How to Create the Best Food Plot Possible on Your Property
Once you get talking about food plots with a couple hunters or land managers, the conversation can quickly wind its way down a rabbit hole. And by rabbit hole, we mean an endless, dark maze of possibilities. While we all want to grow the best food plot we can, that means many different things to different hunters. Is there even such a thing as the best food plot, and if so, what does that mean?
What is a “Best Food Plot”?
Before we get too far into this conversation, we need to address how we define “best” for context. It all comes down to your individual goals – what do you want your food plot to achieve? Here are just a couple examples to get the wheels turning, but there are plenty more.
- Nutrition – more than likely, you want to provide a good food source for whitetails. You might be inclined to helping growing fawns and weaning does, helping bucks meet their full body size and antler potential, or both.
- Season of Attraction – if you plan on hunting food plots, your goal would be to provide very attractive forage during your given hunting season (e.g., turnips and radishes right after a hard frost for a fall food plot in the late bow season).
- “Huntability” – if shooting deer out of your plots is a goal of yours, your first goal should be to make that plot as “huntable” as possible, by altering the shape to provide a few tree stand locations or pinching the deer movement down to one spot on a smaller plot. Stealthy access is important to consider.
- Ease of Planting – depending on how much time and money you want to spend on creating your best food plot, you should decide on what you want to plant. Perennial crops (e.g., clover) often require more upfront preparation, but they can last for several years. Whereas annual food plots (e.g., soybeans, corn, other grains) are easier to plant and can generally outpace weed competition (or keep up if you use an herbicide-resistant crop), but only last one season.
- Soil Health – you might be interested in creating better soils in an old pasture or heavily abused ag field, with the hope that one day, you can grow high quality food plot crops. While you build your soil profile again (by using BuckGro fertilizer), you can create food for deer in the meantime.
How to Create the Best Food Plot
No matter what you plant, when you plant it, and how you plant it, there really is no single “best food plot” for everyone – there are just too many factors and different goals. But if you want to create a slice of deer heaven on your property that will apply to most situations across the whitetail range, there are numerous things you can do. Keep these principles in mind for your land, and take into account your own goals from above. With some planning and a fair amount of sweat equity, you can create the best food plot for your property.
Size and Shape
As we mentioned, the perfect size food plot will vary with what you’re looking for. If you want to provide a steady food source for deer in an area without agriculture, you will need to up the percentage of your land significantly. If you just want to provide an attractive bow season food plot, a smaller one will do fine. That being said, without the right tools (e.g., tractor, discs, sprayers, etc.), it can be tough to plant and maintain plots larger than a couple acres for very long.
Similarly, your food plot design will change depending on your goals too. Plots with irregular edges will help you have more spots to stealthily hunt, because you can hide along the edges better. Conversely, large open fields would work better for destination food plots because deer may only use them at night when they feel secure using them. If you want to hunt these larger plots, try setting up stands or blinds off into the woods a good 50 yards from the edge, so you can access them without spooking deer feeding in the field.
You can easily map your food plot plans using BaseMap™, an awesome scouting/hunting app we can’t recommend enough. Using the tools in the app, you can quickly map and plan your area, so you know exactly how much seed or herbicide to use and you can plan your food plot tree stand locations accordingly. In the app, you can use dozens of different markers (i.e., waypoints) to precisely map the location and weather data of tree stands, trail cameras, or deer feeders, which is a very helpful feature.
Food Plot Crop
If you’re primarily interested in feeding the deer and helping them achieve their highest potential (in terms of body size and antler mass), you really need a mix of perennial and annual crops on your property. They tend to feed deer at different times of the season. For example, spring clover plots help does and fawns to grow and bucks to recover from a rough winter. Summer soybean fields provide protein to help maximize muscle and antler growth. Fall grains, turnips, and brassicas provide a high amount of carbohydrates to help deer fatten up for the winter. And over the winter, standing corn fields provide more carbohydrates to keep deer afloat during a rough time of the year.
But pay attention to what’s growing around your property. If you’re surrounded by corn and bean fields, don’t plant more of that. Focus on something different to provide something attractive that stands out. For example, a 1-acre mixed food plot of oats, peas, and turnips in this situation would draw deer in for the perfect hunting food plot.
If you simply can’t provide enough forage on your property for the local deer herd or your food plot plans have a seasonal protein gap, you could also try supplemental feeding for deer. By keeping your feeders stocked with Big&J BB2 over the late summer and fall, you will attract a lot of deer to your property and provide a very digestible source of protein for them. Plus, it gets them used to using your property, which will only mean good things come opening day.
Try to keep a feeder station located where you can easily access it with an ATV or vehicle, since that will make it easiest for refilling purposes. Try putting one on the edge of a smaller food plot or screened slightly from a larger plot. These feeders also make great trail camera stations, so you can keep an eye on every creature that comes in for a bite.
Watering Holes and Minerals
Likewise, if you want to add even more to your food plot program, try establishing a watering hole and mineral station on your property. For deer to develop healthy bodies and for bucks in particular to develop their maximum antler size, they need minerals (e.g., calcium, phosphorous, etc.). Shortly before or after they consume a salt or mineral supplement, they will often utilize a water source if one is nearby and easily accessible. Meet both of their needs in close proximity, and you will increase the area’s use tremendously.
Along a trail leading from a bedding area to a food plot, try setting up one of these stations. Partially sink a shallow tank or bucket into the soil and put a stick into it (for small mammals to climb out). Then, either let it fill with rainwater of fill it up with a water source you bring in. For the mineral station, scrape all the leaf debris off the ground and expose the mineral soil. You can use a solid block or granular mineral, such as Big&J Legit®, which will pull deer in due to the apple aroma. This would also make a great trail camera location.
Monitoring Your Food Plot
Of course, unless your hunting strategy is on point, all of this might not make much of a difference. Without some kind of monitoring of your food plot, you’re really still hunting blindly. To develop your strategy, you need to know when, where, and how to hunt without disturbing the deer. Cellular trail cameras can really help with that. The Bushnell® Impulse cell cameras are a great, low-impact way to keep tabs on your property and the wildlife using it. You can sync the photos or videos directly to your phone using a cellular connection, and it even records and sorts key weather and wind data for better tracking and developing a pattern out of the deer movement. By reviewing this information in real time, you know when you can access a tree stand on your best food plot for the best chance at harvesting a mature buck.
Again, there’s no such thing as the single best food plot. But there are a lot of things you can do to make your property a deer paradise. And when you implement them and hunt intelligently, you will be amazed at what a difference it can make.