Bob Humphrey is the Biology & Deer Behavior field editor for Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine and holds similar titles with other major hunting publications. He currently lives in Maine with his wife and two children. For more information about Bob, visit his website at www.bobhumphrey.com.
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QUESTION: Bob, I found an approximately half-acre clearing where I want to create a food plot. I live in Tennessee, so the summers are very dry and hot. When and what should I plant to get those big bucks coming to my plot? Also, what is the best food for deer to consume year round? - Jeff W.
ANSWER: You've asked for more than a mouthful. Magazine articles, even entire books have been devoted to this very subject, but I will offer you some general advice.
For starters, there really isn't any magic bean that will grow into a plant that is attractive exclusively to bigger bucks.
Plant what's most attractive to any and all deer. If the bigger bucks are around, they'll come to the food plot, too.
As to when and what to plant, it depends a lot on your intended purpose.
If you only want to attract deer during the hunting season, do a late summer planting containing predominantly cool season annuals.
They need to be planted every year, but grow quickly and reach peak nutrition and attractiveness right around hunting season. This is when deer are fattening up for the winter and prefer high-carb, high-energy foods such as brassicas, soybeans and corn.
If you're more interested in year-round nutrition, you might consider warm-season perennials. They grow more slowly but should persist for several years. They are designed more for non-hunting season and are often dominated by high-protein plant species like clover, alfalfa and peas.
Given that you have such a small area - I'm assuming it's just one plot - you might consider splitting the difference.
You could start in early spring with a high protein crop of clover. Then in late summer, either turn it over and plant your annuals, or stop-seed an annual blend.
Another option could be to plant alternating rows, or different portions of the plot with annuals and perennials.
As for what specific brands or blends to plant, I'll let you figure that out for yourself.
But I'd recommend a blend rather than a single species, because some plants will respond better to existing soil and moisture conditions than others. Having a blend ensures at least some will thrive.
I would also recommend a blend designed for food plots. The cultivars have been specifically engineered for deer. Seed varieties you get from the local co-op are usually designed more as livestock feed and are less attractive and palatable to deer.