It’s Time to Plant Your Cool-Season Forage Plots.
It’s all part of nature’s plan. Summer is the season of growth but as the days grow shorter, plants an animals alike seem to stop and take a collective deep breath. Physiological changes are occuring in whitetails and they no longer crave the high protein diet needed to grow bone, muscle and antler or nurse rapidly-growing fawns. Antlers stop growing; velvet dies and peels off. Fawns are weaned. Now, their bodies tell them to seek out plants high in carbohydrates that will help them put on a layer of fat before the coming winter. And if you plant it, they will come.
Cool-season or hunting plots differ from warm-season of feeding plots in several ways. For starters, the latter are designed and located for agricultural efficiency. Because the objective is merely to provide proper year-round nutrition, they’re usually easy to access, larger and regularly shaped.
While fall plots are also designed to provide nutrition, their primary objective is hunting efficiency. The more attractive you make them to deer at this time of year, the more effective they’ll be.
It’s always easier to attract deer to your hunting plots if you build them where the deer already want to go, and that often means less accessible areas of your hunting grounds, where (and because) there is less human traffic.
Deer also don’t like coming into the open during daylight either. They may still use larger feeding plots, but not until near or after dark, especially the older bucks. Put a smaller hunting plot between bedding and large feeding plots however, and deer may stage there before dark.
You also need not build square or rectangular hunting plots. In fact, irregular shapes are often better. By incorporating natural cover and topography into your plot configuration, you can create funnels and ambush points. A 90-degree angle or an hourglass shaped plot are some classic examples.
Deer also seem to know when food is most palatable and nutritious, which is why this is the time to plant your fall plots; so they’ll be most attractive during hunting season. You just have to plant the right stuff.
For the most part (there are always exceptions) you’ll want to plant an annual mix - annuals because they produce more nutrition over a shorter period of time, mix because you want a variety of plants, for several reasons.
The hybrid sorghum, forage peas and beans, millet, high oil sunflower, and buckwheat in Heartland Wildlife Institutes’ Annual Wildlife Mix, for example, grow and ripen at different rates. As a result, they provide an attractive food source over a longer period of time, from early bow through late muzzleloader seasons.
Similarly, their Rack Maker Extreme is designed for fall/winter food/hunting plots. A blend of winter oats, winter rye and forage soybeans and three brassicas: a hybrid turnip, forage rape and purple top turnips each offer a different peak attraction period, enhancing deer activity through all hunting seasons. Different plant species also respond differently to varying site, weather and moisture conditions, ensuring that some will thrive even if others struggle.
And you needn’t go all out when planting your fall plots. In fact, sometimes the smallest and simplest can be the most effective. Secret Weapon, a blend of winter peas and forage soybeans combined with a blend of brassicas (turnips, forage rape and hybrid forage turnips) is ideal for smaller plots in more remote locations. With minimal site preparation you can have an attractive “hidey hole” plot that reaches its prime in 45 - 60 days.
Deer still need a certain amount of protein because it helps the digestion of fiber, which becomes a larger component of their diet in winter. They can get much of that protein from your feeding plots, assuming you planted them last spring. Or, you can provide it on your hunting plots in the form of blocks. Rack Maker Deer Blocks contain 23 percent protein and come flavored with two favorite fall deer foods, acorn and apple.
Bob Humphrey is a certified wildlife biologist whose company, Quality Wildlife, works with private landowners to improve wildlife habitat. www.bobhumphrey.com