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Fall Food Plots: What to Plant in Dry Weather

Wheat, rye, oats, and triticale shoot up green and stay green till frozen into dormancy. Whitetail Institute

This summer has been the summer of drought in much of whitetail country. The part of upstate NY that I hail from has been hit hard real. How about 2”of rain since May 2nd? Our crops are stressed and our deer plots are dry and crispy.

The trouble is the fall. Fall planting should be happening across the northern U.S. this weekend or next at the latest. Most food plot forages require roughly 45 days of growth time before they can be used much by deer. Forty-five days from August 15 is October 1, or bow-season in many northern states. That’s the simple math. That’s the math that has food plotters searching for solutions.

In many areas, the ground is dry, bone dry. Bone dry ground won’t germinate seed, and it certainly won’t support tender young roots, anything that does germinate will generally die a slow and certain death. You need moisture to grow, it’s about that simple. Fall plants get moisture from rain and occasionally heavy fall dew. Planting brassicas (turnip, kale, rape, mustard greens radishes etc.) and many crop species with fewer than 45 days to grow is a fools errand. You might see some stems and some weak growth but there is little hope of producing any tonnage. Before putting in your seed, be sure to know how long it will take to produce a respectable stand.

If brassicas are out, then what’s in? If the ground takes on any moisture between now and mid-September, cereal grain shoots are probably your best bet.

Grain plantings have been used by deer managers for years, they aren’t fancy, but they are green, at least until they mature. Grains were the old standby of the early food plotters. Wheat, rye, oats, and triticale shoot up green and stay green till frozen into dormancy. They come back early the next spring. If conditions are right, you will see green a few days after seeding grain. In a week or two, deer will be on them. Grains are not particularly fancy food plot forages but they are still green and anything green works well when the snow is in the air.

One additional note, there is a difference between rye grain and rye grass. While rye grass is easy to grow, will come up green, and be used some by deer, it is a no-no in the food plot community. It takes over plots and is extremely hard to eradicate. Planting it now will cause problems for years to come. You want the seed that says “rye grain” not a bunch of rye grass seed designed for seeding your lawn.

We’ve lived through drought before and we will survive again. Our deer will make do on natural vegetation and the stuff they have been chomping on for the last few thousand years.

The question is: “What do food plotters do in the middle of a drought season” Ever hear of the food plot two-step? It has been known to produce rain out of fluffy white clouds. If you can’t dance, you have a few weeks of hope left.

The fancy food plot planting season is headed out and the old reliable cereal grain season is on the way.