There are two critical factors for food plot design location next to heavy cover (i.e. shelterbelts and cattail sloughs) and size. If there is no winter cover available, food plots must be large enough (4-15 acres) to provide significant cover in addition to being a food source.
Food plots can be established almost anywhere, even on Conservation Reserve or Wetland Reserve Program land, or right next to a farm grove. Above all else, the key to a successful food plot is its location next to heavy winter cover that is frequented by pheasants and other upland wildlife.
Designing a food plot
In open country, up to 50 rows of standing crop can be filled in a single blizzard. Large (3-10 acre) square or block-type food plots are preferable to smaller, linear food plots. Whenever possible, large food plots should be located directly adjacent to woody and herbaceous winter cover on the windward side (generally the northwest). If this is not possible, effective food plots can be established nearby if they are linked via corridors of escape cover to traditional winter cover. Where winter cover is scarce, large 10-acre-plus blocks of corn may be planted to serve as both food and shelter for the birds. Bear in mind that these areas will be used by many species of wildlife and that some, such as deer and turkeys, consume a great deal of grain daily and can potentially exhaust food resources well before winter has ended.
If plots will be small, minimize drifting by establishing snow traps (leave 4-6 rows windward, then harvest 12-20 adjacent rows as a snow catch). This same approach can be used to make wetlands, and small patches of woody cover more effective wintering areas—place food plots on their windward side to catch snow before it enters the winter roosting cover. Link any nearby satellite food plots to the best winter cover with travel corridors of heavy vegetation.
WHAT TO PLANT?
Plan your food plots carefully, taking the worst-case scenario into account. Don't bother to create a project that is going to be buried by the first winter blizzard.
- Corn and grain sorghum are among the most reliable food sources. Planted separately or in combinations, they retain grain on stalks, stand well in winter weather and provide very high-energy food. Large blocks of corn, and combinations of forage sorghum and grain sorghum can also provide excellent cover. See Pheasants Forever's Signature Series Seed Mixes.
- Wheat, soybeans, millets, rye, and buckwheat are good food sources, but are often buried by snow, forcing birds into the open to utilize them.
ESTABLISHING YOUR PLOT
Whether by standard tractor and corn planter, grain drill, or via broadcast seeder mounted on an ATV or pickup truck, there is a way to get a food plot in the ground where it will do the most good for wildlife. If you are without planting equipment, it may be available to rent from local conservation offices. Some agencies and some chapters of Pheasants Forever provide planting services at nominal rates, and there are often local custom operators willing to plant these areas.
CHECK LOCAL SOURCES FOR ASSISTANCE
It often works well to dovetail with farm programs like the Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve, which have acreage eligible for food plots. Food plots on these acres make valuable use of land that is already wildlife habitat. Acreage allowances and crop restrictions vary by state, so contact your local Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist or local USDA Service Center for local guidelines. State wildlife agencies may also provide food plot assistance to landowners.