Deer hunters who only plant fall wildlife food plots are missing half the point.

If you create food plots for white-tailed deer, they usually can be designated as one of two types. Some food plots are simply killing fields using attractant-type plants to get deer to come eat, thereby creating easy shooting situations. These are easily justifiable as an easier means to control doe populations or to initiate youngsters to hunting.

The other type of food plot is planted solely for the purpose of providing high-quality, high-protein supplemental food resources for the localized deer herd. Often these plots are planted as "no-hunt" sanctuaries because if done right, the deer will usually pour into these areas for the high-quality food.

Role of spring plots

In many areas of the state, the soils are so poor that the native browse is limited or of low quality. Hence, the often-discussed issue of certain areas producing few deer and, indeed, many fewer big-racked bucks. Antler racks are definitely tied to the soil qualities of a region and also what is growing out of it.

Wildlife food plots planted in the spring will serve the deer through the long summer periods when other food sources may dwindle. The idea is to have supplemental carry-over foods available to wildlife that will hold them over until fall plots are planted. If good native browse is available as well, then that just makes the whole situation better.

"Warm-season supplemental plantings are rated more important than cool-season plantings by some biologists, but rarely are they given even equal consideration," says Larry Castle, Wildlife director for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. "Quality forage in the summer months is important because of the typical decline in native forage quality and the additional nutritive demands experienced by lactating does."

Naturally, the does need high-quality food to produce adequate supplies of milk for their fawns. This is the prime growth period for next year's crop of deer.

What to plant?

"Many land managers and deer hunters I talk to concentrate too much on the extra expense of putting in spring plots, but it does not have to be that elaborate a deal. In fact, we just run a quick disking or harrow around the edges of fall plots, along certain roadways or open areas. We don't try to replant everything we had fully planted in the fall," said Chuck Garretson, manager of Chickasawhay Whitetails north of Lucedale in Greene County.

If financial considerations or time limitations are a factor in whether to plant spring plots, then consider alternatives to a complete replant. The whole point is to add some high-quality forage to supplement what Mother Nature provides, or doesn't provide. There are many selections of seed types that can get the job done.

"We highly recommend four seed planting types to maximize the nutritional base supplied by warm-season plantings for white-tailed deer," said Randy Spencer, wildlife biologist for the MDWFP. "These include the legumes of cowpeas, soybeans, Alyce clover and jointvetch. These choices all yield high-quality protein from 13 percent for deer vetch up to a high of 28 percent for the green leaves of the iron clay peas."

Spencer also recommends trying a mixture of seeds, too. His favorite mix that has proven successful in most Mississippi soils is a combination of iron clay peas at the rate of 40-60 pounds broadcast per acre along with 10-15 broadcast pounds per acre of American jointvetch.

"The seeds in this mixture should be inoculated and planted at the same time, but separately, around May 1," Spencer said. "The cowpeas should be planted first and covered about 1-inch deep, followed by the deer vetch covered about a half-inch.

"Lightly harrow the peas first, then broadcast the vetch and follow it with another harrowing. This double harrow action will result in a greater planting depth for the cowpeas."

Another classic spring planting mixture is the clover along with jointvetch. These should be planted at a rate of 10 pounds broadcast per acre each. Again, inoculate the seeds, but plant this mix at the same time with a half-inch cover.

It may seem like the usual natural spring green up is under normal conditions supplying deer with everything they need as a summer carry over, but the quality there can be suspect. Just by adding a little extra high-protein plantings, the does can be helped in milk production to bring up their young fawns, and the bucks just starting to grow antlers for the year can also benefit.