Keep spring costs down

How to get more bang for your food-plot bucks

Jeff Burleson

May 08 at 9:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Warm-season food plots are important for providing deer with nutrients during fawning and antler-growing seasons.
Jeff Burleson
Warm-season food plots are important for providing deer with nutrients during fawning and antler-growing seasons.

Throughout the year, deer and other wildlife locate various food sources to fulfill their daily nutritional requirements. From the annual green-up in spring and summer to the fall mast crop and dormant winter months, animals learn to adapt to their environment at an early age. 

While sometimes the proportion of quality over quantity may vary, wildlife find a way to sustain themselves without any outside help. If landowners want to invest in their herd, they should never leave out a spring planting session; it may be the most important crop of the year. Landowners can provide a rich food source without breaking the bank. 

Mother Nature doesn’t always provide perfectly-balanced meals in every nook and cranny on the planet. Landowners with a drive to both attract wildlife and provide nutritional fare need to invest in a food-plot program that spans all four seasons, and the warm season is critical. 

Hunters cannot ignore their deer herd during the warm seasons, because does are fawning and bucks are growing antlers. Typically, fawns in the Carolinas are born from early May to the middle of June. Does must have a staple food source packed with nutrition for milk production. Bucks begin growing their antlers as early as April, but the period of rapid growth is between May and late July — right when warm-season food plots should be going strong.  

Deer require a significant level of groceries to fuel their activity levels. If deer are not resting or drinking, they are eating. They will consume between five and 12 pounds of food per day. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates will help produce big antlers, healthy fawns and an overall healthy herd. 

Typically, crops planted in the spring are either readily available after emergence or will have a delayed benefit. Corn and sorghum lack initial nutrition, but they will provide a beneficial food source as they mature and produce palatable seeds during the fall. They can be also costly to penny pinchers on a limited budget. 

Some of the best spring food-plot seeds can be also some of the least expensive to grow. Buckwheat, red clover, alyce clover, lablab and cowpeas are good in warm-season food plots and are very high in protein and very attractive to deer. The majority of these seeds are somewhat heat- and drought-resistant, at least until the middle of summer — past the time when they are most crucial for deer, which will flock to plots with these plants no matter what other food sources are available. 

Trophy or forage oats can also be planted in the spring to provide a good food source in the spring, but, excessive heat and dry weather will disrupt growth later in the summer. 

While most of these plants could be planted individually, a mixture will produce the best chance for food availability. A mixture of legumes and cereal grains will be beneficial for growth. Legumes fixate nitrogen into the soil and will make it available for the companion crops. Of the listed plants above, red clover, alyce clover, lablab and cowpeas are legumes. 

Even though seed costs for these spring mixes can leave a small impression on the annual budget, proper soil preparation and amendments must be included to receive a response to planting. 

To start off with, soils should have been limed months ago to any acidic sites. However, soils can be brought up to speed with Pennington Fast-Acting Lime at least 10 days before planting at a rate of 250 pounds per acre. This version of lime begins acting immediately and also provides a water-soluble source of calcium to be used by the plants later.  

Furthermore, soils should be prepared accordingly by using weed-deterrent techniques through the use of herbicides, tilling and no-till drilling techniques. Landowners will get a much better crop if weeds can be controlled during growth of targeted species. 

Last, potassium and phosphorus fertilization just before or during planting will help kick start food plots. 

It never hurts when local farmers are growing massive fields of peanuts and soybeans that are full of energy and nutrition. Nevertheless, some deer and other wildlife species are not fortunate to live in these areas rich with agricultural production.

Spring food plots are important and should be included into any annual food-plot budget for hunting clubs and landowners with an interest in producing and maintaining healthy wildlife populations. 




View other articles written Jeff Burleson