Whether you use a compound bow or rifle, food plots can be a great way to boost your deer hunting success each season, but they can also be a bit of a hassle. Picking the right food out to make sure that deer are attracted is one thing, but maintaining the plot over the course of the year requires effort, attention, and money.
You likely don’t have your own food plot if you don't already have the land for one, so we’re sure you know the gripes of maintaining several acres of forage already. Getting the best results out of your deer food plots doesn’t need to be all that complicated, sometimes it's as easy as paying attention to the local wildlife.
Growth vs. Kill Plots
In the world of food plots, there are generally two schools of thought, though they can bleed into each other. A growth plot is designed to increase the health, activity, and size of the deer in your area by providing large amounts of high-quality food and forage. The intentions behind these are good, however, for most hunters, they may prove to be less than worth the amount of cash and effort required.
Food plots like this need to be large and bountiful, enough to provide for a deer population and bulk up their bucks for the coming hunting season. It takes a lot of work to maintain.
The other type of food plot is designed specifically to entice local deer to the area regularly with a smaller patch of delicious and otherwise hard-to-find foods. These are called kill plots as they allow camouflaged hunters to post up and wait for their prey to approach the field.
Kill plots are much more successful than growth plots as they are active during the season. They aren’t necessarily increasing the size of the deer but do provide some much-needed nutrients during the cold time of the year, making the deer more active and robust.
Best Plants for a Plot
Deciding which plants will be best for attracting deer to your plot depends on what else is around. Play into the scarcity of the area as this will make the deer more likely to visit the food plot in search of something specific that they can't find anywhere else.
Perennial plants make maintenance a bit easier as they don’t need to be replanted after the winter, and there are plenty that the deer will want to eat up. Clover and alfalfa are great choices, as well as winter peas.
Brassicas are also a popular choice for successful food plots, especially when combined with cereal grains. The combination of these two is a highly rated blend that’s sure to have deer of all sizes investigating your plot. Brassicas come in a wide variety such as kale, turnips, and radishes that offer the deer a lot of nutrients and will almost always grow back even after extreme eating seasons.
Cereal grains include wheat, oats, and rye that have carbs that the deer need to stay active in the winter, and they just love the taste.
You can buy seeds for specific brassicas and cereal grains or buy mixed seed blends that offer a handful of each. Especially for smaller plots, the blend is probably your best bet. Again, make sure that these plants are difficult to find in the surrounding area to boost the draw that the plot has.
How To Grow Brassicas
Brassicas tend to have top leaves as well as some form of root plant, like the radishes and turnips that we eat. Deer will munch on the top and bottom, and the roots will be particularly excellent for them in the winter.
Always test out your soil to make sure that you get the proper fertilizer for your needs and remove any existing foliage. The brassica's large top leaves will likely kill off any remaining weeds anyway but it’s best to give them room to start.
Distribute the brassica seeds as directed by your package and ensure that they have a good amount of soil coverage, but aren’t buried. About ¼” under the top will do. It’s recommended that you consider a fence for the perimeter of your food plot while tending to grow brassicas as they can be eaten down too quickly while growing, the same goes for the cereal grains.
How To Grow Cereal Grains
Cereal grains will become especially attractive to the deer come winter when most of their green leaf options have died down. The beauty of combining the cereal grains with the brassicas is that the grains will be optimal before and after the brassicas are, creating a wider time frame in which your food plot is pulling in the deer.
Rye is a particularly easy grain to grow, so it’s a popular choice with beginners or those who don’t want to tend too much to their plots. However, it isn't the tastiest option the deer will look for, and thus oats might be the best way to go.
Oats are also fairly simple to grow, keeping the seeds at around ¼” deep and letting them spring up to about six inches. Any taller than that and the stalks become too stiff for the deer to chew, so it’s best to keep them maintained at that height. The deer will tend to do that for you, but otherwise, you might have to help out.
Adding some clover to the soil along with your oats and brassicas is also a great way to add an extra layer of interest, and works well if you’d prefer to work with rye because of its simple nature.
Hunt the Plot Properly
A big thing to keep in mind is how you're hunting with a food plot. You might have a deer blind set up nearby to keep watch and it’s critical you place it in the right position. Always take note of which way the wind tends to blow and put yourself downwind of the deer. While always on the lookout, deer will be especially cautious while grazing out in the open and they can literally smell you a mile away.
Another thing to keep in mind is to make sure that you can easily leave and enter your deer blind unseen. If your blind is out in the open and the deer can spot you entering then they’ll be fully aware of you the whole time and likely avoid the plot until you’ve left. Camouflage is critical for optimizing your success, so make sure your clothing and weapon are properly adorned with a matching camo design.
It’s also critical to know your prey and be ready for when they’re present. Deer tend to be most active at dusk and dawn and they prefer the coverage of the dark, especially in the winter. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them during the day, and a well-placed game camera can be a great tool for tracking their behavior. As with your rifle and the rest of the equipment, it’s always best to make sure your camera is properly camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings using a high-quality vinyl design.
As we mentioned, maintaining a food plot can be a lot of work. You’ll need heavy-duty farming equipment, knowledge, and experience with plant life as well as enough time to tend to your field.
An alternative to this would be to seek outside help and insight. If your land has areas that are already growing plants and food attractive to deer, it could be worth your time to speak with a neighbor that does have all of that equipment and knowledge. While the plot is on your land, outsourcing the care of it to another is a simple way to ensure that it’s properly managed and more heavily visited by local bucks.
It'll obviously cost you to pay someone else to work on your plot, but what’s the better use of resources in this situation, their time or yours?