Food Plots: A Guide for Deer and Turkey Enthusiasts

Maximizing Wildlife Nutrition and Habitat

Planting the right crops for both spring turkey food plots and fall deer hunting can create a win-win situation. To learn more about the best crops to grow for turkeys, we spoke with Tim Wood, an expert in wildlife conservation and the general manager of the Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Selma. Wood, a passionate supporter of habitat enhancement and increasing turkey and deer populations, shares his insights on planting strategies and crop recommendations.

The Versatility of Clover for Turkeys and Deer

Clover is a versatile and highly beneficial crop that satisfies the dietary needs of both turkeys and deer throughout the year. If you’ve planted clover food plots for deer during the past fall, you’ll be pleased to know that the same clover can nourish your turkeys during the spring and fall seasons. Crimson, Osceola, Ladino, and red clover varieties are particularly advantageous, depending on the soil composition of your property.

For clay-based soils, Osceola and Ladino clovers are ideal choices, whereas sandy soils thrive with crimson clover. However, it’s worth noting that Yuchi Arrowleaf clover, despite its robust growth, is not favored by turkeys due to its woody stems. Turkeys tend to feed on the fringes of green fields, preferring clovers that are easily accessible. Nonetheless, Yuchi clover serves as an excellent source of forage for cattle farmers, as it supports healthy grazing habits.

While Arrowleaf clovers require more maintenance if mowed low to the ground, the other recommended clover types demand less care. Clover’s benefits extend beyond being a rich food source for wildlife; it also serves as a perennial, providing sustenance year after year without the need for replanting. However, regular soil tests are necessary to ensure optimal fertility levels.

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Annuals vs. Perennials: Finding the Right Balance

While perennials like clover offer long-term advantages, they require more management compared to annual crops. Perennial clovers may be plowed and replanted annually, but this is not essential for sustaining their growth. Meanwhile, annual crops offer a simpler alternative, requiring less maintenance and upkeep. Striking a balance between annuals and perennials is essential to maximize productivity and ensure the availability of palatable food during spring and summer for both turkeys and deer.

Proper Weed Control: Ensuring Clover Success

Weed and grass control is crucial for maintaining healthy clover patches. To effectively manage weeds and grasses competing with clover for nutrients and water, we recommend using herbicides such as Select Herbicide and Poast Herbicide. Early March is the optimal time to apply herbicides, promoting grass elimination and encouraging clover to spread faster. Robust stolon growth, which offers greater survivability and an extended growing season, is especially desirable. Ladino clover exhibits excellent stolon growth, remaining green well into the summer.

While Ladino clover can be sprayed during the fall to control weeds, bush hogging in early fall yields the best results for both turkeys and deer. For weed control in your food plot, consider UTV and ATV sprayers, which provide efficient and convenient solutions. Choosing the right sprayer for your needs is essential; for more information, check out our comprehensive guide on selecting the best UTV/ATV sprayer.

Expert Advice and Resources

To access the most accurate and up-to-date information on planting for turkeys in spring and fall, as well as identifying suitable herbicides for specific regions, consult local resources such as the Alabama Department of Conservation, the Alabama Wildlife Federation, or the National Wild Turkey Federation. These organizations offer free consulting services, connecting you with impartial wildlife biologists who can guide you in making informed decisions. They will recommend optimal courses of action, including planting, fertilizing, liming, and herbicide applications to ensure your food plots thrive and benefit the wildlife population. To increase nesting habitat and food availability for turkeys during the spring, summer, and fall, their recommendations prove invaluable.

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Corn and Cereal Grains: Dual-Purpose Crops

Cereal grains like oats, wheat, and rye, often planted for deer, also serve as a supplementary food source for turkeys. Mature cereal crops produce seeds that turkeys peck at and consume during the spring, providing essential protein. Aside from their nutritional benefits, these crops offer poults protection from avian predators as they navigate through the fields. However, striking a balance is crucial, as excessively dense vegetation can impede poult movement. Grazing wheats and oats are excellent options to support the health and development of both mature turkeys and poults.

Another viable choice is grain sorghum, which matures in early fall. If left unharvested, turkeys can feast on the seeds during winter and spring. Similarly, standing cornfields provide ample sustenance for turkeys, with the fallen stalks serving as protective cover for poults. However, caution must be exercised when planting corn, as it can potentially produce toxic chemicals harmful to turkey populations.

Broadening the Menu with Millets and Soybeans

Enthusiasts of dove hunting often plant brown top millet and grain sorghum, both of which offer benefits beyond dove attraction. By leaving these crops standing, you create a food source for turkeys during the fall and winter months, when the plants naturally fold over, dispersing seeds for the turkeys to consume. Likewise, standing soybeans provide nourishment for turkeys during the late fall and early winter. To maximize their benefits, leave these crops standing throughout the winter, ensuring accessible seeds for the turkeys once the stems have fallen.

Enhancing Food Availability and Habitat

To further increase food availability and habitat for turkeys during spring and fall, consulting a wildlife biologist is highly recommended. These impartial experts can evaluate your hunting property and provide tailored recommendations based on its unique characteristics. Soil tests conducted by biologists offer valuable insights for lime and fertilizer application, ensuring the best conditions for crop growth and maximizing food availability for turkeys and deer.

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Any areas directly exposed to sunlight can be incorporated into your food plot plans by discing the ground and applying 13-13-13 fertilizer. This approach stimulates the germination of native seeds already present in the soil, ultimately producing additional wildlife food. If your property is primarily managed for timber, loading decks used during timber harvesting can serve as productive sites for creating natural, native food sources for turkeys and deer.

The Ideal Food Plot: A Step-by-Step Guide

To create an ideal food plot for fall and winter, consider the following step-by-step plan:

  1. Engage a wildlife biologist to evaluate your property, ensuring tailored recommendations.
  2. Share the primary objective of your property, be it agriculture, timber, or wildlife management.
  3. Implement controlled burns across various sections of your land, around 20 acres at a time, to promote the growth of native grasses and plants that turkeys and deer find appealing.
  4. Disc the edges of your green fields, focusing on areas beyond tree driplines. This encourages the growth of native grasses, creating nesting locations for hens and protecting poults. A 20-foot buffer zone between the fields and trees helps counterbalance nutrient and moisture depletion caused by tree roots.
  5. Plant rows of grain, sorghum, wheat, or oats next to the buffer zone, allowing the crop to stand and provide grain for poults and hens.
  6. Diversify your food plots by establishing winter plots for deer, clover plots for year-round sustenance, and spring grain crops like brown top millet, corn, and milo. A diverse habitat benefits wildlife.
  7. Implement predator control measures by trapping and harvesting skunks, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, wild pigs, possums, and bobcats. These predators pose a threat to turkey eggs and poults, as well as young fawns.
  8. Be aware that chufas, while suitable for turkey plots, also attract destructive animals like wild hogs and raccoons.
  9. UTV and ATV seed spreaders offer effective seed distribution on your food plots. To find the optimal spreader for your needs, refer to our comprehensive guide on selecting the best UTV/ATV spreader.

By following these guidelines, you can enhance the productivity of your food plots, providing turkeys and deer with an abundant and varied food supply. The impact of creating and maintaining optimal habitat cannot be overstated. To ensure a successful journey, reach out to impartial experts and leverage their knowledge and experience in wildlife management.