May 10, 2014

Looking back...

By: Steve Jordan 

What a winter! In past issues I've written about more and more of my food plot acreage being geared toward winter feeding. Usually it is kind of a feel good thing and brings some winter viewing opportunities for deer, turkeys, and other wildlife. The last two winters have been very hard on wildlife. I am rethinking my strategy again and I'm going to plant even more winter feeding varieties. 

Some popular winter feeding varieties are corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, and turnips. Some other varieties that are not as popular for winter feeding are canola, sunflowers, and annual wheat (wheat that ripens in the fall). Let's break them down one by one. 

Corn is corn. Farmers plant it for a cash crop or for feeding their cattle and other farm birds and animals. Corn fields make great cover and provide food for many animals and birds before the fall harvest. This past fall there were many corn fields that were not harvested. The deer, turkeys, and other wildlife wintered in them and came out very healthy. I have read reports about corn not being a good winter food for deer. Obviously the deer did not read the report.! I can't think of a better crop for winter food. To get the best result, plant it in late May to mid-June. Fertilize good, and if early deer grazing starts to damage the crop extensively, consider spraying a deer repellent on it. The deer have plenty to eat that time of year without destroying your soybean crop for winter feed. One good deer repellent is “Outbound.” You can find it online at Two ounces per gallon is recommended. It comes in half gallon jugs. I like to spray this on ¾ of the plot, letting the other ¼ alone to be grazed on. 

Winter wheat and rye planted in mid-August to mid-September grows into a thick mass of green vegetation for winter feeding. These plants will stay green all winter, and will be the most popular place for the deer and turkeys to eat in early spring. Plant it any sooner than mid-August, and it will be weed infested by fall.


A good turnip mix planted in mid-July will have many huge bulbs for deer to eat on during the winter. The greens will be tough and not as palatable compared to your mid-August plantings. I have learned to plant different patches of turnips at different times. 

Don't be disappointed if your food plots are pretty much eaten up by the end of December. The deer that have been eating on your food plots will have a huge layer of fat on their ribs, back, and rump to help them through the balance of winter. I am fortunate to have enough land in food plots to sustain lots of animals for longer.

A not so popular winter food crop is canola. I planted a strip of this beautiful plant in the spring last year just to copy some of the amazing fields of canola my wife and I viewed while visiting our daughter and her family in North Dakota. The canola plant grows 4-5 feet tall and is full of tiny yellow flowers. These flowers attract many butterflies and bees, including many honey bees. In the winter I was impressed that the deer ate the stalks right to the ground. Normally you would plant canola in mid-July to mid-August to have a young, plush, healthy plant going into the fall to attract deer. I planted a patch early, and another one late. Both had great results.

I have written about sunflowers in some past issues. Sunflowers are majestic and beautiful. They feed many animals and birds once ripe, and are great for winter feeding. The sunflower heads are sought after every winter by deer.

Annual wheat is another popular winter food for deer and turkeys. This wheat is very common in North Dakota. For a food plot, I like to plant it in mid-July. By planting it at this time, the wheat will head out with large seed clusters in mid-September. This plant will be strong and stout going into the fall and winter. It will stand up through the winter snows feeding deer, turkeys, doves, etc. It also makes an excellent fall turkey hunting food plot.

I hope this helps you plan your food plot varieties for this coming year. If you have enough land potential for food plots, winter feeding plots are very effective. Remember, you are not just trying to keep them alive during the winter. You will have better antler growth and fawn production with healthier deer going into the spring green-up time.