Food Plot Location and Design Planning Food Plot Goals to Attract, Draw & Hold Better Quality Deer

 By Brandon Gaines

Whether you have lots of hunting land or just a little, Whitetail Institute forage products are specifically designed to help you meet three food plot goals: to help you attract more deer to your property, to hold them there and to improve their quality by supplementing naturally available nutrition. All three depend on attraction — deer must find the forage you plant and the food plot location in which you plant it highly attractive. The Whitetail Institute covers forage attractiveness for you by making sure all Whitetail Institute food plot products are the most attractive the Whitetail Institute can make them. In this article, we’ll focus on some ideas that can help you do your part even better; making sure your deer feel as safe as possible getting to the plot and using it, and using it as much as possible during daylight.

Drawing Power and Holding Power — Initial and Sustained Attraction

Drawing Power — Initial Attraction. Whether you have lots of room on your property to plant food plots or just a little, one thing is for certain: planting Whitetail Institute forage products will improve the drawing power of your property. The reason is simple: Whitetail Institute forage products are specifically designed to be as attractive to deer as possible. Attractiveness to whitetails certainly isn’t the Whitetail Institute’s only forage research goal. Others include high, sustained nutritional content; early seedling vigor; rapid stand establishment; tolerance of heat, drought and cold; disease resistance; and graze tolerance, to name but a few. That’s why Whitetail Institute forage products excel in all areas of food plot performance. Even so, attractiveness to whitetails is one of the most important, and initial attractiveness is at the top of the list. The Whitetail Institute goes to great lengths to design its food products so that they’re highly attractive as soon as they begin to sprout and grow so that they will start drawing deer to your property right away.

Holding Power — Sustained Attraction. After you draw deer to your property, the next issue is holding them there. For your food plots to help you do that, they must provide sustained attraction, and that brings another Whitetail Institute forage development criterion into play — how graze tolerant the forage is. Here too, Whitetail Institute forage products are designed to provide top performance.

A Few Commonly Overlooked Food Plot Locations The first step in maximizing the results you get from your food plots is to identify all the potentially plantable areas on your property. Although that might seem obvious, many hunters often overlook certain areas because they think they can’t be planted. In many cases, though, this assumption is incorrect. Here are a few examples:

Logging Roads. There are two big reasons logging roads are often among the best places you can put a food plot. The first is that they’re often already sufficiently free of heavy weeds and grass that you can prepare them for planting excellent no-till forages such as Imperial Whitetail No-Plow, BowStand or Secret Spot with very little additional work. What little vegetation there is on the road can usually be removed well enough with hand tools, a light mower or even just a Roundup-type glyphosate herbicide and a hand sprayer. That can be a huge help if your ground can’t be tilled, or if it shouldn’t. A personal example of an area I could till but don’t want to is along part of an old skidder road that runs the length of my 78-acre hunting lease in what’s commonly referred to in Alabama as “prairie soil.” Now, I don’t know who came up with the idea to call it prairie soil, but I wish I did, because I’d like to ask him why, because it doesn’t look like what most of us would consider soil. Instead, it’s some sort of heavier, white clay, and it can be tough to deal with. During hot, dry summers, for example, it develops cracks so deep that I might get an echo back if I yelled down into them. As soon as the first whisper of rain arrives, though, the surface becomes so slick and greasy that it’s difficult to even walk on. The point I’m getting to is this: With the roadbed established in ground like that, the last thing I want to do is destabilize it by disking or tilling to prepare it for planting. Even so, it is one of the most productive food plot sites I have. Because I don’t have to worry about whether or not native grasses and weeds return in spring, I just spray the section of skidder road I’m going to plant in early fall, wait a week or so and then fertilize and plant it with No-Plow a week or two later. As I mentioned, there are two big reasons why logging roads often make excellent food plot sites. We’ve covered the first — the fact that logging roads can often be prepared for planting with very little work. The second is that they’re structurally a long, skinny lane that’s often bordered by cover so they’re already designed with features that can help deer feel safe using food plots planted in them.

Power and Gas Easements. If you have power or gas lines running through your property, consider yourself lucky because they can also be excellent, ready-made places to put food plots. As I mentioned earlier, No-Plow, Bow-Stand and Secret Spot can be planted if you lack tillage equipment. If you can till the soil, other Whitetail Institute annuals are also an option, and if you can spray and mow as necessary in the spring for forage maintenance, so are Whitetail Institute perennials. Power line easements in areas where the land isn’t completely flat offer even more options for you to plant a variety of Whitetail Institute forages, for example Imperial Whitetail Clover in the lower areas, and Alfa-Rack Plus, Edge, Extreme or annuals in the better-drained areas. And keep in mind that logging roads and utility easements aren’t the only potential plot locations folks can overlook. We’ve touched on those two just as examples to give you an idea of what sort of spots to look for on your own hunting land.

Food Plot Locations If you’ve looked for potential food plot sites such as the kinds we’ve mentioned and still think you might not have all the plantable area you want, you might not even need to concern yourself with food plot locations or designs. Instead, just plant the available openings you have in Whitetail Institute forages. As I mentioned, that will improve the attractiveness of your property to deer. If you’ve found that you do have more plantable area than you intend to put into food plots, though, you have some decisions to make. Specifically, you’ll need to decide where to put your food plots and how to design them to overcome an additional issue — the general wariness of whitetails. Just as real estate agents know that location is often the most important factor to folks shopping for a new home, food plot location is also a very important factor to consider if you have more plantable areas than you need. In such cases, your main goal is to locate the food plot so that deer will feel as safe as possible using it during daytime. To do that, you’ll need to consider two things: how to limit as much as possible the chance that deer will be alerted to your presence and how to help them feel safe traveling to and from the plot.

Locate The Plot So That Your Risk Of Detection By Deer Is Minimized What we’re talking about here is locating your food plots in such a way that the possibility of deer being alerted to your presence is minimized when you’re hunting the food plot as well as when you’re traveling to and from it. If possible create multiple entry and exit routes so that you can use wind direction to your advantage. As explained by Neil Dougherty of North Country Whitetails, it’s also a great idea when possible to set the plot up so that deer movement is directed in your favor. “First, try to choose a setup where the deer will be vulnerable," he said. "For example, put the plot up against, or within 50 to 100 yards upwind of a deep ravine, river or other barrier so you can be sure deer can’t get behind you. If you do that and hunt it diligently and in the proper wind, it will keep it fresh as a hunting set up year after year, and you’ll have a lot of success. Second, make sure the site is one that you can get into and out of quickly and easily. If you keep bumping deer every time you’re on the way into and out of a food plot, it will shut it down for mature bucks in a hurry.”

Cover For Deer Travel In addition to making sure you don’t alert deer to your presence, you also need to consider how to help deer feel safe traveling to and from the plot. A great way to do that is to try to design the plot so that it adjoins cover as much as possible. A classic example of what I consider to be a poor food plot setup in that regard is a food plot on a neighboring property I pass as I drive down the easement to my own hunting lease. The plot is located in the middle of a large, flat crop field surrounded by woods. By the time hunting season rolls around, the crop has been harvested and the field has been tilled under, requiring deer to cross a long stretch of open ground to reach the food plot. Although the landowner might get lucky during the rut with his current setup, I can’t help but think he sees very few deer in that plot during daytime. He could have helped deer feel safer traveling to and from the plot by locating it against the woods instead of expecting them to cross a long, open expanse to reach it.

Food Plot Design When you decide where to locate your food plot, the next thing to consider is the layout of the plot. Here again, this is something you might not even need to worry about unless you have more plantable area than you intend to put into food plots. If you do have decisions to make on plot layout, though, the following design concepts and shapes have proven themselves effective in helping deer feel safer when entering a food plot and moving through it during daylight hours.

Linear Edge A food plot’s linear edge is the line (linear) that marks where the forage planting meets cover (edge). It’s an important concept to understand because it’s a direct indicator of how safe deer will feel using the plot during daytime. No matter what size opening you’ll be planting, a great way to maximize linear edge is to simply let the outline of the plot follow the opening’s natural contours, since they always tend to wander in and out anyway. If the plot is fairly small, or if you’ve decided to plant every plantable area on your property, that’s all you may want to do to maximize linear edge. However, if the total plantable area is so big that you don’t need to plant it all — for instance a large opening or field—then you might want to leave a little cover in the field to increase it. Two ways to do that are planting in strips and planting in irregular shapes. Before you decide to leave cover inside a food plot, though, keep two things in mind.

Leaving cover inside small, remote food plots can actually be counterproductive. In most cases, leaving cover inside smaller, remote food plots isn’t a good idea. First, it’s usually not necessary because such plots already offer deer a feeling of intimacy to help deer feel safe. Second, and perhaps more important, leaving cover inside such plots is counterproductive if doing so increases the risk that the forage might be overgrazed. Remember, one of the main priorities I mentioned at the very start of this article is to maximize the sustained attractiveness of your food plots, so never consider leaving cover inside the food plot if doing so puts the forage in the planted area at risk of overgrazing.

If you do decide to leave cover inside the plot, leave just enough to break up a deer’s outline. If the open area in which you plan to put your food plot is big enough for you to consider leaving some cover inside the plot, you don’t need to leave a lot. Thin strips of cover are sufficient to break up a deer’s outline and will give deer an enhanced feeling of safety without reducing the amount of forage in the site more than you need to. “If you’re going to locate a food plot in something like a big agricultural field, consider planting in strips or irregular shapes and leaving patches of warm-season grasses in between the planted areas," Dougherty said. "That can help make the plots feel smaller and more intimate to deer, which can help keep daylight activity up. The more irregular shape you can build into the plot, the more deer movement you’ll create. Irregular shapes help deer move through the plot better, which is especially important for bowhunters. Also, if you have too many bucks trying to work a big food plot, breaking up their body lines with tall cover between the planted areas can help keep more bucks in the plot, at least when they’re not ramped up on testosterone. That way, each buck can feed without having to make eye contact with another big boy. It keeps them home a little bit more that way.” The bottom line is that leaving additional cover inside small, remote plots is usually un necessary, and it can even be counterproductive if it increases the risk that the forage plants will be overgrazed. It can be effective, though, as a way to improve the feeling of safety deer have using the area, provided it’s done the right way.

Proven Food Plot Shapes Finally, we’ll cover a few standard food plot shapes that have proven themselves winners and give you an idea of how deer might react to them and within them.

The Boomerang or V-Shaped Plot. This is one of the most effective plot shapes there is. One reason is that it consists of two long, skinny lanes bordered by cover — the same design features I mentioned earlier that can help deer feel safer using food plots on logging roads. “V-shaped, boomerang-type plots are an excellent setup,” Dougherty said. “With a long food plot, you can put a pinch point or a narrow gap near the middle of it. Deer will use the whole plot for feeding, but they might spend more time near the pinch-point where they can see what’s on both sides, so you should try to set up so you can hunt that pinch-point area from your stand.”

The Hourglass Plot.As with a boomerang-shaped plot, your stand should be set up so that you can cover the junction of the next food plot design we’ll cover: the hourglass. As its name suggests, this type of plot is shaped like an antique hourglass, with two planted-area lobes joined by a much thinner neck, which is also planted. As Dougherty explained, the hourglass-shape takes full advantage of the natural curiosity of deer: “With an hourglass shaped plot in thick cover, deer tend to enter the plot on one side and then often go to the pinch-point so they can see both sides.”

Tying It All Together Here’s how Dougherty summed up the concepts we’ve covered: “There’s no better way to draw deer in than with a food plot. And over the years, I’ve learned that other than planting the best seeds, the most important factor in getting deer to use a plot during the day and keep doing so is its location.” Always keep in mind that you want your food plots to provide initial attraction so that they start drawing deer right away, as well as sustained attraction to hold them on your property. To make sure they can, first make sure you identify all the potential food plot locations on your property, including those you might not have thought of such as logging roads, and power and gas easements. If you still find that you’re short on plantable acreage, plant every opening you can. If you have more plantable area than you plan to use, make sure you locate your food plots as close to cover as possible. Locate them so that deer will be vulnerable — so that you can travel to and from them with as little chance as possible of spooking deer, and deer have as much escape cover nearby as possible. Also, when you have more than enough open area to plant, be as creative as you can when designing the shape of your plots. And remember — every situation is different, so use these tips not as absolutes, but as suggestions that you can consider when developing the best food plot strategy for your situation.