Just as there are many aspects to managing for and hunting deer, there are many considerations to think about when it comes to whitetail deer food plots. As in real estate, location is of utmost importance. Whitetail become accustomed to foraging in certain areas. And this is not by chance. The best foods typically grow over the best soil, or the area with the best moisture availability. These “hot spots” should always be considered when developing food plots for whitetail.
In our area, we have seen many whitetail feeding in harvested agriculture fields with little to no waste grain (spilled during cutting) on the ground. However, the field across the road may have much more waste grain on the ground and deer do not go over there. Obviously, there is something more at work than simply have deer foods available. Whitetail take into many things that hunters and landowners often disregard. I think that is natural food availability.
One of the most important food plot considerations should be its positioning. An important component of a deer’s home range is bedding cover. Bedding will hold whitetail deer in an area. Food plots for deer, on the other hand, will not hold deer. Food plots will attract them. Food plots will only help keep deer in an area if they are already using the property.
Food plots and natural habitat management go hand-in-hand. It is a balance, neither one can work as well without the other. It’s a simple concept that makes a lot of sense. Isolated deer food plots close to thick cover will get the highest deer use during daylight hours. Whitetail can be “trained” to feed in these areas. This can be accomplished by offering a year round food source in a centrally located food plot.
The idea is to provide a food plot that works year around, basically a spring food plot, a summer food plot, a fall food plot and a winter food plot all in one spot. Well, not all exactly in the same spot, but at least adjacent to one another. Plant about 30 percent of plot in clover to offer spring and summer forage, about 35 percent of the plot in brassicas such as rape and forage radish, and 35 percent in cereal grains such as oats, red clover, wheat and winter rye.
Many of the plants can be established in early September for fall and early winter forage that will continue into spring. Hunters can then rotate the brassicas and cereal grains each year to help build the soil in the bigger food plot. This multi-season food plot means that the whitetail deer in your area always know where they can find breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s then up to you to hunt them without spooking them.
Remember that stand sites should offer easy hunter access without disturbance of the local deer. Hunters can also manipulate the native plants to not only funnel the deer toward their hunting location, but also to provide additional cover and food. Use hinge cuttings on young browse plants to limit number of paths to access the food plot and direct deer toward your stand locations. Hinge cut trees not only provides browse within the reach of foraging deer, but also adds to the bedding potential of already shaded areas.
Food plots should always be considered as just one of the many areas deer will use in their life. Whitetail can not live in a food plot. They need other stuff, other components that can only be supplied by the habitat that they occupy. Deer will get most of their nutrition from natural forbs and browse. Habitat management and enhancement can compliment your deer food plot and also increase deer activity on your property. Keep these things in mind when developing forage or hunting plots.