While a rich fall planting may establish overwintering benefits for wildlife, the real reason most hunters plant cool-season food plots is to provide a hot food source in hopes of a shot at Bullwinkle during deer season. A lasting source of food to feed the wildlife over the winter is just a bonus. By October, the majority of the deer seasons are well under way, but it is still not too late to plant a cool-season food plot and have success without shelling out your life savings.
Planting food plots can be a very expensive endeavor. From pre-planting and post-planting herbicides and pricey fertilizers to Cadillac seed mixtures, the costs can set back any landowner with a limited budget. But when successful and well-used by the natives, the rewards can be worth the time and cash investments.
By October, soil temperatures are steadily declining, not leaving landowners many opportunities to plant cool-season food plots. If they plan to, the first couple of weeks of October are about as late as you can start to develop a feasible food plot for the remaining duration of the season. However, there are some prime benefits for a late-season planting that are not available during the early season interval, with a lighter punch to the wallet.
For starters, herbicide treatments are less important in fall. Typically, a wide-spectrum herbicide, like glyphosate, comes first to kill anything that is growing. Then, if planted real early, a soil-active pre-plant herbicide is advisable to control and prevent competing vegetation in the plot.
The beauty of late fall is that most grasses and weeds have just about given up, and the field doesn’t need to be burned down with glyphosate or treated with any type of pre-plant herbicide. A heavy plowing is all that is needed to control the competing vegetation and to prepare the soil for planting. The winter forages will be aggressive enough to compete and surpass native vegetation.
Next, seed choices will limit landowners to just a few types of crops if looking for a resilient, immediate producer and hot spot for a deer stand. Soil temperatures are steadily falling, and a fast-growing annual is what the doctor ordered for a quick food source. Fast-growing annuals create immediately-available forage that begins attracting wildlife as soon as the sprouts erupt from the soil and provide food for several months. The most-economical fall forages to plant are wheat and oats.
Landowners will get the most bang for the buck planting wheat and oats. The seed is cheap to purchase, germinates quickly, and begin to provide tasty forage lightning fast. Deer will not waste any time finding these food plots; tender wheat and oat shoots are a tasty, nutritious fall/winter food source.
As important, oats and wheat are very tolerant of heavy browsing and will remain viable until well-after Christmas when deer season is in the rearview mirror.
Wheat and oats are easy to plant and don’t require fertilizer, but an application at planting of 150 to 200 pounds of 13-13-13 will make a huge impact on the food plot, with rapid, continuous growth throughout the deer season. Fertilizer is relatively cheap and well worth the investment.
Another October planting that should get a look are forage brassicas. While deer shy away from eating these plants during their early stages of growth, later, they will eat them from the tip of the stems to the bottom of the tubers buried in the ground. The brassicas family includes common food-plot species such as rape, turnips and radishes. Deer usually won’t start eating these plants until they produce fully developed forage and king-sized tubers — and also not until after a few hard freezes, which makes the plant leaves much sweeter. These characteristics are perfect for a late-season producer as the end of the season nears.
Brassicas can be mixed with the cereal grains or planted in pure stands. In mixed stands, the cereal forages provide immediate food availability, followed by a late-season bumper crop when the rut is over and deer are searching for a solid food source. As soon as the deer find brassicas to be viable, they will eat them until they are completely gone, top to bottom.