The behavior of deer and other wildlife can vary greatly from season to season. Last week, we discussed how pre-rut, peak-rut, and post-rut deer behavior are different, and what implications that can have for hunters. In the later part of deer season, most animals are looking for the best food sources possible, and the shortest trip to get to it. A great option for providing wildlife food in the winter is planting a food plot of winter species like clover, ryegrass, oats, triticale, and wheat. One common issue with food plots though is performance. There are a lot of reasons why a food plot might not perform well, but I wanted to cover three of them today.

                First off, like any plant, food plot crops need proper soil health and pH to thrive. Soil pH refers to the acidity of the soil – our region tends to be very acidic – and fertility refers to the amount of nutrients available in the soil for your crop. All crops are living things that need proper nutrition to grow. The only way to know for sure that your soil pH and nutrition is correct for your desired food plot crop is to take a soil test well in advance of planting- typically I recommend late summer. A soil test will tell you the nutrient content of the soil (N, P, K, and others) as well as the pH of the soil. Soil pH should be your first correction, since if soil pH is not correct, plants cannot actually use any of the nutrients in the soil. A pH of 6.5 is ideal for most food plot crops. Low pH, which is common in our area, can be correct with applications of lime several months in advance of planting. Once pH is corrected, fertilizer applications can be made based on your soil test and recommendations to ensure your crops are equipped to grow and thrive.

                A second common issue is that the food plot simply isn’t large enough. Just like pastures, food plots can only sustain a certain number of animals before becoming overgrazed and useless. The plants we use in food plots are extremely palatable to deer and other wildlife and provide great nutrition. During the late season when all other food sources other than woody browse are gone for the year, a high-quality food plot will draw large numbers of wildlife to feed. When designing your food plot, it is best for them to be at least ½ an acre in size or larger. A colleague of mine in Florida has plots up to 5 acres in size. An easy way to check if your food plot size is an issue is to put up an exclusion cage to see how the crops grow without any grazing pressure. To do so, bury 2-4 t-posts in the ground to form a circle roughly 18” in diameter, then attach wire mesh or chicken wire to the outside of the posts to form a cage. Give the crops adequate time to grow, then check the cage compared to the deer-accessible portions. If the crops are growing well inside the exclusion zone, but the outside area isn’t growing well, it is likely due to overgrazing.

                Last but not least, consider the stocking rate of deer and whether you’re harvesting enough off your property. If you have large enough food plots, have cared for them properly, and still find that they’re overgrazed, it’s possible you have too many deer using the food plot. There are no standard stocking rates for deer, so it can be difficult to determine when you have too many. The best solution to overgrazed food plots when you’re checking all the boxes is to harvest more deer. In Georgia, you’re allowed to harvest 10 does and 2 bucks a season – if you’re only harvesting one buck and one doe, you may simply need to increase your culling in order to reduce the overall deer pressure on your property.

                There are certainly other reasons why a food plot wouldn’t perform well, but these are some of the most common. Make sure you do your homework before planting with soil testing, variety selection, seeding rate and depth, and making sure that you give your crops every chance for successful growth. Then, make sure your food plot is large enough and not overgrazed. By caring properly for your food plot, your chances at late season harvest are greatly increased. Should you need more assistance with wildlife or food plots, contact us at or 706-359-3233.

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