a forage that will work well in your area, and think through exactly what you want that plot to achieve.
If you’re thorough and thoughtful when planning your food plots in this way, you’ll never need to ask the “what should I plant” question again.
Have more food plot questions? Check out these great food plot focused episodes of the Wired To Hunt Podcast: