After two years of dry conditions East Texas deer hunters are going to find themselves back in the farming business in the coming weeks.
Tractors are already running as hunters prepare to plant fall food plots, a combination of deer attractors and source of nutrition during the hardest parts of winter.
This year’s fall plantings come on the heels of summer plots that have been as productive as ever.
“It has been a wonderful year for summer plantings,” said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, wildlife specialist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton. “We have had a typical summer like we can’t remember. We would get a couple of inches of rain, and then someone else got some and then we got some more. It has been wonderful for food plots planted last spring, and we we have narrowed the summer stress period.”
While the summer plots may be the most important because they provide the protein source needed for antler quality and fawn survival, hunters are often more focused on the cool weather plots because that is the time they are in the woods to see the benefits.
While hunters to the west and south, as well as some in East Texas, are filling feeders with 50 cent a pound corn, East Texas hunters could be planting crops that produce forage for 2 to 3 cents a pounds, and can produce thousands of pounds of forage per acre into March.
“It will be a good year for growing food plots,” said Richie Moss of Tyler’s East Texas Seed, a company that has been producing food plot seed blends for East Texas hunters for about 20 years.
What started as a niche product for the company has become a key line with about 4,500 bags sold annually in recent years.
“We only do the mix for East Texas. There is nothing in there for the north or south or anywhere else,” Moss explained.
The company’s three fall plot mixtures were developed in conjunction with research at Stephen F. Austin State University and the Overton AgriLife research facility. Typically the main ingredients include a cereal grain, peas and a clover.
One mixture, Rack King Bow Blend, is designed for planting as early as Sept. 1 and should provide forage by the time bow season arrives. Its primary ingredients include Iron and Clay peas, oats and Apache Arrowleaf clover.
“The first thing is that the peas jump out in five or six days. The oats will too if the conditions are right like this year. Then the clover comes later. (The clover) does three things. It is full of protein, it affixes nitrogen in the soil for better food plots and it will create seed that will sprout the next year,” Moss explained.
He said the key is to get the oats coming in quick enough to allow the peas to grow up to 12 inches. If the deer begin utilize the pea plants before that they could annihilate the plant. If the peas mature to 12 inches they will be productive up until the first freeze of winter.
The company’s Rack King brand contains the peas, oats, two types of clover, elbon rye and chicory, a crop still being researched, but showing promise with deer. It is designed for planting around Oct. 1.
“Everyone wants to plant on Labor Day, but that is the wrong time to plant because you have a chance of everything sprouting and everything dying,” Moss explained.
The concern is that September days can still be warm, windy and dry, a killing combination for young plants even in a region of the state that gets 40-plus inches of rainfall in a normal year.
Higginbotham said whenever the seed is planted the rule of thumb is that larger seeds should be planted about an inch into the soil while smaller seeds go just under the surface.
For those looking for a more economical option Moss said East Texas Seed offers a Best Buck mixture that sells for about half of the other two, and a Rack King oats for about $17 a bag.
Moss said the Best Buck mix is the only one the company offers that includes wheat, but it only has about half the amount of wheat found in other commercial mixes. The remainder of the mixture includes peas, elbon rye, clover and greens.
Even the best mixes can’t compete with native forbs, browse and acorns, but they tend to be more palatable to deer than corn.
“If we have a good acorn crop from October to November, a food plot can be a very lonely place to be,” Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham said hunters should plant about 1 to 1½ percent of their hunting areas in plots. Smaller plots are better for hunter while larger ones can be developed to provide the late season nutrition.
For more information on planting food plots in East Texas go online to: http://overton.tamu.edu/topics-new/wildlife-fisheries/wildlife-food-plots/#.U-TleeNdU1I .
For more information on East Texas Seed deer food plot mixtures, go onnline towww.easttexasseedcompany.com/deerplotseed.php .
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