May is a good time for planting spring wildlife food plots for white-tailed deer. There are also spin-off residual benefits for other game like wild turkey, quail, dove and even small game like rabbits.

But, you may ask why? Why now? And what? Let's investigate.

Mississippi's wildlife habitat status

For most parts of the state, depending on the exact habitat types or more importantly the soil type and water availability, the majority of Mississippi's wildlife populations have sufficient natural food resources to sustain themselves.

Though our state deer population may still be cautiously close to overextending habitats in some regions, there seems to have been fewer reports the past few years about starving deer or deer resorting to eating unpalatable foods like cotton or trash grasses.

For the most part, deer weights seem to be holding their own, as reported annually by DMAP data compiled and presented in the Deer Program Report that can be viewed in large part on line at http://www.mdwfp.com/.

Again, this would seem to indicate that our deer are getting enough to eat to at least maintain themselves despite an increasing number of mouths to feed.

However, as deer hunters, whitetail managers and land managers, are terms like "sustain" and "maintain" enough to produce the kinds of deer we really desire? We're not talking just antlers either, but overall deer herd health and vigor.

Producing such deer, including bigger bucks, means going beyond what Mother Nature is supplying via resident habitats.

This is where planting spring wildlife food plots come into play.

Seasonal white-tailed deer nutritional needs

"Poor nutrition can derail an otherwise well-planned QDM program, so deer managers strive to provide high-quality food," according to whitetail deer researcher David Hewitt of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M (Kingsville).

These high-quality foods provide essential carbohydrates and fats that deer require to maximize their growth development potential. High-quality foods contribute increased levels of energy that deer need.

"Forbs, succulent browse and mast generally have high amounts of digestible energy because they have low fiber concentration, so management for these forages will increase energy intake," Hewitt. notes

Supplemental crops like corn can help provide the additional carbs, while fats most often come from mast like acorns. Hunters and deer-managing landowners can supply both by planting spring food plots and enhancing existing mast by fertilization of oak stands, as well as planting new trees for long-term resources.

One final thought about essential food energy elements for deer from Hewitt: "Protein requirements increase during the late spring and summer, when deer are most productive. Ensuring deer have access to forages with 16 to 20 percent protein during summer will enable deer to meet their (nutritional) requirements."

Receptive spring plots

In practical terms, spring is an ideal time to replant existing winter plots.

For one thing, the fall food plots have mostly died off, but hopefully the plots have not yet been overtaken with volunteer weed growth. This ought to make soil preparation work for a new spring plot much easier.

At least one or two times over the ground with a deep cutting disk, a week or two of natural burn-down, and the plot can be readied to plant again.

If economic factors are an issue, just remember that neither the entire plot nor all of your food plots have to be completely replanted for the spring. Obviously the more the better, but sometimes funding can enter into the final plan.

Spring planting options

There are a number of options if proteins are the targeted food source to help carry deer through the tough summer months and into the fall.

Perhaps the easiest is to simply broadcast soybeans across the tilled plots. Planters can add to that iron clay cowpeas, buckwheat, sunflowers and sorghums. Grasses such as rye -not ryegrass - and oats make good choices, too.

Some hunters like to add annual greens, perennial clovers and sometimes chicory.

All of these choices can be gauged by budgeting constraints.

Beans, peas, buckwheat, sunflower and sorghums can be planted at the rate of 50 pounds per acre at a soil depth of ½-inch to an inch and lightly covered.

Grasses and greens should be planted according to seed source recommendations.

Fertilizing always gives a boost to any new plantings, and wildlife food plots should be limed on a regular basis. Periodic soil tests will tell you what your food plots need.

Finally, nothing compels deer hunters or hunting land managers to plant spring plots. Some view it as an unnecessary extra expense.

But those hunters who have moved up to the next level in terms of deer management easily recognize that planting spring wildlife food plots are just another piece of the QDM deer management puzzle.

The results hang on the wall.