Are We Planting Too Many Annual Food Plots?

If you are like most of the whitetail freaks out there, you have started thinking food plots. It happens every year, the spring thaw comes and deer property managers start thinking about what to plant for the deer. Note; I said "for the deer", not "for the deer hunter." Let me explain.

Over the past few years I've noticed an increase in the use of fall attractant annual food plot products. Seems like every seed manufacturer has come up with a new whiz-bang seed mix to attract whitetails to a hunting plot and everybody is planting them. The trouble is, some of them are just that, fall attractants. They are planted in late summer to early fall, grow a couple of months, and die. They are one-year wonders; feeding deer just when they need it least. By fall, fawns are grown and weaned, antlers are formed, and the countryside is covered up with foods.

Let's be honest, the main objective in planting fall annuals is to attract whitetails to hunting locations. Sure, late summer and early fall plantings feed deer, and some food is better than no food at all, but (especially in poor habitat areas) but unless the seeding carries over into winter (like a few acres of brassicas or high sugar oats often will), the deer are getting a free lunch just when they need it least.

If you are serious about helping (and hunting) deer you need round out your annual plantings with perennials. We like a property to be planted in at least 60% perennials. Perennials green up early with the spring thaw and feed deer when they need it most. A good old fashioned clover-chicory blend, for example, will produce highly nutritious forage for whitetails just when they need it most--after a tough winter, when fawns are dropping, the does are lactating, and the bucks are building bone. A good perennial plot will produce from spring green up through the summer (drought excepted), and well into the winter. The best part is a well-maintained plot will last 3 to 5 years or more.

Now, before you go start burning up your keyboard in response, please understand, I've got nothing against planting fall attractants. I plant them myself and hunt them hard. But come spring I'm out there making sure I have plenty of perennial plots producing 24-7- 365 (give or take a few months). I plant by the 60-40 rule.

This food plot and habitat thing has to be more than attracting deer to hunting locations. With a little less work (remember they last longer) you can take care of your deer all year long and we'll all be the better for it.