Whitetail Weekly, Year Round Food Sources

While it would have been nice to go up to the property again last weekend, there was something even more pressing to tend to here on the home front….

While it would have been nice to go up to the property again last weekend, there was something even more pressing to tend to here on the home front. My little guy turned one on Thursday so I spent this weekend hanging out with him and having a birthday party. I love getting up to the property but this was one weekend where staying home was the easy choice.
Even if this wasn’t birthday weekend, old Mother Nature was crabby once again and hit us with cool weather, high winds and even some snow the last few days. This time of year that isn’t the weather forecast I look for when trying to pick out good days/weekends to go north. In October and November I love it but this time of the year I’ll wait till it’s at least a little bit nicer.
Before I get into this week’s topic, I want to throw a little disclaimer out there. I am by no means a certified habitat expert and I don’t try to come off as one. I am new to the habitat game and have learned a lot over the last few years but still have a whole world of knowledge to gain before I try to be an expert of any sort. I am just an average guy that loves hunting and is learning how to maximize our property as best we can to enhance our hunting experience. If you read through this entry and have a comment, correction or even a question please feel free to comment and let me know.
That being said, this week I am going to talk about providing year round food sources. In the last few weeks I have seen some things on and around our property that definitely showed us we are lacking a good year round food source on our property.
Our area has relatively low deer density compared to some areas of Michigan but this winter the 40ac canola field to the south of us as well as our 20ac alfalfa field and the 40ac alfalfa field to the south of it were consistently tore up with tracks. Our land owner said that he saw 50+ deer in the fields on multiple occasions and our neighbor also saw the same several times on his way to work in the morning.
The heavy concentration of the deer in one or two fields tells me that there aren’t many good winter feeding grounds in the area and the deer are congregating in the area’s that do hold good food.
In addition to that pressure we were seeing in the canola and alfalfa fields, our small clover plot was browsed down to dirt as well.


Another bad sign in terms of the food available is the fact that on our spring walk through nearly all the limbs on several of the cedars that fell this winter were picked clean by the deer. While it’s normal for deer to browse on cedars, I wasn’t happy to see the deer devouring them like that. Ideally the cedars would be a second or even third level food choice.
In the last few years we have done a few things to try and address our lack of available winter food and get the deer to remain in our area through the winter. A few years back we put in the small plots that I mentioned above and we add turnips to the clover/alfalfa later in the year to provide a food source that will be available later on in the season and into winter. Also, with the addition of the fence last spring we were able to re-establish a former bedding area that, along with our sanctuary and other small bedding areas, we hoped would provide good cover and bedding for the deer throughout the year.
This past winter I did see plenty of tracks during late bow and saw a handful of deer while out hunting as well. The deer were tearing into our turnips and while I was up snowmobiling in February there were tracks going into our new bedding area. We were very happy to see our work paying off but we knew we still had a ways to go.
As I mentioned in last week’s entry (found here: http://www.michigan-sportsman.com/forum/blog.php?b=447), we took a big step ahead last week when we found out that a two acre opening we call The Plateau will be planted to canola this spring. Our land owner farms the canola field south of us that was getting hammered by the deer this winter. He is hoping that by planting The Plateau the grazing pressure on his 40ac canola filed to the south of us will be reduced a bit.
The plan as of now is that our land owner will till the land within the next few weeks and plant it to canola. Then, come August timeframe, he will harvest the standing canola and replant the field with winter canola. The winter canola will stay in until spring when it will be harvested and the cycle will be repeated.
When he discussed the plan with us I was very excited for several reasons. His plan to run the regular canola and the winter canola in this field will provide us with a good, lush green field all spring and into summer for the deer to browse.
This picture of the 40ac canola field to our south was taken in early June last year; roughly a month or so after the field was planted.


Then when the season rolls around in October the winter canola, which will be planted late August, will be fresh and lush like the picture above and will remain in the field all through the hunting season as well as through the winter.
Having observed how the deer consistently hit the harvested canola eating any left-over bits they could find during the past fall/winter I am pretty excited to see how heavily they will use the field full of winter canola.
My hope is that having this added food source will benefit us, and the deer, in a few ways:

– The main benefit for us as hunters is that the new plot will provide a food source that will better hold deer on/around our property through the summer, fall and even late season. When the temperatures drop and the snow falls, food is king and having a good food source is a key component to late season success. This will hopefully offer that for us.

– The main benefit to the deer is that there is now a bit more food available to help them through the winter. Two acres of food isn’t all that much when you are talking about sustaining a local herd all winter long, and I certainly don’t think our two acres would be able to do that on its own. Thankfully the neighboring canola and alfalfa fields are also available to help provide for the herd.

– An added benefit for us in terms of our habitat is that hopefully having the two additional acres of food available will take some of the grazing pressure off of our small plots and keep them from being mowed down like the picture above shows from this spring.
When thinking of habitat improvement I try to think of things from both sides of the coin. I certainly do the habitat stuff that I do with the intent of improving my hunting and that is the main focus of our work on our property. At the same time I realize that part of improving our hunting is doing things that will improve the overall health of our herd by making more food available, thus allowing our land to hold more deer and hopefully draw better bucks.
Increasing or enhancing your winter food sources isn’t necessarily something that is going to directly lead to better hunting. Having deer on your property and in your plots in February doesn’t do you much good in terms of hunting because the season is closed. Because of that I think many people focus on food sources for the hunting season when plotting and year round plots tend to get pushed to the bottom of the plotting strategy.
If you are currently setting up your plots I think you would be well served to keep year round food sources in mind and do what you can to provide nutrition for your deer through the whole calendar year, not just October through December.

I think you’ll find that the long term benefits will be well worth the effort and your hunting success, as well as the health of your local herd, will improve from your efforts.

Take care, and thanks for reading!!!!