Picking the Best Food Plot for Deer in Fall and Winter | Great Days Outdoors

Picking the Best Food Plot for Deer in Fall and Winter

What comes to mind when you think of the best food plot for deer in the winter and fall? 

If you’re like most hunters you view food plots as a place to sit in a shooting house, ground blind or elevated stand with the hope of seeing and harvesting a trophy deer. Many hunters are unaware of the amount of planning that goes into preparing the soil or choosing the appropriate seed and fertilizer. Each of these must be properly addressed and will determine whether the hunter will spend time watching deer or meditating in solitude. 

Science and technology have made advances in every area of our modern life. These innovations are apparent in the hunting industry when one looks at the vast array of new bows, firearms and even air powered rifles offered to hunters each year. Today’s hunter has more choices in their hunting clothes and gear than any previous generation. These choices extend to the availability and variety of the seed and fertilizer they can use to attract and keep deer on their property. The hunter’s that educate themselves as to the best available food plot options for their particular location can ensure that the deer will gravitate to their deer plots in the fall and utilize it through the winter. Whether one is the manager of a large hunting operation or simply a hunter with one small field to plant, they each have the same goal of drawing deer to a particular place by planting and fertilizing some seeds to create the best fall and winter food plots for deer.

The availability and choices of what crops to plant for deer are so numerous as to be overwhelming. One can now find bags of seed in a wide variety of stores, but just because a bag of seed has a picture of a large antlered buck on the front doesn’t mean that seed will perform well where you intend to plant it. The more factual information hunter’s have that can be applied to their specific location, the better chance that their time and effort will result in some great memories and good stories as they and their friends hunt.

 

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Planning The Best Deer Food Plot

Research indicates that 1/2 acre is the average size of a whitetail food plot. Most experts suggest a 1/4 acre minimum size although some hunters clear small remote areas, known as “micro plots”. If your food plots are going to be in competition with fields on nearby properties, then it’s a good idea to find out what’s being planted in your neighbor’s fields. It’s also helpful to know when they are planting. 

 

best food plots for deer in the fall and winter

Before you jump into creating your food plot, careful planning should take place.

 

 

Deer are similar to humans when it comes to food. We don’t mind experimenting, but we know what we like. Deer eat a variety of browse and plants based on nutritional needs and taste. They need a certain amount of calories each day and their feeding increases as the temperature drops. If a restaurant only has one or two items on the menu, they better taste really good or most folks will go where there is a better variety. Deer are the same way, they have preferences for where those calories come from.                                                     

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Types of Forage

The main categories of plants that most whitetail hunters plant are cereal grains, brassicas and legumes. Within each of these seed groups are varieties that have been developed for specific soil types, ph tolerance and latitude. Whether it’s along the Alabama Gulf Coast or into the Canadian interior there are plenty of good choices when planting food plots for deer.

Brassica – is from modern Latin and can be literally translated as cabbage. This category of plants includes many leafy plants such as turnips, radishes, kale, chicory and canola, along with some newer additions. Brassicas do well in moist, well drained areas and tolerate a broader pH range. They require plenty of fertilizer to continue their growth into late winter. They are cold tolerant and draw deer better after the cold changes their starch content to sugars, which makes them more palatable. Food plots planted in these crops have been known to produce up to 10 tons of forage to an acre with crude protein ranging from 20% to 38%.

 

best food plots for deer in the fall and winter

The experts can help you determine the right seed blend for your specific area based on specific soil types, ph tolerance and latitude.

 

Cereal Grains – This category is the one most of us hunters are familiar with. It includes wheat, oats, rye (not rye grass), alfalfa and triticale. Different varieties of cereal grains tolerate wet soil better (rye and wheat) and some do better in drier soils (oats and triticale). Varieties have been developed for different soil types and soil qualities. If your dirt is higher quality, choose wheat or oats. Rye does better in acidic, shaded, less fertile, or sandy soils. Triticale can perform well in either situation, but does better in higher quality soils. Cereal grains provide great early fall options, stand up well to heavy browsing, and have a 10-25% range in crude protein.

Legumes – Lablab, soybeans, cowpeas, Austrian winter peas, clovers and alfalfa are all legumes and they produce their own nitrogen. This means that they require a different fertilizer mix than cereal or brassicas. There are many new varieties that can be grown as far south as the Alabama coast and into Florida. They can be planted separately or in combination with other crops and do well in a variety of soils. They are great for early plots and some do well through cold weather. Deer feed heavily on these and they can be over browsed if deer density is high. They range in crude protein from 20-30%.                                                                                            

 

Choosing the Right Seeds

One good source for the best seed choices for your wildlife food plot is Southern Feed & Seed LLC. Roger Koehn began his business nearly 40 years ago in east Mississippi. The small company grew as it expanded into a full-service seed mill that became a place farmers could buy animal feed, fertilizers, and wide varieties of plant seeds for wildlife food plots.

 

best food plots for deer in the fall and winter

The proper seed mixture for you area will have your food plots lush and green by the time hunting season rolls around.

 

One good source for the best seed choices for your wildlife food plot is Southern Feed & Seed LLC. Roger Koehn began his business nearly 40 years ago in east Mississippi. The small company grew as it expanded into a full-service seed mill that became a place farmers could buy animal feed, fertilizers, and wide varieties of plant seeds for wildlife food plots.

They have expanded to include their specialty seed blends developed specifically for the climate and soil in Mississippi and Alabama. As a result, you can now find their products stocking the shelves of over 150 locations in many states.

I recently listened to Caleb Weaver of Southern Feed & Seed discuss various planting options for the best fall and winter food plots. Weaver has a ton of experience with the different soil types in Alabama and Mississippi and has experimented with combining seed blends that will flourish in every kind of dirt between Yazoo City and Birmingham.

Weaver said that research indicates that bucks spend four times more time feeding in food plots than at feeders. So, it logically follows that green fields and seed choice should be the top priority of every hunter’s efforts to attract and grow their deer. 

Weaver recommends their exclusive blends for the landowner that doesn’t want the hassle of mixing several bags of grain and calculating the ratio and pounds per acre. 

 

Southern Buck Superbuck

Weaver said their Superbuck seed blend is a custom mix that contains wheat, forage oats, Austrian Winter Peas, Trophy Rape, Balansa Clover, Crimson Clover, Daikon Radish, & turnip. It provides early forage and will provide forage for up to 9-10 months. Weaver says he recommends a planting rate of 30-50lbs per 1/2 acre.

 

Southern Buck Ideal Plus

Their Southern Buck Ideal Plus is a mixture that works well in damp soil and contains wheat, oats, Balansa Clover, Crimson Clover, & Arrowleaf Clover. Ideal Plus will provide up to 10 months of forage, and the planting rate is 50lbs per 1/2 acre.

 

Southern Buck Salad Bar

This bag contains a blend of Winfred Brassica, Hunter Brassica, Daikon Radish and Trophy Rape designed to give you season-long forage; plant as early as September 1 and have nutritious forage through May. It can be planted as a single plot mix or added to other planting mixes to enhance your variety. Recommended planting rate is 10l pounds per acre.

Weaver also highly recommends coating all of your seeds with Delta Ag seed coat. He said that they have found that it can boost early sprouting by up to 60% and help sustain early grazing.

Along with seed choice, planting time and fertilizer are critical aspects of good quality food plots. Therefore, hunters should watch the weather forecast and plan their planting ahead of the rain.

 

Farmers Co-Op

Wayne Gilliam is the manager of my local Tuscaloosa Farmers Cooperative and he has been handling seeds and fertilizer for 52 years. He’s seen the evolution in the world of seed technology and knows what works in our weather and local soil types.

Not only has Gilliam sold hundreds of tons of seed and fertilizer, but like his customers, he plants and experiments with various seed types and combinations on his personal hunting property. 

He emphasized that soil testing is the best starting point, and he can help with the sample and the solution for making any soil corrections. Gilliam said his store also has specialized trucks equipped with spreaders and can deliver and spread the correct amount of lime for customers.

 

best food plot seed

 

According to Gilliam, planting and fertilizing can be accomplished in various ways, and your local Farmers Co-Op can offer advice for any planting situation.

For example, Gilliam said that when he planted last year, he had a narrow window to prepare his plot because of weather and time constraints. So he mowed his field, sprayed Roundup, mixed his seed with the fertilizer, and planted. He said this technique was efficient and resulted in a fine-looking food plot.

He said though many farmers now use the newer no-till method, others prefer the traditional route of mowing, spraying, plowing, fertilizing, then planting and covering.

He emphasized that these methods are simply different ways to accomplish the same goal: planting the best seeds to attract and hold deer during the fall and winter and providing forage into the warmer months.

 

October Fields

According to Gilliam, hunters need to plant in August or early September in order to have the best food plot for deer ready by the middle of October. He recommends wheat and white clover for these early plots. (Ladino, White Dutch, Yuchi) 

Gilliam said seed choice comes down to the soil type in each field and how well it drains, and with that knowledge, your local Co-Op can supply a custom seed blend for any of your plots. 

So make a phone call or bring a soil sample and any question you might have to any Farmers Co-Op in Alabama or neighboring states for their insights about what you need for your best food plot for this fall and winter. 

 

Foliar Fertilizing 

Another overlooked option for making your fields more attractive to deer is modifying the flavor profile of your forage as you fertilize your plants with a foliar formula liquid fertilizer. This type of fertilizer has been in use for many years in agriculture and sports. Many golf courses around the world depend on it to provide accelerated growth to those lush fairways and greens. Likewise, many professional football and baseball groundskeepers use the same strategy.                

I talked to Chris Grantham of Alabama Liquid Fertilizer (ALF), located in Elba Alabama, about their Clark’s Plot Nutrients formulas and the use of their products in the best food plots for deer.

 

best food plots for deer in the fall and winter

Liquid fertilizers for your food plots offer a better absorption rate, in a relatively quick timeframe.

 

According to Grantham, most traditional pelletized fertilizer requires a soil pH of 6.5 to 7 in order for plants to absorb its nutrients. 

“This pH level is usually achieved by applying lime up to three months prior to planting. Even with the proper soil pH only about 60-65% of the nutrients in pelletized fertilizer is available to plants over a period of time,” Grantham noted.  “We offer a concentrated solution that has an absorption rate of 80-90% within two hours of being applied directly to the plant’s leaves and stems.” 

“In addition to the standard plant nutrients, it contains 1% calcium that aids in antler growth and eggshell density for turkeys,” he added.

Grantham explained that what this means for the hunter is that they can time the application of this formula to draw more deer to a particular field or a certain part of a field within a short time frame.

“Our testing has verified that deer will stay and feed longer on those fertilized plants due to their increased palatability.” 

Grantham went on to say that the soil pH is not as much of a barrier to nutrient absorption with the liquid since it is absorbed directly through the stems and leaves of a plant and not its roots. 

“It takes about five minutes to fertilize a 1/2 acre field with our product, and this can be a good way to enhance a portion of larger fields or a small plot a week or so before a planned hunt,” Grantham said. 

 

fertilizer

Proper fertilization will have your food plots as green as the fairways at Augusta and the deer will notice.

 

Benny Stultz manages a bowhunting only property in Union Springs. I spoke with him about his transition from traditional fertilizer to Clark’s Plot Nutrients and he felt that the change has been positive. 

“Our transition to Clark’s Plot Nutrients has proven very beneficial for our numerous fields. Chris, at ALF, provided a special mix for a field we planted in alfalfa, and so far we and the deer couldn’t be happier with the results,” Stultz said.                                                                                     

 

Fall Plots

Bow hunting for deer in Alabama has grown in popularity as more hunters look to get an early start with their whitetail season. Many clubs now cater to bow hunters, but establishing fields that draw deer in mid-October can be challenging. These early season plots require careful planning, but that hard work in the warmer months will lead to the best food plot for deer in the fall.

Planting winter peas and clovers that emerge quickly will provide early forage. Establishing a biennial clover plot in early fall can also provide excellent foraging opportunities through the winter into warmer weather. 

 

Winter Plots

Clovers mixed with cereal grains and brassicas are great winter food plot seed for deer that will produce good forage into the spring.

Various seed blends do well in colder weather and will provide nourishment for deer and other wildlife. 

Researchers have covered the globe to find plants that can thrive in most scenarios, but it boils down to identifying your soil type and growing plants that will thrive in your local climate. 

 

best food plots for deer in the fall and winter

A seed blend featuring clovers works well in Southern soils.

 

Choosing the best seeds for your deer plots can be daunting, but a little research can help ease your anxiety. So now is a great time to test your soil and prepare those fields for the upcoming deer season. 

If you’re still unsure about the best seed or fertilizer options for your hunting property, contact Southern Feed and Seed, your local Co-Op, and Chris Grantham at Alabama Liquid Fertilizer


 

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