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Prepare Now For Not Only This Fall, But Also The Next Several

The deer population in our part of Whitetail Country is very laid back. Does have begun to drop fawns this month and the end of last month, and they are beginning their adventure on this earth.

While the fawns will still be nursing into the early summer months, during this time it takes pressure off your plantings/crops. This will allow the plot to get to a point where deer begin to hit for at least a couple more months. On the flip side, if you are struggling to offer enough food during the fall or are experiencing excessive doe population numbers, make sure to limit the amount of available summer food sources.

Without a heavy herd of does and fawns sticking around all summer long, your mid-summer food plots will have plenty of time to grow and become established before the onslaught of grazing pressure that will arrive during the early fall.

What does quality fall food and a limited number of summer doe family groups equal? A much greater potential for creating balanced deer populations that are in line with the carrying capacity of the land. Remember, food plots are designed by nature to be a supplemental source of food. We don’t want, or need, local wildlife to view the plots as its main source.

Creating balanced deer populations that are peaking in October and November also creates the opportunity for harvesting not only enough does when needed, but also for potentially targeting a high percentage of the local buck population.

Deer do benefit from warm-season plantings because they are often much higher quality — both protein and digestibility — than native forages. Even at their peak in spring, native plants contain 15% or less protein. That number drops to less than 10% during late-summer months, while legumes, such as pea, bean and clover family in food plots, contain 20-30%. Carefully selected, effective warm-season plantings supply high quality warm-season forage both when native range quality is good in spring and low in summer.

High-quality spring nutrition is important for quick recovery of deer body weights after winter which takes priority over new antler growth, and to improve fawning success. Consequently, deer use of food plots is usually very heavy from mid-spring through late summer.

Warm-season food plots for deer are needed under conditions where summer vegetation quality is poor enough to cause nutritional stress for deer. Where summer nutritional stress caused by heat and drought result in low protein and high cellulose levels, this certainly justifies warm-season deer plots. Some of the best spring and summer plots are made up of legumes, including cowpeas. Five or more species of cowpeas are appropriate, such as soybeans, my personal favorite, corn, grain sorghum, alfalfa or red clover.

Red clover has been shown to be very productive and nutritious in the warm season everywhere except in drought years. Deer managers must remember, however, that late-summer stress periods are often caused by drought and deep sandy soils. Almost any food plot planted as a summer supplement is subject to the same drought stress as native plants unless it is irrigated or has a deep tap root. Grain sorghum and alfalfa may be important exceptions to this.

My favorite time to plant clover and chicory is when I plant a food plot during the middle of the summer. The cool season annuals of rye, oats and peas offer the perfect nurse crop for establishing the young perennials.

Of course, corn and beans need to be planted in the spring, so if they are a part of your overall food plot strategy then these varieties already need to be growing well by the middle of the summer. However, the lucious annual greens of peas, oats, brassicas, wheat and rye, as well as the establishment of perennials like clover and chicory, should be planted well after spring and into early summer.

Also, by keeping your food plots from growing too much during May, June and July, you can experience some outstanding herd building and hunting season success that may create opportunities that you had previously never imagined.

Timing is everything when planning food plots. For combination bow hunting and late-summer stress plots, continued leaf production is critical since rapid growth translates to high palatability and attractiveness for deer.

Well-entrenched spring-planted plots of early planted grain sorghum mixed with peas or beans, including soybeans — again with the soybean or mid-summer plots of buckwheat or cowpeas — will serve this dual purpose very well. There is nothing more frustrating or more preventable than planting the wrong plant species on the wrong site. A classic example is alfalfa planted in the bottomland with a high water table. Alfalfa’s deep root system is vulnerable to drowning and loss of an entire crop when roots are flooded by water. Another is planting arrowleaf clover where it will surely be killed by winter freeze out.

There is no substitute for a good food plot management program which includes at least acreage in high quality agricultural food plots. Agricultural deer management includes identifying the most stressful seasons, usually late winter and mid to late summer and planting productive high-quality crops which fill the void created by low quality native vegetation. An integrated system, including both warm and cool season food plots, has the potential to increase deer numbers or condition and create a total quality deer management program. You need plots that attract, grow and hold deer and turkeys on your own property year-round.

The fun with food plots is finding out what works best for you and your hunting area and the wildlife population you are working with. Trust me, it will take time to figure this out, but not giving up will provide you with filled freezers in coming seasons and maybe some new head gear for the man cave.

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