Food plots will not only improve the health of your deer herd, they'll also increase your hunting success in the fall. Once you've chosen a spot, cleared the ground, applied lime and fertilizer and smoothed the seed bed, you're ready to plant.
Choosing what to plant is a crucial part of this process. We've delved into choices for winter and early spring in previous blogs. Now let's look at plants to put in from April through June, depending on your location.
There is no single magic seed for this time. Clovers will still produce some if you get enough moisture. Mixing in chicory will help them stay green and attract deer during drought conditions. Cowpeas and lablab are two other popular summer plantings, offered in excellent mixtures such as the Biologic seed brand, the Whitetail Institute's Power Plant and Vita-Rack Booming Beans.
But to my mind, the top summer deer planting is pure forage soybeans. And I've found one product to be the best: Eagle soybeans, both their Large Lad and Big Fellow varieties.
These beans are grown to provide green leaves for animals to eat, rather than to produce beans for oils, meal and other products. They are designed to stay in the green leaf stage 6-8 weeks longer than regular soybeans, not maturing until later in fall. This way they can provide forage right up until the first heavy frost.
Both of these soybeans grow over 6 feet tall and yield enormous amounts of forage for deer that's high in protein. The leaves can measure up to 8 inches. One study area produced 7 tons of forage per acre with a protein level higher than alfalfa.
What is particularly appealing about these forage beans is that they come back strongly even after browsing. As deer eat the leaves, new ones emerge to take their place. Another plus for summer: they are drought tolerant.
The two beans were developed by the Doyles, an Arkansas husband and wife team who both have doctoral degrees in the study of soybeans.
Because these soybeans grow so thick and tall, deer actually bed in the beans as well as eat the leaves. You're not only providing food for the animals, but cover as well.
Another nice thing about Eagle soybeans is that they are tolerant to Roundup so you can spray them for weeds periodically. Large Lad has been chosen as the official soybean of the Mississippi Fisheries and Wildlife Department.
This is the perfect time to put in either of these bean varieties or one of the bean mixtures sold by other companies. They will produce edible forage for deer within a few weeks. Plant them in late April or early May in the south, in late May or early June in the north. They will remain available, growing thicker all the time, until heavy frosts come.
The plants must be inoculated, and a fertilizer such as 0-40-70 is recommended. Spray weeds with glyphosate (Roundup) before they reach 4 inches and as needed throughout the growing season.
Plant 50 pounds per acre in rows or 75 pounds if broadcasting, at a depth of 3/4-1 inch. You might have trouble with deer eating the crop before it grows big enough to withstand the grazing pressure, since whitetails relish these beans. The plants need to get a few feet tall to thrive, or alternately you need a very large area planted.
To prevent early crop damage, Brad Doyle recommends protecting them for 4-8 weeks. You can either do this with high fences, electric fences or by using a deer repellent system such as Plotsaver, from Messina Wildlife.
This latter setup uses a thick fiber ribbon set up temporarily around the plot and sprayed with repellent that's included in the kit. When the beans are tall enough, simply take the ribbon down and save for re-use next year.