You have many tools at your disposal to heighten your chances of a successful hunt — well-maintained, high quality equipment, a lot of target practice, calls and scents will all help your chances. But if you have access to property frequented by herds of whitetail, one of the best ways to ensure you fill your larder every year is to feed them. If you commit to a long-term feeding program and growing food plots, over time individual animals will be larger and healthier, you’ll see increased numbers in the herds, and best of all, they’ll learn where their bread is buttered as long as you keep the buffet open. A secondary benefit is if your feeders and food plots keep them happy, there’s a good chance they won’t feel the need to venture into your garden.
Each whitetail can eat up to 5 pounds of feed per day, especially during winter when natural forage is scarce. To distribute the feed, there are two main types of feeders at your disposal: gravity-feed and spincast. Gravity feeders are exactly what they sound like — keep the hopper full and the deer can eat as much and as often as they like. Spincast feeders, on the other hand, can be set for the time and amount of distribution.
A few considerations come into play when setting up your feeder: location, number of deer, and protection from weather and non-target species. You’ll want to set up a feeding station for every 20-30 deer, and keep it away from roads where the deer and you have easy access for eating and refilling, respectively.
Additionally, different seasons present different challenges and needs for your feeding program to maximize survival, health and growth. February through September are especially critical, but it’s important to adapt to conditions throughout the year.
Fall is breeding season, and the weather can be unpredictable. Additionally, bucks’ overall food intake will be down, so your feeding program will improve their overall health over time.
In winter, food is in short supply; natural browse and forbs are scarce, and while deer are adapted to this seasonal cycle, supplemental feeding will bridge the nutrition gap so more of them survive come spring.
With the coming of spring, deer are coming into velvet, and there’s more forage available. These are prime antler-growing months and does are lactating, so the herd can use any extra nutrition it can get.
Summertime can bring heat and drought, so with the inconsistent food supply that can entail, vitamins and minerals provided by supplemental feeding are key.
In addition to feeding stations, food plots on your property can help deliver year-round nutrition and give your feeding program a larger margin of success.
Carbohydrate- and protein-rich plants in your food plot will deliver the energy for bigger, healthier deer. In spring, plant annuals or blends including sorghum, soybeans and cowpeas and perennial blends using clovers, chicory and alfalfa for protein and energy for pregnant does and bucks in the antler-growing cycle. In early summer, soybeans, cowpeas, lablab, sunflowers, perennial clovers, chicory and alfalfa, will keep your herd healthy and happy.
For late summer and early fall, acorns, corn and soybeans all deliver the goods. For fall going into winter, grains such as oats, wheat and triticale will keep deer nourished, and as temperatures cool off, clover, alfalfa, winter peas and brassica cultivars like turnips and kale will enhance their stores. In late winter going into spring, those brassicas will still be producing when other food sources are exhausted.
All that effort to implement a feeding program and grow a food plot won't help your hunt unless you’re smart about tree stands and blinds. We’re not here to tell you what you need, but there’s more to it than price or bells and whistles. Some basic traits to consider when shopping, regardless of price point or additional features:
Especially if you have a feeder and/or food plot, your herd will develop traffic patterns that you can use to your advantage. Put your setup where it will be most effective — there’s a lot more to it than simple concealment. Where do they feed, bed, and travel? Are there bottlenecks along their path you can use to your advantage? If you see a variety of places they consistently stop or congregate, set several stands and/or blinds if possible. You’ll want them about 8-10 yards off the actual trail, facing away from the anticipated direction of approach. Of course, take advantage of any natural cover available, and be quiet.