So you've decided you want to plant some deer food plots. But now you are overwhelmed with the great variety of choices you have to make. Biologic says their stuff is best, tecomante says their seed is best. You don't know what to believe or think. Well keep reading time to shed some light on the subject.
Ok first thing is first. STOP trying to find that great plant that is the holy grail of forage crops. It doesn't exist. Just like some people prefer trucks and others prefer cars. The farmer or outdoorsman might need a truck because he is constantly loading the bed of the truck with stuff to haul. But the mother of 4 that has to chauffeur kids around all day probably would be better served with a van.
The point being that there is no one best forage crop just like there is no one best automobile.
The key to getting the most out of you food plots is to first examine what your needs are and then find the best forage for your situation.
So what you choose to plant is largely determined by what you want to accomplish with that particular food plot. And this is something I can't answer for you. Some plots are designed to attract deer for the hunter during hunting season. Other food plots might be designed to provide high quality summer forage when antlers are developing. Only you can answer that. But with that knowledge in hand you can begin to narrow your choices down a bit.
A huge help in deciding what to plant is the forage chart that I have put together. The chart allows you to easily match plants to various characteristics of interest to you such as planting dates, pH preferences etc. You can see the chart here!
The chart should be a great help even to those with a good bit of experienced planting food plots. But the chart doesn't have all the answers. Each plant has some unique characteristics that don't show up on a chart. And the chart show single plant characteristics but doesn't provide any information on all the possible mixtures and advantages and disadvantages associated with each.
Familiarizing yourself with some of the more popular forages should help you refine your choices even more.
Rape is a member of the Brassica family. Rape is high in protein but low in preference by deer, especially early on in its growing stages. You will probably not experience much utilization, but what the deer eat will be good for them. I strongly discourage anyone planting Brassica for fall attraction in the south. Cold weather makes the plant more desireable and the further north you go the better choice Brassica's become. Brassica's includes turnip greens, mustard greens, spinach and rape. Remember this is a generalization for this group.
Because each plant is different this gives the land manager/hunter the chance to mix and match different seed combinations so that the various species of plants can grow together providing a more durable and longer lasting food plot than could be achieved with any single species alone.
Clover is one of the most popular forage crops for deer. But clover is a bit ambiguious because there are so many varieties and they are so different in their various characteristics.
Generally speaking clover can be planted because clover patches can be established that won't need to be replanted each year which saves on money. But clover also has a reputation of being hard to establish. Basically if you want to establish clover you will need to put in time year round. You can't abandon it all summer and expect it to be a thick lush plot in the fall. If you land or lease is hours away and you don't get up there except during deer season you can do well with clover just expect to have to plant it each year.
However, if you have the equipment and the time clover can be an excellent forage crop that can really cut down on the cost of your food plots.
American Joint Vetch is a realative new comer to the deer scene. It is a plant that will die at the first frost and is also much more expensive to plant. So take that into consideration. But it is very high in protein and will be lush during bow season. So it has its place, it just isn't something that will dominate a land managers planting scheme.
Rye grass is probably one of the most polorizing plant in the deer hunting community. People often LOVE it or HATE it. Why people hate it! Rye grass is very low nutritionally for deer. Very low protein content and can be a weed problem if you try to establish another crop where rye grass has been planted before.
Why people love it! It is best planted just before deer season opens. It will be actively growing during the deer season. It is easy to plant and establish. Is relatively cheap. Oh and did I mention that it is easy to grow and very dependable. Crop failure with rye grass is very very low. Rye grass can even be planted in decidous forest and it will grow their. Something very few forage crops can boast.
Wheat and rye are another choice. They also are faily easy to establish. They are also relatively cheap also. They don't have the high protein content of some of the other forage crops though.
Ironclay cowpeas or many other types of peas and beans are highly desirable to deer and once a food plot matures the deer can literally wipe it out in a matter of days. Peas are often mixed with other plants because of this. If planted alone the plot had better be pretty big.
Chufa is a plant that is most often planted by itself if planted for turkeys. Turkeys love the numerous root nodules found just below the surface. Chufa is also eaten by deer but is usually planted as a small component of some type of mixtrue.
LabLab is another newcomer to the deer hunting community. Lablab is a good plant to plant if drought is a typical problem in your area. Deer unfamiliar with lablab will often ovoid it until they discover that it is good to eat. Utiilization of lablab is reported to be great or poor. Go figure.
Chicory is usually planted as a component of food plot mixes. It grows most rapidly in spring and fall. Has high nutritional value as well and is somewhat drought tolerant. Doesn't do well with high grazing pressure.
I hope this helps you in making your food plot planting decisions. Good Luck.