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

spring food plots and tree stand and hunting blind placement | Big Game Treestands

Plan Before You Plant! | Spring Food Plots and Tree Stand Hunting Strategy

Spring Food Plots and Tree Stand Hunting | Planning Food Plots According To Your Hunting Blind and Tree Stand Placement

It Is March and once again the silence of winter slumber is broken by the sound of the tractor firing up. The feel, smell, and sight of dirty hands, diesel, and fresh dirt can be addicting to us, just as much if not more than turkey or deer hunting. It gets us excited and brings us satisfaction. There is nothing a hunter and manager would rather do more than climb up on the tractor, wipe the dust off the seat, and break open fresh ground, but is that really your smartest move? While it might feel like you are doing something positive you might want to think again, give it more time, more planning, and as a result, better execution. Don’t make the common mistake of creating a hunting strategy according to your food plots, when you should be planting spring food plots according to your hunting strategy!  Implementing the latter of the two will create more opportunity, better hunting, and more success.

The first question to ask yourself is why are you planting the food plots? For nutritional purposes or for hunting in the situation of the “kill plot”? You can bet on the majority of hunters that plant food plots, are doing so to create hunting opportunities. So which of the following situations would make the most sense?

Option 1: Going to a chuck of timber or an old field and clearing it, breaking the ground, and planting beans or clover just to find out there isn’t a single place to put a box blind, tripod, or ground blind that a deer wouldn’t bust your wind or your entry in.

Option 2: Strategically mapping known deer movement, tree stand or blind sites, and previous observations,  then taking that information to determine where, what type, and when a food plot would make sense in that area.

The choice is obvious, we understand that…and we know that if your planting a food plot you are already putting up stands or blinds in your mind. The problem lies in the fact that this thinking (not even enough to call it planning) happens when you are sitting on the tractor, or waiting for rain after planting. True, successful, well thought out plans for a food plot will only come from enough time being devoted to a map, scouting, past hunting observations, and more often than not, research on the subject. Here is some information that will help you out with your spring food plots, ensuring you are maximizing your efforts, time, and hard earned money.

Maps, Scouting, and Observations

Hopefully you took some time to shed hunt this winter, and took some notes down when you were out and about. Shed season was the perfect time to scout, you were not negatively impacting your deer season next year with the pressure, and deer sign was still fresh from November and December. Marking scrapes, rubs, funnels, highways, and bedding areas down on a map and coordinating that with hunting season observations give you a great idea of the daily movement that takes place on your property. When it comes to installing and planting food plots this spring, human pressure, staging areas and bedding areas are your biggest concern. Where are the deer, more importantly bucks bedding. Once a known bedding area is marked, next figure out when, where, and which type of food plot would make sense in the area. This is by far the most tedious part of effectively planning food plot strategy with your hunting strategy.

“Which type of food plot seed” depends on your “when”

The best advice in the situation, before diving into researching the when, where, and which type of food plot to plant, is to think about when you hunt, and what food sources are available during that time around the property. Are you a turkey hunter, a land manager, or a just a deer hunter? When you deer hunt do you hunt with a bow in the early season, or are you a gun hunter waiting on November and December? Each situation has its own, where, when, and which type of food plot you need.

  • Turkey Season

If you’re the turkey hunter, the ideal food plot set up is creating a food source and strutting zone that you can effectively hunt with a ground blind. In these situation size isn’t as much an issue as what type of food there is. In the situation of turkey hunting in the spring, the best candidate for turkey hunting food plots in the spring is clover and alfalfa. Clover and alfalfa explode in spring, making not only valuable spring forage for deer, but dynamite feeding and strutting sites for turkeys.

spring food plots and tree stand and hunting blind placement | Big Game Treestands

  • Nutrition and Observation

Late spring and summer are months of nutrition and observation. Does drop fawns, and bucks are just starting to develop some substantial velvet growth. During the lactation and antler growth stages of the year for deer, protein is valuable. Both pastures, hay fields, and food plots with substantial alfalfa and clover and large bean fields provide the protein and attraction deer need and want. These food sources also give you a great opportunity to sit up in an elevated box blind, a ground blind, or tree stand some distance away from the food, to observe and scout the bachelor groups.

  • Early Bow Season Attractant

Planting food plots in spring, in order to hunt over them in September-October will either take place in the form of the two best attractants of the season, beans and clover. Sure their might be some room for opinions, but staging areas in the form of small clover ( white clover) plots, adjacent or on the way to a larger food source like standing beans are dynamite locations for an early season sit. Deer will still be or just coming out of their early season patterns during early bow season, meaning they are unpressured in those small clover “kill plots”, and on the edges of large bean ag fields, or food plots Planting clover by frost seeding or drilling, disking, or tilling, in early spring during decent rain, will work for small food plots. If you want beans for the early season you will need either at least 5 acres, or install a food plot electric fence to avoid deer over-browsing the plot.

  • The Opening Day and Late Gun Season Attractant

Opening day of gun season is a holiday (at least it should be). Nothing is better than lifting a buck onto the tailgate during that weekend, so which food plot will give you that, or any weekend after until the close of the season? Beans, corn, and brassicas are the favorited in the November-January time period. Brassicas are planted in the late summer/early fall period before the season opens, so you can delay planning and planting that food plot until later in the year. Planting beans and corn however takes more time and precision. Cut corn fields make for some of the best rut hunting in November in the Midwest, but standing corn and beans in late November-January can’t be beat for attraction.

Design and shape

Size is important when it comes to which type of food plot seed you select, depending on the browse resistance of the species, but the design and shape of the plot can really start honing in hunting strategy, and working together with your hunting blind and tree stand placement.

spring food plots and tree stand and hunting blind placement | Big Game Treestands

  • Long rectangle

This is the most popular standard food plot shape and design, whether you are a firearms hunter or a bow hunter the rectangle is your friend. The length gives you the acreage and the long shot potential when hunting with a rifle or muzzleloader, but the width creates less pressure, stress, and creates more security for deer. It also happens to create a great location for a fixed position tree stand for close encounters for bow hunting.

  • L shape

The L shape puts a right angle in the rectangle this does three things better than the rectangle. It creates an elbow, a staging area, and creates more security. Creating essentially two different sections of the plot, while keeping the width relatively small creates the same acreage, but separates the field of view creating less stress for feeding deer, and more movement to see what’s on the other side. The bottom or smaller end of the plot basically serves as a staging area in this scenario. The smaller (potentially different food source) creates a smaller area for deer to stage in before entering the large feeding area. Both of these advantages gives rise to the third advantage, an elbow. The elbow is creates an ideal box blind, tripod, ground blind, or tree stand location, creating a funnel and views of both areas of the food plot.

  • Crows foot

Taking the idea of the Elbow to the next level is the crow’s foot. This obviously serves as an extreme advantage for firearms season. Strips of beans, cut corn, or strips of clover all sprawling out from a central location gives you three shooting lanes, and potentially different buffets for your deer herd.


Hunting Strategy

Now knowing your “when” and “what”, you will know exactly where to put it. Obviously a larger bean, corn, or brassica field will go wherever the acreage is available, but the smaller clover/alfalfa plots can be strategically placed. Creating these small opening, “kill plots”  n heavy timber, adjacent to thick cover and bedding areas, or as staging areas before a larger food source are successful food plot tactics.

The one thing above all else when creating a food plot is knowing how you will hunt it, and if it will work. A food plot that is not hunt able is not ideal, although it does have its place on some properties. A food plot that creates hunting opportunity is a key goal. Planning a food plot effectively means, safe non disturbance entry and exits, multiple tree stand, box blind, tripod, or ground blind locations for different winds, and a food source/hunting opportunity that is completely free of human pressure.

As you can see food plots aren’t a walk in the park, but neither is deer or turkey hunting. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be near as enjoyable. Studying, researching, learning, planning, and executing are all a part of the process…the resulting failure or success are both enjoyable, but success feels much better! Take these spring food plot and hunting strategy tips seriously over the next months, and hopefully you will reap the benefits of your hard work.