How To Maintain Your Food Plot and the Surrounding Area
Created in partnership with Pat Reeve—host of Driven TV and one of the top hunting authorities on whitetail deer.
Once you’ve established a food plot on your land, it’s important to not only maintain the food plot, but the land around it. For the food plot itself, you’ll want to occasionally go in with fertilizer and weed killer to promote strong plant growth. You also might decide to overseed in spots that show weakening or to provide food variety for the deer. And don’t forget to water if things start looking dry.
For more information on all of these topics, be sure to check these other articles: How to Plant a Food Plot or How to Clear & Spray A Food Plot.
Other Management Practices Around Your Food Plot
With the food plot doing its job and attracting deer, there are other things you can do to your land to help hold them there—or at least keep them coming back frequently. Everything from creating bedding areas to adding a water hole can provide extra incentive for the deer to stick around all year.
Hinge Cutting To Create Natural Bedding Areas and Shelter for Deer
When you’re walking around the property you plan to hunt, take a look at the wooded areas. Can you see through them cleanly, or is there a lot of overgrowth obstructing your view? To hold deer on your land, you’ll want some overgrowth—the nastier, the better. It provides natural bedding areas for the deer to use.
You can manufacture areas of cover by hinge cutting trees. To do this, cut one side of a smaller tree or sapling and lay it over. Cut partially through the tree about chest high—do not cut all the way across. The partial cut will ensure the tree keeps growing as it’s laying on the ground, keeping leaves on the tree to create cover that can even encourage vine growth.
Do this around your property anywhere it needs thickening or near ridges where deer like to bed. You can also broadcast seed clover around your hinge cuts to provide soft bedding for the deer and a natural food source. Try not to cut trees with timber value that you might want to have logged in the future when they mature. Remember, oak trees also drop acorns which deer will feed on, so be sure to avoid hinge cutting them.
Make Mock Scrapes To Encourage Deer Traffic on Your Property
Another effective way to attract deer and keep them coming back to an area is to create a mock scrape. You can do this by clearing out a spot on the ground underneath an overhanging tree branch that’s roughly deer height. They’ll use the branch to rub their preorbital and forehead glands.
To create a mock scrape, remove all debris under the branch and get it down to the bare soil. If there are no branches in the area that would work, you can find a sapling and wire it down, bending it over to the preferred deer height. Some hunters will even add deer urine to a mock scrape. A well placed and designed scrape will become a calling card that all deer in the area will visit.
The Importance of Water Holes on Your Property
The presence of water on your land can be just as important as food. Deer will look for the most convenient water source close to their bedding area. If there isn’t water readily available on your land, or near your food plot, you can put one in yourself. Here’s how:
Use or rent a skid steer to scoop out dirt. A good size hole will look like a cereal bowl - about 30 feet across and 5 feet deep.
When digging, separate the good topsoil and set it aside. Remove any rocky layers and move it out of the way.
Use an ATV or UTV to ride back and forth in and out of the hole on all sides to compact the soil into a hard pan.
Drop in a 8-mil liner to hold the water. If your hole is 30 feet wide, you'll want about a 30 foot by 30 foot square tarp.
Lock in the tarp edges using the good soil pulled from the hole, then backfill the hole to about 12 to 18 inches deep.
Run your ATV or UTV back in and out of the hole again, compacting the soil.
Let rainwater fill up the hole, fill it with a water hose if available, or use a Polaris side-by-side to trailer a water tank.
Plant greens around the hole, such as clover, oats, wheat or chicory as an added food source to hold the soil.
If you don’t have the time or tools to dig a large hole, the other option is to purchase a pre-formed pond. A pre-formed pond looks like a kids swimming pool and can be dug into the ground or set on top if it has a flat bottom. Either way, having water on your land will keep deer from roaming elsewhere to find it.
Hunting Around Your Food Plot
After all your land management efforts, it’s time to start thinking about how all of this will play into the actual hunt. Use trail cams to monitor activity of the deer on your property and how their habits might be changing with the addition of a food plot, bedding areas and maybe even a new water source—then select your ideal tree stand locations.
Trail Camera Placement Recommendations & Tips
If you’ve gone to the trouble of making a deer scrape, or have identified an existing scrape on your land, putting up a trail camera near the scrape is a great way to inventory deer on your property. Every deer in the area will visit that scrape. You’ll also want to use cameras to monitor your food plot usage—what deer may be eating and when. Using the trail cams can help you determine the most effective food sources for future seasons. If you added a water hole, drop a camera on it to see how it’s being used. Trail cams are a great way to monitor deer traffic, habits and variety. Do you have a giant buck on your property or should you expect a herd of does in the fall?
Selecting Tree Stand Locations Around Your Food Plot
There’s an art and a science to selecting the perfect place for your tree stand or permanent blind. Some of the best places to hunt will be right over your newly installed food plot or water hole. If you’re bow hunting, place your stand so it covers the leafy greens in your plot that deer will feed on in the early season. If you hunt with a rifle, then place your stand where it’s covering more of the grains and brassicas that deer will head to later in the fall. Just make sure when you position your stand or blind that it’s in a place you can reach across the plot.
Give careful thought to the most common wind direction in your area and place your stand appropriately. Some hunters will place multiple stands around their food plot to accommodate a northerly, southerly or westerly wind. Keep in mind, permanent blind structures will help control scent, minimize noise and protect you and your family from the elements.
Clearing Shooting Lanes Around Your Food Plot
Once you have your blind or stand positioned, go up and survey your shooting lanes. Make note of any branches or saplings that might get in the way of getting a clear shot, and trim those sight lines with a chainsaw, brush cutter or pole saw. It helps to have a vehicle-mounted winch to pull tree stumps or clear larger cut branches out of the way. You're now ready for hunting season around your brand new food plot.
Go Out and Enjoy the Hunt
Managing your land is a tremendously rewarding experience. Not only are you providing a habitat for the deer in your area, your food plot and dedicated hunting land will benefit all forms of wildlife including songbirds and essential insects. Plus, hunting that land provides an effective way to manage deer populations, prevent overcrowding and limit the spread of disease.
Now it’s time to go out and enjoy your newly transformed space and watch as deer adapt their behavior to its presence. Happy hunting.
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