Your clover’s looking good right now, and there’s a heavy acorn crop on the way. But those food sources won’t last all season. A hot field that holds deer in October or November can go cold in December, so how do you keep deer around after those early-season food sources dry up? Plan now. Get something in the ground that will serve as deer candy well after the clover has shriveled and the acorns have been gobbled up. There are numerous late-season plants you can put in the ground this fall that will keep deer under your stand well into the season, says Dr. Grant Woods, a wildlife biologist from Missouri. Where you live will determine what you can plant, because one crop that works well in the South might not work at all in the north. Of course, you need to consider deer densities and soil type as well, and hunters who don’t take the critical steps to ensure a healthy, viable food plot are only wasting their money.
“There are quite a few choices, but a few are clearly better than others,” says Woods, who works as a management consultant for private landowners.
What To Plant
For Woods, the best all-purpose food sources for a late-season hunt in areas with low deer numbers are standing corn or soybeans. “The problem with those plants is that in areas with high deer densities, there often won’t be anything for the deer to eat later in the season, because it will all be gone. But if you don’t have too many deer, both are excellent late-season food-plot plants that provide nutritious forage later in the season,” he says.
Perhaps the best all-around late-season food plot plants are brassicas. The brassica family includes several well-known plants including broccoli, kale, turnips and rape. From a deer hunter’s perspective, however, the preferred food plot brassicas are lumped into the category of forage brassicas. Woods says when he was working on the original research for BioLogic’s brassica products, no particular variety of forage brassicas was more favored by deer than any others. Any of the major brands are excellent late-season food-plot choices. Until deer become familiar with most brassica varieties, they don’t consume them until after the first hard frost, which converts the starches within the plant to sugars. However, in some areas, deer readily consume brassicas as soon as they germinate. If brassicas are present after a frost, deer tend to devour them, and Woods says whitetails will often walk over other food-plot plants to get to brassica plots.
Although most brassicas can be planted in the early spring, they are best planted in the fall to provide a late-season food source. Woods says the problem with a spring planting is that brassicas mature in the summer and become unpalatable to deer. Once they flower and seed, whitetails won’t touch them. The various members of the brassica family are relatively drought resistant. They are a good choice for regions that are prone to drought.
The Perfect Mix
Is there a single plant that works well everywhere? Not really, but for Woods, the best all-purpose plant is winter wheat. Deer devour it throughout the season, and as other natural and cultivated foods diminish, wheat only becomes more attractive.
“Wheat has gotten pretty expensive the past few years, but it grows in a variety of soils and regions, so it’s a great choice. However, you really have to fertilize it properly for it to be attractive to deer,” he says. “The good news is that fertilizer is relatively cheap, considering all the other costs associated with food plots, but it is the best way to ensure a healthy food plot that will attract deer.”
Even better than plain wheat is a blend of wheat and brassicas with some clover seed added to the mix. Woods recommends 100 pounds of wheat, two pounds of forage brassicas and four or five pounds of clover per acre for most applications. All three are highly palatable, and they give deer a good variety of foods in a single location. And when one plant fades, another will be available. Grant said a plant that is gaining in popularity among hunters is sugar beets. He favors Roundup-Ready sugar beets. They won’t grow in rocky soil or ground that consists of hard clay, but they thrive in sandy or loose soils, particularly in northern climates. Deer devour the tuber itself, and they hit beet fields hard as winter progresses.
No matter what you put in the ground, it can take up to two seasons for deer to learn that what you planted is a nutritious and palatable food source. Because it’s a new plant and one that your local deer herd isn’t familiar with, they won’t always discover it right away. They will eventually, however, and that can turn a late-season hunt into a memorable one.