Wildlife managers may alter fall forage plans

Deer managers in southern Oklahoma and North Texas are contending with extremely dry conditions as fall — and deer season — approach. Noble Foundation wildlife specialist Russell Stevens says the extreme heat and lack of rain could affect this fall’s mast (fruits and nuts) crop and establishment of cool-season forages. He has been fielding calls from managers interested in planting food plots this fall, believing they will serve as great attractants due to the drought.

“But, around half of these folks have not thought about what would happen if it did not rain,” Stevens says. “The way things are looking, moisture sure may limit food plot establishment this fall.”

Food plots are traditionally put in around the first of September, and consist of combinations of cool-season plants such as wheat, oat, rye, turnip, clovers and Austrian winter pea. Their size ranges from one-quarter acre up, though Stevens says they are not usually larger than five acres.

“Some plant more than one on their property, but most do not give any thought to how many they need unless it is because they want one in their favorite area[s] to hunt,” Stevens says. “The number or acreage depends largely on the manager’s goal. If the manager wants to influence deer antler growth or body weight, most biologists recommend planting at least three percent of the area in food plots.”

Stevens advises managers to remember that what deer eat in the fall largely depends on what is available. A reasonable estimate is that about 40 percent of a deer’s diet in the fall and winter is comprised of browse — twigs, leaves and the fruit of woody plants. They also will eat cool-season forbs and grasses; the relative amount hinges on what is there.

Since food plots require a lot of water to grow, Stevens says, if managers want to supplement deer this fall, feeders may be a more reliable delivery method.

“Many people like food plots because they are more natural than feeders. However, Mother Nature must cooperate in order to manage food plots successfully,” he says. “The manager can always refill feeders.”

When it comes to how the drought might affect landowners’ or managers’ potential income from hunting leases, Stevens doesn’t see great reason for concern.

“However, those who are targeting out-of state-hunters may have trouble if the out-of-state hunters are aware of the drought and have concerns about antler quality,” he says. “Also, those who obtain fees based on antler growth may see reduced income if the drought has affected antler growth.”

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