Importance of Food Plot Diversity

Trying to plan what to plant for your deer herd on your property is always a complex decision. Your objectives for land use on your property and also land use on the adjacent properties all come into play with that decision.  Are you concerned about holding deer year around or just trying to concentrate deer for shot opportunities in the fall?  Diversity will hold more deer but can also insulate you from less than ideal weather conditions thru-out a growing season.  This blog will look at some of the reasons we aim for diversity and what those species might be in certain situations.

We should establish that this information is tailored to the upper midwest; Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  Too often people are watching youtube videos and reading articles from people to the south of us.  Even though a few hundred miles does not seem like much, it will greatly affect growing days and especially timing of frost/cold temps in correlation with hunting seasons.  Timing can be especially important if you are trying to coordinate planting of species but I think more important than that is a general idea what time of year the deer will be on that particular species.  If you miss the window you are shooting for then the whole food plot might be a waste if your main objective is to bring deer in for a shot opportunity during a particular time frame or one particular season.

First off we are going to identify the species we most often use on our food plots and periods that they will draw the most activity. Our go to plants would be soybeans, our Icy Treat blend (Daikon Radish, Rutabaga, Winfred Brassicas, Forage Turnip, Ethiopia Cabbage, Purple Top Turnip and Sugar Beets), Autumn Green Carpet (Winter Wheat, Rye, Forage Oats, and Winter Triticale), Keep them Clover and Alfalfa, and Corn. 

There could be a book about each of these plants, how to use them in your plots and times of best production.  For this blog we are going to just look at the aspect of general time of year that the deer are most (under normal yearly weather conditions) utilizing these plots so you can decide if more diversity is right for you.  Below is a general best general timeframe for each species below and what I would look at for planting for a specific timeframe or a whole year round approach for holding deer.

  1. Soy Beans- Early Summer from first leaf production to late summer/early fall when frost hits and turns plants brown (mid June/late September). Then again later in fall with consumption focusing on the pods (late October to as long as pods are left)
  2. Icy Treat- Deer will browse on these from green up after but will mostly focus on these from first hard frost until the greens turn brown, in my experience they will still stay on the bulbs and some of the plants after that if there is not much for corn and beans in the area after.  Length of how hard deer stay on them seems to be somewhat dictated by what other food plots or competition for food is in the area. (mid/late September to mid November is prime)
  3. Autumn Green Carpet- From Green up to as long as there is green browse either from extreme cold or deer consuming all of it (mid August/late November).
  4. Keep them Clover and Alfalfa-from first green in spring thru late fall, if you can manage to have the right height stand going into fall deer will even dig into snow (April-December)
  5. Corn- usually from the end of September to as long as there is corn left.  Deer will hit it especially hard as it gets colder and snow gets deeper. 

As you can see a lot of these species will overlap the times that deer will prefer them, so you might say do I need all of these? Reasons for more diversity would include:

  • One species will attract deer to your food plot, the advantage to multi species mixes and using multiple blends is deer will be attracted to it for a longer period of time.  
  • In the area of the country we are in it also insulates you from abnormal frost dates.  You take last year, the first frost was sept 3 and this year it was mid October.  This changes the maturity of those species along with the time that they first become desirable to the deer.
  • Multi Species will keep your deer on your hunting land longer. This will give you a longer period of time to hunt the deer and also allow you to help keep them on your property longer to help establish the deer herd you desire with population and age structure.
  • Depending on agriculture that is on your land or neighbors you may want to have a larger diversity of food plots to provide a year long food source for the deer.
  • If you want to be able to hunt deer consistently on your property throughout early fall to winter.  Having multiple species will provide the preferred food sources throughout the whole hunting season.
  • Having multiple species with different planting and growing season dates insulates you against bad weather.  For instance if you plant corn and beans in the spring and have a good spring and summer but your fall is dry.  Your fall brassicas and winter grains may not be great but you will have a food source available with the corn and beans.  Also if you have dry spring and summer but wet fall your corn and beans may not do well but your fall plots might do well and carry you through.

Deciding what is the right game plan for food plots can be a very personalized decision by goals desired, equipment, and time available.  My suggestion would be to provide as much diversity as you can, it will give you a higher chance of keeping deer around at the right time.  Food plot design at times can be as much art and science with every season being different but by choosing more species you are upping your odds of hitting it right.