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

post season scouting

Making the Most of a Post Season Scouting Trip

Post Season Scouting for Whitetails

All the snow lately has probably got you thinking about one thing: how much you miss fall. Not just the amazing weather and sights of fall itself, but deer hunting too. Fortunately, hunting doesn’t have to end when deer hunting season ends (we’re not talking about poaching either). You can continue your pursuit to become a better hunter throughout the year, and there’s no better time than now for a post season scouting trip. If you’ve ever wondered when to start scouting for deer, you can start immediately after the season closes! Most people don’t think about scouting for deer in December or January, because it’s either too cold or they don’t see the benefit of it. But it’s really an ideal time to wander the woods and learn more about the animal you obsess about during the fall. Plus, it’s some good exercise to keep the holiday treats from sticking to your gut too much.


Why Post Season Scouting?

Scouting is one of those deer hunting 101 skills, and every hunter should be doing it to maximize their success rate. Similar to pre-season scouting, you can learn a great deal about the woods and whitetails to help you during your next hunt even if you’re scouting after the season ends. When used in combination with scouting before deer season, however, you can double your knowledge. Pre-season deer will have different movement patterns and behaviors than post season deer. So you should ideally combine these experiences to find the average behavior for your hunting area, and know where to target them as they transition throughout the season.


Another nice thing about post season scouting is that you really can’t do any harm from spooking deer. During the pre-season, it’s usually good to sneak around without disturbing bedding areas or alerting deer that you’re there. If you run into a bedded buck, you might hurt your chances at hunting him that season. But you don’t need to worry about that for post season deer. If you jump them from their beds, they’ll run away and have 8 to 9 months to recover from it before you would possibly be able to hunt them again. So feel free to tromp wherever you want.




Finally, the post season is a good time to scout because you can find out where the deer have been gathering in the last couple weeks of the season. Especially if there’s snow on the ground, you can easily see where they’ve been feeding, traveling, and bedding in your area. The frozen ground even allows you to inspect some swampy areas where reclusive bucks might hide out during the season. This allows you to set up predictive tree stands next year in the right spots without having to do much more than a quick reconnaissance scouting trip in the fall. The Big Game Tree Stands® Boss Lite fixed position stand is perfect for quickly hanging on one of those trips next fall. This time of year is a good one for clearing new trails or shooting lanes too, since there aren’t any bugs and the temperatures are cool.


Planning a Post Season Scouting Trip

You have a few options to plan out your scouting trip. You can either use your time to inspect your usual hunting spots and further pinpoint where the deer activity is. Or you could also try a new hunting area you haven’t been to before, to get a feel for the land and check for deer sign there. If you’ve got lots of time, you could easily check out several areas. Plan on a weekend for thoroughly walking a few hundred acres during one of these trips. You can obviously get by with less than a weekend. But if you find yourself crunched for time, you’re not likely to inspect every deer trail you come across that could lead you to a hidden oasis.


Many hunters wonder how to find a good hunting spot on public land, and assume it will takes miles of walking to figure this out. While you do need to walk a bit to confirm things, you should always start your post season scouting with some desktop research before you leave for the woods. You can use any kind of aerial maps for deer hunting purposes as long as you can see satellite imagery and zoom in fairly close. Use them to glance through your hunting area, looking specifically for areas you’d like to target. Identify the food sources and bedding areas you know about, and then locate likely travel routes between them, knowing that mature bucks will often take a very meandering route to stay out of sight. If it’s a completely new area you’re looking at, make your best guess at these spots. Some promising areas to look for include recent clearcuts, agricultural fields, small woodland openings, dense brushy riversides, or thick conifer stands.


As far as logistics for one of these post season scouting trips, you should pack light and wear lighter clothing than you think you might need for cold weather. You’ll be very active beating the brush throughout the day, so wearing layers of performance clothing can make a big difference in staying comfortable. You don’t want to sweat, so peel off layers or slow down if you find yourself perspiring too much. You may want to pack along an extra insulation layer or wind-breaking shell jacket in case you get stuck somewhere you don’t intend. If there’s a lot of snow, plan on using gaiters or snowshoes to make the experience more pleasant and keep your feet dry.


Otherwise, pack some water and a lunch to keep your energy and hydration up throughout the day. If you haven’t pulled your tree stands down for the season, now is a good time to do it before winter really sets in. If you have lock on stands, make sure you can carry them out with your extra gear. If you mostly have ladder stands, however, you’re going to need to recruit some help to haul them out. Toss a notebook, map, and compass in your bag too so you can record your thoughts and not get lost. It’s also always good to carry along some basic tools, especially if you plan on doing any habitat work. You can easily pack a serrated hand saw or some ratchet shears should you need them.


The only caution with post season scouting is to not wait too long. As winter really grabs hold, the temperatures plummet and the snow piles up. Whitetails in many areas tend to migrate to better wintering areas, called deer yards, where there is food nearby and thick cover to protect them from winter winds. Whether they migrate near or far, their patterns will be different. Step into a cedar forest in mid-winter, and it will look like there are hundreds of deer per acre. But the same hot spot will likely be pretty barren during early season deer hunting. The point behind post season scouting is to catch deer patterns while they’re still applicable to hunting season.


Where and What to Look For


If you’re still wondering exactly how to scout for deer in the winter, you should start with some high percentage spots to make the rest of the trip successful. As we mentioned above, food sources and bedding areas are great places to start your deer scouting. A whitetail’s world this time of year revolves around these two things. If you’re not sure about where these spots might be or don’t know how to find deer in the woods, start wandering some ATV/snowmobile trails until you cut a track. Either way, you should start looking for deer trails entering and leaving the areas above or crossing the trail. After finding some with buck tracks in them, start the tracking process. If you don’t know how to track a deer for a few hundred yards, you really need to try it. You can discover all kinds of interesting things about deer behavior by learning where they go, what they stop to look at, what trees they browse on, etc. Very often, they will take strange routes that lead you to a new area you wouldn’t expect them to bed, which is great information for next year. Patterning big woods bucks can be challenging, given the vast acreage involved and seeming lack of food. But that’s when following a buck’s trail really pays off. Use your journal and map to record notes on what you find and where you find it.


The really critical thing you should look for on one of these post season scouting missions is a good-sized travel corridor you could set a tree stand in. The best tree stand placement for most of the deer season will be concealed along a deer trail. If you’ve been puzzled with how to find a good deer hunting spot before, simply keep an eye out for other deer sign and pinch points as you track your deer from food to bed or vice versa. Finding deep woods bucks is easier when you can see their large tracks in the snow. If you see a history of rubs on the trees along a buck trail, it’s likely that this buck or others have used the same route before. If at any point the trail gets narrow against an opening, a fence line, or a brushy point, you might have found a good place for a tree stand. Particularly if there are mature trees with good cover (e.g., big conifers, oaks, maples, etc.), you should record the spot as a place to re-visit next fall with a trail camera. That way, you can analyze what kind of deer movement is still there next year before you hunt it.


Miscellaneous Work

While you’re out post season scouting, you should also keep an eye out for other work you could get finished. For example, if you feel confident you have found one of your new deer hunting spots and will put up a tree stand in a the area next fall, grab those ratchet shears and saw and start pruning out an access trail and shooting lanes to save on the work you’ll have to do next year. It will grow in quite a bit throughout the summer, but there shouldn’t be anything heavy in your way to slow you down. That’s good since you want to remain discreet in the fall and make as little a disturbance as possible. Depending on where you hunt, deer can get spooked by fresh cut trees in the fall.




If you’re on private land where you are allowed to cut even more, you may want to consider doing some quick and dirty timber stand improvement to see more deer while hunting. If the property you’re on is lacking in quality winter cover (i.e., consists of mostly mature trees), you may want to consider doing a few quick hinge cuts. Hinge cutting is best done on trees that are 6 to 7 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh). If they are larger than that, you’ll reduce the chance of it hinging properly and make it unsafe to do too. Use your serrated saw to cut halfway through the tree trunk on the opposite side of whichever direction you want it to fall. Gently guide it down as best you can so that it doesn’t break off from the base of the tree. This remaining connection will provide some water and nutrients to the tree top for another year or two, which will keep it alive and producing buds and leaves. Treetops make excellent deer browse in the winter, because the buds and smaller twigs are much softer and more nutritious than coarse, woody growth below. Cutting a tree along a trail produces more food for them as they walk between food and cover, which may even stall them long enough for a shot next fall. But it also helps them this winter by providing some easy-to-reach food and cover. Some good trees to try hinge cutting include maples, basswood, aspens, and beech.


Don’t Miss Post Season Scouting

This year, don’t miss out on the opportunity to make next deer season more successful. Post season scouting is a good way to spend a winter day, even if you don’t find the perfect spot to hang a tree stand. Use these deer scouting tips to check out some new areas or learn more about your property. Getting back out in nature for a while to explore the woods is never a waste of time.