Hunters today are looking to get the most out of their property and the white-tailed deer found there. The establishment and maintenance of food plots can be a component of any deer management plan. When combined with other habitat management techniques, food plots are a good way to provide additional forage to grow and produce bigger, healthier animals. However, hunters may have unrealistic expectations about the function of food plots. Food plots for deer are not a replacement for habitat management, but they compliment these other practices really well. So what can food plots do for you?
Successful food plots can enhance your land for deer and other wildlife by increasing the number of animals that visit the area at different times of the year. Food plots for whitetail deer serve as an important supplemental food source during the stressful weather conditions often experienced during summer and winter. Whitetail found in northern states often experience extreme winter conditions where natural foods are lacking, while deer in southern states often experience extreme summer conditions with an absence of high quality food sources. Food plots can help deer meet or exceed their nutritional requirements during these times of the year.
The availability of more food means more food per deer. More food equates to improved body condition and better overall performance. Many hunters realize that well-fed bucks experience improved antler growth. This growth stems from superior body condition. Bucks in poor condition will have inferior antler growth. More food also means healthier does. Does in good condition are more capable of rearing multiple fawns. This means more survival and higher recruitment. When environmental conditions are really harsh during the winter, food plots can help all of these animals make it to spring green-up.
Food plots are great, but some deer managers and hunters rely too heavily on food plots as the main focus of their deer management program. This is a bad idea. Food plots should be considered as an integral part of a deer management program, but they should never be viewed as THE deer management program. Brush control, harvest management, prescribed burning, and overall improvement of native food sources should be used to enhance deer, turkey and other wildlife habitat on any property.
Food plots do not make up for the failure of hunters to maintain deer at an appropriate density, nor do they improve buck age structure. Good harvest management practices alone can improve deer quality, even in the absence of food plots. However, high quality food plots for whitetail deer when combined with sound herd and habitat management practices can take a deer herd to improved levels not seen prior. Do not expect food plots to work magic, but expect them to be a component of your deer management program. Implement a well-rounded program and you, your property and the deer found there will all benefit.