It’s every hunter’s dream, a large, healthy herd, growing and thriving on your own land. To attract the big bucks, you need more than a patch of clover. You need a fully thought out wildlife habitat, where deer can make a home.
Planning your deer food plot
According to The Ultimate Big-Buck Food Plot by Field and Stream, your plot should be anything but a neat and tidy square like your grandma’s garden. You want to lay it out following the natural contour of the land, with plenty of ragged areas and ground cover to provide bedding areas for does. Surround the plot with trees to shield your herd from other hunters and make them feel safe and comfortable.
You’ll need a plot size at least ½ acre and no larger than 2 acres. Any smaller and the deer will strip the food too fast and move on. Bigger, and you won’t be able to get a clean shot, or bucks may be too wary of open land.
Preparing your plot
In the last few years, equipment manufacturers have turned out agricultural tools designed for deer food plots. To prepare the land, you’ll need to remove and large debris, then till the soil.
Tilling aerates the soil and breaks up existing plants and groundcover, which will decay and provide rich nutrients for your deer crop. Tilling also loosens packed soil, which will increase water filtration and encourage root growth.
Get the pH right
Before you plant your cover crop, adjust the pH levels in the soil to a range of 6.2 to 7.0 for maximum nutritional value and to make earthworms, fungi, and bacteria happy.
Spread lime (yes, there’s a lime spreader for your tractor) to achieve the right balance of minerals in the soil and balance the pH.
Don’t skip this step…it may seem like unnecessary work, but it will make your crops successful and attract more deer.
Choosing the right plants
As with any crops, you’ll need to rotate for the season, and choose tasty, attractive plants to sustain your deer herd at every time of year. You’ll need a mix of annuals, perennials, fruit and cover trees, bushes and shrubs.
Clover makes a great ground cover and are lush and succulent in spring, early summer, and fall. Clovers tend to go dormant in extreme temperatures, high summer and winter, but may continue to flourish during the heat of summer in heavily shaded areas.
Plant clover in the fall. Writing for Heartland Outdoors, Kevin Hahn says he prefers white/landino clovers to red clovers and alfalfa, and he likes to mix in chicory. These plants require little maintenance and last for years.
Spring and summer crops
If you time your planting just right, when the ground is moist but not saturated, and there’s a good hard rain on the way, your plants will get the best possible start.
In summer, fawns are growing strong, and does need protein to produce milk. Young buck antlers are beginning to form. Deer nutritional needs in the summer are at their highest.
Growing Georgia recommends high-protein plants including iron and clay cowpeas, bush-type soybeans, wildlife soybeans, Lab Lab, Alyce clover and deer joint vetch. In addition, they recommend planting sunflowers as companion plants.
The reviews are mixed about soybeans. They are highly nutritious and all the experts seem to agree that deer love them like candy, but in a small plot, soybeans are likely to fail.
Early to mid August
Summer is nearly over, and nutritional needs for growing young deer have changed.
Later in August, plant rape, radishes, turnips, and sugar beets. When planting, be careful to follow the planting recommendations on the seed label. One of the most common reasons for crop failure is overseeding.
Fall and winter crops
Cereal grains including oats, winter wheat, and rye are hardy and sustainable through colder months. Plant in September, separately or mixed in equal ratios. Deer prefer oats, but the plants are not as hardy as other cereal grain varieties and will die out sooner in cold weather.
You can plant winter peas at the same time; deer love them!
Even the most wary buck can be tempted out of hiding by sweet, juicy fruit. Georgia is perfect for growing fruit. Plant plums, pears, peaches, apples, blackberries, honeysuckle, and grapes.
Keep your plot in shape by mowing and bush hogging to keep overgrowth under control and encourage plants to regrow. With some good weather luck, you’ll manage a highly nutritious plot and foster a healthy, growing deer population.