Every fall, hunters with food plots face the seasonal shift of food source transitioning.
With foliage and greens entering a dormant phase, deer and wildlife must seek different food sources, moving from green fields into more mast-focused forage such as acorns and chestnuts.
Kip Adams, Chief Conservation Officer of the National Deer Association, encourages landowners and hunters who plant food plots to carefully select species that will provide year-round nutrition for deer to carefully manage this transition. Visit this LandBeat video for Kip’s favorite food plot setup.
Whitetail Properties Indiana Land Specialist Andrew Malott agrees:
The late summer/early fall shift from green soybean fields to mast crops is something we see year after year in our deer herds. There are a few different things hunters can do to help combat that shift and have deer in your lap in the early portion of the deer season. Planting a green food source such as oats, forage rape, winter wheat, cereal rye, turnips, brassicas, radishes and winter peas provides a great option for deer to transition to when soybean fields are turning golden brown in the later summer months.
Andrew and Kip also advocate for thoughtful planning when it comes to structuring and placing your food plot to increase the odds of filling your tags. Strategically creating hotspots with a well-chosen plot shape allows you to manipulate deer movement: Choose between “L-shaped,” “Boomerang,” “Hourglass,” and the “Turkey Foot” plot to provide structured and predictable pathways for deer. For more information on food plot shapes, including aerial photography that outlines each plot type, visit this LandBeat video featuring Kip Adams.
Andrew suggests planting green food sources:
- On a field edge near a bedding area in the timber
- Near a large oak that will provide an abundance of mast crop come fall
- Near grain food plots (knowing the grain will quickly mature)
Shifting Food Sources for Corn-Based Farms and Food Plots
Kip advises that farmers and hunters ensure additional food sources are available once the corn is harvested and the shift begins from grain to beans. “This can be other food plots, old fields with early successional vegetation, and/or forested areas. Then, landowners can plant brassicas or winter oats/wheat/rye into the corn field for a cover crop that will also provide forage for deer during winter and spring.”
Andrew recommends that hunters not rely on deer feeding in the harvested field as they scavenge for leftover grain. “A favorite food plot of mine are turnips, as they provide green forage to feed on in the early portion of hunting season and turnips later in the season, providing a solid option for deer all season long.”
Planning Ahead: How to Predict October Changes in Food Sources, Deer Habits, and Breeding Season Patterns
Have you heard the myth of the “October Lull?” Some hunters report a marked decrease in buck sightings as October progresses. Kip’s take: This lull simply isn’t true, as several GPS collar studies have shown deer to move more throughout the month of October, not less.
Kip attributes this perceived change to shifting hormone levels and food sources. “Deer aren’t visible in the same places during October as in September. Savvy hunters are ready for this shift, and they can be very successful during October by hunting those new food sources.”
Andrew’s tip is to pay close attention to farmers in the fields near your land. Depending on the time of harvest–early or late–will help you determine when the October food source shift might happen.
Proper preparation, Andrew says, “needs to be months before it actually happens. Make sure to provide your deer with plenty of food options on your property. Diversity is key!”
Getting to know your property and how deer habitually move through it may take years, but paying attention, taking notes, setting up trail cameras, and recording timing and breeding patterns will help you predict where and when the deer will move and breed. “Peak estrous may vary from property to property,” says Andrew, “but deer breeding season is the same every single year. For example, the does on my particular farm seem to come into estrous around the second week of November, with the peak day being November 16th.”
Make the most of your hunting land investment–and increase that hunter savvy–by planning ahead and getting to know your herd, your food sources, and your land.