Despite the fact that habitat management has the greatest potential to increase available foods for quail, dove, turkey and white-tailed deer, food plots are seasonally important to help animals meet their nutritional needs. This is especially true when talking about whitetail deer food plots. The two most stressful times each year for white-tailed deer are late summer and late winter. It is during these times that supplemental foods are of highest importance.
During the summer deer numbers are higher and native food quality is low, and during late winter both forage quality and quantity are low. Research conducted within the whitetail’s range has found food plots can drastically improve deer nutrition if at least 1 percent of a property is planted to year-round winter and summer food plots. Of course, winter or cool season plots increase hunter harvest and improve deer body condition, but hunters ignore the benefits of summer or warm season deer food plots.
Establishing spring and summer plots may be as important as planting cool season plots, especially since buck antler growth, fawn production, and lactation in does takes place at that time. Because both bucks and does face high nutritional demands during the warmer months, summer food plots definitely have there place in deer management. Seasonal comparisons indicate deer eat the most food in late summer. Research has found that deer use of plantings increases in late June, peaks during the month of August, then declines slowly through September. Plot usage then picks back up throughout winter when the energy demand of deer is high.
Whitetail deer food plots are not difficult to establish, but they do take planning and a good amount of work. Site selection is important because managers should use the best soil available to them. Often times, however, the best soil is used for agricultural activities or landowners are simply limited to less than desirable soil. Because there are many plant species to choose from, food plots will work just about everywhere.
Existing openings like electric line right-of-ways, old secondary roads and even established firelines can provide good food plot locations in forested areas. Always plan and consider food plot equipment needs and access points. This will not seem important until it’s time to get to work. Also, think about soil quality, fertilization or liming requirements, and the size and distribution of plots. It is recommended that landowners interested in improving the deer nutrition on their property set aside enough plot sites to plant 1 to 3 percent of the property.
The best deer food plot shape is a rectangular one, but many end up being oddly shaped due to natural constraints. This will work, but do your best to make plots a little more longer than wide. You will get better plant growth and more deer use. Bucks, does and fawns cover a lot of ground and will likely move all over your property, so ensure that you evenly distribute summer and winter food plots by dividing plots and planting half to each type. Another option is to distribute both food types evenly across the area.