Managing a food plot is a lot like running your very own restaurant. You have to establish the perfect menu to lure your customers from their so many other options. Then you have to invest time and money into your new venture. Hire some good help; usually this can be accomplished with some cold beverages or an invite to your deer camp. Once everything is in place it’s time to roll out the marketing campaign. If all is done correctly, though, your dividends might be very large this fall.
Naming your restaurant
Let’s start at the very bottom. Naming your whitetail restaurant. Now this may seem like an unnecessary step, after all your customers can’t read and if you were to put up a neon sign with your name on it, you might only attract bugs and spiders. But think of it this way every good restaurant or stand on your property has a catchy name right? A good name will be an easy reference point for all of your hunting party. Imagine this scenario, “Guys I’ll be hunting at the Salad Bar tomorrow morning.” Everyone knows which food plot you’re talking about; nobody is walking in on you tomorrow. Now look at this one, “Guys I’ll be hunting on the food plot on the next ridge over.” Now if you only have one food plot you have no problems but if there are more, can’t you imagine someone saying to you at 8:15 opening morning, “Sorry about that, I thought you meant that other food plot.”
Names also give you a sense of ownership, motivating yourself or your hired help to go “refill” the Salad Bar sounds like a lot more fun than asking someone to help you replant food plot number 3.
Have fun with it. After all that’s what this is all about!
Building your menu
The first question you want to ask yourself is what type of cuisine you are going for. You can put together a menu of local favorites that the locals will love, or you can go a more exotic route and offer your diners a taste from around the world. There are positives and negatives for both routes. If your hunting area is located in the heart of corn and soybean country, having a corn and soybean food plot could go both ways. The deer will certainly know what to do with it because that has been their main diet for generations. But you do run the risk of being overlooked. If they are used to going to their standard ‘restaurants’ of large acre fields then it might be hard for them to change their pattern to come to your hole in the wall diner. But if you go with a menu that they aren’t used to, it might take them a while to figure out they should be eating it. This might sound nuts, but it happens. For example I was on a dove hunting trip in Texas several years ago and living in the field we were hunting lived a beautiful white horse. This wasn’t a family ‘pet’ horse it was a farm horse. Now he was well cared for but he had his routine. While back at the truck eating lunch the horse came to check us out. He was very friendly and knowing that horses love apples I was more than willing to make his day with my extra one. I tried for ever to get that horse to eat that apple, but no matter what I did he wouldn’t touch the thing. He had no idea it was a wonderful treat for him. It wasn’t his normal diet. The same thing can happen with deer, it can take them several seasons before they figure out that they can eat the heads off of turnips for example.
So if you want to introduce things that aren’t typically in your local deer’s diet look at mixing them in with the local fare. Give the picky kids their chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers while the adults can sample the more exotic menu items. Sound familiar?
Open the doors
Marketing your new dinner is an important step that typically gets overlooked. For this analogy we are talking mainly about routine and anticipation. The goal is for your plot to be full and luscious come November, but at the same time the doors have to be open long enough that the deer can create a routine. We are all creatures of habit and deer are no exception. But the age old question of food plots is how we keep the deer out of them long enough for them to peak and still leave enough time for the deer to make it their local coffee shop that they stop at every morning. Most of the time, it is left up to the luck of the draw, “I hope they leave it alone long enough for it to get established.” Have you ever said that to yourself after you just spent hours re planning your plot? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. You will also find people going the other route…fencing. Fencing works, but you have to make sure you have it down in time for the deer to find it. Taking it down the night before opening morning isn’t going to work. The key for food plots during the season is that they are there after the crops have been harvested. Deer have been living off of the farmers for most of the year, in areas that they can, and once the fall harvest takes place, the deer still need to eat. Cooler temps and acorns mean the deer are going to move now, and having a salad bar that’s open after the ‘field’ restaurants are closed will be a welcome supplement to a deer’s forest browsing activity.