Whitetail food plots
Creating a Smorgasbord for Whitetails
By Steve Bartylla
It was an absolutely amazing sit. In 3 hours, I’d passed up easy shot opportunities
at 14 different bucks! If it hadn’t been for Fair Chase Outfitters owner John Redmond’s
desire to have me pass up the 3.5 yr olds showing promising potential, I’d have been
thrilled to arrow 3 different bucks, all going somewhere between the high 140s and mid
Two factors made this even more impressive. The first is that the Houston
Minnesota area isn’t exactly widely thought of as an area for producing mega bucks.
Granted, bluffs along the Mississippi are known by many Minnesota hunters as a
producer, but the state in general just isn’t thought of as one of the big 7 for turning out
The other is that this was mid October. Anyone that hunts the Upper Midwest
much fully understands that the dreaded October lull is not a great time to be in the
woods. Sure, it isn’t totally unheard of to pass 14 bucks on a mid November day, but tell
a serious Midwestern bow hunter you pulled it off on October 16th and they’ll cry BS
faster than you can blink.
The fact that I’d barely stepped foot on the land before that afternoon would seem
to elevate my scouting and stand hanging skills to unfathomable levels of greatness.
Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to take credit for it, both John Redmond and Driven
TV host, Pat Reeve had told me to be sure to check spot before I’d even glanced at a
photo of the property.
That one glance swiftly revealed why. The property consisted of an enormous
ridge, with a strip of opening on top and wide open bottoms, leaving plenty of fully
wooded top, points and side hill for cover. At the northwest end of the opening,
Redmond had established an acre food plot, divided between the rape, clover and chicory
mix of Antler King’s Trophy Clover and the barasica and turnips mixture that comprises
their Honey Hole. The combination would certainly draw deer.
The flat of the ridge top then continued through the woods for another 70 yards or
so, before flaring off into a series of points. Even without the man made pond, the pinch
on the top at the flare was an obvious stand site. With deer certainly bedded on the
points, they naturally funneled through the pinch in route to the food. The pond just made
it better by transforming it into a natural staging area as well.
In reality, the setup and incredible days on the stand it provided me with had
nothing to do with any skills I may or may not possess as a hunter. No, without a doubt,
they were the results of John Redmond’s carefully planned out food plot location, as well
as his insightfulness to offer a variety of food sources in that location. Best of all, nearly
anyone that leases or owns hunting grounds can do the same.
Most reading this piece already realize that the keys to producing and holding
superior deer on a property really boils down to providing ample year round nutrition,
protection from both predators and harsh winter conditions, water and a feeling of safety.
If you subtract winter cover from the equation, the remaining elements are keys for
southern deer, as well.
Next, we can apply a simple philosophy. If we provide deer with everything they
desire, at a level better than they can find elsewhere, they will spend a disproportionately
larger amount of time on our property. This holds true whether we are managing a 40-
acre piece in Northern Wisconsin or a 6000-acre spread in Texas. Granted, we can
certainly do more to shape the herd on the 6000-acre property, but we can also make a
positive and noticeable difference on the 40. The true key to inspiring deer to spend a
disproportionate amount of time on our property lies in giving them all they need better
than they can find anywhere else.
Taking this a step further, a wise move is to not only hold deer, but also dictate
their movement patterns in a way that’s most beneficial to our hunting efforts. The
placement of the pond and food plot on Fair Chase Outfitter’s farm is a prime example
of this. With the pond placed in a pinch point between the food and bedding, it creates a
slam dunk stand site.
“Careful forethought and planning is absolutely important when designing habitat
improvements,” explained John Redmond. “If you just go out and start putting in food
plots, you’ll have better hunting. If you place them in areas easy to hunt and force deer
to use funnels to get between bedding and feeding, you can have outstanding hunting,
The awesome buck Redmond took off of another of his farms is a perfect example
of this. Knowing that bucks were bedding in a nasty, brush choked draw, John took
advantage of an erosion cut. Placing an Antler King Honey Hole and Trophy Clover food
plot on the opposite side of the cut, the deer were literally forced to parade by his stand
when traveling between feeding and bedding.
With that, all Redmond had to do was wait for the right wind and a day that
the bucks would be moving. As luck had it, that happened to be on the second day of
Minnesota’s 06 bow hunting season. The result of this careful planning was a 189”
grossing main frame 8 point!
The Smorgasbord Effect
As helpful as it is to position food plots to take advantage of funnels, a
tremendous advantage can also be gained by pairing that plot with locations that also
offer other natural food sources.
“Deer need a lot of high quality food to be at their healthiest,” stated Redmond.
“Giving them a lot of high quality choices allows them to achieve that and draws more
Additionally, it caters to their diverse palette. As I wrote in my article in D&DH’s
Equipment Annual, I have no doubt that deer crave diversity in their diet and bore with
eating the same foods day after day. Furthermore, their nutritional needs change from
requiring high protein diets through late winter, spring and summer to high carb and fat
diets in late fall and early winter. Of course they can survive on almost anything, but
those types of foods meet their needs best during those seasons.
When one adds all that up, you can start to see the advantages of offering several
food plot choices, as well improving naturally occurring foods in the same location. The
deer’s desire for diversity and changing nutritional needs will both draw and keep them
feeding in the same location more and longer than one feeding option can.
When selecting what to offer in food plots, it all begins with selecting a high
quality seed. “What most people don’t realize,” Redmond explained, “is that the seeds
you can get down at the local feed mill aren’t the same as the ones developed for deer.
Every strain has different traits. A regular clover seed may have a though, thick stalk.
That’s fine for cows and horses, but deer like a tender stalk. The seeds sold for deer cost
more, but are worth it.”
The next consideration is what to plant. I almost always strive to offer 2 or 3
different seed blends in the same area. For example, I may put in ½-1 acre of clover. This
will provide high protein during the spring, summer and early fall months. You can then
toss in another similarly sized plot of barasics and beats. This will be a good draw during
fall and winter. When dealing with a larger area, one can then offer 3-5 acres of soybeans
mixed with corn. By planting both at 1.5-2 times the suggested rate, you can produce
a good amount of grain in a relatively small plot. With all 3 plantings, you covered all
phases of season and have taken an important step towards satisfying their desire for
However, you can take yet another step. Plant some apple trees. When doing so,
offer a variety. Planting a couple that drop early, medium and late will keep fruit on the
ground for a longer period of time. Just be sure to protect them from rubs and rodents
with fencing and a wrap.
As long as we’re at it, when practical, pair the location with naturally existing
food sources. Oak trees, stands of woody browse and even overgrown meadows all are
important foods for whitetails.
Getting the Most from Nature
Speaking of naturally existing foods, they are often the most ignored. Numerous
books and countless articles have been written on maximizing food plot production. By
now, anyone that’s truly interested understands the importance of obtaining ideal pH,
soils fertility, preparing a proper seed bed and so on.
What many may not realize is what we can do to maximize Mother Nature’s
foods. Obviously, because we’re striving to focus as much feeding as practical in a
handful of locations on the property, we’d be doing most of these acts around our food
Oaks receive the most attention in this group. So, we may as well start with them.
It begins by fertilizing them in the spring with a 10-10-10 to 15-15-15, slow
release fertilizer. After raking the debris from the base of the tree on out to the drip line,
apply a medium dosage of fertilizer from the drip line to a foot shy of the base of the tree.
Just be certain to do this in the spring. Summer and fall fertilization can prompt fresh
growth at inopportune times and harm the tree.
When finished, either rake debris back over the exposed area or lay down straw.
Either helps in retaining soil moisture, which can be important during dry periods.
Lastly, one can thin the canopy of less desirable trees. Trees require sunlight to
perform photosynthesis (the act of producing food). Think about where most of the
largest, healthiest trees are located. They are generally found in open areas. Open areas
allow them to receive adequate levels of sunlight, making it much easier for them to
maintain their lower branches. By removing some of the competing trees, we can
accomplish the same effect.
Though we were talking about oaks, these procedures can be applied to any mast
producing tree. The net result will be the same. Healthier trees are capable of increased
crop production. As the effects of our efforts begin to pay off, deer will begin gravitating
to the “healthier” trees.
Natural greens are ignored even more, but can be real producers. Unfortunately,
as most greens mature, their cell walls harden, they significantly drop in nutrient content
and also become more difficult to digest.
A spring burn on meadows is a good starting point. That removes the dead matter
and adds nutrients to the soil.
Applying a lawn fertilizer in spring and early fall will also help. Simply put,
nearly every form of land based plant life is healthier and more productive when the
soil’s nutrient content is ideal.
Finally, as the grasses and weeds begin reaching maturity, the meadow can be
mowed like a hay field. Doing so will keep it from reaching the undesirable state for a
much longer period of time.
As with everything else we have covered, applying fertilizer will aid in increasing
its health of woody browse. We can also apply the same clearing principle we discussed
for the oaks. Removing mature trees that block sunlight will encourage browse
Finally, we can also trim them like a hedge. This extends the time in which the
browse they produce is at a level where deer can reach it. It also creates more shoots then
it normally would and its fresh, young leafy growth is more desirable.
These techniques can be adapted to work with virtually any type of natural deer
food. For example, one can certainly fertilize honeysuckle and increase both its
production and desirability. Locust trees will respond just like oaks, by producing more
and larger pods. When treating natural foods around our food plot location, we are
providing yet another reason for the deer to come to that specific area to feed.
When creating a smorgasbord for whitetails, it all begins with the food plot.
Finding the proper balance between a location where the plot will thrive and still do the
hunter the most good is job one. Next, coming up with a combination of plantings that
will satisfy the both the deer’s nutritional needs and desire for diversity is an important
step. Finally, boosting the natural food sources around the plot helps even further.
This combination of acts helps the deer achieve greater health. In turn, that results
in better fawning and improved antler growth. Furthermore, when properly planned, it
can also be an exceptional aid to hunting by creating great stand sites. Creating 3 or 4
such smorgasbords on a 500 acre farm often results in more than enough killer stand sites
for a group of hunters to enjoy.