Skip to main content

Food Plot Guide for the Working Man

Food Plot Guide for the Working Man

Food plots are a divisive subject. The average hunter is exposed to countless television shows taped on the edges of vast, green food plots that fill nightly with deer. Magazines and Internet forums are chock-full of photos of hunters happily posing with brute bucks in obvious food plots. The perception is that if you plant a food plot, big bucks will show up and it becomes a matter of merely choosing the deer that tickles your fancy. On lightly-pressured, highly-controlled properties that can certainly be the case. For the rest of us, it's simply not.

Most of us don't have the land or the tools to plant large food plots. That doesn't mean we're out of luck. Over the last decade or so, my hunting buddies and I have tried our hands at creating small, staging-area style food plots any place we could get permission. The results have been surprising.

Our first attempts at planting food plots were futile. With machetes, metal rakes, and more willpower than brains we cleared out spots in the woods that we thought were likely staging areas. We reasoned that a small patch of clover located inside the cover of woods but within sight of agricultural fields would congregate traveling deer. What we found was on the rare occasion when we did create a plot that received enough sunlight, had the right soil, and successful seed germination and growth, the plot still didn't have a chance. By late-August, every one of the plants in our "good" food plots would be trimmed to putting-green height long before we had a chance to hunt.

Since our early attempts we've gotten a bit wiser and now take a more scientific approach to our plantings. First off, location is of utmost importance. If you pick a clearing or other open area because it will be easy to till up and plant, you might be making a mistake. The goal of a small food plot is to provide a situation where hunter and deer can come together for a high-odds shot opportunity. This typically means the best location is right between bedding and feeding areas. It's easy to think of them as a stopping-off place but not an ultimate destination, like grabbing a cup of coffee when you're on your way to the archery range for an early morning shoot.


When deciding on a plot location, there are two reasons to look up. The first is to decide how much sunlight will reach the ground. A little trimming can sometimes open up the canopy and allow adequate sunlight through. The second reason to gaze skyward is to identify a good stand tree that will work in prevailing fall winds.


Assuming all of the necessary pieces of the puzzle have come together, it's time to clear out ground cover. A sharp machete, a handsaw or chainsaw, metal rakes, shovels, and battery-powered weed trimmers are all useful. Herbicides also work well but must be applied well in advance to allow sufficient time to pass between spraying and planting.

After the ground is cleared, the soil needs to be exposed. Soil-to-seed contact is of the utmost importance for planting success. This can be achieved with anything from a metal rake or hand tiller to a pull-behind plow that can be hooked up to an ATV.

Now comes the decision of which seeds to plant and when. The food plot seed market has exploded in the last decade and options are plentiful. There are mainstays like clover or turnips, super-charged soybean plants that can climb to impressive heights, and a multitude of blends designed to cover nearly all situations. I've found the best approach is to take a simple pH soil test with a handheld tester and then conduct some research. Most companies will know the average rainfall of your region and the typical soil type, and can recommend the best option for you.

Lastly, most seeds can be planted in either the spring or late summer. Recommended dates will vary depending on where you live. Spring plantings are a great way to feed all kinds of wildlife and to see deer throughout the summer. But for the purpose of hunting, late-summer and fall plantings are best because deer prefer lush, young plants. Later plantings ensure a maximum level of desirability during early bow season.


If this seems like a lot to consider, take a look at the following products designed for anyone seeking an easy transition into the food plot fold.

One of the leaders of the food plot movement, Whitetail Institute, offers a couple different products like Imperial No-Plow ($39.99/9 lbs.), which is a high-protein blend that is truly easy to plant. No-Plow requires only three to four hours of sunlight a day and is a great option for planting in small clearings or along logging roads. Another option is their new Tall Tine Tubers ($28.95/3 lbs.), which includes the only turnips developed specifically for deer food plots. Tall Tine Tubers provides two types of food -- forage and tubers -- making it one of the best choices for fall and early-winter hunting. Visit www.whitetailinstitute.com or call 1-800-688-3030.

If you were to offer most food plot addicts only one type of seed to plant for an entire year, most would choose clover. Fully aware of this, Mossy Oak BioLogic offers Clover Plus ($16.99/2 lbs.), which features a perennial blend of New Zealand Red and White clovers and chicory. Their New Zealand clover has been developed to produce larger leaves and smaller stems to increase the nutritional value. Visit www.mossyoakbiologic.com or call (662) 495-9292.


Evolved Harvest sells several seed blends that are perfect for small plots, but one of the easiest and most effective is their annual No-Till EasyPlot ($24.99/15 lbs.). EasyPlot contains rye grass, rape and clovers, and can be planted in either the spring or the fall. Visit www.evolved.com or call (225) 638-4094.

A relative newcomer to the food plot market, Wildgame Innovations also has created a no-till option, Backwoods Blend ($17.99/5 lbs.). Backwoods Blend requires a soil pH of 6 to 7.5, meaning a soil test is a good idea and adding lime to the soil might be necessary. This seed mix contains annual grains and sweet brassicas that grow quickly, providing hunting opportunities shortly after planting. Visit www.wildgameinnovations.com or call 1-866-995-4263.

A perfect choice if you find yourself wishing for a secret honey-hole tucked deep into the woods is No Sweat ($14.95/4.5 lbs.) from Antler King. No Sweat is a no-till plot mix that contains both annual and perennial seeds, is extremely pH tolerant, and requires minimal sunlight. Antler King also offers a liquid soil conditioner called Plot Max ($19.95/32 oz.) that raises soil pH and promotes moisture retention. Visit www.antlerking.com or call 1-888-ANTLER1.

Canola, chicory and turnips, along with four types of perennial clovers, make up the MonsterBuck Pasture Mix ($31.95/6 lbs.) from Wisconsin-based Elk Mound Seed Company. Pasture Mix germinates in 10 to 14 days and can be planted in spring or fall. Visit www.monsterbuckfoodplot.com or call 1-800-401-7333.

Buck Forage Oats ($35/50 lbs.) from Buck Forage Products are perfect for small food plots. Buck Forage Oats grow well when planted 2" deep in the soil with an optimum pH level of 7. The winter-hardy oats grow slower than normal oats, meaning they'll stay tender and palatable long into the season. Visit www.buckforage.com or call 1-800-299-6287.

Tecomate Seed offers Frost Zone ($19.99/4 lbs.), which contains a blend of seeds chosen specifically to thrive in colder climates. Spring and fall plantings are an option, but this seed also does well when "frost seeded," which is a planting process that involves broadcasting seed on frozen ground and then waiting for the thawing process to literally absorb the seed into the ground. Visit www.tecomateseed.com or call 1-800-547-4101.

If you own or have access to an ATV, Plotmaster's Hunter 300 ATV Model ($3,199) might be worth looking into. The Hunter 300 features an all-in-one design that allows easy discing, plowing, planting, and cultipacking. Plotmaster's VERSA-SEEDER system allows you to plant any type of seed through a unique reverse-auger system. Visit www.theplotmaster.com or call 1-888-629-4263.

Lastly, small food plots have a tendency to disappear quickly into the stomachs of wandering ungulates. So, to protect your investments until you're ready to hunt, check out the Plotsaver Starter Kit ($49.99) from Messina Wildlife Services. This kit is designed to protect an entire acre for up to 100 days through the use of Plotsaver deer repellant and a reusable ribbon system designed to deter marauding deer. Visit www.messinawildlife.com or call 1-888-411-3337.

While they may not ensure instant success, small food plots are a rewarding way to increase bowhunting enjoyment. All it takes are the right tools, appropriate seed, and a willingness to put in a little sweat equity. After that, it's a matter of waiting for the right wind and calmly picking a spot.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Spot-and-Stalk Texas Hog Bowhunt

Spot-and-Stalk Texas Hog Bowhunt

Bowhunter Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson spot-and-stalks hogs and whitetails in Texas.

Elk Bulls Abound in Colorado

Elk Bulls Abound in Colorado

Bowhunter team member Rudy Bachraty gets his chance to take an elk with Cross Mountain Outfitters of Colorado.

Daytime Bighead Carp Bowfishing

Daytime Bighead Carp Bowfishing

Curt Wells is with members of the Muzzy Bowfishing team as they set their sights on bighead carp during the day in Kentucky.

High Country Colorado Turkey Hunt

High Country Colorado Turkey Hunt

Danny Farris and Doyle Worbington of J&D Outfitters are hunting turkeys in Colorado.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The advantages to using a binocular bivy system are many, and they go well beyond providing full protection for your glass.Why You Should Use A Binocular Bivy System Field Tools

Why You Should Use A Binocular Bivy System

Joe Bell

The advantages to using a binocular bivy system are many, and they go well beyond providing...

Chasing predators is great for calming big-game nerves.Tips for Bowhunting Predators Other Game

Tips for Bowhunting Predators

Joe Bell

Chasing predators is great for calming big-game nerves.

Curt Wells and Randy Ulmer [video] explain the importance of momentum and penetration when choosing heavy vs. light arrows for bowhunting.How to Choose the Best Hunting Arrow - Heavy vs. Light How-To

How to Choose the Best Hunting Arrow - Heavy vs. Light

Curt Wells

Curt Wells and Randy Ulmer [video] explain the importance of momentum and penetration when...

Is FOC really all it's cracked up to be? Is it important to accuracy and penetration?Arrow FOC: Why It's Important for Bowhunting Arrows & Broadheads

Arrow FOC: Why It's Important for Bowhunting

Jace Bauserman

Is FOC really all it's cracked up to be? Is it important to accuracy and penetration?

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

If you desire peak performance from your hunting bow, learn these skills.Bow-Tuning Techniques for Peak Performance Bows

Bow-Tuning Techniques for Peak Performance

Joe Bell

If you desire peak performance from your hunting bow, learn these skills.

Bowhunting whitetails on the open plains can provide several unique challenges.How to Hunt Whitetails in Open Country How-To

How to Hunt Whitetails in Open Country

Joe Blake

Bowhunting whitetails on the open plains can provide several unique challenges.

Staying physically relaxed when at full draw is critical.Relax Your Bow Arm for Increased Accuracy How-To

Relax Your Bow Arm for Increased Accuracy

Levi Morgan

Staying physically relaxed when at full draw is critical.

It's important for bowhunters to adapt to the ever-changing scenarios & shot angles on the fly. Treestand Shot Selection for Bowhunters How-To

Treestand Shot Selection for Bowhunters

Tony J. Peterson

It's important for bowhunters to adapt to the ever-changing scenarios & shot angles on the...

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now