Fall Food Plots 101 | Smart, Efficient, and Easy Kill Plots!
By: Weston Schrank
I have been trying my hand at fall food plots for a while now and have put multiple species, tactics, and strategies through their paces. The one thing I have come to learn and love about food plots is that you never stop learning! Just when you think you might have the secret recipe for the perfect food plots, deer will realize your strategy, the potential danger, and simply alter their patterns. While this has proven to be accurate every other year, I am excited to test a new strategy, species, and tactic that I have come to love! It is by far one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective fall food plot strategies that I know of, and I do consider it one of those rare secret recipes!
Now I assume you have clicked on this link for one of two reasons. One, you are simply lost in finding a good food plot strategy, or two, you noticed the word kill plot. Regardless, the food plot industry has trained you into thinking small “hidey-hole” style kill plots are one of the secrets to success. Sure it is minimum pressure, minimum work, but it also happens to be minimal food! The one thing that I have come to learn about small food plots, especially when they are planted for the sole reason of killing bucks in the fall, is that size matters! Other than small white clover plots, explicitly for bow hunting in October, fall food plots need to be more than the common ¼ or ½ acre plot. Why? A small plot simply does not supply enough food for deer to establish considerable patterns on. I have learned this the hard way. Even some of my best plots, luscious green brassica forage plots or standing bean plots, have been wiped out in a matter of days. This causes a major problem for me. One of the most irritating aspects of food plot failure is not having a go-to late-season food source! However, the strategy I hope to reveal to you today will ensure food, late season patterns, and if you get it right, an efficient kill plot!
Fall Food Plot Failure
Right off the bat, you can discern whether or not your fall food plot is destined to fail. Aside from size, the species you choose to plant, the planting method you use, and the degree of soil preparation you complete are the biggest factors that determine food plot failure. This year, carefully consider each one of these factors before you even touch the dirt. In each of the sections below, I not only outline these common food plot failures but also reveal my secret to creating very effective fall food plots!
I’ve hunted through deer seasons with just one plot that was an acre in size, and I have been through a season with 10 acres in plots. Regardless of the season, situation, pressure, or strategy, the smaller food plots seemed to fail in giving me the results I expected. Again, small white clover plots aside, there simply was not enough food available with small plots to pull, hold, and kill deer over. However, once a plot got larger than let’s say 1-2 acres, I started seeing drastic results–more deer in the plot, increased activity during daylight, and the best result… bucks developing patterns to food. Now, this does not mean that you have to till at least two acres, it just means you might need to think outside the box. Don’t look to every available acre to plant, instead look at the field next to them, that large soybean or corn field… that’s the ticket!
This is where most plotters fail before they even attempt to plant. Sure soil tests are submitted, and soil amendment recommendations will be followed, but at what cost? With liming, pH will not be adjusted for this year’s plots and the lack of calcium and other nutrients in the soil will limit the amount of food on the plot. Fortunately, there is a way to adjust soil health biologically and chemically in my plots with the addition of PlotStart. If you are installing a food plot this year, or you are in the need to amend the soil nutrients, PlotStart is your solution. Aside from being easy to apply and relatively cheap compared to lime, it works immediately to increase soil health and provide soluble calcium to the soil. This means nutrients and soil health before, during, and after planting fall food plots! In addition, I have come to love a particular species that work in tandem with PlotStart to provide incredible soil health benefits, while providing a very efficient kill plot!
If you find yourself in a situation where PlotStart is not an option, then again look to the nearest Ag field. Chances are the field has been limed and fertilized over multiple years. Sure it appears a lost cause now, but with the same food plot species, you may be able to tap into those available nutrients for the benefit of the farmer, the deer, and especially, your hunting strategy! After the crops have been harvested and before winter sets in, you can spray PlotStart on the area of the field you are planting. This will guarantee the soil will have nutrients available to your plants, then simply broadcast this species over the area.
Nearly 90% of the plots I have planted and hunted over have been planted by simply broadcasting the seed. It also just so happens to be the method I am using this year on a very effective food plot strategy. It is one of the only options when it comes to this kind of plot. The Ag field on, in, or around your hunting property or your bean plot present a very serious problem and a very helpful solution. First of all, they currently stop you from doing any soil prep since the crops have yet to be harvested, or the beans in your plot will be left standing. Fortunately, you can seed this species directly over the beans, or right after the combines leave the field!
As the video explains, this year we are planning on capitalizing on the soil health and soil amendment made by farmers, without sacrificing our hunting strategy. The secret to helping us do this, aside from the use of PlotStart, is by using what is essentially a cover crop. By broadcasting rye in food plots and over specified Ag fields, we receive far more benefits than simply a fall food plot or kill plot. Planting over crops like soybeans, before they are harvested, or right after crops are harvested allows rye the opportunity to germinate and suppress weeds once the crops are gone. The benefits of cover crops are just starting to become popular in agricultural plantings, but food plotters, in particular, should take notice! However, do not think of rye as simply a cover crop, it has its uses for deer hunting!
The Rye Advantage
Cereal rye, not to be confused with ryegrass, is a worthy choice for this year’s fall food plots. Rye falls into the same family as winter wheat and oats, two other popular deer food plot species. While to most hunters rye is the least attractive cereal grain for deer, its other benefits outweigh this one issue. Whether rye is planted on a large-scale Ag field, a small hidey-hole kill plot, or simply mixed with other species, it provides key components of any food plotter’s goals.
- Establishment – Cereal rye is easy to establish and can be broadcasted at a rate of 90-150 lbs/acre. Or 50 lbs/acre when broadcasting in mixes or with clover. It also provides you with a crop that can be established in soil with low pH and low soil fertility. It is essentially a do-all and can make up for your past mistakes when it comes to soil health!
- Timing – Cereal rye can be planted later than most fall food plots. When the crops come down, even throughout September or early October depending upon location, rye can be seeded.
- Nutrient Leaching- Cereal rye catches leaching nutrients, such as nitrogen, from the soil when crops are harvested. When paired with a legume, such as clover, the clover fixes nitrogen and offsets rye’s tendency to tie up nitrogen in the spring.
- Pests – Cereal rye reduces pest insect problems in crop rotations and attracts beneficial insects.
- Weed Suppression – Rye is one of the best cool season weed suppressors, including great suppression of lambs quarters, pigweed, velvetleaf, and foxtail. Rye has been shown generally to reduce weed density by 78% to as much as 99% in many studies. ( of Calif. SAREP Cover Crops Resource Page. www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/ccrop)
- Organic Matter – Rye can provide as much as 10,000 pounds of dry matter per acre. Compared to no cover crop, this is one of the key points in rethinking your fall food plots.
- Attraction – Rye food plots, especially large Ag fields converted into food plots, can be a mid- and late-season destination food source. These are the fields and food plots that can lure giants out in the open. Furthermore, if enough food is supplied by rye, or mixed with other species, deer can and will establish late-season patterns. These can be a godsend given you still have a buck tag come December. These large destination food sources also make killer shed hunting plots!
- Nutrition – Rye fills a gap that most food plot species cannot. Rye has the ability to deliver green nutritious forage that can provide 20-25% protein throughout the winter and into spring. Keep in mind this is green forage weeks before clover or the spring green-up!
Rye is not for everyone, but it can be a key staple in creating a large food plot that can not only feed deer and improve your soil but could be your late-season backup plan to kill a mature buck. The video below is from a Muddy TV series called “Trail Cameras Weekly”. It shows the power of a cover crop of rye, as 25+ deer circulate through the cut corn field turned into a fall food plot.
Rye may not be for everyone, but it certainly is a species worth looking into!