With the onslaught of food plots being planted this time of year in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, it’s easy to overlook one very important part of your overall all land management arsenal. We are inundated with a variety of annuals and perennials to entice deer, ducks, turkeys and other wildlife onto our property. We plant these crops to both hold and to grow better quality animals in our herds and flocks. One very important part of this plan is soft mast.
Soft mast in the Carolinas and Georgia come in a variety of forms. One of the most popular is persimmons. Persimmons are a favorite of deer particularly. For early season its hard to beat. Most persimmons are ripe and falling from around the middle to the end of September. Depending on your specific location, these can give you several weeks of great hunting. Deer will travel long distances to feast on fresh persimmon. Planting persimmon trees along the edges of your food plots will only help the plot. Plus, a good persimmon tree will only get better with age and will produce fruit for decades under the right conditions.
Another great soft mast crop is pears. There are literally hundreds of varieties of pears to choose from. None seem to be better than others as far as attracting deer. However some are better for certain areas of the country. Check with your local extension office for a more detailed list of which varieties fair better where you are.
In the mountains of North Carolina, the conditions are great for some apple varieties also. These apples can make great soft mast and will attract wildlife when they are falling. The key is to find soft mast that will ripen at or near the opening of your deer season. For the states and areas where the season opens in late October or even November, look for varieties that will produce fruit late into the season for the best results.
Other soft masts to consider are muscadines, grapes, and honey suckle. Where these are found in the wild, setting stands near these will produce excellent results. One of my favorite early season stands is near an old white oak tree that is covered with muscadines vines. When the fruit is falling, the deer flock to these areas in large numbers. Seeming to try and be the first ones present to gobble up the fruit that has hit the ground before others get there.
When planting soft mast in existing food plots, a good method is to plant five trees per acre. For example, if planting persimmon trees in an open food plot, place the trees in strategic locations that allow deer to access them easily, without exposing themselves too much, while also allowing for excellent stand placements to ambush the deer as they either approach the mast trees or while feeding in them. Planting trees twenty yards from the edge forces the deer to come out into the field while letting them feel relatively safe in doing so. An alternate method used when planting pears or apples is to make mini groves of these trees in an existing plot. In smaller openings, plant five to ten trees ten feet apart in at least three rows. So your mini grove might have between fifteen to thirty trees. These pear and or apple trees will provide years of production with minimum care. Annual fertilizer and good water is all that’s needed along with some pruning to enhance fruit development.
There are literally hundreds of options for soft mast crops to add to your food plot arsenal. Choosing wisely will help you and your herd to be healthier, and happier. At the end of the day, as hunters and land managers, it boils down to harvesting animals. Providing excellent soft mast will greatly increase your chances of punching your tag in a nice mature buck.
Whether you are deer hunting in North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia, planting soft mast will only help your herd to be healthier, and grow bigger antlers. Allowing them to eat well will make happy deer and that’s all we want.