Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Some brands want you to think establishing a good deer food plot is as easy as throwing out a bag full of food plot seed mix and watching the deer come running. Well, if that’s your method, I wish you good luck. Establishing a good food plot takes time and planning.
Choose the right location
Depending on your property, you might have limited options on where to plant a food plot, but you still need to select the right location.
Selecting a spot near bedding areas will give your plot an advantage; if there’s a water source nearby—bonus! But make sure it gets enough morning sunlight so that plants will grow, and not too much hot afternoon and evening sun.
Make sure deer have a way to get to and from the food plot without breaking their cover. If you’re planting near a wooded area, plant corn or tall grass around the perimeter to give deer an easy transition from the woods to the field.
Pay attention to the normal wind patterns on your property. Although the wind will change, pick a spot where you can normally get into your stand with the wind in your face. Additionally, make sure you have a spot where you can place your tree stand or blind upwind of the food plot.
Size and shape do matter
When selecting your food plot location, consider the size of the food plot. Too small and your crops might not grow well or survive to maturity—especially if you have a decent deer population. Too big and you end up with more maintenance than you want, deer that are too cautious to enter or when they do enter, they will likely be out of range for a shot. Most hunters would agree that 1/2 acre to 2 acres is plenty.
As for shape, is there really one shape that’s superior to the rest? After some research, I’ve found that there are three primary shapes that tend to be the favorites.
Long and thin – This is probably the most popular. The basic idea of this design is to keep the distance across the width within bow range. This design also allows you to do small sections of different crops.
Hourglass – The basic idea of this shape is to place your tree stand near the pinch point, and force the deer past it. It’s a good idea to put a stand on each side of the pinch point so you can hunt different wind directions.
L, V or boomerang – This shape also takes advantage of the pinch point. Deer will typically feed along the “legs”, eventually feeding towards the bend.
Test your soil
Before you start planting, make sure you test your soil to ensure it has the right nutrients for your crops to grow. Planting a food plot without a soil test is likely going to result in slow growth, weeds, and a lot of undesirable food options for deer.
Testing your soil is simple:
You need a small clean plastic bag or bucket—anything that will hold dirt.
Using a small garden spade or shovel, dig a few inches below in the sod line in your food plot and get about ¼ cup of dirt.
Get 6-8 samples from around the food plot and mix it all together.
Take a scoop of that mix and put it in a new clean bag.
Drop your soil off at your local extension office for testing. Let them know what you’re planning to plant and they can make fertilizer recommendations specifically for your planned crops.
Keep in mind, that the following year, you’ll want to rotate crops to replenish nutrients. For example, soybeans take nitrogen from the soil, so you should rotate it with grass crops such as corn or wheat.
Diversify your crop selection
Different crops produce at different times of the year, and draw deer at different times of the year. If you want to make the most of your food plots, you’ll need to diversify the selection of food. Think of it as offering the deer a salad bar to choose from.
Mix and match some of the following:
Summer annuals such as sunflowers, soybeans, sorghum and cowpeas.
Fall and winter crops such as kale, turnips, and wheat.
Perennials such as clover and alfalfa.
And a few bonus tips:
A field of sunflowers can double as a dove field.
Place a few fruit trees along the edge of your food plot to not only provide food, but also additional coverage.
Pay attention to what grows naturally—if you have an abundance of clover on your property, you probably don’t need to plant more.
Consider the amount of deer on your property, and plant crops that will replenish themselves once eaten down.
Throughout the growing season, be sure to keep an eye on your food plots to identify what’s growing good/what’s not and what the deer are eating before it matures, look for tracks to determine high traffic areas so you can make decisions on blind and/or tree stand placement, and put out game cameras to see where deer are entering/leaving the food plot.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky who enjoys hunting turkey, deer and elk. Follow her on Instagram at @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.