Michael Waddell’s Tips and Tactics for Fall Food Plots
It doesn’t take long for a year to come and go. It seems like only yesterday we were discussing tips and tactics to handle the offseason blues, and yet here we are near the end of summer with opening day only a few short weeks away. While it might be hard to believe, it is already time to start up that old lumbering tractor to start planting fall food plots. While these are sometimes considered “icing on the cake”, they are absolutely vital for many hunters with a common sense backed strategy. We fit into that category of hunters. Fall food plots, and food plots in the south…particularly a small slice of heaven called Booger Bottom Georgia, is critical for our hunting season. Check out Michael Waddell’s take on fall food plots and keep reading for some insight on how to perfect this tactic!
A Game Plan
The quickest way to find disappointment while planting food plots is not thinking through your entire plan. Simple ingredients go into a successful fall food plot strategy. Where, what, when, and how.
Successful food plots require foresight and planning, and it all starts with selecting the proper location. Just because you say “I am going to put a food plot there” doesn’t mean that it is going to be successful. Here are several factors for you to consider as it pertains to selecting the right location for your fall food plot.
The Soil – Planting a fall food plot on the top of a ridge is quite different than planting a fall food plot in fertile bottomland soils. Successful food plots are often a result of several factors such as soil quality and fertility. Do your best to look for an area that you feel may provide you the most nutrient rich soils. Soil tests are relatively inexpensive, and as Michael states above, make sure that your pH and liming are appropriate for what you are planting. The shady food plots in the south under pines, in particular, should be taken into consideration when it comes to soil.
Sunlight – Sunlight is an often underappreciated component of fall food plots. Plants need the sun to grow, and while some species of plants are more shade tolerant, meaning they can grow in shaded environments, many require direct sunlight to establish and persist. While you’re looking down at the ground in search of the perfect location for your fall food plot, don’t forget to look up once in a while! Gauge the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. You may find that you need to do a little trimming here and there to open up an area to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. This often overlooked step can really make a world of difference, especially in the fall when the days begin to get shorter.
Strategy- Selecting the location for your fall food plot is sometimes truly out of your hands. That said, it is always a good idea to do your best to build your hunting strategy around your fall food plots and taking this factor into account when selecting where to place you fall food plots can pay off big time.
Hunting – Always keep in mind your entry and exit routes to your food plots. Put some thought into how you plan to hunt the area. If a fall food plot is planted in hopes of hunting it, you need to make sure it supports hunting before breaking dirt! Ask yourself questions like:
- Will you be hunting from a stand, ground blind, box blind, or tripod stand?
- Which direction are the deer coming from?
- Which way does the prevailing wind come from?
- Are there thermals in play in the area?
- Are the deer just passing through on their way to a larger food source or is this plot the large food source?
These are all important considerations to make before selecting your fall food plot locations.
Fall Food Plot Species
Once you have the location determined, and the details for your fall food plot nailed down, it then becomes time to select the species that you wish to plant! Picking out your food plot seed is honestly one of the most exciting and fun aspects of planting a fall food plot. Hunters that fool around with food plots are addicted and could talk for hours on them. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time so we will cut straight to the basics. These are Michael Waddell’s top picks for fall food plots, and food plots in the south!
Wheat, Oats and Cereal Rye
Wheat, oats, and cereal rye (not perennial ryegrass) can be an excellent choice for a simple and easy fall food plot. From deer hunting and turkeys, to even dove hunting, these food plot seed choices can do it all. There are several advantages to using these species in your fall food plot. For starters, these species are relatively inexpensive. A fifty-pound bag can go a long way and won’t break the bank. This factor coupled with a simple planting method for the establishment, generally just requires a little bare ground to broadcast on and a little bit of moisture makes them perfect for fall plots. These species do not require an extensive array of equipment to establish and are capable of feeding deer during the fall and winter. Fall food plots consisting of winter wheat, oats, and rye can often be established by broadcasting over recently harvested crop fields, over other food plot species (such as soybeans or peas), or over freshly sprayed ( glyphosate ) fields. Most of all, fall food consisting of these species plots require very little maintenance and can truly be excellent locations to bust a mature white-tailed deer. Winter wheat and rye alone can become destination winter and late season food sources…critical for many hunters in both the north, Midwest, and south.
Another all-time favorite for Michael is clover, especially white or ladino clover and crimson clover. Clover can be an absolute knock out choice for a fall food plot. There are a wide range of game species that are attracted to clover food plots, and these plots can produce big results when completed correctly. While not extremely expensive, clover food plot seed is typically more expensive than winter wheat or rye. Establishing a fall clover food plot can sometimes require a little more tender love and care, and require some follow up maintenance such as mowing and the occasional grass-selective herbicide. Keeping the weed competition at bay can often result in a plot that lasts years! Clover plots are also sensitive to pH so be sure to take a soil test prior to establishment.
The biggest drawback to seeding clover in the late summer/early fall months is the moisture. If you live in a state that can experience a dry summer or worst yet, then clover may not be the best food plot seed selection going into the fall. If you live in an area that typically has a cold and harsh winter, establishing your clover plot during the late winter/early spring months will likely be a better option. The clover will generally have significant moisture coming out of the winter and establishment will typically yield higher results. When done correctly, clover plots can generally offer a deer hunter several seasons of use and only require minimal maintenance. Take these factors into consideration before planting your clover plot to make sure you are investing your time and money wisely. Clover will also not offer the late season food source that winter wheat or rye can provide. Rather it is a bow hunter’s dream plot, small, attractive in October and November, and deadly if planted with the right strategy! Clovers pair nicely with the cereal grains above so be sure to consider that option as well.
Mixing Species for Fall Food Plots
The attractiveness and characteristics of Michael’s top picks can and are often mixed and blended into a fall food plot planting. The combination of wheat, oats, or rye, mixed with varieties of clover offer varying times of attractants. This is not even mentioning that if offers whitetails a buffet style food plot in which they can select from a wide range of tastes and nutrition. This mixture also offers a very good option for cover crops over harvested Ag fields. The wheat, oats, and rye suppress weeds, stop nutrient leaching, and provide organic matter, while the clover ensures nitrogen is not tied up with the other species come spring.
While it might seem like the best idea for fall food plots, it comes with a cost. This cost is maintenance. Mixing a variety of species essentially eliminates any option for controlling weeds. You cannot spray herbicides or mow without damaging one of the species in the mix. If you have a relatively good handle on planting mixes and controlling weeds through a combination of a kill-all herbicide and no-till drill, or plan to broadcast over an already sprayed plot, then you may get away with planting a mix. Just keep this issue in mind before you ruin your chance of a clean, attractive, and deadly plot.
Other Options for Attracting Deer
There are of course other ways to attract deer on a property that may not support planting a fall food plot. In states where legal, attractants like Big and J Deadly Dust can create feeding hotspots for deer. This tactic, just like fall food plots, takes careful planning and strategy. Again entry and exit routes, thermals, and stand site should be considered when establishing a feed type of attraction.
We will be deer hunting in just a few short weeks, and with the off season coming to a close we wish you the best of luck as we move into the 2017 season. If you take some time to plan out and put in your fall food plots over the next few weeks, there is no doubt that you will be realizing the fruits of your labor this season!