Set A Whitetail Buffet: Planting Fall Annuals for Deer Food Plots

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Late summer into early fall is a great time to plant food plots that will boost your odds of seeing more deer and tagging a buck in the hunting seasons ahead.

Many hunters associate spring plantings with the food plot scene, and for good reason. These early plots provide great sources of nutrition for whitetails during the spring and summer months. Later plantings are more about attracting deer to your stomping grounds during hunting season.

Nutrition is a bonus, especially for helping post-rut bucks replenish their reserves as winter tightens its grip on the land.

Planting later plots is a bit different than spring seeding in some ways, while other aspects are similar. For example, site selection is critical no matter when you plant.

With late summer and fall plots, the goal is bringing deer within shooting range during daylight hours. Choose areas in close enough proximity to bedding areas and other sanctuaries so deer will arrive at the dinner table or at least pass your stand before darkness falls.

The presence of stand sites is likewise key. In an ideal world, you’ll have a few trees to choose from so you can play the wind. But ground blinds are great options as well. Bottom line, position your plots to take full advantage of travel corridors, tree cover and other natural factors that could help you waylay an incoming buck.

A rotary cutter takes tall grasses and other plants down to size.

Working the Soil

Soil prep and a soil test are likewise important elements of any well-planned plot planting endeavor, regardless of time of year.

Soil tests ensure your ground is primed to produce a bumper crop. They’re easy to take, too. University extension offices, co-ops and local mills that sell seeds are all potential allies in the quest for a fertile field. When collecting samples, be sure to gather soil from different areas of the plot and mix it together, so you get a true perspective of what your plants will need to thrive.

In lieu of a full-blown soil test, hand-held pH meters can give you a fast idea of your land’s alkalinity and acidity. Many plants do well with a pH above 6.0 and less than 8.0, but you should always check the specific recommendations. When possible, test the soil and add lime as needed 6 months ahead of the planting date to give the lime time to interact with the soil.

As a bonus, some meters also measure soil moisture, which is a big deal in late summer and fall. Barring healing rains, seeds sown on scorched earth rarely bear fruit. Another easy way to test soil moisture is taking a handful of dirt in your hand and squeezing it into a ball. If the soil falls apart when you release your grip, it’s too dry. If it holds its shape, you’re good—provided no water oozes out under pressure, which means the location is probably too wet.

Site prep includes applying the necessary lime and fertilizer suggested by soil testing. But it also includes tillage. Deer food plot gurus with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say a cool-season food plot should be lightly disked 30 to 45 days prior to the late summer or fall planting date, and once more right before seeding.

In areas of thick, soddy cover, however, more prep can be better. For example, I’ve attacked hellish stands of tangled canary grass and other deeply-rooted vegetation by first mowing it with a rotary cutter, then breaking it with a disk, turning it over with a plow, giving it another pass with the disk and finally finishing it off with a tiller. A light ATV drag can also be helpful before or after sowing.

Disking is a great pre-cursor and follow-up to plowing.

Choose Your Entrees

A variety of crops make fine fall forage, and one of my favorites is winter field peas. To read more click here.

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