Winter is a difficult time for Whitetails. As food sources decline and diminish, deer frantically search for remaining food sources. Finding these morsels can be difficult. That’s why land managers should plant and provide options for Whitetails. They will help the deer herd and also result in better hunting experiences. Here are 15 of the best late-season food plots for deer and deer hunters.
For the best brands and additional tips to consider – check out North American Deer Hunter’s “Best Deer Food Plot Seed”
Though this is the king of early-season food sources, it can be an excellent late-season food source, too. This is especially true for younger stands of alfalfa that are more viable than older plantings. Alfalfa is a high-protein feed that can sustain a herd throughout much of winter. It offers anywhere from 22 to 30% protein. Plantings last from three to five years.
Sugar beets are very common across the northern United States, and deer love them. The crop’s high sucrose level rises to 20%, making these very attractive to Whitetails. With large, leafy output and big bulbs, plants can reach up to 3 pounds, and that creates a high tonnage of forage for wildlife.
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Technically, this is a blend of options already on this list. However, this grouping is commonly referred to as brassicas, therefore, we’re including it in the list. Popular deer food plot seeds within this category include broccoli, canola, kale, radishes, rapeseed and turnips. These greens offer palatable leaves and tasty roots that help deer through the winter.
Not to be confused with rye grass (which offers little to no value for deer), cereal rye is an excellent late-season food plot choice. It offers about 15% protein and is very high in carbohydrates. It also grows up to five feet tall, which offers a higher-level food source that deer don’t have to work hard to reach.
Chicory is a great early-season deer food plot. It offers 28 to 30% protein and moderate carbohydrate levels. It even offers high levels of key vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and sulfur. If deer don’t mow it down during the early season or fall, there might be some left for winter deer to browse.
Most people consider clover as a summer and fall food source. That said, deer really target this in late winter, especially during warmer spells. Most species offer around 25% protein and moderate carbohydrate levels. Deer target these highly nutritious morsels as they strive to make it through to spring.
Corn doesn’t offer much value during the early season, but it is a great selection for the late season. It’s only about 8 to 10% protein, but this high-carb food source provides the energy necessary to make it through the colder months. Knocking down or mowing a standing cornfield can help deer keep their bellies full during the hardest months of the year.
Another member of the brassicas family, kale is a hardy winter food source that stands strong when deer are at their weakest. It offers up to 25% protein and decent carb levels, too. It provides a high level of forage tonnage per acre.
Oats are also great winter food plot choices. This cereal grain is high in carbs and offers up to 18% protein. These are very sweet to eat for deer and are very palatable. Plus, these are quite simple to establish and maintain.
These plants offer two stages of grub. First are the leaves, then the root. This plant is very similar to other brassicas in that way, but radishes can produce very large roots, some even reaching 25 inches in length. This high-carb food source is an excellent option for winter food plots.
The mighty soybean is an excellent early-season and fall food source. However, it can be even more beneficial and impactful during the winter months. At up to 30% protein and high carbohydrate levels, it’s difficult to pass up. Those who plant and leave these standing really help the deer herd and can draw Whitetails from all around. It especially helps deer access quality food without having to dig through the snow, which takes extra energy they really don’t have to spend.
Another cereal grain, triticale is also a carb-rich food source that deer love. At 18 to 20% protein, this crop certainly helps deer make it through the winter. This is less popular than some species, but still offers a good level of forage for deer with few options remaining on the landscape.
Turnip plots offer up to 22% protein and are quite high in carbs. These palatable plants are highly attractive in winter but aren’t key food sources earlier in the year. This makes it easier to keep these from being over-browsed until deer really need these food sources. Once cold weather sets in, the sucrose (sugar) levels skyrocket, and deer begin to target these heavily.
A common cover crop in ag country, wheat is a very attractive and palatable deer food plot in winter. It provides up to 20% protein and is high in carbs. Where it thrives, this is a great winter food plot choice, and is a great pairing for blending with other selections.
This species is a great choice for those who are hoping to help and hold winter Whitetails. This cool-season plant offers up to 30% protein and is an excellent source of carbs. It is also a tall-growing plant that provides an easy-to-reach food source that doesn’t take much effort to consume.
Top Winter Food Plot Trees
Fruit orchards and hard mast stands are excellent food sources for Whitetails. In fact, these can serve as food plots themselves, creating excellent sources of much-needed nutrients throughout the season. These trees are beneficial at different times, but especially so during the late season, when nutrients are fading from the land.
If you enjoy Josh’s winter time prep articles – check out “Offseason Wintertime Whitetail Prep”
Here are some trees to consider.
Certain apple species release their fruits in early fall. However, others carry their delightful morsels into winter. Plant or locate varieties that tend to hold longer than others, and it will likely be a well-used food source later in the season. This includes crab apples, which were likely untouched earlier in the season.
Chestnut trees were once the most abundant of the hardwood trees in the eastern United States. After the blight arrived from Asia, they all but disappeared. Today, they’re coming back, thanks to an American-Chinese hybrid that is 98% American and 2% Chinese, which makes it resistant to blight. Testing has revealed that chestnuts are far more attractive to Whitetails than white oak acorns. Chestnuts offer 40% protein and 10% fat, a combination that is far superior to the best of what acorns have to offer.
Members of the red and white oak families are great sources of food for winter Whitetails. However, white oaks are very attractive due to lower levels of tannin and a sweeter taste. Therefore, for those hoping for oaks that last into late winter, planting red oaks increases the likelihood of acorns remaining on the landscape until that time.
A common tree in the deer’s range, Osage orange trees provide great sources of food. While their fruity mast remains untouched for much of fall, these become much more attractive in winter as food sources fade.
Greenery and Woody Browse Are Boss
Whitetails are primarily browse animals. Even in ag country, browse tends to comprise up to 60% or more of their diet. This is especially true in winter, when most man-provided food sources, such as corn and soybeans, are gone.
For those unfamiliar with woody browse, this consists largely of tree buds, twigs, leaves and other small but palatable parts of plants. Tree buds, especially from maples and other more desirable tree species, offer excellent winter foods.
Greenery is popular, too. Dogwood, greenbrier, honeysuckle, honey locust, sumac, and other trees and plants offer much-needed nutrients that help deer through the winter. Even certain conifers, such as white cedar, offer food sources.
Best Deer Food Plot Shapes
Certain food plot shapes tend to produce better results than others. In fact, those that are optimized to manipulate the flow of deer movement throughout the plot and toward a blind or stand location can be very effective.
Some of these shapes include those resembling the letters U, V, T, L, K, or those shaped like a turkey foot, hourglass, or other shapes that force deer through a vertex or tight area. You’ll want to place blinds and stands at these pinch points.