Food plot ideas to provide year-round nutrition and attraction.
Plot partitioning is a mouthful of vowels that simply means keeping crops separate.
With the increasing number of hunters planting food plots for wildlife, the need for some of us competitive-minded folks to take farming for wildlife to another level has risen.
The days of just simply tossing a bag of grain bin floor sweepings out on the plowed-up field are over. A lot of research has taken place over the last 15 to 20 years on the importance of nutrition and the part it plays in the quest for healthier and bigger deer.
So, gamekeepers have a lot of resources at their disposal to know what, when, where, why, and how to grow crops that are going to benefit their deer herd and other wildlife.
Let’s consider the advantages of plot partitioning or planting several crops in the same area. Regardless of where you live in the whitetail’s range, your deer are going to go through several changes in their nutritional needs in the course of a year.
Having a diversity of crops planted on your property that meet these needs increases the attractiveness of your land and your chances of holding quality deer. Plot partitioning works best when you have larger fields, and three acres seems to be a good starting point. This doesn’t mean you can’t use this technique in smaller fields, but it can limit its effectiveness.
One question that I get asked quite often is, “What should I plant to keep deer in my plots for the entire hunting season?”
What Should I Plant?
No matter where you live, just one planting would have a hard time being everything your deer herd needs for the early, mid, and late hunting season. Plot partitioning can really help in your providing an attractive and nutritious food source throughout the changes that take place from September to January.
This point is even further evident due to some states starting their whitetail season as early as August and going into February.
So, let’s say we have a large plot, say five acres or so somewhere in the South or mid-South. We want it to be a hunting mecca from early to late season. Ideally, I would utilize three to four different plantings to help achieve that task.
To begin drawing deer to the plot, utilizing a warm season annual like lablab or soybeans will help provide nutrition through the growing months. Since lablab doesn’t provide any winter food and soybeans rarely make enough beans in smaller applications to be a reliable late-season food source, you will need to have a plan. You will need to terminate what is left of your warm- season plantings to prepare the soil for your cool-season plantings.
The next planting step is one that can really help set your plot apart from the average while also increasing a feeling of security by your deer.
In the late spring/early summer, plant the perimeter of the field in a tall-growing annual that will screen the plot and provide a good transition zone from woods or thickets to the plot. This perimeter screen only has to be one to two tractor widths wide to achieve its purpose.
Blind Spot is a great seed blend that utilizes a tall-growing forage sorghum for this screen effect that can easily grow seven to 12 feet in height. I also like to use a strip of Blind Spot to partition portions of the field.
This achieves a couple of goals: 1) the deer feel safer because from their point of view the field appears smaller, and 2) it keeps your plantings separate and adds to the diversity of the field. Using a tall screen to partition off your plantings can be done in any direction or design that fits the shape of your field.
Blind Spot can also be used as a great way to hide your approach into different stands you have around the field. Not only does it make a great way to hide your entrance but you can also use Blind Spot to hide the view of plots from roads or nosy neighbors that may be able to see your plots.
You can also utilize native warm-season grasses as a more long-term, perennial option for your screening and partitioning fields. These also require some management and attention to ensure a good stand that meets your goals. Nativ Nurseries Barrier Blend was designed with this purpose in mind. It contains varieties such as Big Bluestem, Alamo Switchgrass, Iron Weed, Maximillian Sunflower, and White Wingstem that will average 7-10 ft in height.
Late Summer/Fall Preparation
So now we are in the late summer and it’s time to start preparing the rest of the field into cool season annuals. In addition to the annuals, we need to create some more early and midseason forage using a perennial.
Clover and chicory can be a great perennial option and is best planted when you have good soil moisture in the late summer/early fall. This part of the plot can be managed for several years and provide almost year-round food. Over the last couple of years, my go-to combination for a great annual is oats and radishes. These two crops are great companions and are extremely attractive during that September-December time period. In the South, this would be a mid-September planting.
So, we still have a couple acres remaining to plant and we are thinking about the late season. This December-February part of the year can be taxing on a whitetail’s body. Bucks are chasing does and fighting, does are constantly running from bucks, and they are all on high alert by this time of year from all different forms of hunters tromping through the woods.
A reliable late season food source can be the difference maker in filling your tag with a good mature buck. This is where I rely on the brassica family of plants, forage rape and turnips in particular. These plants have the ability to grow a lot of forage that is very valuable for the late season.
Typically, deer will utilize the rape a little earlier in the fall and then move on to the turnips and the bulbs they grow during the winter. So with the two acres left, I would plant one acre each in these varieties to create a lot of late season attraction and nutrition to the field.
Be sure to use good varieties that are developed for whitetail consumption and not commodity varieties that have less desirable characteristics.
One more option that you can look into when separating or partitioning plots is the use of soft or hard mast producing trees. Depending on the species of trees planted and where you live, you can add early or late season appeal to your plot with mast producing trees that drop their acorns or fruit at key times of the season.
Instead of planting the trees in typical orchard fashion, they can be planted in wide-spaced rows that allow for easier viewing and are not so close that you can’t maneuver around them with tractors and implements. When planted wide enough, some guys even use the area in between their tree rows to plant different food plot crops.
In closing, this example of a five-acre plot would consist of one acre of clover/chicory, two acres of oats and radishes, and once acre each of rape and turnips. These are all options to use when partitioning crops. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
The main idea is to take an area and use several crops and plants to increase the diversity of your land and provide your deer security and season-long food choices. Different parts of the country will require slightly different timing on the planting of these crops.