Hunters: now is the time to start planting your deer plots

Hunting season is more than seven months away, but deer hunters can improve their chances of success now by starting work on food plots now, according to the experts.Hunters learned about the particulars of planting food plots at a workshop held Wednesday, March 28 by the LSU AgCenter and the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Stuart Gauthier says that planting small tracts with specific types of vegetation will attract deer to come within shooting range.

“But unless you can plant at least 10 percent of an area in a high-protein plant, it’s unreasonable to expect that small food plots can boost the size of deer and improve a herd’s health,” Gauthier says.

“Large agricultural areas planted in crops like soybeans have a more substantial effect on local deer populations,” Gauthier continues.

Gauthier also points out that deer won’t feed much on food plots this time of year, but it benefits other wildlife year-round.

The workshop included a demonstration plot of several different kinds of vegetation.

It was prepared by disking in July 2006 followed by a soil test the next month.

In September 2006, the plot was treated according to soil-test recommendations with 13-13-13 fertilizer at the rate of 200 pounds per acre and with 2 tons of lime disked into the soil.

The seed was planted in October 2006 using a spreader on the back of a 4-wheeler.

Plants included ryegrass, wheat, oats, clovers, chicory, triticale, Austrian winter peas and sugar beets.

Seeding rates varied from 4 pounds per acre of chicory to 60 pounds of cereal rye.

Ryegrass grew the best, Gauthier says, but it is not a preferred food source by deer. Sugar beets did not grow well, he added.

Gauthier says clover can be grown in combination with several other plants, and it adds nitrogen to the soil.

This saves on expensive fertilizer costs for companion crops like cereal grain.

An ideal mixture is to use Austrian winter peas, a cereal grain like wheat or oats and a white, crimson or arrowleaf clover, suggests Gauthier.

Perennial plants like chicory and white clover might have a more expensive initial seed cost, but they can save growers money by persisting for years after establishment.

Stan Dutile, an LSU AgCenter county agent in Lafayette Parish, said soil samples should be taken several months before planting to find out what should be added to the soil.

A 1-pint sample, made from a mixture of 10-15 random samples, can be brought to an LSU AgCenter Extension Office in any parish for testing by the AgCenter at a cost of just $7.

In addition, Mark Shirley of the LSU AgCenter said the demonstration plot was grown in full sun, but hunters who target deer in wooded areas could consider just fertilizing native plants that deer like for browsing.

Scott Dunham, deer study leader for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said a third of a deer herd should be harvested annually to prevent the animals from eating too much of a habitat’s natural vegetation.

During the field day, biologists from the Wildlife and Fisheries department also demonstrated a necropsy on a doe, showing how tissue samples are collected from carcasses.

For more details on food plots and a variety of other issues related to the environment, natural resources, crops, livestock and much more, visit the LSU AgCenter’s Web site at Type “Food Plot Plantings” in the search box on that page to locate a publication on that topic, as well as others related to it.

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