170! This is the gross score of a buck that every hunter dreams of harvesting in a lifetime. So every year around this time hunters start preparing for the up coming season by hanging stands, fine tuning their bow, shooting their rifle, along with many other things. As hunters, we hope all of these efforts will lead to posing for a picture of that 170-inch whitetail. Preparing for the hunt is always more important than the hunt itself. So I guess the question is, “Have you done all the necessary preparation on your hunting property?” The popularity of planting fall food plots has grown dramatically in the past 20 years, and for most hunters in the South it’s a priority in the preparation department. Nevertheless, planting summer food plots for most hunters in the South is at the bottom of their priority list. This is a major problem that, if resolved, could aid in the many other problems that limit antler development in southern deer and do more to help the hunter harvest that 170 inch deer. In this article we will address some of those problems, as well as provide you with a solution by giving you a southern system for summer time food sources.
The Major Problems
Nature and Nutritional Problems
One of the biggest factors that limit Southern whitetails from reaching their full genetic potential is the absence of highly nutritious forage during the most stressing time of the year. In the South, the summer months of June, July, and August are the most demanding due to the hot and humid conditions. The higher protein producing plants are either eaten-up or dried-up, leaving few highly nutritious plants available to the deer during these months. When you couple this with the nutritional demands of the last stages of gestation and early stages of lactation, this limits a fawn’s ability to reach their full potential from the start. This crucial time period also happens to be the time for peak antler development for all bucks. It is obvious that poor, limited nutrition will cause problems for antler development. The science is simple. If deer do not get “the goods” during these critical months, then the bucks on your property cannot reach their full genetic potential.
Farming Practice Problems
In most of the areas I hunt in Mississippi and Alabama there is no significant presence of row crops. From my place in Kemper County, MS you would have to drive 30 miles or so to get to the nearest farm land. A large crop of soybeans close by would dramatically help meet the summer nutritional requirements of the deer. Unfortunately, the major farming practice around here is pine trees. From major timber companies like Weyerhaeuser to private landowners planting their properties in pines, the landscape is littered with green needles. These habitats are great for bedding cover and significantly increase the overall carrying capacity for deer in that area. However, this is not good for high protein and nutrition. In short, this produces high quantities of deer with low quality.
Limited Acreage Problems
Another major factor in most places in the South, mainly due to the tree farming practices, is acreage availability. Typically the only available areas to plant food plots in are small openings, road beds, or narrow lanes. Also in most of these situations, the acreage that is available to plant does not have the best soil conditions to grow highly nutritious vegetation. This is just another monkey wrench tossed into the works.
Lime and Zero Nitrogen Fertilizer
No matter what you plant anywhere in the country, you need to first get a soil sample that tells the chemical condition of your soil. I can go ahead and tell you that the majority of areas in the South have a very low pH. In and around most any pine stand of timber the pH is usually around 4.5 to 5, which is well below the 6.5 minimum that most legumes need to achieve maximum growth and maximum nutrition levels. Also, the soil cannot adequately use fertilizer when the pH is low. The solution to that is lime. Most hunters across the country waste tons of that “high dollar” fertilizer each year that should have been spent on lime, which is very inexpensive. Typically it takes about one ton of lime to move the pH up one factor. The soil sample will tell you the exact amount of lime that you will need to reach the 6.5 pH level for maximum growth and nutrition levels. Also the fertilizer that you will need when planting summer plots is a zero nitrogen fertilizer, such as 0-20-20. As you will see later in this article, the summer plant of choice is typically legumes. Legumes fix their own nitrogen so fertilizers with nitrogen are not needed. Using nitrogen fertilizers will not hurt the legumes if you use them, however they will promote more of those unwanted grasses and weeds in your plots that will limit the growth of your legumes.
Peas and Beans
I have planted pretty much everything in the past on my home place in Mississippi. The plant that seems to be the most resilient, most versatile, most cost effective, easiest to plant, and maintains the high nutrition needed to get your deer through the tough times of the year are warm-season legumes. To be more specific I am talking about peas and beans. There is a wide variety of peas and beans available on the market that you can plant for your summer plots. The most common you can find in most any CO-OP or seed store is cow peas, iron clay peas, and soybeans. For years I have gotten my deer through the summer with iron clay peas. Although, I have used all of these and they grow really well with whitetails loving the high nutritious foliage.
However, the problem with soybeans in most areas of the South is the acreage requirements that are needed to grow them effectively. Remember pine plantations make up most of the landscape so large openings are limited. Soybeans are not as browse tolerant as other legumes, such as the pea varieties I mentioned earlier, but they work great when you can plant them in fields larger than five acres.
If you want a good summer food plot in the South plant you some peas. Just make sure the pH is right and you use a zero nitrogen fertilizer when you plant. However, if you want the best summer forage for the deer on your property continue reading.
My Southern Summer Substance System
My summer food plot system actually starts out in the fall. I always make sure I have clovers and chicory included in my winter food plot blend. These are some of the most versatile, attractive and nutritious whitetail forages on the market. Tecomate has several seed blends on the market with clover and chicory in it or you can purchase them individually. These plants are a favorite for deer in the fall, but actually they are more biologically beneficial to deer in the late winter and early spring months. This makes highly nutritious plants available to deer during the beginning stages of gestation for does and antler development for bucks. To get the most out of your clover and chicory in the spring, re-fertilize your fall plots with 0-20-20 sometime in late winter.
The next stage in my southern summer food plot system is planting a Tecomate summer blend called DEER PEA PLUS in late winter or in early spring. DEER PEA PLUS is the result of Tecomate’s extensive experience with annual summer food plots. Tecomate’s regional agronomist went to work developing a mixture that would better meet the needs of hunters and managers in the Northeast and Midwest. However, this summer food plot mix works great in the South when planted in late winter or early spring. The result is a combination of Ebony Pea (a black-seeded pea, proprietary to Tecomate), Long Juvenile Soybean and Hybrid White Grain Milo. The Ebony Pea establishes in cooler soil temperatures which creates a successful plot earlier in the season. By the time the clovers and chicory start getting less palatable, a fresh crop of high protein legumes (the Ebony Peas and Long Juvenile Soybeans) are up ready to be served to your deer.
The last stage in my summer time system is planting a Tecomate bean blend called BUCKBEANS in June or July. BUCKBEANS are a proprietary product exclusive to Tecomate through Heritage Seeds Australia, a Barenbrug subsidiary. The introduction of the burgundy bean species to the United States came as a result of a search for a perennial that could persist in the tropical and subtropical climates of the South. This plant has proven itself throughout the South because of its ability to survive for multiple years unattended in the extremes of the South. Because it is a perennial legume and its growth point is low, near the surface of the soil, it tolerates close and early deer browse pressure. Protein levels have tested near 30% with high digestibility. Deer love this perennial legume and turkeys feed on the seed. There highly nutritious plants will carry the deer on your property through those critical times of the year.
The results of this summer food plot system will provide southern deer with high protein producing plants during all critical growth periods of the whitetail’s life cycle. This system produces healthy mamma does, fatter fawns, and beefier bucks. It not only will give the deer on your property more nutrition, it will also draw more deer to your hunting area. This will result in more huntable bucks reaching their full genetic potential on your property. All you have to do now is let them mature and you can have the buck of a lifetime living on your property.
Click the links for more information about Tecomate Wildlife Systems, Champion Chicory, or King Ladino White Clover
Happy Hunting and God Bless.
Posted by Mark Newell