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Wildlife Food Plots. Thomas G. Barnes, Ph.D, Extension Professor www.tombarnes.org. Why A Food Plot?. Attract animals for hunting Producing “trophy” deer Produce a “feeling” you are helping wildlife Attracting to watch or photograph. Understanding Simple Wildlife Concepts.

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wildlife food plots
Wildlife Food Plots

Thomas G. Barnes, Ph.D,

Extension Professor


why a food plot
Why A Food Plot?
  • Attract animals for hunting
  • Producing “trophy” deer
  • Produce a “feeling” you are helping wildlife
  • Attracting to watch or photograph
understanding simple wildlife concepts
Understanding Simple Wildlife Concepts
  • Limiting factor: Anything that prevents or prohibits a population from growing
    • Usually environmentally related (not parasites, disease, etc. but more habitat related – lack of winter cover, nesting cover, food, water, etc.)
    • Example – sufficient food for 1,000 quail but only nesting habitat for 100
    • Linked to concept of CARRYING CAPACITY
understanding simple wildlife concepts4
Understanding Simple Wildlife Concepts

Number/population that

Habitat can support

Without damage to habitat

&/or wildlife

Size of barrel (land) varies

Due to wildlife species

Type of land base

Concept tied to recruitment

& mortality

understanding simple wildlife concepts5
Understanding Simple Wildlife Concepts

Recruitment & Biotic Potential:

Genetic potential for reproduction

Deer = 2

Quail = 15

Bats = 1

The actual number added to the population on an annual basis

Deer = 1.8

Quail = 12

Bats = 0.9

understanding simple wildlife concepts6
Understanding Simple Wildlife Concepts

Mortality (death) & compensatory mortality

Individual source of mortality is finite

Population has a biologically determined mortality rate linked to biotic potential

Compensatory mortality: the total mortality rate for the population remains static but individual sources of mortality can vary

compensatory mortality quail 80

Winter weather



Winter Weather










Compensatory MortalityQuail (80%)
brings us back to what limits populations
Brings us back to what limits populations

Quail in Kentucky – nesting & brood rearing habitat

Tree Squirrels – hard mast production & nesting trees

Deer – good question, probably nothing in KY but in the north it is winter feeding habitat (white cedar thickets)


brings us back to the question why food plots
Brings us back to the questionWHY FOOD PLOTS???

Hook in agency and/or organization programs

Feeling that you are doing something good for wildlife

Attracting wildlife to watch, hunt, photograph, etc.

baiting feeding viewing photographing hunting
Baiting/Feeding viewing/photographing/hunting
  • Not a biologically sound management technique – WHY???
  • Concentrates ANIMALS
  • Two main problems
    • Disease
    • Animal Health Concerns
  • CWD (CO private citizens feeding contributed to 49 cases of CWD)
  • Bovine TB (Michigan)
  • Demodectic manage (mites @ feeding sites in Maine)
  • Aflatoxin (lower reproduction in deer – biggest concern with native birds) – TX 40% of bags tested had high levels illegal for domestic livestock, 20% had enough levels to kill native birds
  • Grow larger antlers or get healthier animals?

Not necessarily true

a large doe harvest to compensate for increased nutritional plane of animals

  • Without extra harvest population can increase and lead to lower quality deer herd through habitat destruction
  • Research by a former student in Kansas found that food plots serve as ecological population “Sinks”
  • Quail are attracted (bare ground, ease of movement, food, etc.) but predators and hunters have learned food plots are the best place to find birds and focus their efforts leading to TOO MANY BIRDS being removed from population
affects of non target species
Affects of Non-target Species
  • Decreased songbird abundance & diversity in areas with high deer density
  • Not only concentrates deer, also concentrates predators – increased predation on eggs & poults
social ethical considerations
Social & Ethical Considerations
  • Is hunting over bait ethical?
  • Does it violate the principle of “fair chase?”
  • Will you shoot a bigger trophy deer? (probably not – research shows they avoid these areas and travel at night)
  • Providing ammunition to non-hunting community (which is the majority of Americans)
why food plots
Why Food Plots?
  • Why are you putting them in?
  • Is food limiting?
  • Do you want to attract to hunt?
  • Do you want to grow a larger herd?
  • Do you want bucks with larger antlers?
things to think about
Things to think about
  • Food plots ¼ to ½ acre
  • Close to escape cover
  • Prepare good seedbed
  • Do soil test & amend
  • Keep weeds out
  • Do not sow too deep (1/4”)
a modern wildlife management success story
A Modern Wildlife Management Success Story
  • Pre-settlement population in US about 14 million
  • At turn of century down to 500,000
  • Today at 30 million and growing
  • Kentucky population 900,000 (up from 2,000 in 1945) and 400,000 in 1990.
  • Forest has returned
  • Adaptability of animal (research)
  • Restrictive hunting (after 1930’s)
  • Left with legacy of not shooting does (is that a good thing now?)
  • Suburbanization
  • Number of hunters is declining
food plots
Food Plots
  • Be careful what you ask for – come true
  • Food is generally not a limiting factor for deer
  • If you want to hunt, develop mixtures to attract deer (mustards, rape, canola, winter wheat, white ladino clover, alfalfa, red clover, spinach, Illinois bundleflower, etc.) or purchase product
  • However, no data to support contention that you can grow larger antlers (age is the most critical factor here)
small game quail
Small Game (Quail)
  • $ better spent on nesting/brood rearing/winter habitat --- native warm season grasses
  • Annual food plots
    • Cowpeas, Austrian winter peas, buckwheat, Egyptian wheat, proso or browntop millet, partridge pea
    • Three year rotation (plant every third year, let idle for two years)
wild turkey
Wild Turkey
  • Clover/legume is best (insects)
  • Chufa
    • Not the miracle forage it is sold as
    • Limited use to sandy or sandy/loam soils
mourning doves
Mourning Doves
  • Strict guidelines related to baiting – USFWS
  • Only on lands where normal agricultural practices
  • If top seeding or broadcasting – watch rates (normal ag practices) – no piles
  • Standing crops
  • Wildlife food plots if documented via state, etc.
  • Pasture improvements – grazing (obviously can’t use winter wheat here)
  • Harvested grain crops (as long as done in normal ag practices – can’t open up back of combine and let seed out – they will catch you)
  • Fields that have been manipulated after normal agricultural practices
mourning doves27
Mourning Doves
  • Perodovic variety sunflower
  • White or dove proso millet
  • Browntop millet
  • Grain sorghum (make sure it isn’t bird resistant variety)
  • Corn (least preferred)
  • Think out of the box – sesame (shattering type) – seed around June 1, seed ¼” deep, Sesaco Corporation (1-800-527-1024)
food plots28
Food Plots
  • Is it worth it or should you put your $ and time into managing habitat?
  • Are you getting what you pay for?
  • Are you really benefiting wildlife populations/