Believe it or not, we have had super good results from oats.
We get sacks of it from the local feed mill, and we get "heavy oats", which is ridiculously cheap because it's intended to be used as feed, but it will grow. The germination rate is lower than seed oats, but the cost is so low that we just buy a bunch and seed heavier.
I've seen deer literally eating it like spaghetti with plants hanging out either side of their mouth as they chew.
If you can scratch up/till/disk the dirt, it really helps with seeding. They won't do well if they have to compete with weeds from the start, but if you get the soil cleared/dug up a bit and then seed the snot out of it (ideally, watch the weather and do this with rain in the near future in the forecast), they'll jump right up, grow in thick, and keep the plot fairly weed free.
August will work for planting....July might be better if weather conditions are favorable.
They will grow as the deer eat them. We have two plots of about 1/2 acre each and a lot of deer around and they won't mow them flat on our plots.
The only downside to oats is that they might tolerate one frost, but the second one will definitely bring the party to an end. We mixed wheat in this year to see how that does....some will mix in brassicas (turnips, beets, etc). Others mix oats and clover.
We've tried it, neither worked well for us. I'm curious how the wheat will do, and if the deer will want it in later seasons. I've seen them out eating just plain grass then, so I'm assuming so, but that's not a sure thing. We've planted barley, and deer will eat it up like crazy for about 3 weeks after it comes up. Then they won't touch it. I have no clue why, but we gave up on barley for that reason.
For what you're after, oats or an oats/wheat mix would likely fit the bill.
We get our oat seed at Brown's in Fleetwood. I think it's less than $10/50lb bag. Might be like 5 bucks a bag...I forget..it's been a while. Just go in and ask for "heavy oats" and they'll know what you are asking for. A hand seed spreader (one of the hand-held or chestpack ones with a crank) is a great way to spread them, but we've done it by hand, too. It's not brain surgery, lol. Just seed the plot completely and very heavy.
If you can, do multiple plots. Seed clover as cover over the cold-weather stuff.......turnips or brassicas or the like are popular. I've seen deer in turnips way earlier than the experts claim (usually you'll read that the deer won't eat the tops and won't eat the beets or turnips till it gets real cold). I've seen deer munching on the greens on top of the beets/turnips on a neighbor's field like they were kids with candy....and that was with temps in the 50's and no serious cold before hand.
If you can't do mutiple plots, consider a "doughnut" approach....do a perimeter of oats, for example, so they'll be near the edges. Make that as broad as you can, then plant the center in clover/cold weather plants of your choice. Let the clover come up fast to cover/protect from weeds, which gives the other crop time to establish and grow, eventually taking over when the cold kills or makes dormant the clover. The cold weather stuff could go in the middle since you'll have a longer reach in the non-bow seasons.
For that crop, you might want to take soil samples to the ag center for testing. It'll tell you what the soil will need. A lot of soil in this area is real low in pH. The time to address that for August was about 4 months ago. Lime applications in the fall and spring will help, over time, but won't have sufficient impact by August at this point. If fertilizer is needed, that's doable, of course.
I've found oats to be very tolerant of soil conditions. We have super low pH and need a few things for "optimum" with regards to nitrogen/phosphorus/etc. We don't bother, and the oats grow well.
Another crop you could consider is triticale. I put in about 1/8-1/4 acre of that one year (like wheat). All year I thought it was a waste of money. It grew tall and they didn't touch it. Grew big seed heads, they didn't touch it. I vowed to never use it again.
Then we got about 6" of snow and my trail cam had deer all over it. It was wiped clean in two days. Not the stalks, but every seed head was gone.
Ha...I'd forgotten about that. I may put some in this year again and see if that same situation repeats!
One year I tried the concept of planting soybeans and corn side-by-side. The concept I'd read about was that the beans would help feed nitrogen to the corn and the corn would provide some cover to protect the beans. I'd seen pics of plots planted like this. The beans and corn combined formed a real jungle, and it's all food for deer. Seemed like a great plan.
But.... our plots aren't huge. Both are less than a full acre. The deer simply mowed down all the plants as they sprouted and we were left with weed plots till the season hit. Crops like beans and corn need more volume than we can provide or the deer will just annihilate them.
Based on my experience deer seem to like clover the best until around the end of October.
For a general and later fall plot I mix of oats, winter rye, and crimson clover. Some people use Austrian winter peas instead of the clover. But the crimson clover is easier for me to plant.
Brassicas are supposed to be good after the first couple of frosts but the deer around me don't like them. I usually mix a little dwarf Essex rape and radishes with the oats mix to see if the deer start eating them.
I like to split the plots in half, brassica, Austrian winter peas and clover together planted the last week of July, first week of August depending on weather, then oats ( I use Whitetail Institute Oats) they are more expensive but very winter hardy, they last into December in Potter Co. If your deer don't care for brassica don't use a lot in the mix but keep putting some in, sometimes it takes awhile for them to get a taste for them. Maybe add some forage soybeans to the early mix to take some pressure off the peas,
You can use rye and oats together in the plot...the oats jump out quickly for a great early season plot (most times our oats are toast by early to mid December), and the rye complements the oats through the early season and stays green through the winter and jumps out quickly as soon as temperatures warm up. Rye grows (albeit slowly) all the way down to 34 degrees F.
If you go with rye, be prepared to take care of it in the spring....as it will get 4-5' tall, so it is a lot to deal with if you don't have the proper equipment (some guys spray it with gly/round up before it starts to get out of hand). An acre of standing rye makes for great fawning cover if that is something your area lacks. The residual rye roots are great as a soil builder, doing a great job holding water in the ground for future plantings.
Alternatives to rye for green forage through the winter include barley and wheat. We have had good success with rye in the past, but more recently we have switched some of our plantings over to barley for the quick-maturing grain seed heads for the turkey hens and their poults in early to mid June. They definitely munch on the rye seed heads as well, but they are a lot taller and a little later maturing as compared to the barley.
We are lucky that deer in our area appreciate turnips, radishes, etc....they happily munch on the tops and bulbs. In another area we tried some sugar beets and turnips, and the deer did not seem to touch a one of them....crazy how they are received in different areas with varying winter food sources. As suggested earlier by One Horn, mix some into your plots in smaller amounts so you can gauge deer interest and expose the deer to them. They are typically rather cheap to plant as well.
Mixing in some clover with the rye/oats planting is not a bad idea as well....it adds high-protein forage for the deer and builds nitrogen in the soil which helps future plantings. Lots of options for you to consider. We are big fans of the rye/barley/oats/clover plantings in conjunction with some brassicas. We also maintain 1-2 acres of clover between a large plot and some logging roads....nearly year-round forage for the four-legged critters and a great source of bugs for turkeys.
tdd - absolutely, the rye can be mowed in the spring. Most of the farmers around here mow it off in the spring to chop it into forage, spray the field, then no-till corn or beans into the stubble. The 4wd tractors with bush hogs is the ticket for dealing with rye in the spring. You could just keep mowing it off periodically to keep it reasonable while it keeps the weeds at bay....then you could till it in as green manure for the fall planting, or spray it and then till. Be careful mowing it around fawning time - does might have their fawns stashed in the rye if you let it get a little high before mowing.
I put out the warning for the guys that are doing most of their stuff by hand and with regular lawn mowers and such....for sure, the full grown rye can be a tall task without the proper equipment.
Other available food sources is definitely a large variable in deer using any food plot....another big one I think is a food plot's proximity to cover. We have deer chewing clover, rye, and barley down to the dirt amongst good cover with dozens and dozens of acres of cut and sometimes standing (the farmer is not exactly the most timely in getting his crops harvested) bean and corn fields right below us. We are also on a southeast-facing slope, which adds to our winter deer usage.
I put an experimental plot of white clover and rye on a recently cleared powerline two years ago.It was right between some woods and a thick 5 acre patch of autumn olive.I put some time and money into it and it came out beautiful.My son was 10 at the time so I hid a ladder stand in a lone pine tree.My son climbed in it the day we put it up,climbed down and asked me if it was cheating.I told him it was legal but he'd have to decide if he felt like hunting it.After all that time and money,he refused to hunt it.Because it was a secluded spot,the deer hammered it at all hours of the day.With the right wind,it was a slam dunk.I had the neighbors hunt it and they killed deer just about everytime they hunted it.It hasn't been maintained since and the deer are still hammering it.That's the plot and a close-up of the clover and rye.
Our plots are nestled into honeysuckle thickets. Now, I've had people tell me "you don't need plots if you have honeysuckle."
Maybe not, but when there's good stuff in the plots, the deer are there, and they eat it. I think the vast amount of honeysuckle (Berks is mostly farm fields separated by honeysuckle thickets) makes the deer get overly used to it. Kinda like if you were given lobster to eat every day. Eventually, you'll get tired of it, lol.
So we put our plots in areas we can manage/cover with stands for all seasons.....and this has worked well. Oats until late-November usually. That's usually when we see enough hard frost to finally kill the oats.
I think rye is sounding better the more we talk. With the brush mowers, I could probably get one of the guys to deck it just about this time of year when fawns should be up and about. Maybe let it go into July a bit....that's when the weed growth slows way down, too, so that's probably best. If it's all rye and not the choked jungle of weeds they have mowed off in the past, it shouldn't be any tougher to cut, really.
We have a disc at our disposal, so we could chop it off, then disc it in, and reseed for the coming year. We've done clover, but it only thrives if we mow the plots like a lawn practically, or the weeds will overwhelm it, and I have over an acre of lawn to mow....mowing another acre or three of plots a time or two every week is not on my "sign me up" list!
Available crops in the local fields have a huge influence on things, but we have zero control over that.
I wasn't in on the planting this year, but they seeded a mix of wheat and oats. Should be similar in concept to the rye. Maybe if anything's left to do, I'll hit it with oats/rye to do a comparison. Appreciate the ideas!
I love how everyone chimes in with their suggestions without knowing squat about the topography/agriculture the OP is dealing with. What might be highly effective in one spot could be a complete waste of money and time a 1/4 mile down the road. We don't know if the OP is located in the big woods or nestled in between farm fields. Even after knowing where the plot will be located in relation to ag fields there's still a list of questions I'd want answered before I'd give my 2 cents.
Pardon us, BB - almighty holder of knowledge on deer hunting, bucks, career choices, food plots, habitat improvements, and who knows what else. I look forward to fall gobbler providing said needed information...then I will be anxiously awaiting with pen and pad ready to soak up your response like a sponge.
On a more serious note, some properly located food plot combinations work pretty much anywhere...especially when plants in those combinations build the soil with organic matter and nutrients for future plantings at the location. That has been proven by guys that make their living doing food plots and habitat enhancement....in areas with lots of competition for whitetails, in both quantity and quality.
For a cheap food plot that will grow in just about every type of soil an oats/winter wheat or winter rye mix is hard to beat. Just make sure that you don't buy a perennial rye. You want winter rye. It is a seed grain.
To answer a question above in the spring the winter rye or wheat (whatever you plant) will continue to grow in the and go to seed. It will then die. If you mow it off in the spring it will die also. I will have to take a pic of some I planted last fall when I get a chance.