This is an important question with more than one answer; you could waste a lot of time and money planting at the wrong time, and depending on what you are trying to achieve, and where you are geographically, the answer could vary greatly. A few of the things we will look at:
- What is the effect you hope to have on your herd?
- Are you trying to lower your winter kill rates?
- Are you trying to increase the size and antler mass of your resident bucks?
- Is this a plot you are preparing to hunt over during deer season?
- What geographical location are you planting in?
By answering these questions, I will help you to decide when the best time to plant soybeans for your deer is.
Why are you planting soybeans for deer?
It seems like a pretty simple question and answer, but is it really? Many people plant soybeans with the intent of creating body and antler mass in their resident bucks. Of course any time you can feed your deer quality nutrition, you are going to see corresponding growth in both areas.
But what if your region experiences extremely harsh winters? Might it not be beneficial to provide a crop that can help your deer herd through winter, reducing the winter mortality rates?
If your intention is to create a few monster bucks for hunting season, then by all means, get those beans in the ground as early as possible. You will want the high protein and mineral forage available to your herd during the crucial time they are in velvet.
If this is the case, you will want to plant after your last spring frost and when the soil temps, at one inch planting depth, are consistently 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually means late May or early June in the northern states, and late April or early May in the southern.
Keep in mind, you will either need a large enough plot to bear the feeding pressure of your resident herd, or you will need to deter them from feeding in some manner until the plants are mature. It is a good idea to deter feeding for 4-8 weeks in areas with heavy deer pressure, during cooler than normal temperatures, or if your plot is a small one.
When should I plant if I am trying to reduce winter kill in my deer herd?
In some areas with extremely harsh winters, where the mortality rate is high among your deer herds, then planting later, and providing forage as late into the winter months as possible, might be the answer for you.
Soybeans have a tendency to mature faster when planted later in the growing season. For every three days you delay planting, you only delay “harvest” by one day. Keep in mind that a good frost will kill them, so ideally you need those plants to be mature before that happens.
In the northern states, the first frost can come as early as mid September, so you will have to plan accordingly for your shorter growing seasons. There are good seed companies out there.
that have seed mixes specifically for your geographic area. They mix several varieties of soybean that have staggered maturation rates, keeping your plots viable for a longer period of time
Are you planning on hunting your food plot?
If you are planning on being able to hunt over your food plot, come hunting season, then of course you will need to have your bean crop mature enough to draw the big bucks with the promise of good, high fat and protein forage.
Deer use the fat in soybeans to help maintain their body temperature, so when the nights are getting cold during hunting season, they will likely be drawn to your food plot. Of course, in order to do this, your plot must be producing a good quantity of seed pods, as this is where the majority of these nutrients are held.
With this goal in mind, I would plant as late as possible while still allowing your soybeans to mature and produce as much as possible. This has the further benefit of providing nutrition to your herd well after hunting season closes, when they need it the most, allowing you to retain more and healthier deer for the next season.
As you can see, the question of when to plant soy beans for deer is a complicated one.
There are so many variables to take into account, that there really isn’t one standard answer. We talked about the impact that you are hoping for on your deer herds, whether you are trying to create mass in your bucks, we talked about winter mortality, how the plots will be utilized, we even touched on geographical requirements and planting seasons.