Trophy Whitetail Deer Year-Round

Courtesy of
Guest Writer: Colin Williams

When my Dad and I began trying to improve the habitat on our southeastern Minnesota farm some fifteen years ago now, our vision was to create the type of habitat essential for holding those trophy whitetail deer year-round.

While they are only one piece to a larger puzzle, we did discover that food plots for deer can provide an opportunity for the herd to be more visible.

Not only did we want to simply create areas to harvest deer, but we wanted to implement a deer food plots strategy utilizing a variety of different food sources in order to provide optimum forage sources through each season of the year.

One thing we discovered, through much trial and error, is the first key to our food plot success was to simply treat them like a crop.

Simply tilling up a little ground and tossing some clover seed around just didn’t cut it; and more often than not we were disappointed with the results.

Don't put all our eggs in one basket.

Another consideration to the success of our plots was we didn’t put all our eggs in one basket. When simply did not rely on clover, soybeans, rapeseed and chickory alone. We use of them as part of our annual planting and maintenance plan. Only by utilizing a variety of forage types, and intensively managing your crop, can you expect to hold and provide for deer from spring fawning, through summer and especially throughout the winter months.

With all the topics you can discuss when it comes to a good food plot strategy it would take a lengthy book, such as Dr. McFarlen’s “Deer Food Plots Made Easy, but for today’s purposes we will touch on some important points on planting food plots from scratch. For a quick summary of the Top Eight Steps to Successful Food Plots see our article about successful food plots.

For this article, lets’ assume the area you intend on converting into a food plot is an existing grass field.

The first thing you should do, commit the first spring and early summer for site preparation and weed control.

Your best bet is to plan on seeding in late July or early August with an annual forage choice, planting dates can vary depending on where you are, but these dates have worked well for us here in southern Minnesota.

Ok, to get started, let the grass grow three or four inches this spring and spray the field with Roundup: right around mid May.

After burndown, till the field; you will put some work into this folks, but without it your results may likely be marginal at best.

You can count on having some re-growth so it will likely need a second spraying after three or four inches of new growth; likely late June or early July. Continuing with only tillage can keep the field clean, but it won’t get rid of all the weed competition; each time you do any tillage you expose more weed seed for growth. Two sprayings should do a pretty good job of weed control, if it takes three, then so be it. This dedication to weed control will be critical if you plan on seeding anything in the field down the road.

During this weed control time-frame, you should get soil testing done in order to determine any lime or fertilizer needs. Lime and fertilizer will very much improve your deer food plot results and should be done every three years or so, at a minimum. By the time these weed control measures are completed, it will likely by July.

The last week of July through the first week of August is the timeframe you should be looking at for a late summer planting. Weather will always dictate how good the planting will be, but you should get weed free growth for a fall or winter food plot.

One of the biggest thrills of planting a food plot is admiring your handiwork once you have planted it! In fact, it is tempting to head out “regularly” just to see if everything is “ok”. You must resist this temptation.

Such activity almost always scares the deer off before your deer plot gets a chance to work. In fact, between September and January in most areas, scheduled maintaining and seeding should be the only activities engaged in, other than harvesting the deer you have worked so hard to lure there.

Try to go out during peak daylight hours and avoid overlapping with feeding times.

This doesn’t mean you can be as loud and disruptive as you like. The hope is that all traces of your presence will have disappeared by evening.

What to plant?

Opinions vary greatly here, but I like the first year to be an annual, (only grows for one year), such as rapeseed or maybe chickory. Why, because it then gives me another spring to address weed control issues prior to trying to establish a perennial crop, (grows for more than one year), such as clover. Rapeseed comes up quick, which will provide for an almost weed-free crop.

Deer typically don’t use this forage until it has frozen hard a couple times, but for late-season bowhunting deer; phenomenal. During mid-December this past year, while it was really cold, my rapeseed paddock was just getting hammered – as my rapeseed paddock is each year.

Chickory: a good choice?

If whitetail deer in your area do not yet “yard”, or winter, on your farm, then chickory may be a good choice. While chickory has the reputation for being a perennial, my experience has been it doesn’t really come back as well the following years, and I want to establish good healthy stands of forage each year.

The key to selecting the right forage to plant that first year is, for the most part, trial and error. We have tried almost every product out there and then made decisions about those crops we really wanted to use. Those decisions were based on crop success, long term crop rotation management considerations, the intent to provide some year-round forage on the farm and of course, deer utilization.

If you are serious about implementing and managing an actual food plot program, one of the best things you can do is consult with a local wildlife specialist. These specialists can give you some real insight into how-much you should plant, what food choices would be good for your area and a more in-depth look into how your farm should best be managed to optimize food plot productivity and the balance of your deer herd.

We are fortunate to have Colin Williams as a guest on Colin is an avid hunter and niche writer who uses deer habitat management with deer food plots being one of his overall strategies for the farm.

He has also written articles in such magazines as North American Whitetail, Fur-Fish-Game, Bowhunter, Midwest Outdoors, Whitetales Magazine and Minnesota Outdoor News, to name a few.