Which food plot crops are destined to work?
If you want to increase the hunting productivity of your deer property, one the best ways to do it may be to start growing a food plot or two on different parts of the land. Not only can a food plot help to keep your deer nourished and healthy for the rut (and beyond), but it can also serve as a gathering place of sorts that you can use to help you land a few more bodies this year.
Whether your strategy is to pick off deer as they wander from the bedding area to the feeding area and back again, or to simply hunt the food plot (probably not advisable until late in the season when you have a tag to fill and nothing left to lose), a food plot is an asset to any hunter's property. Of course, if you are thinking of growing a food plot, you have to ask yourself which seed types to plant.
We've outlined a few of our favorite crop types and discussed the pros and cons of each.
View the slideshow to see the suggestions, and leave comments or additions if you have them.
Rich in protein and perfect for giving deer the energy and sustenance they need to grow and be healthy, alfalfa is widely regarded as one of the best crops for deer feeding plots. Alfalfa plants aren't the most resilient, though, making this a harder to grow crop than many of the others featured on this list. Furthermore, alfalfa doesn't last very far into the fall and winter months. It provides great sustenance all summer long, but in years where the frost and cold come early, bucks and does will need other sources of protein to get through the rut. Luckily, alfalfa makes up for its brief season and difficult cultivation curve by providing impressive year-to-year longevity: it isn't unusual to alfalfa crops to yield plants for five or six years after planting.
A variety of different plants fall into the brassicas family, with turnips, forage, and Essex rape being the prime types for deer diets. While these food options are all markedly different, they have a few things in common. First of all, they are high in protein, and secondly, deer will generally leave them alone until the colder months, making them great options if you live in a cold area and want to keep the deer on your property well fed (and easy to locate) during the winter months.
If alfalfa is considered to be one of the best deer crops, then clover is likely regarded as the best deer crop. Clover is considerably easier to cultivate than alfalfa, but also provides a strong source of protein that deer love. It can't weather hard frosts very well, rendering it a spring/summer plant for the most part, and it doesn't have the same longevity as alfalfa, with most crops only yielding plants for about three years. However, since clover is so easy to grow, hunters and farmers don't typically mind replanting their crops ever few years. Even if you decide to put most of your effort into other crops, you might as well plant some clover too.
For us humans, corn is one of those foods that just tastes like summer. There's nothing like a good ear of corn to go along with a burger or some barbecued chicken. However, just because corn is good for you in the winter doesn't mean that it's good for deer at the same time. On the contrary, corn is most effective as a deer crop in the winter.
When many other food options have withered and died, a corn plot may still be a place where deer can find a snack well into the cold months. In turn, a corn plot can translate into post-rut kills. However, corn is never the most nutritional supplement for deer - it's much richer in sugars than in energy-sustaining protein - and should never be the only crop on your property for those reasons. If left with nothing but corn crops in the summer, deer will gobble up the leaves early, effectively ruining the plants and greatly reducing their chances of producing any actual corn.
Sorghum serves a very similar purpose to corn in deer food plots. In ideal circumstances, both should be carbohydrate-rich food sources that survive until the winter months and then serve as good emergency food sources and baiting areas. However, also like corn, sorghum heads will be goggled up and negated if deer don't have other crops to occupy their appetite in the summer and fall (or if demand for food is greater than supply, which happens in areas of high deer density).
Soybeans are a great deer plot crop because they can provide both a tasty source of protein during the summer (paving the way for big bucks in the fall) and a consistent source of food late into the fall and winter. This is because soybean crops can consistently yield new pods throughout the seasons. They don't put out as much food on the whole as other big deer protein sources (namely alfalfa and clover), and they aren't the easiest crop to cultivate, but they are certainly worth having on your property if you want valuable applications for both summer and fall.
"Winter grains" is a category designation most often used among deer crop management experts to refer to winter wheat or rye. Since deer aren't particularly fond of these grains - they must just not taste very good - they aren't the most popular or ubiquitous plants for food plot design. However, hunters in the south often use winter wheat or rye because the crops give them green fields late into the winter months. In the south, hunters often find that other winter deer crops (sorghum, corn, and brassicas, primarily) aren't as successful because long, dry, and hot summers make them difficult to grow. If you find yourself up against a similar dilemma, winter grains can be a good alternative.