2013-03-23 / Outdoors

Fool-proof solution to deer population debate

An endless debate over the size of the deer herd in northcentral Pennsylvania shows no sign of ebbing.

But there’s one very controllable aspect of deer management that everyone can agree on – the importance of establishing and maintaining the kind of habitat that keeps the deer healthy and well-fed.

Many local residents, camp owners and sportsmen’s clubs have answered the call by planting food plots that provide whitetails with high-quality forage to supplement their natural diets.

Improved nutrition leads to heavier deer, bigger antlers and healthier/more plentiful fawns. Furthermore, if deer are fifilling up on the forage you’ve planted, it takes some of the pressure off tree seedling regeneration.

The fifirst thing to take into consideration is location. Forest openings that receive six or more hours of direct sunlight each day, old fifields, corner of large yards, and unproductive fern-covered sections are all good spots.


Property owners can do their part to maintain a healthy deer herd by planting and maintaining food plots. These areas have the bonus of lessening the destruction whitetails can wreak on tree seedlings in developing forests. Property owners can do their part to maintain a healthy deer herd by planting and maintaining food plots. These areas have the bonus of lessening the destruction whitetails can wreak on tree seedlings in developing forests. Several small plots will be visited more by deer than one large fifield greater than two acres.

Don’t locate your food plot within sight of highways or roads. Deer will be more likely to use the food plot, especially during daylight hours, if it is located along cover and not in the middle of a large fifield.

Site preparation is essential. This may involve clearing vegetation and leveling. It’s important to maintain a soil pH in the range of 6 to 7. Soil test results will reveal lime application/fertilizing requirements. Kits are available from Penn State Extension.

There are a variety of different food plot seed mixes on the market. Some are annuals and need to be replanted every year. Others may not need to be replanted for fifive years.

Clover will produce the best forage for the longest period of time. From greenup in April through December, and sometimes later, clover fifields are favored by deer and provide high-protein forage. To add diversity, different varieties of red and white clovers should be planted.

Chicory and birds foot trefoil are also good seed choices. All of these plants grow well together.

Clover’s forage value diminishes considerably over the winter. If you have space for planting other crops in addition to clover, you should plant something that will provide forage during this time period. Some good choices are winter wheat or rye, turnips, rape, and kale. They grow well with basic seed-spread, but additional site preparation will greatly improve yields.

There are possible plantings such as buckwheat, peas, corn, other grains, and the list goes on. Some types will require more work and care than others. The packet will tell you if you can simply broadcast the seed on the ground or if a grain drill is necessary.

One of the most effective ways to plant in this manner is to “frost seed.” This involves seeding a plot in March or early April and then allowing the frost action to work the seed into the ground. This is an excellent way to plant clover plots assuming that the soil has not been compacted by heavy machinery. Simply lime the area to be planted the year before and then seed the next spring. You’ll be amazed at how well it grows.

Frost seeding is also a great way to add chicory or another variety of clover to an existing clover plot. This also extends the life of a food plot, adding productivity and extending the amount of time between replanting.

Maintenance is also an important consideration after planting food plots. Without any care, plots can be over run by undesirable species, especially grasses. Food plots should be mowed at least twice a year to ensure that weeds don’t go into seed. Otherwise, within a year or two after planting the plot will not be producing much forage.

Food plots can be a lot of work, but the benefifits far outweigh any sweat involved in establishing them.

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