Heartland Outdoors magazine is published every month.
Subscription Terms

Or call (309) 315-2981 or e-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

deer illinois cover


January 2021
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
April 2020
February 2020
January 2020
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019

Recent entries

Kevin Hahn

Food Plotting

Fall Plantings for Deer Food Plots

Tue, July 30, 2013

Topics covered in this article

    Seed tag information
    Turnips,  forage rape, and radishes
    August planted soybeans and buckwheat
    Cereal grains rye, oats, and winter wheat
    Winter peas
    Annual ryegrass

August and September are key months for planting food plots here in Illinois to provide quality green forage for deer for the fall and well into the winter months.  These plantings can also provide great areas to hunt during the upcoming archery and gun seasons.  Out of curiosity I visited my local farm supply store last evening to see what various fall food plot mixes are being offered this year.  Below is a picture of a relative small display of several food plot seed mixes at this store.  All the mixes had a picture of a big buck on the bag along with a few catchy marketing phrases which seem designed to catch the attention of deer hunters and to conjure up all kinds of visions of hunting opportunities if the contents of the bag are planted.  I found that most of the seed mixes had very little information to help me decide which seed mix would be best for my fall food plots and quite honestly, the number of different mixes added to the confusion.  Some of the mixes are what I consider good late summer and fall mixes; while others I personally would not waste my money, time, and food plot space to plant them.  The intent of this article is not to promote nor to condemn specific mixes or brands, but rather to provide some information to help you sort through the choices of all the various seed mixes and be able to make better informed purchases for your fall food plots.

Focus on the Seed Tag

The big buck picture and marketing claims on the front of the bag provide little to no information about the bag’s seed content. So instead look at the seed tag which will be stuck on the back side of the seed bag or stitched into the bottom seam of larger seed bags.  The seed tag is required by law and requires that each seed lot offered for sale must be truthfully labeled and must list all the seed types by percentage and the percent germination of each. What I suggest you pay attention to are the various seed types and the relative percentages of each when making a decision to buy or not to buy for your specific goals. For more information on understanding what is all on the seed tag, the following link provides a simplified guide

Example of information on a fall food plot seed mixture seed tag.


Choosing a seed mix for fall planting—match your seed choices with your goals and your ability to plant

The following are my suggestions for fall plantings – these are mixes that have worked well together for me and have similar planting date requirements.  Make your seed choices based on your ability to plant with or without tillage and your ability to get them planted at the appropriate time.

Early August Plantings-Turnips, forage rape, and radishes.
Turnips, radishes and rape are cool season crops which are ideal for fall plantings.  The leaves are high in protein, but keep in mind that the leaves of turnips and forage rape typically don’t become attractive to deer until after a couple frosts. The cold frost converts bitter tasting starches in the leaves into sweeter sugars with the turnips and rape. Radishes don’t need a frost to become attractive.  The tops of these crops will stay green well into the hunting season, but are usually killed with a hard freeze of 25 F or colder.  The roots of turnips and radishes then provide attractive extended forage well into the winter months, but they too will usually freeze and turn to mush by late season hunts in December and January.

Important planting dates – Turnips and Radishes
If your goal is to have turnip and radish roots in addition to leaves for forage, then it is important to plant these crops within the first two weeks of August for most of Illinois (earlier in the north and latter in the south).  Planting in August ensures enough growing season to enable the radishes and turnips to develop substantial root sizes.  Waiting till September or later to plant often means that you will get tops only.

Radish roots resulting from August planting date

Turnip, rape and radish growing tips:   Turnips, rape and radishes become best established when planted in tilled ground so that there is good seed to soil contact.  I have had great success with planting these crops in soils that I do light single pass tillage with a disc and then just broadcast seed into the rough tilled soil.  The small seeds will find their way in the cracks and voids on the soil surface and then subsequent rains will further cover up the seed.  These crops need nitrogen and will do best if you apply 30-40 of N at the same time you plant.  One of the biggest mistakes I have seen people make is not adding some N to their turnips, radish and forage rape plots.

Field of turnips, rape and radishes.  Plants in front of photo were on the edge of plot and did not have N applied at planting.

Side note:  Turnips, rape and radishes may not be for every farm.  I have found that on farms where I have good natural browse and other food sources, the deer will not touch my turnips, rape and radishes (leaves or roots) and thus these crops have been wasted space as far as a food source on these types of farms for me.  On the other hand, I have planted these crops on farms with little natural browse and no other nearby food sources and the deer simply tear them up.  So try them to see how they work on your farms they maybe boom or bust.

Early August Plantings-Soybeans and buckwheat.
I always have some extra soybean seed left over from my spring time plantings.  A couple years ago I started planting soybeans in August with the primary goal of providing a more attractive food source to keep the deer from foraging on my spring planted soybeans which I planted to produce soybean grain.  This was an instant success and I have found that these August planted soybeans are great places to put trail cameras for deer seem to really be attracted to these young soybeans.  Last year I started mixing buckwheat in with my soybeans for an added attraction.  The dear did feed on the buckwheat somewhat, but preferred the young soybeans. However,  an unexpected side benefit was that my buckwheat produced seed prior to the first frost. Buckwheat seed is a preferred food source for wild turkey. Buckwheat will take about 60 days to mature so plant accordingly if you want seed production. Keep in mind that soybeans and buckwheat will be killed with the first frost, so about two weeks before the anticipated first frost, I broadcast cereal grains into my August planted soybeans and buckwheat.
Growing tips:  Like the turnips, rape and radishes, soybeans and buckwheat establish best with tilled soil.  I simply make a single pass with disc then broadcast soybean and buckwheat seed into the rough tilled soil and let the rains cover the seeds.  This has worked very well for me without the need for getting out my tractor mounted planter.

Picture of August planted soybean and buckwheat (white flowering plants) plots.  At the time of the photo, I had already broadcast seeded cereal grains into this plot.

Perennial Clovers
I have a lot of value of clover as a perennial food source on farms that I manage food plot plantings.  Clovers are a valuable food source at some key times during the year when other foods sources are not available.  Clovers green up early to provide early spring and summer forage, then go dormant and become less attractive to deer during the heat of the summer, but then develop lush attractive growth with the arrival of the cool fall weather when much of the natural browse has withered away.  I have also found the white clovers do well in the shade and can stay very green and lush even during the heat of the summer in heavy shaded areas such as the north side of a tree-line or honey-holes in the middle of the timber.

Picture of white clover and chicory mix on the north side of the timber showing shade tolerance of the white clovers. Picture was taken in August of 2012 during the drought.

Fall is a great time to plant clovers.  I have achieved the quickest establishment of clovers by planting in tilled ground, however, clovers can also be mixed in with other seed mixes such as turnips, rape and radishes, or soybeans and buckwheat, or cereal grains.  Planting clover with other crops in the fall will not usually provide enough clover growth for fall forage, but can be used as a strategy for establishing clover for the following year.
Growing tips:  I typically I like to have my fall clover planted by mid-August to early September. If the rains come right, often I can have enough clover growth that deer will begin to use buy the time of hunting season with clover alone plantings.
Add some chicory: Also consider mixes with forage chicory for chicory is a good companion perennial crop with clover.

What type of clovers to plant? White/ladino clovers are more palatable and longer lived clovers than the red clovers or alfalfa.  Red clovers and alfalfa (high tonnage hay type forages) typically will only last 3-4 years before replanting is necessary and they require much more management as compared to white clovers to keep them palatable for the deer.  White clovers are known as grazing clovers for their stems run along the ground and only the tender leaves are upright and exposed for grazing.  In contrast, red clovers and alfalfa have stems that are upright and thus need frequent mowing to prevent them from becoming stemy and less palatable.  For these reasons, I always avoid clover seed mixtures for my deer food plots which have a lot of red clover or alfalfa in them. I just don’t have the time or energy to manage red clover and alfalfa to keep it attractive for the deer.

Cereal Grains (oats, winter wheat and rye)
Cereal grains oats, winter wheat, and rye can be planted individual plantings or in mixtures which is what I usually like to do at equal ratios.  Cereal grains are best planted after September here in Illinois.  I have found that planting earlier (i.e. in August as mixtures with my other August crop plantings) can result in too much top growth of the cereal grains going into hunting season and the bigger plants don’t seem to be as attractive to deer.  Young oat plants are very attractive to deer and often I notice that deer will selectively graze oats among wheat and rye plants. However, oats are not as cold tolerant as rye or wheat and oats and will typically freeze out by December or January in many parts of the state.  For this reason I always plant oats with rye and/or wheat.  Winter wheat can be hard to find at times during the fall planting season, so make your winter wheat seed purchases early.
Planting tips: cereal grains can be planted in tilled ground, no-tilled into fairly clean (not a lot of weeds) soils with great success. But my preferred method to plant cereal grains for food plots is to broadcast the seed into standing soybeans when the soybean leaves begin to turn yellow upon maturity.  This strategy allows me to get double use out of the same area of ground by providing both grain and greens.

Winter peas
My experience with winter peas is they have been like deer candy and thus do not last very long when planted in small plots.  My suggestion for winter peas is plant in larger blocks (1+ acre) or as mixtures with other crops in smaller plots.  Planting dates for winter peas match up well with cereal grains (oats, winter wheat and rye) so I will often included cereal grains with my winter peas plantings.  I have tried broadcasting winter peas with my cereal grains into standing soybeans but have had poor success with getting winter peas established by laying the peas on top of the soil surface.  My suggestion is to plant winter peas into tilled ground to ensure good seed to soil contact.

Picture of winter peas in alternating rows with cereals grain planted with a grain drill.

Annual ryegrass
First, annual ryegrass is not cereal rye.  Annual ryegrass establishes quite rapidly and I believe would grow on the dash of my truck if given the opportunity.  Obviously that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point I want to make is that annual ryegrass often will grow in situations where other crops wont.  This hardy annual grass is easy to establish and has a great fit for areas with poor soil or places where minimal soil preparation is the only option.  For this reason, if you look at the seed tag for products marketed as throw and grow or no plow type seed mixes, you will see that often annual ryegrass makes up a high percentage of these seed mixes . Annual ryegrass is not even close to the top of my list of food plot plantings but I do see utility in remote food plots areas, or areas with tough soil where other crops won’t grow, or in areas where minimal effort with planting is my only option.
The picture below is an area that I have been doing hack and squirt to kill sassafras and maple trees and have planted with oaks this past spring.  I have a couple of fruit bearing persimmons in this area that I plan to place a stand near and I also plan to plant some “throw and grow” type seed mixture in a small area as well after I kill the weeds with glyphosate which I plan to make next week and then plant around the first couple weeks of September.  Planting ryegrass too early means that it will get too big and will be less attractive prior to hunting season






Very well written with easy to follow guide lines Kevin! I’ve tried it all-The ladino’s are awesome, just keep um mowed off- Nothing beats standing corn and beans, but very expensive and they get ate up quick if you have very many deer, especially when the snow hits. The wheat is the easiest/cheapest way to go-“Even at $8.50” It will germinate in my gravel driveway when I spill it filling the 4wheeler seeder!

Posted by walmsley on July 30

great article. So now ive got seed to order thanks a lot man

Posted by Buck-Man on August 01

Log In :: Register as a new member