onX Whitetail Report: August

Fall Food Plots – Why, Where, How

Fall for whitetail deer signals change. It’s a change from velvet to hardened bone, from reliant fawns to self-feeding ones, and changes in a deer’s nutritional needs. No longer are whitetails looking for protein-rich, muscle-growing food sources. They are on the hunt for high-carb foods that help them add layers of fat before winter sets in. This is why having a fall food plot is helpful to maintaining healthy herds and for better hunting opportunities. 

The National Deer Association’s Chief Conservation Officer Kip Adams explains the strategies and value of having fall food plots planted now so they’ll be a resource for both deer and hunters when the season opens.

Planting Fall Food Plots? Use onX Hunt.
From the Area Shape Tool to marking Waypoints, onX Hunt is perfect for planting food plots. Try the Hunt App for free.

Why Plant Fall Food Plots

“I am a huge fan of fall food plots,” says Kip Adams, “and I use them extensively across my property to enhance our harvest opportunities during deer season.”

Fall food plots differ from summer agricultural plots in several ways, but some of the more notable ways are that they can be smaller, more efficient, and irregularly shaped. We’ll dive into how to plant these plots shortly. 

Fall brings the rut, which is physically taxing on bucks especially (losing as much as 25% of their body weight). They’re traveling greater distances, fighting other bucks for dominance, and looking to breed with as many willing does as they can find. For these energy-expensive tasks, whitetails are looking for carbohydrates. Of course, deer cannot survive by carbs alone. That’s why fall food plots can be planted as smaller supplement plots, for instance.

“Fall food plots can be larger ‘nutritional’ plots where you’re providing a destination for deer to go to,” says Adams, “or they can be smaller ‘hunting’ plots. I am a big fan of planting smaller hunting plots between known bedding areas and larger nutritional plots that I know deer are traveling to. They often hit the hunting plots on the way to the larger plots.”

onX Whitetail Report - August - Food Plots

Best Food Plots for Fall

“You can plant most anything you’d like in fall food plots,” says Adams, “but my go-to choices for the northern U.S. are brassicas and either winter wheat or winter rye. These species are inexpensive to plant and they provide attraction during the entire archery and firearms seasons.”

Brassicas include several varieties of rape, kale, turnips, true brassicas, and radishes. Wheat and rye are cereal grains. Brassicas are very easy to grow and are inexpensive, quality food sources for whitetails. Brassicas also produce ample forage and are excellent choices for anyone who can only plant small plots.

For more information on planting brassicas, the NDA outlined benefits of several types in this article. In particular, they are fans of the most common planting: rape, also known as rapeseed or canola. “[It] germinates and grows very quickly. It is a very versatile forage and can tolerate cold, hot, and dry conditions, making it more productive during times when other forages are not.”

Plant Fall Food Plots with onX Hunt

Fall Food Plot Strategies

“Fall food plots can be planted with no-till drills, by disking the soil to prepare a seedbed, or even by no-till top sowing,” says Adams. “No-till top sowing involves spraying herbicide to kill the existing vegetation and then broadcasting seed on top of the ground before a rainstorm and allowing the rain to ‘drive’ the seed into the ground. This can be very effective and is a great alternative for small plots and for folks who do not have tractors, ATV/UTVs, or planting equipment.”

For placement of your fall food plots, consider areas that have “soft edges,” where there is thick transition-edge cover (think saplings, brush, planted pines) that make whitetails feel comfortable venturing into your smaller food plot. 

To create this, you don’t have to plant perfectly squared or rectangular food plots. In fact, food plots for hunting over can be a variety of shapes. Some popular choices are an “L” or a figure-eight, the latter maximizing forage and offering a pinch point perfect for hanging a treestand nearby. 

Calculating how much fertilizer and seed you’ll need for odd-shaped plots is easy with onX’s Area Shape Tool

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Interested in starting your first food plots? Check out “A Beginner’s Entry Into the World of Food Plots,” where onX Ambassador Jess DeLorenzo provides a simple beginner’s approach to creating food plots.

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Ryan Newhouse

Though raised hunting squirrels and whitetails in the South, Ryan Newhouse has spent nearly the last two decades chasing Western big game in Montana and writing professionally about his travels and the craft beers he’s consumed along the way. He loves camping, fishing, boating, and teaching his two kids the art of building campfires and playing the ukulele. And yes, he's related to Sewell Newhouse, inventor of the steel animal traps.