Don’t forget the food!!!
The concept of food plots is to provide food sources “all year around”. Planting a corn plot will certainly attract deer to your property but most often the food plot is wiped out by December or January when it is really needed. Maximize your food sources and food source availability by adding forage management systems. You will be amazed how much longer your deer stay on your property as well as how much healthier they are.
“Critical Body Mass” is the body weight that a deer must obtain and exceed in order to allocate increased development of antler mass. Inadequate food sources through the winter will reduce Critical Body Mass and slow antler development. Critical Body Mass also allows does to drop fawns earlier and greatly decrease fawn mortality. Providing food sources through the winter will greatly assist in maintaining Critical Body Mass. Whitetail deer will dig through the snow exposing these valuable food sources that stay green and available through the winter.
•Increased antler mass will be accomplished at 16% or more intake of protein sources. Most food sources in the wild, such as corn, will only provide 8 or 9 percent protein, resulting in a protein deficiency and reduced antler mass. Increased “winter stress” also requires the deer to take in more protein for a longer time until the Critical Body Mass is achieved. And only then will protein be available for above normal additional mass for antler growth.
Important: Even with all of the habitat and forage management, young deer still do not produce large racks. Your deer need to get to 3 to 5 years of age…preferably 4 to 5. However, habitat and forage management will keep your deer closer to home and provide more refuge cover to allow an increased probability of an older age. Fact is that most big bucks still die of old age. Don’t believe me…then put out a feeding station and deer camera. You will be may amazed by the number of semi-nocturnal big bucks that you have roaming around but you never see them.
Location…location…location. You may experience low use of food plots if located in an area of low whitetail use or an area of poor cover. Even worse, if you attract deer to an unprotected area from predators and/or winter weather, you may be doing more harm than good.
Working with good soils will allow you to provide better seedbed preparation and to realize better growth in your food plots. If you are working in really wet soils or really dry soils, it is important that you understand the limitations of these soils. Try to chose better soil conditions if you are fortunate enough to have them on your property. Follow the directions of the seeds. Eagle Soy beans, Whitetail Institute products and Blue Seal Brand of wild Forage for wildlife I have found to be the best.
Tree and brush removal is labor intensive and can be expensive. Try to locate food plots in areas where brush removal is a minimum with reduced preparation needs…however, do not compromise the two points mentioned above.
Adequate light for growing days is also important. Sufficient light for at least half of the day should be provided to the food plot. Inadequate light may result in poor stand or growth development. Do not forget, logging roads make great planting areas!!
…site selection is critical!
Site Preparation and Soil Testing
Site preparation may be the single most common reason why your food plot may fail. It is critical that no short cuts are taken and a well prepared seedbed is provided. A little more time in site preparation will be well worth the investment of a successful food plot. The actual site preparation that will be needed on your site is very defendant on the current seedbed (sod, roots, crop field, clay, sand, etc) and is very dependent on the equipment or assistance available to you (ATV, tractor, disc, plow, roto-tiller, etc).
It is very important to test your soils before planting to determine what fertilizing and/or liming applications may be needed. Even if you do everything else right, if your pH is too high or too low or if your soil is greatly lacking fertility…it will not do well or not even grow at all.
Just as with site preparation, there are many options for seeding your food plot and it is greatly dependent on what equipment is available to you or what assistance is available to you. The basics are to distribute the seed uniformly over the seedbed at the recommended rates, do not get the seed too deep or too shallow, and, if at all possible, pack the seedbed after seeding to improve seed to soil contact.
Perennial Food Plots – clovers, alfalfas, perennial ryes, browse, Soybeans, etc.
Once established, perennial food plots will last for 3 to 5 years and consist of a single species of seed or a combination of seeds.
Maintenance of these food plots are greatly reduced and may only require periodic mowing, fertilizing and/or liming.
It is recommended to design several smaller plots ranging in size from 3 to 5 acres rather than one or two really large areas, depending on the land that you have to work with.
Maintenance can be greatly reduced by designing the food plot size to the whitetail herd. Just as a farmer or rancher will design “paddock sizes” in their rotational grazing setup to allow cattle to graze the forage down to a healthy height before moving the cattle to the next paddock, food plots can be designed to allow your whitetail deer herd to graze or maintain the food plots for you. If your food plots are designed too big, the whitetail herd will not be able to graze down the forage fast enough and therefore the forage with become too steamy, become unpalatable and lose substantial protein unless periodically mowed. On the other hand, if the food plot is designed too small, your deer herd could graze the forage down too much and actually stunt the growth of the forage or even cause failure of the food plot.
•”Woody browse” is also very good component to be considered in your overall management plan. Whitetails seek nutritious, available browse in the form of dogwoods, poplars, sumac and many others. These food sources can provide valuable food sources especially during harsh winter months. Well-designed browse lines can also create excellent habitat and travel lanes to encourage more whitetails to stay on your property.
Annual Food Plots – Brassicas such as sugar beets, turnips, rape, corn, soybeans, oats, etc.
Annual food plots are food plots that will need to be established each year and consist of a single species of seed or a combination of seeds.
Excellent “Fall Attractant”! Most of the annual varieties are very popular with whitetail deer in the late fall and winter, just in time for the fall hunting season.
Maintenance of these food plots are usually more labor intensive as it requires annual tillage and re-planting as well as it may require periodic mowing, fertilizing and/or liming.
It is recommended to design several smaller plots ranging in size from 1/2 to 1 acre rather than larger areas, also depending on the land that you have to work with. Remember, these food plots require “annual” installation and the more you start, the more you must finish. Be conservative if you plan to do this work yourself until you get a feel for what is required to have a successful food plot.
Maintenance can also be greatly reduced by designing the food plot size to the whitetail herd. If your food plots are designed too big, the whitetail herd will not be able to graze down the forage fast enough and therefore the forage with become too steamy, unpalatable and lose substantial protein unless periodically mowed. Also, if the food plot is designed too small, your deer herd could graze the forage down too hard and actually stunt the growth of the forage or even cause failure of the food plot.