Plant Food Plots Now? Or Not.

So many seed choices ... so very confusing? Reality check: plant these five annuals, buy several deer tags and then make room in your freezer.

My food plot career is relatively short—about 8 years—so I’m far from an expert. But if I’ve learned anything during my time spent working the soil for whitetails, it’s this: Spring is overrated.

In fact, if you held an arrow to my head and made me choose a single time frame in which to plant food plots each year, I’d take late-summer over spring without giving it a second thought.

    Here’s a quick rundown of what comes to mind when I think about spring field work:
  • Fields are too wet/muddy for machinery due to snow melt and spring rains.
  • Planting before killing existing weeds results in a marginal plot.
  • Waiting for weeds to grow, then spraying them, then waiting for them to die prior to planting takes so long that regular spring rains have ended—leaving you to plant with no rain in the forecast.

    In contrast, here’s why I prefer late summer field work:
  • Fields are dry enough for machinery.
  • If weeds are unusually tall, cut them in early July, then spray Roundup in mid-July, then till soil on planting day in early August. Because weeds have “run their course” by late-summer, controlling them after that is unnecessary.

Even when everything goes well with a spring planting, you’re faced with a summer-long battle with weeds, which is both time-consuming and expensive. But you might be asking yourself: Even though a late summer planting avoids the weed problem, is there enough time before archery season for the plots to grow substantially and attract deer?

While it’s true that annuals planted on August 1 won’t be waist high by mid-September, it’s been my experience that with average amounts of rainfall, you can expect your annuals to be 10-18 inches in height—and almost 100 percent weed-free in 45-50 days. And if your area continues to have occasional rain, warm temps and no frost in late September and early October, the plants could be 2 feet tall by the time of the first hard frost.

The Fabulous Five
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you to at least give late-summer planting of annuals a try. But what seed should you buy? During 2010 I planted a wide variety of annuals in western Wisconsin, and my top five producers included four newcomers (at least to me) and one proven winner (I’ll cover it last). Drum roll please …

BioLogic Winter Bulbs And Sugar Beets

This blend produces both big, desirable brassica root bulbs and nutritious, attractive green tops. Deer begin eating the BioLogic tops first (this happened in mid-October on my plot), then after those are consumed, they’ll turn their attention to digging bulbs. I planted only 1/8-acre in this blend, and the annuals grew to 12 inches by the first hard frost.

During the next 30 days, the deer ate the food plot to the dirt, then began consuming the bulbs. I’ll plant a lot more of this blend in 2011.

Frigid Forage Big-N-Beasty Brassicas
This Minnesota company caught my attention because it claimed, “This premium forage blend was developed specifically for our cold Northern climate and is very frost resistant.” I dedicated about 1.5 acres of my testing area to Frigid Forage Big-N-Beasty, and the deer loved it. It contains sugar beets, turnips, rape and forage carrots, and my deer hit it hard during fall, then continued to pound it after the snow began to pile up.

Hunter's Specialties Vita-Rack Winter Forage
Providing up to 34 percent protein, this mix contains rape, turnip and clover. I planted about 1/4-acre of Hunter's Specialties Winter Forage and the annuals in this blend grew to 12-14 inches. As a bonus, I’ll have a highly desirable green field here come springtime after the snowmelt jump-starts the clover.

Because of the clover component, this plot drew deer like crazy in August and September, then the deer continued to hit it for the annuals from October through December.

Imperial Whitetail Tall Tine Tubers
Turnips have long been one of the favorite food plot plantings for late-season deer hunters, so Whitetail Institute researchers tested parent turnip varieties for quick development, cold hardiness and most importantly, high deer usage. The result is Tall Tine Tubers. (What exactly is a tuber? Google it and you’ll quickly be an expert. Here’s a fact to dazzle your hunting buddies: A potato is a type of tuber.)

Although I’m not a fan of turnips on my dinner plate, I can say Wisconsin whitetails like them.

Imperial Whitetail Double-Cross
A few sayings immediately come to mind as I write this final food plot entry: An oldie but a goodie, or saving the best for last. For reasons I can’t explain, my local deer crave Double-Cross, and have for years. This blend contains brassica, kale and rapeseed, as well as five varieties of clover. It’s the best of both worlds: Deer get enormous green tops to eat in October and November, and huge bulbs in December. And although the clover gets some attention in August and September, it becomes a magnet come spring, and continues to draw deer like mad all through summer and into fall.