Food Plot Strategies | What, When, and Where To Plant

Planting Spring and Summer Food Plots with Fall in Mind

When it comes to food plots, most hunters tend to think of them as a tool to help harvest their hit list bucks in the fall. This in turn makes fall food plots the most popular among hunters. But in all reality, supplemental food plots can be an extremely useful tool to help you achieve your management goals. Particularly if you begin to realize their potential as a supplemental food source in the spring in addition to hunting over them in the fall. This article will focus on spring and summer food plots, why they should be synchronized with fall food plots, and how they can and should be worked with your deer hunting strategy.


PHOTO: This article will focus on spring and summer food plots, why they should be planned in harmony with fall food plots, and how they can and should be worked with your deer hunting strategy.

Why Spring and Summer Food Plots?

The importance of having a diversity of food available for your deer herd throughout the year is something that is often times overlooked by hunters, yet there are several advantages to having supplemental food plots on your hunting property. One of the most important advantages to having spring and summer food plots is the quality of nutrition food plots provide deer when they are beginning to replenish fat reserves after the winter. The spring is a critically important time for both bucks and does. Bucks are starting to grow their antlers and does are just about to give birth to their fawns, after which they begin to produce milk which is the most energetically demanding thing a doe does. Having a supplemental high-quality food source available will help your herd through this energetically demanding time period.


PHOTO: The spring is a critically important time for both bucks and does. Bucks are starting to grow their antlers and does are just about to give birth to their fawns, after which they begin to produce milk which is the most energetically demanding thing a doe does.

The goal of most hunters is to have deer using their hunting property throughout the year, not just in the fall. To do this, you have to provide deer with everything they need. If deer have food, cover, and water available then there’s no real reason for them to leave a property. But if you take away any of those three things then all bets are off. Planting spring and summer food plots can ensure that deer will continue to use your hunting property throughout the year. Why is this important? The longer deer use a property, the longer you have to pattern them. If deer have a constant food source available then it’s easier for you as a hunter to identify where they are bedding and what travel corridors they use to access that food plot. The more time you have to identify these things, the more likely you will be successful in the fall.

Getting Started

By now, most hunters have heard about the importance of taking soil samples before they plant their food plots. Soil samples are an essential part of the process. Several common plants used in food plots require different soil pH to maximize their growth, and not knowing what the pH of your soil is from the start can hurt you for two main reasons. First, knowing what your starting pH is will help you refine how much lime and fertilizer you need for the food plot. You might be surprised to find out that you don’t need to add any lime or fertilizer and, in turn, save yourself some money. Or maybe you find out that your current pH is a little high for what you want to plant so you need to add some lime, in turn, helping to produce a higher quality food plot for your deer herd.


PHOTO: Soil samples are an essential part of the process. Several common plants used in food plots require different soil pH to maximize their growth, and not knowing what the pH of your soil is from the start can hurt you for two main reasons.

Second, having the appropriate soil pH for whatever plant you decide to use in your food plot will only maximize the transfer of nutrients from the plant to deer with each plant having a range of pH where they’re most effective. This means that if you don’t get a soil test, whatever you’re planting may not be in sync with the pH of the soil, decreasing its ability to transfer nutrients. Remember, one of the main benefits of planting spring and summer food plots is to provide a high-quality supplemental food source to your herd during an energetically demanding time. Regardless, getting a soil sample will help maximize your efforts.

Size of the Plot

Regardless of what you choose to plant in your food plot, there are two things to always keep in mind when thinking about how you are going to hunt these plots. The first thing is to think about is what weapon you will be using. This will dictate the size of the plot. For example, you’ll likely want to make a smaller plot if you will primarily be using archery gear. This will increase your effectiveness with your bow. But you might be able to create a larger plot if you will be using a muzzleloader or a rifle. The second thing is where you will be hanging your stand relative to where deer will approach. Always hang your stand upwind of where deer will be coming from so you don’t get scented. With this in mind, also choose an area that’s easy to access. Having easy access to your stand without being detected can make or a break a hunt.

What to Plant, When to Plant, and Where to Plant It

Spring and summer food plot species vary in strengths, usefulness, attractiveness, and planting dates. Clovers can be frost seeded in late winter and early spring, while soybeans and corn are planted much later only after the soil temperatures are right. Grass food plot species might not specifically be planted in the spring, but their availability and usefulness still need to be considered in the spring and summer as they directly relate to spring and summer planted food plots. In summary, what to plant, when to plant, and where to plant it are all part of your hunting strategy, and need to be finely tuned for a food plot species and property layout’s strengths and weaknesses.

Clovers

Clovers have become widely popular amongst deer hunters and can provide some high-quality forage to your deer herd when they need it most. One of the more popular clovers out there is ladino white clover. This clover can produce forage during the spring, summer, and fall once it’s established and requires a soil pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.0. You can plant ladino white clover anywhere from August to October depending on your location. Red clover is another great choice for legumes as it generally produces high-quality forage from spring to late summer. Red clover requires a soil pH ranging from 5.8 to 7.0 and can be planted early in the fall. Alfalfa is another great choice to plant, though it is generally more expensive to plant and requires more maintenance. Soil pH needed for alfalfa ranges from 6.5 to 7.5 and again should be planted early in the fall.


PHOTO: Clovers have become widely popular amongst deer hunters and can provide some high-quality forage to your deer herd when they need it most. One of the more popular clovers out there is ladino white clover.

Clovers are also great because they give you an option to hunt over in the fall. Mature bucks tend to hang up in staging areas before they move out to big agricultural fields right before last shooting light. Try planting ladino clover inside the wood line to set up a potential staging area into another spring and summer food plot that offers attraction during the same part of the year. All deer will likely use this type of a plot before last shooting light, which will present you the opportunity to get a shot off before dark.


PHOTO: Mature bucks tend to hang up in staging areas before they move out to big agricultural fields right before last shooting light. Try planting ladino clover inside the wood line to set up a potential staging area into another spring and summer food plot that offers attraction during the same part of the year.

Grasses

There are several grass species you may plant that will also provide forage during the fall. Oats, wheat, and rye are all species that will green up throughout the fall and can serve as an excellent food source to hunt over later in the fall when there isn’t much else that’s green in the woods. All three species require a soil pH ranging from 5.8 to 6.5 and should be planted in the fall, though remember that specific planting dates vary by region so check to make sure what time is most appropriate for your area. If you want to provide increased forage during the hunting season, try combining oats and wheat with clover or overseeding wheat and rye over standing beans. This will increase the amount of forage that is produced as well as the number of hunting opportunities you will have in the fall. Why are oats, rye, and wheat mentioned when discussing spring and summer food plots? These grass species, particularly wheat and rye will provide forage all the way into spring and mine nutrients that can be factored in with where, what, and how you plant your spring and summer food plots.

Planting grass species close to thermal bedding cover and other late season food sources in particular areas of the property will increase your chances at harvesting a deer. These plants tend to really start producing about the time the rut is winding down and the temperatures are dropping. Having this green food source close to bedding will reduce the distance a deer has to travel to food when its fat reserves are already on decline. They can also shift the deer behavior after acorns and other food sources tend to shut off (like clover).

Soybeans

Although soybeans don’t provide any forage early in the spring, they’re an essential deer food plot species for many hunting strategies and will provide a high-quantity of high-quality forage throughout the summer and potentially into the fall and winter. Depending on your deer density, you may want to select a forage variety of beans that can withstand intense browsing pressure, or that shift focus to pod production. For example, if you want early season attraction a longer maturing bean that provides better forage would be the best choice. If you’re planting beans for standing grain, an early maturing bean that has great pod production can do the trick while also providing the opportunity to over seed fall food plot species like the grasses mentioned above.


PHOTO: If you’re planting beans for standing grain, an early maturing bean that has great pod production can do the trick while also providing the opportunity to over seed fall food plot species like the grasses mentioned above.

Particular soybean food plots can be planted for an early season hunting strategy in places that offer clover staging areas, and close proximity to water and early season bedding. In particular, these food plots can and should be hunted in September and October. Later fall or winter hunted plots should be planned to be planted in different parts of the property. This focuses strategy and hunting pressure on particular sides or areas of the property during different times of the year. If you’re hunting a smaller property, planning and planting to double crop the soybeans (an early planted or early maturing bean) and the staging area plots would be in your best interest. This will provide the maximum attractiveness for every month of the year. However, one food plot for all of hunting season should be carefully hunted to avoid over pressuring the plot.

Corn

While corn doesn’t offer the summer nutrition that soybeans can offer, corn can and often is a critical food plot species for a hunting strategy. This highly attractive food plot can be planted simply for integrating into a fall and winter hunting strategy. While beans, clover, and species like oats can be used to attract deer in the early season, a corn plot can be, by itself, a staple for a late season attraction.


PHOTO: While corn doesn’t offer the summer nutrition that soybeans can offer, corn can and often is a critical food plot species for a hunting strategy. This highly attractive food plot can be planted simply for integrating into a fall and winter hunting strategy.

Corn can be a labor-intensive food plot but with great reward. It takes getting the soil just right, often being the species that needs a soil test and amendment of the soil based on the results. If your property is big enough to split areas into different hunting strategy areas (late season versus early season) then corn is worthwhile. However, if you have just one large area to plant, a strategy involving beans, and double cropping it with grass species provides more forage and attraction.

Strategizing Your Planting

Putting the strengths and weaknesses of the different species together can result in a dramatic shift in hunting strategy from the early season and rut, into the late season. If paired properly with hunting strategy and hunting pressure focus (hunting versus not hunting certain areas of the property) a food plot strategy can work to provide even more hunting opportunities than previously thought. Having a defined early season and late season hunting area can keep hunting pressure to a minimum when deer spend time in the attractive food sources. (See Below)


PHOTO: As food plot forage availability shifts so does deer behavior and thus hunting strategy. This can be factored in when determining what areas of the property will be pressured in the early season versus the late season.

Hopefully, you’ve already planted food plots that will produce supplemental forage for this spring and some great places to hunt this fall, but if you haven’t planned out your plots for summer and your fall hunting strategy then consider this information. Spring and summer food plots should always be planted with fall food plots and hunting strategy in mind.

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