Each year hunters across the United States look to food plots as a method to increase the overall nutrition of the white-tailed deer found on their property, but there are more deer food plots in Texas than any other state. Yes, the state of Texas is big, but it also has more deer than any other state. In fact, the whitetail population is currently estimated at about 4 million animals! That’s a lot of deer requiring a lot of high quality food. Food plots are one way for landowners to improve the body condition of deer found on their land.
Common cool season, winter food plots for Texas include mixtures of cereal grains that include oats, wheat and ryegrass. Other cool season candidates include triticale and legumes such as hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, alfalfa, and a variety of clovers. Each of these plants seeded individually will provide nutritious whitetail forage from November through May, but often times planting a single-species food plot is not recommended for a variety of reason.
Research conducted in Texas found that wheat alone had little impact on white-tailed deer diet quality during late winter. Of course, I believe this had something to do with the weather, as deer will readily consume wheat when conditions are tough. That being said, whitetail deer prefer oats over wheat, but wheat is much more hardy and is recommended for areas where oats could freeze out.
Regardless of the types of plants seeded, planting food plot seed mixtures that include nutritious legumes is highly recommended for improving deer body condition and antler growth. Warm season food plots in Texas should provide forage from early spring until late fall and supplement natural vegetation during July through August when natural deer forages are lacking in both quantity and quality. Plants adapted to hot, dry conditions, and intensive farming are essential for producing forage during summer in semiarid areas. Moisture management techniques used in dryland farming such as deep tillage and weed control are necessary for producing food plots in drought-prone areas.
For summer food plot plants such as lab lab, cowpeas, soybeans, alfalfa and Alyceclover, plots should be deep tilled in late summer to store the rainfall Texas usually receives during September and October. Light cultivation or herbicides should be used following rainfall events during the winter to maintain a weed-free seedbed. Weeds should be eliminated since they use the stored soil moisture that will be needed in the spring to support growth of food plot forages.
Soil types across the state vary widely depending on ecoregion as well as microclimate of the plot site. Prior to planting, a soil test is always recommended so that the area can be manipulated for proper pH and so that adequate fertilizer can be applied. It does not take rocket science to grow productive whitetail deer food plots in Texas or anywhere else for that matter, but it does take some planning combined with fair amount of work.
White-tailed deer generally need supplemental nutrition during late summer and late winter when native foods may be lacking in quantity or food value. Keep in mind that food plots planted in the spring generally provide deer nutrition from June through September. Fall-planted deer food plots usually produce whitetail food from November through April.
Food plots should be viewed as a tool to help supplement the nutrition of deer, not as the end-all be-all answer to producing quality deer. A key element to successful white-tailed deer management is a population in balance with the habitat and forage supply. Although native habitat management is important, many managers are choosing to provide deer food plots in Texas during times when native plants may be absent or low in nutritive value. Food plots can be an important way contribute to the overall quality of a managed deer herd.