Any property managed for deer has a carrying capacity of X deer per acre. Optimally the deer population should be kept to a number less than X. Any property carrying the maximum number of deer per acre will not be able to sustain those deer long term.
This being said, is your food plot a grocery store or a candy store? Shop Trees
As a part of an overall management plan, food plots play an important role in deer health. The truth is, food plots should be a suppliment to the basic carrying capacity of a given property, not the primary food source.
Deer feed as browsers. Their diet consists of leafy vegetation, woody plants, and mast. A healthy diet is made up of a mix of all three types readily available in abundance. A diet that is too dependent on any one of these three types is fragile and susceptible to failure.
Green leafy vegetation is available naturally in spring, summer, and fall. This source can be easily supplimented by planting annuals as food plots. Clovers, peas, and cole crops are all relatively easy to establish and are excellent forage for deer. Supplimental is the key. Naturally occuring palatable vegetation needs to be present in sufficient quantity that deer do not overgraze it which will allow less desirable forage to take over causing a negative forage cycle to set up.
Browsing vegetation is young trees, shrubs, and vines. Tender new growth is a favorite food of deer. This type vegetation can be made available in mature stands of timber by selectively cutting trees to introduce sunlight to the forest floor. Choosing cull trees that are unproductive for both timber and mast production creates a win win in wildlife and forest management.
Allowing open land to revert back to native trees and shrubs can provide both food and cover for a wide variety of wildlife. A multi year plan to mow swaths throgh overgrown fields will keep them in a state of perrenial adolescence which is highly desirable feed for deer and other wildlife. mowing should be done in late winter before breeding season for birds and small game.
Hard mast is the fuel that feeds the fire. Mast producing trees should be a part of every food plot plan. Deer depend on an regular supply of acorns to give them the carbs they need to fatten up for the winter months. A good mast crop equals a good fawn crop. To have a reliable mast crop, a good mix of both red and white oak species is prefered.
Red oaks and white oaks are general categories of a diverse group of native oaks. Oak trees of both types tend to have on years and off years. A heavy mast crop will exhaust the trees and cause a light production of acorns the following year. Most years all species are not in sync so some species will be on and others are off.
Some non native species of mast producing trees are more reliable tending toward full annual cropping. The Chinese Chestnut and Sawtooth Oak are both annual mast producers. Shop Trees
These trees should not replace native mast but can be planted in limited areas as insurance against light mast crops. They might be seen as the candy store of the food plot. because of their annual production of quality mast, old does will return to them every year with their fawns. Where the does go the bucks will follow.
Sawtooth Oaks and Chinese Chestnuts should be planted in pairs to ensure pollination. Planting 50 feet apart up to 300 feet apart will ensure pollination. These trees can be planted in areas impractical for food plots as well as anchors around an annual food plot. Remember that both trees have a spreading habit so should be set back 50 feet or so from food plots that are to be planted every year.
Food plots are there to suppliment native forage. Deer numbers and forage base must be kept in balance to allow long term management to be successful.