Layering Winter Rye: My Wisconsin Whitetails Fall Food Plot Plan

For the first time this late summer and fall, the author plans a layering winter rye system to lure Wisconsin whitetails.

Layering Winter Rye: My Wisconsin Whitetails Fall Food Plot Plan

Jeff Sturgis from Whitetail Habitat Solutions planting winter rye in early fall. (Photo is YouTube screen-shot from Whitetail Habitat Solutions video at bottom of page.)

I’ve been planting food plots in western Wisconsin for 20 years, and during that time I’ve tried just about every seed blend imaginable from almost every major food plot company. As you might expect, I’ve had some tremendous successes, as well as a few total failures. Each year has been a learning experience.

For the first time in my DIY land management career, I’m following the advice of food plot/whitetail guru Jeff Sturgis (photo above), host of the popular YouTube channel Whitetail Habitat Solutions. As you can learn in the 16-minute video below, Sturgis is a strong advocate of maximizing the amount of green forage available for whitetails during fall. He’s not concerned with trying to provide food (think standing corn) for northern whitetails from January through March. Instead, he thinks it’s more important for whitetails to enter winter in tiptop shape, and the best way to accomplish this is with lush green food plots. 

A bonus to this plan is if you plant winter rye, which is one of Sturgis’ favorites, then whitetails will have green forage to eat immediately after the snow melts. Winter rye will be the first green to pop in spring, two to four weeks before anything else in the forest (including clover in your food plots) turn green. Important note: Winter rye is a cereal grain (an annual), not to be confused with rye grass (a perennial). Winter rye seed looks like brown rice.


Layering Winter Rye

As explained in the video, Sturgis is a firm believer in food plot diversity. Each of his fields is divided in two, which I’ll call No. 1 and No. 2.

In half No. 1, he’ll plant (per acre) 50 pounds of oats, 25 pounds of soybeans, and 100 pounds of peas. In half No. 2, he’ll plant a brassica mix. In central Wisconsin, he plants on approximately August 1. Of course, having rain in the forecast is an important factor when establishing a food plot, so don’t be afraid to move your planting date up or back a week depending on the forecast. Likewise, you’ll have to move your planting dates ahead or behind a week or two if you live farther north or south. 

Approximately a month later, so September 1, Sturgis broadcasts 200 pounds per acre of winter rye on top of the greens already growing in No. 1. He adds winter rye to No. 2 only if the brassica field is a failure. Assuming the brassicas are growing okay, he fertilizes this portion with 75 pounds per acre of 46-0-0 to help maximize the food available for whitetails.

If field No. 1 is thick with newly growing winter rye on September 15, as well as a good amount of taller food (oats, beans and peas), then Sturgis might leave it alone. However, if whitetails have begun hitting No. 1 and consuming a large amount of the available greens, Sturgis will broadcast 100-200 pounds per acre of winter rye. He repeats this process on October 1; if the field shows bare soil spots due to heavy browsing from whitetails, he’ll broadcast 100-200 pounds per acre of winter rye. 

This layering winter rye approach has worked incredibly well for Sturgis and his clients in the past, and I’m excited to give it a try on my Wisconsin food plots. I’ll keep you posted on the results.


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