Mystery Forbs


This one is going to be a limited information problem. It's just a matter of I just don't know. What I do know I'm going to try and share. Maybe y'all can fill in the missing pieces, maybe not.

Here's my farm:

Mystery Forb #1
I have a pasture at the back of the property. It is a long, curving N/S plot over 400 yards in length with a fence line roughly in the middle. I have my luxury box blind situated in this fence line. The north half is hardly ever touched by deer. These fields were used alternatively for cattle and tobacco by the previous owner up until the early 80's when the farm was abandoned. I concentrated on the southern part of the pasture. Its been plowed, and cultivated a few times over the years. I've planted winter wheat and clover there a few times. Mostly, I just let things grow and let the hay dude cut it once a year.


There is a spot in the middle of this pasture that has been a consistent producer of deer over the past 17 seasons. We call it the Garden of Stone. The reason for this is that originally, I started putting a rock next to each deer when I shot it, so that I could later walk off the distance. Pretty soon, that end of the pasture was filled with rocks, and I found that I was dropping deer on last year's rock. In the pic I've provided, you can see the shooting house in the distance, and the center of the Garden of Stone marked with two hay bales.

Mystery Forb #1 is what I theorize is causing the deer to be out there. All I know is that there is often enough scat that you can walk across that part of the pasture without touching the grass. The deer glom onto it whenever the acorns run out, and they are still there when we close down deer camp in December. It is something that stays tasty after the first first freeze. The only thing different about that part of the field is that there is the merest hint of a gully. It is just deep enough that deer can disappear in the center to the point where I can only see their heads when held erect.

Mystery Forb #2
This is a somewhat similar situation, so #1 and #2 may be the same plant. There is the head of a hollow directly behind the house. There is about a 90 ft. drop in elevation along large u-shaped contours. It all ends up in a wooded gully. At the very top, there is a bit of a lip, probably leftover from an old road, and another flat spot at the top where we currently take our vehicles when we're driving to the east side of the property. It is between this lip and and the top that Mystery Forb #2 exists. I discovered it when I put up security cameras. In the winter, the deer come from every which way and disappear off the camera to munch in the apex of the U. They started showing up in December and they're still there. The only other clue I can give is that we carted a bunch of dead cedar trees to the lip and burned them a year ago, and that left a significant burn scar. I noticed this behavior after the burn, so they may be eating on what grew back.
I don't have a pic of that hillside, but I can show you a pic of everything else around it.
Go to my weblog and look at the banner. The U is behind the trees in the center. In summer, it's just a steep grassy hillside.

#1 and #2 are both hit almost exclusively in the evening. I've tried to figure out what they're eating and cannot find bite marks. Whatever it is, they're clipping it off at the ground. Whatever it is, it is sustaining as many as a dozen or more deer a night throughout the winter-- more as winter progresses and other food sources peeter out.

Ideally, what I'd like to know is the identity of these mystery forb #1 and #2, and from there figure out a way to encourage it elsewhere on the property.
At least for me to be able to help you I suggest you put out some exclusion cages in these areas and wait. Wait until the plants in the cage grow and then take detailed pics and post them of what is growing in these cages. This is the only way I will be able to have ANY chance of being able to ID the plants for you. You may want a few cages in one area as well....the more the better to be honest. we may not be able to nail down exactly what it is the deer are eating either as there may be several different things growing.
That's a good idea. Thanks.
Also pay attention to the actual location. You mentioned one was in a low spot.... Many times deer will favor one area of a plot or area over another for some minute reason. Low spots tend to be a favorite as they feel hidden, especially if they can see over the top. Some may also be near better cover options or the like as well. I have a large corn field that the deer 95% of the time always enter from a long featureless the lowest spot which is a small swale. They then decide where they will go from there, but they rarely enter the field along that side in any other location. Low spots in the evening also can collect scent. Some spots will also hold more moisture and the like and may translate into the plants they are eating being in a more desirable state. I see this even with shadows and the like at times (especially in the mornings in early season) as the shadows will have a slightly cooler air temp and thus the deer (at least from what I have seen) will favor those areas as the day starts to warm over the non-shaded areas. This is all just observation of some of the things I have seen. None of it is science. I suspect there is a reason....the fact that you have identified these locations is great for your hunting. Sometimes we don't NEED to know why and sometimes I think it's not for an obvious reason as well.
I agree it may be location. One is the merest hint of a gully, the other is undoubtedly the steepest grassy hillside on the property.

I guess I have two questions at this point:

1) What are possible candidates for the mystery forb-- what grows in a pasture such that it maintains a whitetail's attention from November to March?

2) Having seen what deer can do to a food plot, I am convinced this stuff is renewing itself over the course of the winter. That would be the only explanation for how it stays attractive to them. What is growing in the Trans-Bluegrass in Winter?

I know one answer to #2 above: red cedar. However, it is an unlikely candidate as a mystery forb. Eastern Red Cedar has some sort of antifreeze in it. New trees sprout in winter in my yard after the last mowing. The established trees have an uncanny capacity to grow in the dead of winter. The reason I find it hard to believe it is one of the mystery forbs is
a) it thrives all over the property-- not in these two locations.
b) The deer nibble in and amongst the young cedars in front of my security cam and leave the cedars alone.

The other thing to remember is that these mystery forbs are not only maintaining themselves, but doing so with robustness. Lately, with the Low 30's and the High's in the high 40's, they are sustaining as many as 10 deer per nightly feeding in a space less than a tennis court and the afternoon feedings lasting from usually before 1800 until well after 1900 hrs local time.