Overlooked Food Options

Did you set the whitetail table last year with a lavish food plot? If so, you established a cornerstone component for whitetail nutrition on your hunting property, but it’s still just one element of a whitetail’s complex nutritional needs, especially if your plot offers only single-crop dining.

Whitetails, unlike domestic livestock, can’t survive on one food source alone. They rely on hundreds of vegetation varieties to sustain life. It’s how they evolved. Their four-chambered stomach relies on this diverse banquet to function normally.

This system allows whitetails to utilize low-nutrient vegetation found naturally. In doing so, whitetails stay on the move, browsing constantly from one food source to another and relocating to stay one step ahead of stalking predators. You probably have questioned why a deer visits one of your food plots and then leaves after a brief visit. They can’t help it. Evolutionary habits don’t change overnight.

If you strive to provide high-quality nutrition and hold deer on your property, then you should consider overlooked food options.

MIX IT UP

Knowing that whitetails require literally dozens of foods, you’d be well served to consider seed mixtures boasting a crop mixture. These products come in spring, summer or fall blends, and produce different vegetation throughout their growing window. This serves to allow slower maturing crops to reach their highest productivity level before deer trimming begins. It also creates a tossed salad, giving deer the variety they desire with longer dining hours.

Mossy Oak BioLogic and numerous other companies specialize in single-crop and blended products for plots. Putting in two or more plots to provide year-long nutrition should be a top priority. Are you looking for a new option that can provide nutrition while mixed with other crops such as clover, turnips, soybeans and corn? Try sorghum for food and cover. The seed head offers forage from summer through winter depending on when it matures. It grows in most whitetail regions of the country, including arid locations. And if your land lacks cover, sorghum can reach heights of 10 feet or more. Use it to edge your traditional plot for a food and cover combo that benefits all wildlife.

Ryan Basinger, a 9-year veteran wildlife biologist and consultant for Westervelt Wildlife Services , suggest you look at your soybeans differently as well.

“Something we’ve been doing the last few years is switching to forage soybeans ,” he recommended. “They grow tall and bushy (photo below), and produce tons of forage, but also lots of seed when not overgrazed. In the South, you might get 10 solid months of quality nutrition. Deer eat the green leaves early and then concentrate on the seed later.”

FORESTRY

Food plots are an obvious improvement, but don’t overlook nature to boost the attractiveness of your property. For the cost of a blister you could improve the natural browse and help whitetails when your food plots are growing, or buried in a blanket of snow. Before undertaking any major forestry projects, consult with a professional forester because timber management varies from region to region.

Clearing old growth, opening canopies and setting prescribed burns can all complement each other to improve forest health. Mast trees, such as white or red oaks, can benefit through the removal of undesirable timber that rob local natural resources. It could result in higher quantities of mast.

“Thinning undesirable species within a stand of timber allows more sunlight to hit desirable species like oaks,” said Basinger. “Get sunlight to the sides of the tree and you’ll increase twig density. When you do that you can increase mast production. Creating gaps in the canopy benefits oaks, but the increased sunlight can boost cover and browse (photo below) at ground level as well.”

Much has been bantered around about fertilizing mast trees such as oaks, but Basinger believes thinning offers a better alternative that’s been substantiated with research. While working on his master’s degree in the southern Appalachians, Basinger discovered that in any given year 30 percent of the white oaks in a studied area produced 90 percent of the acorns. From the research, he concluded that fertilizing those 30 percent wouldn’t be viable because the 30 percent changed annually. That’s why he recommends good forestry over a broad fertilization program that has high costs in fertilizer purchases and labor.

More openings help overall forest health, plus some removal projects could even result in payment if the timber has value. Slash piles after cutting further benefit whitetails and wildlife. Stacked piles create walls for windbreaks and refuge concealment. Branches and limbs previously out of reach of deer provide nutrition that can be especially beneficial during a hard winter. It’s a win-win situation.

Planting a food plot has benefits for hunting success and wildlife, but taking your plot and property to the next level can create a year-round nutritional buffet for whitetails and other wildlife alike.

Editor's note: Check out the video below where Mark discusses the importance of food in killing a mature late-season buck.

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