A Guide to Better Food & Habitat on Hunting Properties

A Guide to Better Food & Habitat on Hunting Properties
Dr. Craig Harper authored a book entitled, “Wildlife Food Plots and Early Successional Plants.” Using food plots to supplement naturally occurring foods is the theme of the book. To order, go to nocsopublishing.com. To slightly modify a quote from the Director of Conservation for the Quality Deer Management Association, Kip Adams says, “The information within this book is backed by science and tested with spent (broadheads) gunpowder."

I became a wildlife biologist so I could become a better deer hunter. Once I understood the relationship between deer and their habitat, I started to tip over more deer on a regular basis. But, the road to understanding proper deer habitat and management can be tough when you actually put boots on the ground.

Location, location, location is the universal mantra from any real-estate agent. The market value of any property is where it’s located. The same scenario can be said of understanding deer hunting and management. Using the real-estate analogy, deer management equates to habitat, habitat, habitat. This parameter can’t be underestimated.

Deer management can be described as the three legs of a stool. Biologists and land managers must constantly balance: (1) existing deer populations, (2) hunter-management objectives, and (3) existing habitat. Although all three of these components are very important, understanding deer habitat is the key. For bowhunters, the existing habitat is the most important element when considering the value of a treestand location.

The quality and quantity of habitat is always a primary factor when assessing the value of a hunting property or treestand location. Additionally, the composition and location of various vegetation types on the property is where we put the pedal to the metal. This is where the art and science of wildlife management comes into play.


Recently, University of Tennessee Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist Dr. Craig Harper authored a book entitled, “Wildlife Food Plots and Early Successional Plants.” The beauty of this book is that it is actually two books in one. The first half meticulously details food-plot management and how food plots fit into a deer-management plan. The second half is a Plant Identification Guide that teaches hunters the importance of naturally occurring plants (from north to south), their value to wildlife, and how to get rid of them if they are undesirable. Without a doubt, the information you can glean from this book is unparalleled in educating hunters on food plots and understanding deer habitat.


The commercial food-plot industry was born back in the 1980s. Almost every deer hunter thought the world evolved around this “new” management technique called food plots. Well, we’ve come a long way since then. Obviously, there is a lot more to managing deer than just food plots, and Harper nails this point by saying, “Food plots do not replace other habitat-management practices, but complement them.”

Harper uses decades of research from himself, his graduate students, and other professionals to disprove some old-time beliefs. He uses biological research as opposed to commercial bias or hearsay, or even “this is what we’ve always done,” (which is true with some government agencies) to give new insight to habitat management for deer and other species in a very objective and understandable manner. Harper provides information on soils, establishment of food plots, plant mixtures, and management advice that can be used anywhere. Without question, the information on herbicide use for managing food plots and early successional communities is unmatched by any other resource.

Harper explains plant phenology (timing of growth), nutritional requirements of deer, and how and why deer select the various plants they do. This information is provided in a way that helps deer hunters understand what types of food plots are needed for different times of the year. In addition to information on deer, the book also contains chapters for other species, such as wild turkeys, mourning doves, and waterfowl.

Oftentimes, hunters plant food plots and within a month or so there’s nothing left. Was there something wrong with your planting? Maybe. But chances are you have too many deer on your property. Instead of spending all your time and money on another planting failure, you probably should start managing your woods and fields and consider lowering deer density on your property. And yes, on many properties this is easier said than done. One big advantage of food plots is that they can significantly help reduce the deer-browsing pressure on a recovering forest understory.


Harper also adds another valuable point when he says, “Wherever you grow food plots, plants arising from the seedbank will also grow. It only makes sense to recognize the importance of both, and to use plants occurring naturally to your advantage when possible.” In other words, since the seeds are already supplied naturally (and are free), why not use them to your benefit? Many hunters rely solely on food plots, and yet neglect the native vegetation.

Food plots should have a minimum of four hours of overhead sunlight, with screening cover no more than 100 yards from the middle. Compared to a square-shaped food plot, a long, linear food plot has a better chance of crossing the home range of multiple deer. Additionally, pinch-points made up of woody debris, shrubs, or evergreens are very beneficial along linear food plots. Treestand locations taking advantage of these “squeezed-in” funnel areas can be very beneficial.

Harper emphasizes that considerable thought should be given to prevailing winds when deciding on your food-plot location. And probably more important, entering and exiting your stand during the nighttime hours. Educating deer while hunting wrong winds, or going straight to a stand location, can kill all your plans. Having your trail curve prior to your stand location can help immensely in hiding your approach and exit. Sometimes, planting a tall visual break such as switchgrass is all that’s needed.


Harper recommends food plots should maintain a 50-foot buffer next to an adjacent tree’s rain-drip line. Additionally, thinning undesirable trees up to 100 yards from your food plot can create a natural progression from forbs to shrubs to saplings to mature trees.

Food-plot management practices influence a deer’s daily movements and home-range size. Yes, food will attract deer, but high-quality cover is what holds deer on your property. This is where the composition and design of your food plot and adjacent cover helps immensely. Remember, food plots should not replace habitat-management practices, but complement them.

C.J.’s Summary: A deer biologist’s job is to maintain deer numbers at or below the carrying capacity of the property, so they do not destroy the habitat in which they live. Harper’s book gives hunters a college-level degree on managing deer. Because the name of the game in advancing your hunting education is understanding habitat quality, this publication will help you become a better deer hunter. Noteworthy within the book is the Plant Identification Guide. The Guide contains more than 300 commonly found weeds and other plants found in food plots, fallow fields, and other early successional communities. Each plant species contains multiple color pictures, a description of the plant, wildlife value, and recommended control technique if undesirable. “Wildlife Food Plots and Early Successional Plants” is a book you want to read and digest fully.

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Bowhunter TV Episode 12: Deer Slam!

2018 Bowhunter TV Episode 12: Deer Slam!

Bowhunter Magazine Editor Curt Wells lives his life-long dream of taking all five species of North American deer.

Season Opener: Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Season Opener: Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Christian Berg arrives at Whitetail Heaven Outfitters in Kentucky to kick off the beginning of his hunting season.

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 1

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 1

Bowhunter TV's Derek Mleynek and Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson head to Texas for a late-season mixed bag hunt that promises plenty of action.

Early Season Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Early Season Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Christian Berg begins the scouting process in Kentucky on his first whitetail hunt of the season.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Go farther, hunt deeper, and trek lighter while enjoying all-day comfort. How-To

Tree Saddle Hunting — Demo Climb With Aider

Mike Carney - June 07, 2019

Go farther, hunt deeper, and trek lighter while enjoying all-day comfort.

Black bear meat is dark and rich, and delicious ground up in this Pâté chaud recipe. Recipes

Vietnamese Black Bear Pté Chaud (Meat Pie) Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Black bear meat is dark and rich, and delicious ground up in this Pâté chaud recipe.

New year, new look at your whitetail ground How-To

Summer Scouting from Scratch

Tony J. Peterson

New year, new look at your whitetail ground

Archer Chris Cammack has arrowed the new world record for brown bears with his Alaskan giant. Other Game

Massive Alaskan Brown Bear is the New World Record

Lynn Burkhead - October 18, 2018

Archer Chris Cammack has arrowed the new world record for brown bears with his Alaskan giant.

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

To know where you need to be in the rut, re-visit your trail-cam recon from months gone by. Whitetail

Trail Camera Clues That Lead To Rut Hunting Success

Tony J. Peterson - November 04, 2019

To know where you need to be in the rut, re-visit your trail-cam recon from months gone by.

Successful whitetail hunting in the fall starts with lots of legwork in the spring. Whitetail

Spring Scouting Strategies for Successful Whitetail Hunting

Greg Miller

Successful whitetail hunting in the fall starts with lots of legwork in the spring.

You'll never know everything about deer, but remembering the simple things can reboot your focus. Whitetail

Learning & Relearning the Whitetail Basics

Nathan L. Andersohn

You'll never know everything about deer, but remembering the simple things can reboot your...

Bucks can pattern us much like we pattern them. Here's what to do when that happens. Whitetail

Change Up Your Hunting Strategy to Fool Bucks

Mark Kayser

Bucks can pattern us much like we pattern them. Here's what to do when that happens.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

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

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