Why Food Plots Fail

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

to weather, disease, and predation.

Management efforts that focus more on food plots than on first providing the critical habitat components of nesting, feeding, loafing and escape cover will likely yield less-than-desirable results. Food plots are best viewed as an insurance policy, guarding against infrequent and uncontrollable events such as severe winter weather.

Certainly, food plots have their place in wildlife management. For instance, annual grain food plots, by providing bare ground and high insect populations, could serve as broodrearing cover, as well as a high-energy, late-winter food source, in areas already having suitable escape and nesting cover.

The basic management principles described here for quail can be applied to other wildlife species, including deer and turkey. It's best to tailor your management efforts to the habitats most used by a particular species or group of species. For instance, improving habitat structure in and around an 80-acre woodland will yield greater long-term benefits for deer and turkey than planting a 3-acre food plot. Combining both of these practices, however, could yield results greater than either of the practices alone.

Property owners can attract and hold more quail by creating quality escape cover along woodland borders adjacent to food plots. This might include shrub plantings. They might also improve the grassland cover surrounding their food plots. This could be done by reseeding with a wildlife friendly grass-legume mixture, prescribed burning, strip disking and moderate grazing.

The next time you contemplate what food plot mixture to plant and where, ask yourself, "Is there something else that wildlife may lack?" If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should direct your management efforts toward improving habitat. Then your food plots will have the best chance of attracting wildlife.

For assistance in developing a management plan for your property, contact your local Department of Conservation or Natural Resources Conservation Service office.triangle

Foods high in usable energy for quail

  • Insects
  • Ragweed
  • Corn Grain
  • Sorghum
  • Soybean
  • Sunflowers
  • Dogwoods
Quail-friendly management practices
Practice Suitable Areas Habitat Provided Timing
Prescribed burning CRP lands, idle fields, pastures, small woodlands (40 acres or less) near nesting and brood-rearing cover Feeding, nesting following year, stimulates beneficial grasses/forbs Fall/spring - depends upon vegetation being burned
Strip Disking CRP acres, idle fields Feeding, roosting, and fall/winter foods Fall/late winter
Edge Feathering Woodland borders near nesting and brood-rearing cover Escape cover and fall/winter food Fall/winter
Shrub Planting CRP lands,woodland borders, crop field borders. Escape cover and travel lanes Spring
Native Grass/Forb Establishment CRP seedings, rotational grazing systems, field borders, buffers Nesting, roosting, and feeding Spring/late fall
Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) Small woodlands (40 acres or less) near nesting and brood-rearing cover Escape cover, fall foods (acorns) Late fall/winter
Interseeding Forbs/legumes CRP lands, pastures, hay fields, idle fields Feeding and fall foods Fall/spring
Field Borders and Buffers Crop fields and hay fields adjacent to escape cover Nesting, roosting, feeding, and travel lanes Spring/fall - depends upon vegetation being seeded
Grazing Native grass paddocks in rotational grazing system Nesting, feeding in some instances Summer. Short duration - high intensity grazing best
Food Plots CRP fields and open areas adjacent to escape and nesting cover Feeding, late-winter food Spring - grain plantings best
Quail-friendly plants
Perennial Grasses*: Cover Type Provided Naturally Occurring Forbs/Legumes: Cover Type Provided
Little bluestem Nesting, roosting Crotons Feeding - fall
Sideoats grama Nesting, roosting Partridge pea Feeding - late-winter food
Big bluestem Nesting, roosting Goldenrods Nesting, roosting
Switchgrass Nesting, roosting Fleabanes Nesting, roosting
Indiangrass Nesting, roosting Sunflowers Feeding - fall/winter food
Timothy Nesting, roosting Wild beans Feeding - fall
Orchard grass Nesting, roosting    
Annual Grasses: Cover Type Provided Naturally Occurring Forbs/Legumes: Cover Type Provided
Foxtails Nesting, feeding, roosting Ragweeds Feeding - fall and winter
Panic Grasses Nesting, feeding, roosting Lespedezas** Feeding - fall and winter
Crabgrass Feeding Beggar-ticks Feeding - fall
    Tick-trefoils Feeding - fall
Shrubs: Cover Type Provided    
Blackberry/black raspberry Escape, loafing, feeding - summer    
American plum Escape, loafing    
American hazelnut Escape, loafing    
Rough-leaved dogwood (north) Escape, loafing, feeding - fall    
Flowering dogwood (south) Escape, loafing, feeding - fall    
Fragrant sumac Escape, loafing, feeding - fall    
Smooth sumac Escape, feeding - late-winter    
Common elderberry Escape, loafing, feeding - fall    

* Can provide feeding cover if mixed with forbs and legumes
** Sericea Lespedeza is an introduced invasive plant. Do not plant.

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