Managing and growing a healthy deer herd starts with the importance of understanding the concept of both your summer and winter food plots.
I remember when I was about 14 years old and doing dishes for a local restaurant in my hometown in northern New York. I had the honor to work at a restaurant that was a host for many outdoor organizations from Ducks Unlimited to the local Quality Deer Management Association branch, to guest speakers like Charlie Alsheimer. It was an opportunity for me to work, get paid and hone in on some outdoor knowledge from locals and experts who had a great deal of experience in the outdoor industry.
I joined the QDMA shortly after and what a wealth of knowledge I was able to obtain. Back in the early 2000s, food plots were of interest, but many deer hunters in the area weren’t really jumping the band wagon on all the hype. The main reason for this, I believe, was the lack of private property owned by these hunters, the number of hunters, like myself, who hunted mostly public property, and just the lack of information readily available. Today, we can Google search nearly any information we want and although back then we were able to Ask Jeeves, Jeeves didn’t have all the answers.
Eat, Sleep, Repeat
The number one thing to remember is that you won’t have deer on your property if there is no food for them. Deer eat to live and live to eat. The more food available, the more deer you can hold and ultimately leading to more deer that will stay on your property.
Let’s use humans for an example. In, downtown New York City, where the population is overwhelmed with humans, you prop yourself up at a bus stop at the corner of a busy intersection and begin to observe. You find yourself overlooking a hot dog stand that is on the corner, every day, selling 200 hot dogs a day. Sure, you will get people to eat there. And you may even see the same person eat there twice in one week if you are lucky. Here, though, I want you to zone in on a few select people, just like a few shooter bucks you have had your eyes on through the past few years. Is there a better chance you will find him eating at the market where there are several restaurants and food through the entire block, or do you want to spend all of your time hoping he gets hungry for a hot dog.
The more food you have the more deer you will attract and keep overall. With that, however, you do need to have a balance. Having a balance of food and shelter, as well as water, is extremely important for the deer to call your land home.
Summer vs. Winter Food Plots
It’s important to have both summer and winter food plots, as well. Food plots in general keep your deer fed and if you have plenty of food, shelter, and water for your deer, you are beginning to grow your deer population. Both your spring-summer food plots and your winter food plots serve similar but different purposes when it comes to recruitment and retention of your deer herd.
Your spring-summer food plots are very important when it comes to growing and managing a healthy deer herd. Spring food plots are great for keeping deer through the spring, summer, and fall. They help to grow a healthy deer herd when you plant a food plot that gives the deer a healthy balance of nutrients. These nutrients not only help in growing a healthy deer herd, but greatly impact a buck’s antler growth.
When you are trying to grow and manage a deer herd and take larger bucks, it’s important to know that there are three major things that affect a deer’s antler growth: age, nutrients, and genetics. If you grow healthy does and they are not striving for food, getting the proper nutrients, they will mate with healthy bucks and theoretically produce healthy offspring. This will give your fawns a head start, as management is much more than just laying out a mineral block to try to grow large, healthy whitetails.
Your winter food plots are extremely important too however, because during the winter time, when food is scarce, deer will herd and travel to find food. If during this time you do not have food for them, they will travel away from your property to where there is food. On the contrary, if you are the only grocery store in town, you just adopted your neighbor’s and your neighbor’s neighbor’s deer for next year. Once the deer move to where there is food in the winter time, if you follow up the winter with a large enough spring food plot, you just adopted more deer than you ever could imagine.
Take It from the Pro’s
During a Q&A session I joined in on with Lee & Tiffany Lakosky at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania this year, they discussed how the deer on their property after turning three and a half years old are there to stay. They focus on attracting deer from neighboring properties through their winter food plots and having the food available for them through the summer and in the fall after the farming crop harvest. They believe that the deer they do attract and bring onto their farm once they reach three and a half years old, have then found their core area and a majority of the time won’t leave their farm. They mentioned how having plenty of food is extremely important, as a deer will eat anywhere from two to three tons of food a year, which amounts to over 10 pounds a day.
Food plots, both spring and winter, are very important, but just as important is making sure you plant them correctly. In doing so, you will save money, grow better crops and in return, recruit and retain more deer than you ever thought possible.
Not everyone can own hundreds of acres of property and can make this whitetail buffet possible. If this is you, start small. Keep your food plots in proportion to your property. After speaking with Lee Lakosky on a side question I had for him, he told me that most of his properties he tries to keep the ratio of forest to food plots at a mere 50:50. This ensures that he provides protection and sanctuary for his deer to feel comfortable as he never steps foot in the sanctuary (bedding-area) until shed hunting season.
So whether you have the opportunity to own hundreds of acres of land or a small tract of land, it is possible to grow and manage deer. One thing is for certain in regards to food plots, if you do not have food you won’t have deer. So much like that mysterious voice in the Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come!” Just be sure when they come, you are able to maintain to keep them to stay.