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Ask The Biologist: Do Deer Prefer Natural Foods?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: I am currently hunting in Northwest, La. (near Mooringsport). There is a pipeline facing a 4-year-old cutover with planted pines 5 to 6 feet tall, and there’s a thicket behind me. I have planted food plots at great expense the last four years, but deer seem to prefer natural foods (acorns, honeysuckle, etc.) Do you have any suggestions? — A.W.K.

ANSWER: It is very hard to evaluate your situation without more information, but I’ll take a stab at it.

Ask The Biologist

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when deer are using your plots, particularly if it’s mostly at night. My first recommendation would be to establish something biologists call an exclosure. Food plot aficionados like to call them utilization cages, but they’re the same thing. Basically, it’s a cage of welded wire large enough to prevent deer from eating the plants growing within the cage. Compare what’s in the cage to what’s outside and you might be surprised to learn deer are feeding in your plot.

You could also set up trail cameras. That will tell you if deer are using the plots at night, which might be the case, particularly if the area sees a lot of human activity. You mentioned it’s a pipeline, which could mean it has a public or private right-of-way. How much hunting pressure does your property receive?

If you are not getting deer in your plots, we need to figure out why. Did you test your soil and follow treatment recommendations before planting? If not, that could be part of the problem. Poor soil means poor plants, and deer can most definitely tell the difference.

Did you spray and disk to remove unwanted competing plants? Weeds will compete with your intended crops for valuable nutrients, and the more aggressive perennial weeds will usually out-compete annual crops. How large is your plot? A small plot will be less attractive and see less use.

If you’ve done a good job of building your plot, an abundance of natural food should not keep deer from using it. In fact, I can think of very few situations where food plots are not competing with native vegetation and mast for the deer’s attention.

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