I’ve been planting food plots for deer and other wildlife on 70 acres of land I own near Brainerd for more than two decades. I began with no farming experience, but my efforts have been successful. Now, after years of trial and error, I realize that if I can grow productive food plots, anyone can.

Stroll the aisles of your local sporting goods store and you’ll find multiple products for developing food plots on your land. So the question is, what to plant?

Some landowners have a minimum amount of land and lack farming equipment and know-how. Some are beginner food plotters and want to test the water with one food plot.

I suggest to begin by planting clover, or a clover mix (chicory is a common addition), for several reasons. Clover is generally easy to grow, does well in a variety of soil conditions, and is a reliable source of nutrition from spring green-up through the summer and into the late fall. Also, clover is a consistent source of attraction for the first part of the hunting season until cold temperatures force the plants into dormancy.

Also, a food plot of clover or a clover mix will produce quality forage for three to five years or more if properly maintained. That can be a lot of bang for the buck.

I’ve attained the best success in attracting deer and other wildlife to my property by implementing a diversity of plantings.

My food plots are small. They range in size from one-eighth up to a full acre. I am able to maintain a food source for deer in all seasons (except February and March) by planting a variety of both annual and perennial plants.

Even during those late-winter months, deer find native vegetation on which to browse on my land. I’ve planted thousands of shrubs (especially redosier dogwood, which is a favorite winter food for deer) and have improved timber stands to open up the forest canopy and allow undergrowth to prosper.

Here is a rundown of what has worked for me when planting food plots:

In addition to at least one plot of clover, a plot of soybeans is a must for me. Deer love the leaves during summer and early fall — almost every deer aficionado knows that. Then, when the pods mature, deer and other wildlife such as turkeys and ruffed grouse feed on the beans.

I also like to plant one or more food plots of brassicas. This family of plants includes forage rape, turnips, radishes and sugar beets. I found any or all of them, either in a mix or by themselves, are popular with deer, especially after several hard frosts. The plants remain green, even under the cover of snow, until they are finally devoured.

Another must-have is a food plot or two of oats. Since oats are most attractive to deer in the premature stage, they can be planted as late as early September. I’ve discovered that as soon as oats germinate, deer begin to graze the new plants and will continue to until the plants freeze and die.

I’ve occasionally planted corn, too. Of course, deer love corn, but I’ve mostly planted it to act as a visual barrier to roads bordering my land. Better for me to plant a mix of corn and soybeans and not corn alone. I’ve found a blend of 70 percent beans to 30 percent corn works well.

A diversity of food plots provides a nutritional source of food for wildlife for most of the year. My food plot plan also provides a hunting opportunity from the beginning of archery deer season in mid-September until the conclusion of the long season at the end of December.

Now, it’s planting time.


Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at bill@billmarchel.com.