By Mark Kenyon

Ice. Snow. Freezing rain. Arctic temperatures. This is what I encounter when I step outside my back door. It’s also the weather that gets me thinking about food plots. Not because this is the kind of weather that I’ll be planting food plots in, but because I know it’s the last weather I’ll see before I need to get working on those plots! Before you know it that ice will be thawing and it will be time to get seed in the ground, so it’s important to make sure you’re prepared in advance. That said, today I want to suggest four questions that you should begin asking yourself and answering now, so that you’re ready to get dirt in your finger nails at the first chance you can, and with great results to boot! So let’s dive right in.

1. What Is The Goal For My Food Plot/s?

Before ever thinking about what to plant, where to plant or how to plant, you must first determine what your end goals are. Are you looking to plant a food plot to attract deer during hunting season? Maybe you’re planting a food plot to provide nutrition for deer during the “growing season”? Maybe you’re wanting to plant a food plot cause you’re neighbor does and he always shoots big deer? Whatever it is, you must first determine what your end goal is, and then put together your food plotting strategy to fit around that goal. Too many people go about it the other way around – ie. I have an open area here and a bag of clover seed, this should make me hunt like Mark Drury! Wrong. Set a goal and then set a plan in place to reach it.

2. What Does My Property Or The Surrounding Area Lack?

Another question that ties in well with the matter of goals is the question of what is currently present. Take a look at what food is currently available on your property and nearby. Is there corn and bean fields surrounding your property every year? This might effect how you choose food plot forage options to provide something different, or to provide food at a time that those corn and bean fields aren’t as attractive to deer. Does your neighbor always have a 5 acre alfalfa field that deer flock to in the early season? Maybe that means you should work on providing a late season food source. Not only can this question help you understand what will be the most beneficial option for you as a hunter, but it can also help you determine whats the most beneficial food plot plan for the deer herd. If your area has plenty of beans and corn, you might want to consider a food plot option that will provide nutrition all the way through February and March – when many row crop fields have been eaten dry.

3. What Areas For A Food Plot Are Accessible and Huntable?

As you start getting a better idea of why you want a food plot, and how your food plot can fit into the area, it’s time to consider the Where. Accessible land is obviously important and it can be a limiting factor. But also think about the location neccessary to make this plot huntable, assuming thats your goal for the food plot. If your goal is to be able to hunt over or near the plot, think about how and when deer will access the plot. Consider designing your food plot to encourage certain deer movements or patterns. For example, an hourglass shape plot encourages deer to travel through the “neck” of the hour glass, which is conveniently where your stand will be located! Also be sure to consider prevailing wind directions. You don’t want to hunt your food plot and always be upwind of a major bedding area. Start thinking through these questions now, so that you can properly plan your location and any possible plans to create a location. Remember, with a chainsaw, dozer or helpful friends you can clear out new locations too  – your plot doesn’t always have to go in the most convenient location if it’s not conducive to hunting.

4. What Will I Plant?

Finally the grand daddy question of them all. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes the only question future food plotters want to ask! So many are obsessed with which bag to buy, which seed to throw, which salad to set on the table. Unfortunately, the answer to this question doesn’t matter very much at all if you haven’t asked and answered the three questions that I’ve already laid out. In order to choose the proper food plot to plant you must understand your goals, you must determine how your plot will fit into the area, and you must determine what kind of location you’ll do your planting. Once you’re there, it’s time to finally make your final choice. Will it be ladino clover, Winter Greens, corn, beans or something else altogether? There’s no one right answer to this question, but if I have any advice it would be not to take this question lightly. There is no magic seed that will work everywhere and anywhere. There is no bag you can buy at the grocery store that will make all your food plotting dreams come true. You need to make the right decision regarding the proper forage for your situation, and then you must work diligently to plant and maintain it properly. Different plants work better in certain areas, with your certain soils and certain weather conditions. Make sure to do your research and pick the right option for your circumstances.

So there you have it. Four questions. And unfortunately there is no easy answer to any of these questions, but that’s really the point of this article. Food plots aren’t easy, they aren’t a fast fix, and they’re not necessarily the right solution for all hunters. But if you ask the right questions and plan out the right solutions, they can be a very rewarding way to improve your whitetail hunting and habitat. And who doesn’t want that?

Looking for more food plot strategies and tips, visit Whitetail Institute’s food plot articles for information from experts such as Scott Bestul, Charles Alsheimer, and Bill Winke.