What Should You Plant in Food Plots for Deer?
Clover is great, however there is a much bigger picture than just picking the forage with great nutrition levels and planting it in your food plots for deer. There is a balance that varies greatly from region to region, and property to property. There are a lot of people in the spring planting food plots for deer with clover, although I have found that it is better to step back, look at the entire picture of nutrition throughout all 12 months, and specifically offer forage to targeted periods of the year based on your overall strategy and habitat goals for your food plots for deer.
Here are a few examples why you may want to rethink your decision to plant clover in your food plots for deer.
1. In a typical spring, the deer will hammer my winter rye while the clover in my food plots for deer is just starting to be used because it wakes up about 3-6 weeks later than forages like rye or wheat. At the same time there is a literal explosion of forage in the woods to the point the deer have everything they need and more from the natural habitat instead of my food plots for deer. So while clover is coming into its time of the year, the deer herd’s actual level of need for it is at its lowest point of the year relative to the condition of most northern habitats.
2. When our northern late June and July drought hits, the clover turns “stemmy”, dormant, and the nutrition levels decrease. This is at a time when the natural habitat is doing extremely well. Chicory is a GREAT forage to add into the mix for this time of the year, in fact, during some summers you can’t have enough of it in your food plots for deer.
3. Clover wakes up again with the August thunderstorms, stops growing with our typical early October frosts and freezes, and in most years is eaten down to the dirt by the end of October so there is nothing left for the rest of hunting season in those food plots for deer.
4. Clover is great from early May to late June, and again from late August through mid-October, but that’s it. Think of clover as 24% protein (very high) at a time the habitat in the whitetail woods is in high gear. It’s basically a great crop when times are very good. But it is much better to have good forage available in the deer food plots when the deer need it most.
5. Then there is the less glamorous forage of rye or wheat. Only 17% protein, but it has a window of utilization from Labor Day to early December, (longer in southern portions of the Midwest), and then again for the month of April. Basically a good crop when there is literally nothing in the whitetail woods. Add in appreciable brassica growth in adjacent fields and you’ve got more bang the food plots for deer in the cool season forages for a very critical time of the year than the clover does for the entire year. Also, when do you as a land owner have the biggest opportunity to shape your deer herd? During hunting season right? If your food plots for deer are not in high gear during the hunting season, you will lose deer to your neighbors.
So What Will You Plant in Your Food Plots for Deer?
It’s not that clover is a terrible choice, but in wilderness settings of northern regions, 40-50% of the plantings should have a base of clover and chicory. Even then I avoid most “all-clover” plots unless I just don’t want those plots to be used during hunting season by deer due to hunting access issues. Basically, if I don’t want to bump into deer on a plot during and after late October, I plant it in all clover. Instead, I split up the deer food plot so that you have better overall utilization and efficiency which helps separate the deer herd and allow for more room on your property to attract and hold more deer. This will help you grow a quality deer herd while allowing for segregation of the sexes.
Feel Free to Comment Below or Ask Questions about Food Plots for Deer.