Recognizing Success

I planted it, and the deer ate it to the ground!! They killed it!! So I’ll never plant that again!

A land/game manager managing almost 10,000 acres of prime deer country once said that to me. I kind of laughed it off because I didn’t know what to say. I think it took me a few weeks to really process it and then one day, like a power bill, it came to me. This guy had found something that his deer loved. Something that they chose over everything else he had planted. I’m not gonna say he hit the lottery, but in deer management getting the stupid deer to eat the dang food can often present a very unfortunate challenge.

On a property in South Georgia I once planted tillage radishes as the winter/fall plots. I don’t remember the variety, but they were the big long white kind that drill way down in the soil and recover nutrients and help to break a hard pan layer which was the primary reason I planted them. This property was plagued with a 4” thick solid clay hardpan layer that was anywhere from 2-10” deep in good sandy loam soil. When my farmer brown food plot plants grew in this the roots went down to the clay layer and turned sideways. This led to shallow root systems that were very susceptible to drought conditions. Even after only a week of no rain the shallow root systems had the plants looking wilted and weak.

I was certain that if I could get a good stand of radishes the deer would eat it. Never really crossed my mind that they wouldn’t so I planted them, fertilized them. I had the most beautiful stand of radishes you’ve ever seen in your life. They were as big around as my arm and they were absolutely doing the job of breaking up the hard pan. But the problem was the deer did not touch them. All fall I watched deer walk through them, walk by them, bed down in them, run through them, and chase does through them but never once did I see a deer take a bite of them. Even upon closer examination I could not find one browse mark from a deer. On the other hand the rabbits loved them.

So on that property, that year, all of my fall/winter food plots in radish were not being utilized by the deer. I might as well have just had bare dirt out there in terms of deer attraction.

Now before anybody roasts me I am fairly certain that if I continued to plant radishes every year, eventually the deer would catch on and realize they could eat them. I get it. Eventually they’ll eat anything but who’s got the time and money for that? I personally want every inch of my effort to do the maximum for the habitat the wildlife, and especially the deer

So back to the original deer manager’s story. So this guy had found a plant that his deer loved more than anything else he had ever planted…. and he decided never to plant it again because they liked to eat it so much they ate it all and killed it.

It sounds silly when stated that way, but I would bet you have either experienced or heard the same line. ‘They liked the xyz so much they killed them all, I won’t be planting those again! Stupid deer!’.

Perhaps a better approach for him would have been to examine his plantings from a different perspective. One easy solution is simply to plant more of it. If the deer love it you’re eventually going to plant so much of it they can’t possibly eat it all, or at least they eat more of it and you supplied more food to them so that’s one option.

Option number two which has me guessing the deer hit the plants when they were young and killed the crop. I often hear/see this scenario with beans on Farmer Brown plots. The pea sprouts in bare dirt, deer eat it to the ground the first night, pea dies and you end up with a complete plot failure. If this were the case, maybe the land manager should have tried to protect the planting until it aged a little and could better withstand heavy browsing?

The bottom line is that he cracked the nut and then threw the delicious meat away just because it had a little shell in it. Instead of really digging in and figuring out a way to make it work he abandoned it completely.

Aside note on the radishes they did work to help break up the hard pan layer although we did rip the fields later on to fix the problem for good, the radishes definitely helped. Between them and the ripping the soil on this property is now fertile, thriving and highly drought resistant.

On other properties the deer ate the radishes just fine. Please do not take my experience above as a ‘do not plant radishes’ alert. I do not want to receive hate mail and death threats from the radish mafia! I like radishes, I really do!! I still plant them on various properties today. The main take away is that deer on different properties eat different things. They prefer different foods but there are some foods that seem to be more preferred by more deer and there are even a few plants that all deer eat everywhere