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Dallas County Outdoors: Time for fall food plots and next spring’s green up

Mark McDonald prepares to plant a fall foodplot for deer.
Mark McDonald prepares to plant a fall foodplot for deer.
Ken Herring & ‘Abby’ wildkpherring@yahoo.com
Ken Herring & ‘Abby’ wildkpherring@yahoo.com

If you are an avid deer and turkey hunter and haven’t tried planting a food plot you’ve really missed out on a lot of enjoyment. It may come as a surprise that deer love turnips, radish and just about any type of small grain crop (oats, rye, wheat) that is green when the rest of the natural vegetation has died and turned brown. My first experience with deer and turnips was 30 years ago when I met with a farmer who had complained about deer damage. Since it was early fall and some crops were still in the field, when I went to his house I wrongly assumed that the damage was corn or beans that were not yet harvested. When I arrived, the farm was a long way from any timber and I again wrongly assumed that the damage must be on another farm. I was really surprised when the farmer directed me to the “fall garden” in his back yard. He went on to say that he really enjoyed turnips and always put in a late summer garden. However, he went on “For the last several years I only get a few turnips because the deer eat them faster than I do!” A trip to the garden revealed plenty of proof that indeed several deer had found and were enjoying the turnip patch. That was at least 20 years before I heard of anyone using turnips to attract deer. That farmer was really on to something, but we viewed the situation as a problem solved only by fencing the deer out. For several years now, hunters have been planting turnips to attract deer. Turnips seem to be the perfect small size food plot choice, and I’ve found that radish also works well. I say perfect because the deer will not be too interested in the plants during the growing season. Like a patient gardener, they wait until the plant has matured before developing an intense like for the entire plant. This is because the plants wait until a cool weather frost before starting to convert the carbohydrates and starch to sugar. This must be true of the top growth also because once cool weather sets in; the entire plant will be eaten. I’ve watched deer actively feed in some of my food plots and they will pull the turnip out by the top, flip it over, and eat the entire bulb and then the top. If the ground freezes, and they cannot pull the plant out, they will eat the top and then nibble out the center of the bulb. Once deer locate the crop and begin to forage on them, they will come in regularly until the entire patch is eaten. Then just as quickly, they will move on to more natural food. Fall turnip or radish seedings should be completed in August or early September. I like to seed 4-6 pounds of turnips per acre. I also add an equal amount of ladino (white) clover and I also add ½ to ¾ bushel of small grain (oats, annual rye, or winter wheat). If you like to hunt turkeys you will find that the rye and wheat will be green and growing early next spring and will be very attractive to deer and turkey. As an added benefit, the wheat and rye will provide a beneficial cover for the small clover seed. Next year, you will need to mow the food plot and you will find a nice seeding of the ladino clover that again, both deer and turkey will find attractive. The clover seeding will last several years with mowing for weed control. I’ve found that by maintaining food plots at convenient spots on the farm the areas get better use as they age. As does and fawns use the plots, they learn the locations and return to find the easy food year after year. Bucks respond not only to the food these plots provide, but during the rut actively seek out the does and spend more time checking out the food plots simply because the does and fawns are utilizing the areas. Blinds can be placed near the food plots and so locations can be chosen to provide easy access for hunters of all ages. If you live where you enjoy watching deer, food plots are a much better way to increase deer viewing opportunities vs. simply feeding the deer. Deer hunters are strictly forbidden by law for placing food nearby their hunting stands, yet planting food plots is legal. Food plot mixes that work well for Iowa are readily available locally. The enjoyment I get from spending additional time in the deer woods by planting food plots and then seeing the additional deer and other wildlife use the habitat improvements is a blast. More than once, I also picked up shed antlers in these areas as these areas are attractive to the animals quite early in the following year. Even if you don’t own the land you hunt on, you should ask the landowner if they would consider allowing you to put in a food plot. Most landowners enjoy seeing deer and turkey and will respect hunters who are willing to improve the habitat on their farms.

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