Hunting Strategies and Summer Food Plots 101

Make Your Summer Food Plots Work with Your Hunting Strategies


For most people, hunting over or near a food plot is one of the most enjoyable parts of the season. It attracts deer and pulls them in from distant bedding areas, and can really give you a great chance at filling your tag. Just like that time Kevin Costner heard “If you build it, they will come,” in his corn field, creating a food plot is almost guaranteed to bring deer in for a closer inspection. But without proper planning and some strategizing, your summer food plots could do more harm than good. You can’t just throw some food plot seeds out in an opening and expect Boone and Crockett deer to come waltzing on in during daylight. Managing expectations is the most important part of planting a food plot, because it just varies so much across the country. But just behind that is developing good planting and hunting strategies before you even go shopping for deer food plot seed. It all starts with enough research.


Researching Locations and Options

We’ll assume for starters that you really have a good understanding of the layout of your property. For example, you should know not just where the mature hardwoods and grassy openings are, but also where deer bed and feed and how they travel across your land. Getting actual boots on the ground to inspect everything is a great way to really understand it best, but that can take time. Depending on the size of your property, this might not even be a feasible approach. The easiest way to cover lots of ground quickly is by using desktop scouting. You can study aerial maps to find topographic changes (e.g., ridge lines, subtle saddles, southern-facing slopes, etc.), habitat differences (e.g., conifer swamps, hardwood stands, grasslands, etc.), and locate potential feeding and bedding areas. Additionally, you can use these maps to study your neighbor’s lands (no trespassing) to understand the deer movement throughout your entire area. In short, you can easily find and map good sites for summer food plots for deer or tree stands from the comfort of your couch.


You also need to pay attention to size before you get too carried away with your summer food plots. You don’t want to go overboard if you’re limited on time, equipment, or resources. Annuals take more work and resources than most perennial plants (since you have to plant something new each year), but even perennials require some type of maintenance annually. To save the most time and effort, you’ll need to decide on your goals ahead of time.


For example, do you want to develop a true destination field or a small hunting plot? They require very different food plot approaches and ultimately hunting strategies. For example, large destination fields will attract deer mainly during the nighttime hours, and require you to mostly hunt the fringes of them or trail networks leading to them. They are best installed near the center of your hunting property so you can hold deer at the interior of your land as much as possible. Hunting plots, on the other hand, are smaller and meant to attract deer during the day (usually located near bedding areas), so you can set up your tree stands right on the edge of them and sneak in to hunt the prime hunting days of the season. Small food plots in the woods make excellent hunting plots.


The best summer food plots, though, use both approaches. Plant a destination field at the center of your property and then place small hunting plots between it and the primary deer bedding areas. Then you can be reasonably sure that deer will stop at the hunting plots as they travel from bedding to the evening food source, and vice versa.


Best Summer Food Plots for Deer

The name of the game for summer food plots should really be protein. Deer require protein in the spring and summer more than any other time of year. Bucks enter the winter in a rut-weary state, and then face months of low food supplies. By spring, their bodies are usually at a severe deficit and they need to replenish their muscle and body fat before they can really start to build antlers back. Similarly, pregnant does need protein as the building blocks for creating new fawns and for keeping up their milk supplies. Finally, fawns that have access to a high quality protein diet usually start off on the best footing and can build up their bodies enough to get through the following winter.


To get the most protein for your buck (dollars and deer), you’re going to likely turn to legume species. Legumes are a large family of plants that often produce their own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their roots. This abundance of nitrogen often creates the high protein plant material you (and the deer on your property) are looking for. Some notable plants in this family include soybean, peanut, peas, clover, or alfalfa. If one of your goals is to build the deer herd up (and build some solid antlers too), this is a good approach for you to take for your summer food plots.


If you plan on doing a large destination field to hunt over in the late season, you should also consider planting a high carbohydrate food. Fall and winter present a different caloric need for deer than summer does. Instead of protein, they need to pack on as much fat as possible before winter sets in, which means carbohydrates. Corn, cereal grains, turnips, and radishes all offer tremendous carbs for them in the late season and can be a real magnet for late season post-rut hunts.


Home Run Combinations for Summer Food Plots

Now that you know where to look, how to look, and what to potentially plant, here are some tried and true food plot mixes you can try for different situations.


Destination Food Plots

If you’ve got the resources, land, and equipment to pull it off, you can’t beat installing a destination food source on your property, especially if one is lacking in your area. It really serves as a focal point for deer movement across your property. While it’s tricky and risky to hunt directly on them, you can easily set your ladder stands up between them and deer bedding areas to catch a daylight buck cruising through. When it comes to summer food plots in large destination fields, you have great options for annuals or perennials.


As far as annuals, you really can’t beat the combination of corn and soybeans for deer. It accounts for more agricultural deer food in the Midwest than probably anything else. And the Midwest grows some big deer because of it! They have plenty of protein throughout the summer from the beans and lots of high energy food for winter from the corn. You’ll need some decent farming equipment to plant large fields of corn and beans though.



If you want to take the perennial route for your summer food plots, planting a large field of alfalfa and clover seed is a smart option. These legumes provide spring-through-fall nutrition that is loaded with protein. In fact, they become some of the first spring food plots of the year and can be great food plots for turkey too. It would actually be best if you can also hay these fields or have an adjacent farmer hay them to keep the growth lush and keep the weed pressure down. If you’re not going to actually hay it, you could also toss in some chicory for additional protein and drought protection. Alfalfa and chicory have deep tap roots to keep them green and healthy in dry weather.


Hunting Plot

As far as a smaller hunting plot, you have several great options, but the timing for planting these usually makes them great fall food plots. That way, deer will have access to a green food source immediately during the hunting season. But you can also plant a summer food plot blend now to provide summer nutrition for your deer, and then do a reality check in the fall. If it’s still attractive to deer, keep the plot as it is. If it’s not, then plow it under and plant something else for a fall hunting plot.


For annual plants, you could still do corn and beans, but the smaller plot sizes will usually be too small for the plants to escape the browsing pressure. Instead, consider turnips, radishes, brassicas, cereal grains, annual clover species, lablab, cowpeas, or even forage soybeans.


As for perennial species, clover and chicory also work great as a combination on small plots of 1/10 of an acre. They can take the browsing pressure and keep ahead of weed competition with some simple maintenance.


Where to Hang Your Tree Stands

Now here comes the most important part of planting summer food plots: hanging tree stands that will actually be effective. Tree stand placement is critical in these situations. As mentioned, you need to identify how you can approach and exit these stand locations at each food plot you make. If you can’t do both, it’s probably just doing more harm than good because you’re likely educating deer about your hunting plans each time you spook them. It should go without saying that your locations should also be downwind of the expected deer activity (during normal wind conditions). But it’s important to have several spots available so you can switch things up with different wind directions. Also, the hunting tactics should be different for each plot type mentioned above (destination and hunting plots).


Destination Fields

Larger summer food plots will really attract and concentrate deer in the evenings, and so there could be dozens feeding at a time. If your tree stand is located right on the edge of the field, this makes it really difficult to sneak out at the end of your hunt. You also need to be constantly mindful of your movements in your tree stand. Sooner or later, a deer is likely going to notice you.


Instead, identify the bedding areas from the aerial research and boots on the ground scouting you did earlier, as well as trails that deer use to access the fields. If you can hang a tree stand along one of their main trails, you have a very good chance at seeing a mature buck during daylight hours as he makes his way to feed for the night. Enter these stands early in the afternoon to minimize encounters with deer before you’re ready. Also, be prepared to stay late until deer have filtered into the field far enough to not detect your exit.


Hunting Plots

As mentioned, small food plots for deer are usually more inviting during daylight than large open expanses. Deer should filter through these hunting food plots quickly on their way to larger fields or beds, so you are unlikely to spook deer in the plot at certain parts of the day. Keep a Blackhawk XC hang on stand located on the downwind side of the plot, and develop an access trail that allows a silent and stealthy approach.


These stand locations are typically great throughout the day, as you might catch a buck returning to his bedroom in the morning, a midday snacker, or a wary buck staging up in the smaller plot instead of venturing out into the bigger fields. However, if your plot is very close to a bedding area, wait to hunt it until prime conditions occur (e.g., cold front, the perfect wind, etc.). Summer food plots like these can be excellent places to arrow a mature deer, so save them for the best hunting days. If you stick to these tips, your food plots will definitely help you punch your tag next fall

private land hunting guide how to maximize your opportunity Big Game Tree Stands

Private Land Hunting Guide | How to Maximize Your Opportunity

Steps You Can Take to Make Private Land Hunting More Productive

If you’re fortunate enough to own some private land hunting ground, you should be very thankful. Whether it’s a small hunting shack situated on 40 acres “up north” in the woods or simply the family farm you grew up on, private land is a real blessing. You have so many possibilities before you. These endless possibilities include shaping the land the way you would like it to look. Not only do you have the ability to keep a property in your family’s heritage, but you can help mold it into whatever you want. Some landowners scoff at this, realizing they may not personally ever see the fruits of their labor. But this is sadly short-sighted, particularly if they have family members who will one day inherit it. Owning private hunting land allows you to create a real and lasting legacy on your property for generations after you. Even if you only intend on selling it instead of keeping it in the family, managing your property for timber, wildlife, or other purposes often adds value to it, which you can recoup upon sale. In short, a little work now is worth the end result.

For those who can only hunt on public land or private hunting land for lease, it’s inconceivable that anyone would even question this. Public land hunters have many possibilities open to them, but very few of the ones this article will discuss. They can’t alter the land they hunt or improve it in any real way, and they have to share it with everyone else who decides they would like to try hunting there. Private land hunting doesn’t have these issues. Aldo Leopold once famously said in A Sand County Almanac, “A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land.” It doesn’t matter if you like whitetail archery hunting, or prefer a firearm either. These techniques will work in either situation. Without further ado, let’s discuss the tactics you can use to make your property more attractive to wildlife, which effectively makes it more attractive to you as well.

Habitat Management  

Have no fear if you often wonder, “What do whitetail deer eat on my property?” Deer are well-equipped from getting everything they need from nature. So instead of fighting this or trying to outdo nature, sometimes the best course of action is to manage the natural habitat first. Smart management practices help improve the diversity of age classes, structure, and species in a forest or prairie. Management activities could include timber harvest, hinge-cutting trees, burning, or planting, to name a few. Let’s look at each one of these.

If your property consists of a lot of mature forest, you may want to consider a timber harvest. While mature forest is nice for bow hunting deer, it doesn’t offer deer very much in the way of food or cover. Consult a state or private forester to come tour your property so they can advise you on the best harvest practice. This is a long-lasting decision that could affect resale value if you’re going to take that route, so please consult with a professional before having a contractor cut anything. With some species and stands, a clear-cut is the best option (e.g., aspen trees), while for others it might be better to do a shelter wood cut (e.g. oak trees). The aftermath might look devastating, but it’s actually a fresh start for nature. The disturbance resembles a natural blow-down or fire event, and the sudden amount of sunlight to hit the forest floor will sprout up all kinds of herbaceous and woody plants, called early successional species. This young forest opening is perfect feeding and bedding habitat for deer, turkeys, grouse, and all kinds of other animals, which makes public land hunting even better. These areas are often the best for box stands for deer hunting, since you can hunt them stealthily all day while deer wander through a combined bedding/feeding area.

If you’re not quite ready to conduct a full clear-cut, but still want to improve your habitat and even add some variety to it, a hinge-cut could be a good idea. This practice involves only cutting non-desirable trees (from a timber or mast perspective) to release desirable ones, opening up the canopy, and adding horizontal structure at ground level. It can be done on a large or micro scale, and can easily be done yourself if you’re comfortable with a chainsaw. These DIY management activities are what make private land hunting so great. For larger canopy trees, many people fully cut them down and use the trunk as firewood instead of letting it rot. The hinge-cutting is best done on smaller trees, roughly less than 6 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh), for safety reasons anyway. To do one properly, slowly cut halfway through the tree on the opposite side you would like it to fall. Once halfway through, start slowly pushing the top until it leans over and falls. Cut a little more if you need to until it slowly falls over. You need to leave enough tree material connected so the roots can still keep the top section alive. This will extend the useful life of your hinge-cutting and allows the tops to produce tender growth at deer level, which they will browse heavily. This practice will also look very messy when you’re done, especially compared to surrounding mature forests with wide-open views. But that structure provides great bedding for deer, which can be great for bow hunting deer stands.

private land hunting guide how to maximize your opportunity Big Game Tree StandsIf your private property has a lot of old fields or native prairie remnants, burning is a very good practice. Many prairie communities evolved with natural fires, so they actually require an occasional fire to recycle nutrients, reduce the mass of organic material, remove woody species from taking over, and encourage tender new growth to sprout. Again, this is another practice you should do only with professional help unless you’re experienced in doing it, as it can quickly get out of hand and do a lot of damage. Prescribed burns, no matter how small, can do a lot of good at regenerating native species and providing lush new food for animals.

Finally, you could also plant native or beneficial tree, shrub, or herbaceous species on your private hunting land. Any wildlife planting you do should either provide hard or soft mast, or provide a good source of cover. For example, oaks and apple trees provide consistent food either now or in a few decades, depending on what you plant. Cedars provide a dense thermal cover for deer to escape from harsh conditions. A hedgerow of wild plum or crabapple through a field provides both food and cover. If you’re going to plant something, do it right by protecting your investment with necessary cages or tubes, and maintain it so that other species don’t immediately overwhelm it. In a few years, you should have a fairly self-sustaining landscape that provides much more than it once did.

Food Plots for Private Land Hunting 

Earlier we said that most deer populations don’t strictly need food plots to survive, but almost any population could benefit from them. A well-managed food plot can produce a tremendous amount of highly digestible and nutritious food that helps deer to reach their full genetic potential. And they are certainly nice when you plan on bow hunting deer. Food plots are probably the number one reason people would like to own their own hunting land. It’s no wonder, as planting food plots can be an extremely addicting hobby.

private land hunting guide how to maximize your opportunity Big Game Tree StandsWhile you can divide up food plot types in several ways, we’ll classify them as either feeding or hunting food plots in this article because they have very different outcomes. A strictly feeding food plot is meant to provide calories to the deer herd in an unpressured environment. Corn/bean fields and hay fields act as feeding plots from spring through summer. Private landowners often plant clover as a perennial food plot, which help nursing does and antler-growing bucks during the summer. Some people even plant fall food plots strictly to help deer through the winter and never hunt them. These plots are useful for building the resident deer herd on your property, and are amazing when used in or near a deer sanctuary area.

Hunting plots, on the other hand, are the secret weapon of private land hunting. They are generally much smaller than larger, destination feeding areas. Because of their size, they physically cannot support very many deer in them at any one time and are easier to hunt without educating the deer herd to your intentions. Bow hunting for whitetail deer is especially useful in these plots, since a hunter can shoot almost all the way across them in any direction. Additionally, deer are far more likely to use these hunting plots during daylight hours since they are so secluded and surrounded by cover. Hunting plots are usually planted with a highly attractive fall annual species, such as brassicas, cereal grains, or winter peas. When these species really start growing, you should have your best bow hunting stands hung nearby. By planting these plots on your hunting properties, you can strategically pull deer onto your land in the fall. Luckily, this is exactly the time you want them to hang out on your turf, so neighboring landowners can’t shoot them.

Private Land Hunting Strategies 

This is the fun part, when you can pull all the pieces of the puzzle together. It’s the time that makes private land hunting so much more effective than public lands in many cases. One of the curses of public land hunting is that you could let a deer pass by, and they might get shot within a few hundred yards by another hunter, giving you no incentive to let bucks mature into older age classes. You can’t completely remove this problem on private land, since deer can easily wander to a neighboring property, particularly if you own a few hundred acres or less. But you can mitigate it a little using the hunting strategies below.

It’s risky to leave ladder stands or lock on stands on public lands, and impractical/illegal to set up a box blind. But there are no such restrictions on your own property. While not completely devoid of theft risks, private land hunting offers a much better place to leave your tree stands in the woods or set up box blinds in a perfect location. With more permanent stand locations, you can also manage the habitat or plant additional screening cover to hide your entry and exit route. That way, you should be able to sneak in and out of a hunting situation without alerting deer to your presence. Box blinds offer high concealment value and are useful near food sources or bedding areas alike. They are particularly nice when the weather takes a down turn or you want to bring younger kids hunting with you. Big Game Tree Stands has a Trophy Box kit with wide window openings and a flip-up trap door opening.

private land hunting guide how to maximize your opportunity Big Game Tree StandsSpeaking of tree stands, they’ll only be useful if you hang them in the right locations. Expert deer hunting stand locations are critical as you chase older and more experienced deer. As we said, hunting on large destination fields is a risky move. It might pay off, but you could also alert a dozen deer to your tree stand location in the process, making them very wary of it or anything like it again. You’re better off sitting over a hunting food plot. If you plant feeding food plots near the center of your property with quality bedding cover on the perimeter of your land (which you can establish with the habitat work from above), deer have fewer reason to leave the area. Then you can strategically plant a few small hunting plots between the bedding and feeding areas, which will intercept deer in the mornings and evenings. By having a few well-spaced hunting plots that are different shapes, you can hang several deer stands to hunt different wind directions. Simply having multiple options for different conditions can be enough to fill your buck tag.

On this topic, you can find and kill a deer in most places without too much work. But if you’re after a specific mature whitetail deer, you need to always pay attention to the hunting conditions. The smaller your property, the stricter you need to be. Bow hunting whitetail deer in a tree stand with the wind blowing right into a food plot or bedding area isn’t going to do you any favors. To get a truly old monarch buck, you should wait for the perfect conditions before hunting a stand, which can be really hard to do if you’re getting daytime pictures of one. But hunting in anything less could jeopardize future encounters with him.

Whether you plan on bow hunting deer in the early season or firearm hunting in the cold fall, improving your property is a great way to invest your time and resources. With more homesteads and farms being sold to developers every year, private land hunting is disappearing in some places. But if you develop a lasting legacy on your property, it will be enjoyed for years to come.