Feb 10, 2018

Year-round Food Plots 

By: Steve Jordan  

Most of the hunting seasons are over.  Some of the birds have flown south for the winter while others have stayed.  Some of the animals have holed up or hibernated for the winter, while other animals are still active.  

A well-planned food plot can have a positive impact on wintering animals and birds.  Deer with access to a good food source do not have to move much in the winter, which conserves energy.  

A good turnip mix with 30% winter wheat or rye can make a great winter food plot.  These two are both nutritious and supply high energy.   

Corn is great!  If you have an extra 3-5 acres to plant in corn, the animals will enjoy food and cover for most of the winter.    

Mature soybeans are high protein and easy to find in the snow because most plants are still standing with bean pods attached to their stalk and the deer can get at them easily.    

Sorghum is a good winter food.  The big seed cluster on top of the plant is usually untouched until mid-winter.  Once winter really sets in, and the variety of food sources becomes limited, the sorghum seed clusters are eaten regularly.    

Sunflower heads are a great source of nutrition for deer.  The birds will have picked out 90% or so of the sunflower seeds in the fall.  The ones they didn't get remain stuck around the outside and the very center of the head.  These seeds are usually underdeveloped.  The deer will eat the entire head off the stalk and utilize any nutrition that may be left.    

Canola planted in early summer can make for some great winter feeding.  These plants get about 4 feet high and have thousands of little yellow flowers that attract bees and butterflies in August and September.  In the mid to late winter, the stalks are eaten right down to the ground.   

Tillage radishes are a great source of a winter food.  The yellow tubers that stick out of the ground are easily eaten off or pulled out by deer in the winter.  Any leaves or stalks, green or otherwise, will also be eaten in mid to late winter.  

Winter rye planted on its own makes a great thick browse that holds up well to grazing.  It stays green all winter long and is easily dug out of the snow.  This plant is browsed on daily by deer.    

If my food plots get buried with snow, I take the tractor with the bucket and plow some of the snow off the plot.  You could also use a pick-up truck, a 4-wheeler with a plow, and so on.  If an ice layer builds up on top of the snow, I take a 50 lb. bag of salt and make trails through the food plot.  The deer and the turkeys will dig in these areas.  After a few days the animals and the sun will have those trails widened out up to fifteen feet.    

Sometimes there is not enough land available to do all these winter plots.  Even a good fall plot will help the deer produce a thick fat layer under their skin to help them survive the winter.  Just keep in mind that a healthy, well-fed deer going into the spring will have better antler growth and/or fawn production.  

Winter is a great time to maintain or even widen your shooting lanes.  The deer will enjoy the tips of the branches you leave behind.  Any thinning of trees done at this time will benefit the deer.  The tops of these trees have a lot of food value.  The buds as well as the tender tips are sought after by deer.  Simply taking a 6 ft. ladder out into a cedar swamp with a bow saw and trimming some of the cedar branches that the deer cannot reach is really appreciated by the deer.  This is also a great time to make up some cedar fence posts.  

We have had a few mild winters in a row, and it shows with a healthy deer population in most central and southern areas of Wisconsin. 

Not so long ago we were able to put out round bales and set up feeding stations with corn and pellets.  This was very enjoyable, effective and rewarding.  However, this practice was deemed ineffective and we were told that the deer could not digest these feeds in the winter.  That theory came from dumping hay onto a starving deer herd only to have deer eat the hay and starve anyway because they couldn't digest it.  This same practice for us landowners worked very well because we never let the deer on our properties get anywhere near the point of starvation.  They were eating baled hay and corn from December on through the winter.  Now that it is unlawful to put out round bales and set up feeding stations with corn and pellets, we can use some of the methods described in this article.  

Observing what the deer are eating in your food plot in the winter will help you plan the following year's plots.  I saw canola planted in North Dakota and decided to plant a strip in my plots.  I planted it for its beauty and for attracting bees and butterflies. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the deer liked eating the tall stalks in the winter.  Canola is always on my rotation since observing the winter food value.  Your personal observations will help you plan your plots too.