Planting Winter Rye for Optimal Deer Grazing

Deer hunting enthusiasts and food plot enthusiasts alike have faced the disappointment of watching their meticulously cultivated brassica, soybean, or pea food plots devoured by mid-September. It’s disheartening, to say the least. However, there is a potential solution that you might not have considered before—planting Winter Rye.

A September Surprise

As the bowseason opener approaches, the grazing pressure on your food plots can become overwhelming. That’s where Winter Rye comes into play. Picture this scenario: you notice your brassica crop being foraged on relentlessly, leaving little chance for it to withstand the pressure until the hunting season begins on October 1st. Desperate to salvage your food plot, you decide to try something new. You broadcast 200 pounds of Winter Rye over the area and wait for two weeks. The result is astonishing—problem solved! Not only did the deer shift their attention to the succulent shoots of young rye, but the brassicas also experienced new growth. It turns out whitetails simply adore young cereal grains, and rye is certainly no exception. The plot quickly became a favorite for the local deer herd and marked the beginning of a layered food plot. The ease of broadcasting rye on exposed soil, with its incredibly high germination rates, became a staple in my food plotting efforts and a go-to solution for correcting poorly growing food plots—for myself, my clients, and now, perhaps for you as well!

Enhancing Volume and Quality with Rye

Increasing volume doesn’t necessarily mean planting more seeds. While it might sound logical, it’s not the most effective approach. Why? Because whichever forage or combination of forage you plant will ultimately grow to a similar height, mature at the same time, and compete for the limited space available. It’s time to rethink your strategy and consider layering your plantings! By planting early and incorporating quick-growing, high-attractant options like oats or peas, you can ensure immediate forage while setting the stage for reinforcements.

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Let’s break it down. Picture your first forage reaching a height of 8 inches, while the second layer of Winter Rye stands at 2 inches. As the first layer reaches its peak at 10-12 inches and starts to become heavily foraged, the second layer is around 6 inches, and the third layer of rye is just 2 inches tall and still young. Deer typically feed from the top down, so as the first planting diminishes, the lower layers rise to meet the deer’s browsing level. This layered approach maximizes the available food and prolongs its attractiveness to deer.

Check out the Layered Food Plot Rye Pictorial to see what a layered planting looks like.

Initially, I adopted this method for my own food plots, and soon, I began recommending it to my clients. It’s an effective way to enhance volume and overall length of attraction in staggered plantings of rye, especially on poor soils. The strategy involves planting small amounts of rye (50-75 pounds per acre) 2-3 weeks earlier than the typical planting date for your area, followed by a second planting at the normal time, and then a final planting 2-3 weeks after the “typical” date. This three-step approach—three plantings, three stages of growth, and three levels of palatability, volume, and attraction—has proven to be highly successful. I’ve expanded this approach to include layers of oats and peas, oats and radishes, and various seed combinations, creating the layering effect whether the food plot sits on fertile soil or poor soil. Ultimately, there is perhaps no other forage as effective and predictable as Winter Rye.

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Winter Rye offers a solution to the frustrating problem of early devouring of food plots by deer. By incorporating Winter Rye into your food plotting efforts, you can salvage poorly growing plots and enhance volume and attractiveness for deer. So, why not give it a try? Start experimenting with layered plantings and witness the positive impact it can have on your hunting adventures!