Mixing and Matching A Formula for Success

By Charles J. Alsheimer

I receive many questions as a traveling seminar speaker. Attendees want to know lots of things about whitetail deer, from how to hunt them to how to feed them. When I first hit the seminar trail nearly 30 years ago, hunters were primarily interested in how-to hunting strategies. No more. Today, one the most frequently asked questions is, “How do you lay out a property to attract deer and offer the best hunting opportunities throughout fall.”
There is no simple answer to this question because there are multiple parts to the answer. In fact, before it can be adequately answered, many other questions must be addressed.

Obviously the region in question is critical, because being able to feed and hold deer on a Southern property requires a different strategy than where I live in the Northeast. Many things go into a successful program, but one of the best strategies is diversity when it comes to feeding and holding deer. If you can provide a whitetail with the best possible food sources from green-up to freeze-up and beyond, you’ll be in a position to have great hunting.


In many ways, whitetails are like people when it comes to nutritional requirements and food choices. For people and deer to thrive, they need a continuing balance of proper minerals and vitamins. In a whitetail’s case, its mineral and vitamin requirements must come from various food sources they prefer during specific times.

Depending on the region, there are about 500 natural food sources and numerous agricultural foods whitetails will eat during a year. A whitetail’s preference for these foods is driven by photoperiod (shortening or lengthening length of the day) and a series of hormonal changes that drive deer metabolism. That's what causes deer to prefer high-protein foods like Imperial Whitetail Clover, Alfa-Rack Plus and Chicory Plus during spring through fall, and brassica and high-carbohydrate foods, such as acorns and corn, when autumn’s weather turns nasty.

So, being able to provide diverse food options is critical to success when it comes to holding deer and providing great hunting opportunities. If you give deer what they want (not what you think they want), they will become year-round tenants. To attain success requires a solid plan.


Before coming up with a year-round plan that maximizes nutritional and hunting potential, it's important to make sure your property has what it takes to satisfy your goals. Here are some things to consider as you journey toward deer season.

Rainfall: Do you have the rainfall required to plant what you want? The amount of rain a region receives dictates the kind of plant-growing potential you can expect. In many ways, water is like fertilizer, and some plants require adequate rainfall to grow. Therefore, certain types of plants will be difficult to grow in dryer regions, so make sure you know what your yearly rainfall is before investing in a particular forage planting.

Lay of the land: A food plot’s location in relation to the angle of the sun during summer is critical when considering what to plant at a food-plot location. For example, if a plot faces south and gets more than five or six hours of direct sunlight in summer, the soil temperatures will probably be too extreme for some plants to grow.

Soil: Let the soil dictate what you plant in a food plot. Well-drained soils, with pH levels of 6.5 or higher, are required for Alfa-Rack Plus to excel. However, if the soil can hold moisture and has a pH of more than 6.0, you can grow great Imperial Clover or Chicory Plus. On the other hand, if soils are higher than 5.4, a forage like Imperial Extreme will work great. Remember that it all begins with the dirt, so be sure to match the seed to the quality of the soil.

Deer population: Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments first-time food-plot practitioners experience is overgrazing by deer. If an area has 50-plus deer per square mile (pre hunting season), it is a safe bet that most small food plots will be cropped to the dirt line from overgrazing. So, it’s important to offer a variety of plant types that are graze-tolerant. Whitetail Institute offerings such as Imperial Clover, Chicory Plus, Alfa-Rack and Extreme are engineered to grow in areas where heavy grazing is common.


Variety is the rule of choice for whitetails, so having the best food available at the right time of the year is the recipe for success. By offering various seed blends in nearby food plots (mixing), you can match the nutritional requirements of deer.

Autumn and Winter: After the calendar is past August, it’s time to think of the forages that will feed your deer and offer the best hunting opportunities when the season rolls around. I’ve always recommended that a food-plot program consist of 60 percent to 70 percent perennials, with the balance being annuals. Because of this, the spring summer forages I’ve mentioned will offer a great food supply well into fall — at least until the plants go dormant or snow covers them.

To complement these perennials, you need a mixture of annuals to keep a hunting property attractive to deer. Few annuals can accomplish that better than Pure Attraction (a blend of oats, brassica and wheat) and Imperial Winter-Greens (a blend of brassicas). Pure Attraction grows fast and is very attractive and nutritious for deer. In fact, this annual forage will thrive well after many perennials have gone dormant, making it a great forage choice throughout hunting season.

Winter-Greens offer a deer herd the nutrition they need in late season, when many other forages have gone dormant. Its blend of brassica plants offer high energy and protein levels to ensure deer have a quality food source to carry them through winter.

Spring and Summer: Although hunting season is months away, what you offer your deer in spring determines the kind of deer you will hunt in fall. When the antler-growing switch is thrown in late March, a buck’s body needs high-octane nutrients to meet the antler’s needs. Because of the demand growing antlers place on a buck, forages high in protein are essential. Lactating does also need high-nutrient foods to provide for their health and that of their fawns.

Few forages can stack up to Imperial Clover to meet a whitetail’s needs during spring. With protein levels exceeding 30 percent, Imperial Clover is one of the best meals a whitetail can get at this time. Because it's fast growing, I’ve found it to be very graze-tolerant, making it an excellent forage choice for my whitetails at this critical period.

Chicory Plus contains Imperial Clover and chicory, and is an excellent forage source from spring through fall. The chicory in the blend is extremely drought resistant and can transfer minerals from the soil very well. For well-drained soils with pH levels higher than 6.5, Alfa-Rack Plus is an excellent forage choice from spring through fall. It is drought resistant and has protein levels exceeding 30 percent. Deer love it.

Unfortunately, not all locations have great soil pH or adequate rainfall during spring to fall. If that's the case, Imperial Extreme is a great forage that will grow in less-than- favorable conditions. This drought-resistant perennial will grow in soils with pH levels of 5.4 or higher
and withstand dry growing conditions, which can be common in many parts of North America. These perennials can be planted in spring or fall in almost all parts of North America.


Feeding your deer is one thing, but let’s face it; one of the reasons most have a food plot program is to ensure great hunting opportunities throughout fall. Accomplishing that requires a well-thought-out-plan to ensure deer do not radically change their travel patterns during hunting season. I've accomplished this on our farm by strategically placing the foods deer prefer and need near each other. That way, deer use the same trails to get from their bedding to feeding areas throughout the year.

As this article’s title suggests, I mix seed blends to provide a time-release food program. Meanwhile, I match them in a way to keep the deer coming back for more. Here are two examples of how I’ve accomplished this on our 200-acre farm:

Example No. 1: Our main sanctuary is a deep ravine bordered on one side by a three-acre field. To keep this location attractive to deer from green-up to early winter requires that it be planted in a variety of forages. We’ve made this happen by breaking the field into thirds, with each third containing a different forage. One third is planted in Imperial Clover, one in Pure Attraction and the last third in Winter-Greens. That ensures that deer will have great nutrition from greenup through snow cover. In the process, they use the same travel corridors throughout the year to get from their bedding area to food.

Example No. 2: A second example of how we lay out our food plots is what I refer to as the sandwich approach. Our farm has a 400-yard-long-by-150-yard wide spruce grove that connects two large wooded areas. My son and I refer to this as the mother of all funnels, because our layout has provided a great travel corridor for deer.

Along the lower side of this long spruce funnel, we’ve planted a large Imperial Clover plot, which gets heavy deer use from May through November. On the upper side of the spruce grove are a series of perennial and annual food plots. The perennial plot is planted in Extreme to provide a forage offering other than Imperial Clover. The annual plots on this side of the funnel are in place to provide our deer a variety of other offerings, made up primarily of Winter-Greens, which become available after perennials have gone dormant. This smorgasbord of highly nutritious offerings is just the ticket deer need for great antlers and healthy bodies.

By surrounding (or sandwiching) the spruce grove with a variety of food plots, deer move a great deal, making for some great hunting opportunities. I learned a long time ago that food plots have to be more than one-month wonders if you want healthy deer and great hunting opportunities. It’s all about mixing the right forages to ensure your deer have the great nutrition they need. When you accomplish this, you have a set up that will provide great food at every stage of the year, and you’ll have great hunting, too. That’s what mixing and matching is all about.