3 Simple Food Plot Options for Fall Deer Attraction

July 19, 2023 By: Ben Westfall

Believe it or not, fall food plot planting season is right around the corner in much of the country, so now is the perfect time to consider what’s next on the menu. Here are three simple, easy options and blends you can plant this fall to address hunting attraction and cool-season deer nutrition.

Remember my article published a couple months back about some easy summer food plot mixtures for deer? Hopefully that guide helped you establish healthy plots this summer and have been providing the deer with lush green food and high protein forages. And hopefully the antler growth and fawn production reflects that! Following with that theme, it’s time to extend the work into hunting season.

As I mentioned in part one of this article, I am fortunate in that my position with NDA grants me plenty of time to hang out with Dr. Craig Harper of the University of Tennessee at our Deer Steward courses. Having led many ground-breaking scientific studies of deer habitat management and food plots, Craig is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to these topics. Food plots are one of the many topics we cover in Deer Steward, so here’s a glimpse of some of the best cool-season options we discuss.

Annual Clover and Cereal Grain Attraction Blend

Annual Cool-Season CropPlanting Rate
Crimson Clover15 lbs./acre
Arrowleaf Clover10 lbs./acre
Wheat (preferably awnless)40 lbs./acre

True of any deer habitat management effort, establishing realistic goals and expectations is key, ultimately paving the way to a successful deer season. If your goal is to attract deer to a hunting plot for harvest opportunities, then this annual forage mixture of 15 lbs. crimson clover, 10 lbs. arrowleaf clover and 40 lbs. of wheat per acre is the one for you. This mixture should be planted between mid-August (North) and mid-October (South) in most parts of the country, but be cautious of winterkill in northern latitudes.

According to Craig Harper, this is the best annual forage mixture around when it comes to attracting deer. These three species complement each other nicely, with the wheat and crimson clover germinating rather quickly, offering about 25% crude protein through the fall and winter months. Then, when the crimson clover starts to die off in early spring, the arrowleaf clover begins to flourish, extending nutrition over a longer window of time. The two photos below illustrate this process.

fall food plot
After providing fall attraction and winter nutrition, this annual blend surges again in spring. In this early May photo, the crimson clover is blooming and the wheat is forming seed heads. By late May (below) the crimson flowers are dead and the arrowleaf clover is now overtaking the crimson.

Craig recommends wheat in this and other blends because his experiments show wheat is high preference, cold-hardy, easy to plant, and relatively tolerant of drought and a wide range of soil conditions. He calls it “the closest thing to a fail-safe, high-quality planting there is.” However, if you prefer to substitute oats or rye, you can. Of the three, rye is the most cold tolerant and also handles tough soil conditions the best. Oats are the least cold tolerant. Other than that, the differences in deer preference are not significant.

A couple of additional tips. 1) If you plant an “awnless” variety of wheat, deer will eat the seed heads produced in spring, providing even more nutritional impact. 2) Arrowleaf and crimson are reseeding annuals. If you allow the clover to flower and produce seed heads, the plot will reseed itself with clover for years to come given good conditions, offering a relatively simple and low-maintenance food plot. Simply top-sow or drill wheat back into the plot the following year and you should be good to go! This one is a no-brainer if you’re looking to give the deer a boost in the upcoming months.

Perennial Clover, Chicory and Cereal Grain Blend

Perennial Cool-Season CropPlanting Rate
Ladino Clover3 lbs./acre
Red Clover3 lbs./acre
Chicory3 lbs./acre
Wheat 40 lbs./acre

If perennial plots are more your speed, consider this mixture of ladino clover, red clover, and chicory at 3 lbs./acre each, mixed with about 40 lbs./acre wheat. This plot will keep the deer coming back year after year. Wheat plays a critical role in minimizing weed pressure early on and provides forage for deer during a time in which the clovers and chicory are working hard to germinate and grow. A versatile mixture, this can be planted between mid-August through mid-October, or early spring for the chicory and clovers.

If you do run into weed issues, imazethapyr is your go-to for selective control of forb and grass weeds. If grasses are the problem, you may want to consider a grass-selective herbicide such as Clethodim. If you take good care of this plot, you will have hearty cool-season forage for many years, resulting in increased opportunities to see and harvest deer in the fall.

A perennial blend of white and red clover, chicory, and a cereal grain (oats in this case). Though Craig Harper suggests wheat in this blend, it can be replaced with oats or rye if you prefer.

Convert Soybeans Into a Fall Food Plot in 1 Step

While on a Deer Steward trip with Dr. Harper just last week, we were looking at a soybean food plot that was only about a foot tall throughout, if that. Unfortunately, the area we were in is experiencing an extreme drought. Coupled with heavy forage pressure from deer, the soybeans were struggling. An aspiring Deer Steward graduate asked what could be done to breathe life back to this plot for the fall. 

Craig recommended no-till top-sowing or broadcasting crimson clover in early September at a slightly higher than usual rate of 20 lbs. per acre directly over the beans. What’s left of the beans will keep the deer from grazing on the young clover while it grows. By the time the beans mature and die, the crimson clover will “explode” through the beans, providing a smorgasbord that the deer won’t be able to refuse. 

The following spring just plant your preferred warm-season crop such as soybeans or cowpeas directly back into the clover. This is as simple as it gets and is a surefire way to increase your hunting success.

Fall Food Plot Success

Cool-season forages are extremely important in helping deer keep up with their reproductive demands during the rut and keeping them healthy and thriving throughout the stresses of winter. There are dozens of mixtures you can use in your fall food plots, but selecting ones that work best for your abilities and objectives will ensure you have lush green plots to sustain the deer in the winter months. If you want to learn even more about setting goals, selecting the right mixtures, and establishing and maintaining food plots, I encourage you to read NDA’s book Quality Food Plots and check out our Habitat Management online module. Happy planting and good luck this fall!

About Ben Westfall:

Ben Westfall is NDA's Conservation Coordinator. Ben received both his bachelor of science and master of science degrees from Southeast Missouri State University with an emphasis on wildlife conservation.