Turnips and similar foods are great to plant to deer and other wildlife, as they offer a food source late in fall and winter.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures.
There have always been farmers who were interested in hunting. Now, increasingly, there are hunters interested in farming.
It’s the food plot phenomenon.
Find a guy or gal who’s picked themselves up a patch of huntable ground anymore and it’s almost a given they’re trying to figure out what to grow to attract whitetails, turkeys, bears and the like.
Now’s the time of year for making those decisions.
There are a couple of simple things you can do to make your food plots better, or at least work better to your advantage.
For starters, consider what you plant.
Mike Stroff is host of Savage Outdoors TV and operator of Southern Outdoor Experience Hunts, a Texas-based guiding service. He also manages properties for deer in several other states.
He’ll tell you that white-tailed deer have home ranges that take in at least a square mile. So unless you own or control thousands of acres, deer aren’t going to spend their entire lives on your land.
The goal then should be to make them want to be there as often as possible.
“I would think in a year-round mindset, and think what can I plant that will last,” Stroff said.
He might plant beans to draw in deer over summer, for example, but be sure to have corn and apples for later in fall, then sugar beets and turnips for late season and winter.
Those latter foods can really draw whitetails in as other food sources disappear.
“Green is gold in the winter,” Stroff said.
Another thing to consider is when to plant.
Deer will eat corn in every stage of its existence, said C.J. Winand, a Maryland-based wildlife biologist and author. That includes the early stages, when it’s popping out of the ground, the middle stag when it’s pollinating or “silking” and the end stage when it’s produced ears.
But some research in Nebraska shows they prefer that “silking” stage best of all, he said.
“In other words, it’s sweeter. It tastes better,” he said.
So if you’re planting a field of corn for deer, it makes sense to do it in two parts, Winand said. Plant most of the corn in early spring, as usual.
But plant the outer edge of the field – closest to the tree line and your tree stand – a month or two later, so that it’s hitting the silking stage about the time archery season opens, Winand said. That will not only draw deer in, he said, but draw them close to where you’re hunting.
Lastly, be aware of how much food a plot can potentially produce and be there to take advantage of it, Stroff said.
He has what he calls “kill plots.” They’re small, one half- to one-and-a half-acre fields of clover, beets and radishes. Some he plants specifically for deer; others are tiny portions of larger. All are left standing when everything else is harvested.
Their small size means they have limitations.
“If you get a bunch of deer, they don’t last very long,” he said.
But they can be productive when in full bloom, provided you can get in and out without spooking deer.
“If you’re spooking deer, or you’re just not seeing deer, back off,” he said. “But if you’re seeing deer, or seeing deer while you wait on one particular one, keep at it. They’re great.”