No Food Plot, No Worries

You may not be the agronomy envy of your hunting neighbors with food plots, but you still have the power to attract deer to your property with other means. Start now for a fall payoff.

No Food Plot, No Worries

The author killed this whitetail from a heavily timbered property that did not have a food plot program. It did have ample browse and plenty of refuge status.

Time spent watching the universe of whitetail hunting on your screen device conveys the requisite of a food plot for success. The celebrities in the whitetail world all parade across their massive private properties in shiny tractors spewing seed from pristine planters to reap the green rewards of crops veteran farmers would approve of and whitetails desire.

Alas, you all may not have the luxury of planting award-winning food plots, and the obvious act of baiting could be illegal. Plus, the hunting property you have access to may simply not be capable of accommodating a farm plan. It could be all timber, the soil too rocky, or the landowner granting you access may not allow it.

Also consider, do you have the time? The establishment of food plots requires time, lots of time. Ground preparation, soil improvements, planting, fertilizing, mowing and more all take time over the course of months. That may mean repeated long-distance drives and hours away from family, or work.

Finally, food plots are expensive. A dependable tractor could easily run you $50,000 or more. Implements add up to tens of thousands of dollars, and then you have the cost of seed, fertilizer and possibly fencing to keep livestock out. Inflation has skyrocketed the cost of everything noted above. Here’s the good news: Even without “Whitetail Freaks”-style food plots, you can interest deer in your property, and now is the time to implement a plan for completion. 


Whitetails seek out the safest properties in the neighborhood. Make yours as safe as Cheyenne Mountain, home of NORAD. On properties of all sizes, set aside as much of the parcel as possible in refuge where no trespassing is the rule, not a guideline. 

Create a hunting plan for you and others that manages hunting locations, develops obscured access, controls the number of hunters, and initiates a calendar to spread hunting pressure. Veiling and limiting hunting casts a message to deer that in addition to setting aside refuge, the property has an atmosphere of safety.

Using a proven hunting app, such as HuntStand, provides a platform where hunting partners can manage a group hunt area and employ the stand reservation feature. The feature allows the group to reserve hunting areas, share deer sighting information, and synchronize maps for low-impact access. And if your property requires culling, put it off until after your big buck pursuits end to further reduce the hunting footprint. 


Your property may be farmland challenged, but tracts brimming with timber could provide a wealth of nutrition with targeted forestry projects. Although there is some debate on whether fertilizing mature oaks on your property has merit, clearing of brushy clutter and hinge-cutting could create a sought after food source in the form of natural browse.

Preferred natural browse varies across whitetail country from basswood, ash and aspen to winter favorites including white cedar and hemlock. Research area vegetation candidates and consult with a local biologist to help inventory your browse potential. Then visit your property to see what may be available. 

Your forestry project could include thinning to allow some browse species more room to spread. This could include opening the canopy with removal of unwanted or overpopulated species. This allows sunlight to reach the forest floor to propagate preferred browse species. Forestry could also include the process of hinge-cutting to drop trees down to whitetail level for browsing without killing the tree. Hinge-cutting is not a food plot replacement; it is a way to enhance a refuge area with cover and food, especially in the late season or where agriculture is nonexistent. In any forestry decision, consult with a professional forester, and a second opinion is always a good idea.

In water-challenged regions, adding fresh water near refuge and food could boost whitetail visitation.
In water-challenged regions, adding fresh water near refuge and food could boost whitetail visitation.


Water may be everywhere in your ZIP code. If not, adding water to a property provides another element to lure whitetails. This small act reaps rewards in early season heat and during the rut when deer require a Gatorade replenishment. Begin a waterhole project by inventorying all available water sources on your property. Look for those that hold water for year-round benefits and that may be spring fed. Water near refuge and food sources (even on your neighbor’s land) attracts the most attention.

Renting a skid steer loader for a weekend could be the answer to excavate a pit to fill with runoff or spring water. If the soil seems too porous to hold water, then add several bags of bentonite to the bottom of a pond after excavation. This natural material seals soil and helps hold water longer.

An alternative to a major excavation is to bury a livestock water tank at ground level where runoff or spring water can fill it. The recessed container allows all wildlife, including fawns and turkeys, to utilize the water. You also have an option to fill the receptacle with a portable water tank on an ATV or trailer. 

Mowing and carving trails, especially through thick cover, can accentuate whitetail travel on your property.
Mowing and carving trails, especially through thick cover, can accentuate whitetail travel on your property.

Deer Highways

Trail manipulation does not replace food, but does funnel deer where you want them. Map out the trails with the highest traffic. Your trail cameras will boost your intuition. Don’t forget to monitor deer leaving your property, such as traveling to a neighboring food plot or cropland. 

My trail manipulation often includes a machete and folding saw to hack a highway through brushy spots. When deer see the easy walkways, they soon take up travel on my trail improvements. You could also employ a string trimmer, reciprocating saw, chainsaw and other lawn care implements. If you notice a parallel trail that could draw attention, block it with downed timber at deer chest level to hopefully detour them your way.

For those of you with access to a tractor and brush hog, mowing pathways through saplings and choked undergrowth creates a Yellow Brick Road. Again, connect the dots and mow pathways to and from refuge and food, even if your path must stop at a neighboring fence. 


Deer are herd animals. You may not possess a food plot, but just having deer around attracts other deer. To get the party started, create the ambiance of a herd using deer scents. Even if your state doesn’t allow the use of actual deer urine, most scent manufacturers offer synthetic versions that verifiably pass the sniff test for whitetails. 

Deer scents can be dispersed year-round in obvious locations, such as shooting lanes, but interspersed scent stations along deer trails, farm roads, fence lines and forest openings, create the illusion of a herd. Once deer sense a party and enjoy sanctuary, water, travel routes and browse potential, they may spend more time on your side of the fence. Do not skimp on scent. Start your herd illusion in late summer or early fall via drippers or scent wicks.

Without debate, the most efficient manner to disperse scents is by a dripper that activates during the heat of the day to drip scent and shuts off in the cool of the night. It saves you gallons of scent and leaves the impression of daylight deer activity.

Sidebar: Seasonal Scents

Regardless of whether you disseminate scents via drippers, wicks or spraying straight onto natural elements, it pays to follow Mother Nature’s scent calendar. In summer or early fall, you have some flexibility for curiosity attraction. You may wish to use either buck or doe urine. In October, a switch to a dominant buck scent could spike repeated visits to your mock scrape as other bucks feel obligated to advertise their pecking-order presence. And when the rut is a week or two out, switch to an estrus. My favorite is Golden Estrus from Wildlife Research Center ( Scents attract bucks to an area, distract them as they busy themselves sniffing your lure, and keep activity occurring near your hunting area. When the rut slows, keep up a recipe of estrus scents to spike activity in hopeful bucks looking for a second chance at romance.

Photos by Mark Kayser


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