How Much Land to Plant in Food Plots

Here's How You Can Determine How Much Acreage to Plant in Food Plots

Food plots are a great way to improve herd health, if you plant the right amount.

Opening day of gun season found me perched 14 feet in the air, sitting in my tripod stand and monitoring a food plot 100 yards in front of me. Less than an hour later, my sabot slug took down a fat, 8-point buck, making all the time and sweat equity I put into my food plots worth every second.

Starting Over

My hunting party has harvested many deer near our food plots but we never gave much thought about planning them. We just picked a few convenient spots and planted seed. Then I decided to take a smarter approach. I forgot everything I knew (and didn’t know) about food plots –– and started over.

For help, I turned to several food-plot experts and re-educated myself on how to properly plan a complete system of food plots. Here’s what I learned:

Three Growing Goals

Keep these important goals in mind while creating your strategy to improve your existing food plots and to establish new ones.

Goal No. 1: Increase the number of planted acres.

Your goal is to plant enough acres of food to keep wildlife on your property year round. To do this, experts suggests 5-10 percent of your hunting land should be planted with food plots. The exact percentage depends on how many deer are in your area and what other food sources you might have on your land (such as acorns and crabapples). For example, an 80-acre parcel of land should have four to eight total acres in food.

Don’t let that number scare you. Any number of food plots, at any size, will attract deer and provide nutrition for them––even if it’s just a few ¼-acre plots. But the 5-10 percent goal is ideal. You don’t have to spend a ton of time and money planting a dozen food plots all at the same time. Instead, concentrate on planting one or two plots per year. In time, you’ll eventually reach your ideal goal for total acres planted.

Goal No. 2: Plant different types of food plots.

There are two main types of food plots: nutritional plots (feed plots) and hunt plots (harvest plots). If you want to keep deer on your property throughout all four seasons of the year, it’s extremely important to grow both types of plots. Nutritional plots provide food all year long, yet are more heavily used in the spring and summer. Hunt plots grow food that’s ready to be eaten during the autumn and winter only.

The ideal mix of food plots is said to be 60–75 percent nutritional plots and 25–40 percent hunting plots. Plants in nutritional plots should be high in protein that provides the basis for a deer’s everyday diet. Plants in hunt plots should provide the high-energy food that deer seek out to survive cold weather.

High-protein nutritional plots are typically made up of perennial plants such as clovers, chicory and alfalfa. When properly cared for and maintained, these plots can last up to 6 years. Nutritional plots can range in size from 1/4 acre to 10-plus acres, depending on the size of the land.

Hunt plots are typically made of annual plants such as a variety of brassicas, rape, turnips, sugar beets, winter rye and oats. These plants need to be replanted every year. Hunt plots ripen after the first frost (which typically means hunting season). Once these plants are ready to eat, deer prefer them over many other food sources. Because hunt plots are meant to keep deer close, they are small, ranging from 1/10 acre to 1 acre.

Goal No. 3: Plant food plots in prime locations.

The rules for locating your food plots are simple and few. Plant them away from roads and trails heavily traveled by humans, keep them near deer travel routes and bedding areas, and focus on areas that get at least five hours of direct sunlight daily for plants to grow.

For nutritional plots, more locations on one piece of land are good. It’s better to have many ½-acre plots than one massive plot. Smaller food plots located in the corners of a parcel of land will pull deer from several neighboring areas, more so than just one big plot in the center of your land. Wildlife research also shows that deer like choices. If something doesn’t feel right in one plot or it’s crowded by other deer, it’s good to have other options nearby.

For hunt plots, the best locations should be near the center of your property, so that more deer bed somewhere on your property and then travel into the heart of your land to feed. Also, when a deer is shot in a centrally-located hunt plot, they are less likely to run onto neighboring properties and expire.

Hunt-plot locales should be secluded and have places that are good for treestands, ground blinds or a shooting house. If you have a good spot for a hunt plot but it’s too out-in-the-open, you should make that area more secluded by planting fast-growing bushes, scrubs and trees. Then in a few years, the location will be well-hidden. In the mean time, construct a “privacy wall” for the deer by planting a few rows of corn around the plot. Deer like to feed in areas where they feel unseen and protected.

Plenty of Plots

The future of my hunting land is bright and yours can be too. All you need to do is determine your ideal number for acres planted in food and get to work. Be sure to have a good mix of both nutritional and hunt plots, and distribute your plots strategically all over your land. Soon you’ll have a food plot system that will produce more hunting success. Learn more about Evolved Harvest’s seed options at: www.evolved.com.

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Editor's note: This was originally published August 9, 2016.

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