Rut Reporter David Draper grew up hunting deer and small game throughout this region and presently lives on a family farm in Nebraska. Draper, former communications specialist for Cabela’s and an authority on the Great Plains, subsists on a diet of duck breast and venison. States covered: ND, SD, NE and KS.

Deer seasons are opening up for archers (and for blackpowder hunters in Kansas) across the Great Plains states this week, but rifle hunters don’t have to sit idly by while everyone else has all the fun. With gun seasons a month or so away, the ambitious among us still have time to prepare property for the upcoming season and implement an overall habitat management strategy.

The past few days have brought some nice rains to the region, giving a much-needed boost to habitat conditions in those areas. Landowners that haven’t done so yet can still take advantage of the moisture. Late September is not too late to plant fall food plots, focusing on cool-season grasses such as oats, wheat, and triticale, as well as Austrian winter peas, alfalfa, and other legumes. In areas where hot and dry has been the norm lately, land managers should stick to local varieties of wheat, oats, and alfalfa.

The number and size of food plots will depend on deer density and existing habitat, though in general fall food plots are typically small, anywhere from one to three acres. It’s recommended that food plots make up 1-3 percent of the total land base. Local wildlife specialists and county extension agents can make the best recommendations when it comes to food plot size and type.

While fall plantings can concentrate deer and increase hunter opportunity, landowners should note food plots are not a substitute to natural forage or a way to support wildlife populations above the land’s natural carrying capacity. Creating food plots, particularly fall plantings primarily established to attract deer during hunting season, should be distinct from the landowner’s primary habitat management strategy.

September and October is also a great time to start thinking about strategies for managing deer and wildlife habitat in the coming year. By utilizing the most up-to-date information and implementing a target harvest for deer, landowners have a jump on their 2011 management plan. Enlist the help of biologists, as well as local extension agents and other state and federal agencies to determine what, if any, habitat enhancements to tackle early next year. In addition to hunting, factors to take into account include grazing, prescribed burns and cultivation.