Why Food Plots Fail

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

It's opening morning of quail season. Your dogs are raring to go, and you can't wait to get started.Your anticipation increases as the sun peeks over the horizon,welcoming the new day. After all, you believe you are about to reap the benefits of the six food plots you planted on your property.

By midday, you have walked for what seems like an eternity, from one end of the property to the other and back again, and with nothing to show for it beyond a good workout.

As you roundup the dogs and walk back to your vehicle, you contemplate what went wrong. Maybe your food plots aren't big enough or contain the wrong seed mixture. Maybe the birds haven't found them yet. It could be those darn predators. All are possible explanations for the lack of quail on your property, but there might be something else at work. It may be food plots by themselves are not guaranteed to attract quail.

Since the beginning of modern wildlife management, food plots have been considered an important and beneficial wildlife management practice. Food plots provide wildlife with a high-energy food source during winter weather and an abundance of insects for newly hatched quail chicks. Over the years, however, food plots have developed a reputation as a panacea for wildlife habitat management, to the point that people use them without considering other needs of wildlife.

Food plots are best viewed as something that can make good habitat better. They do not automatically translate to more wildlife regardless of the condition of the surrounding habitat. Embarking on a food plot management program without first considering the species being managed for and the surrounding habitat conditions can be costly and frustrating.

All wildlife require food, suitable cover and water. Simply providing these basic habitat components may not be enough, however. Their arrangement and availability must be taken into account as well. This is especially true for bobwhite quail, one of the most popular wildlife species in Missouri.

Bobwhite quail populations continue to decline across their range, but study after study confirms that where there is suitable habitat in large enough blocks, quail populations are stable. Certainly, severe winter weather, excessively wet springs or extended summer droughts can cause quail numbers to fluctuate, but over the long-term, populations will be self sustaining. The key to having and maintaining good quail numbers is an abundance of quality habitat.

Quail have very specific habitat requirements. They

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