You may be surprised at the answer if you ask your local wildlife biologist this question.
  • At best the answer will be a qualified "maybe." Annual food plots are often not what's needed to improve small game populations on a particular property. For example, recent research indicates that if your only management is planting food plots you may actually be harming quail populations by concentrating and exposing them to wild predators and excessive hunting mortality.
  • Before you get a firm answer the biologist will make an assessment of the area to determine if adequate nesting, escape, and brood cover is available. Each small game species has needs for a particular kind of food, cover, and shelter which change depending upon the season of the year and the age of the animal. Food plots, when properly located, can meet some of these needs, especially when used in conjunction with other forms of management.

    Species such as bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, and many other small birds and animals are adapted to survive in the sun-loving, early successional vegetation which follows disturbances by plowing, burning or timbering. Food plots are often planted to benefit these species. But, suitable habitat is also provided by open woodlands that have been prescribed burned, brushy cropfield edges, and land which has recently been fallowed.


  • Weedy and brushy areas adjacent to food sources are essential if your food plot is to do more good than harm.
  • Use the following guidelines to help make decisions about what, where, when, and if you should plant plots for small game.
  • Is there adequate weedy and brushy escape cover nearby? Plots without adequate escape cover nearby may actually harm the species you intended to benefit.
  • Bobwhites and rabbits are safer from their enemies if they can feed near cover. Subsequently, plots with a lot of edge are preferred. Square or circular plots have the least amount of edge. Plan plots to be long, narrow and adjacent to escape cover.
  • On many farms today, small game populations appear limited mostly by a lack of good breeding cover in the spring and lack of escape cover in the winter-not by a lack of food. Produce nesting and escape cover by rotating your plots. When planting in old fields, move plots annually to create fallow areas of varying ages of weed growth. These fallow areas provide escape cover, nesting cover, and often produce fruits and seeds that compliment the foods produced in the plot.
  • Attempt to select good soils for your plantings. Generally, if soils are suitable for rowcrops and produce lush weed crops they will produce good wildlife plantings. Avoid excessively dry or wet sites.
  • Consider early spring disking as an alternative to food planting. Disked strips in fallow weed fields (not to exceed 1/3 of the field area) provide good brood habitat. The canopy of young weeds that follow disking produces insects and the patches of bare ground beneath the weeds provide access for broods. Adjacent undisked portions of the field are used for nesting and escape cover. Brood habitat resulting from spring disking is less costly and often equal in quality to that obtained by planting plots.
  • Use extensive as well as intensive management. Food plots are an example of intensive management. A great deal of effort is expended on a small area of land. Small game populations w be more responsive if plots are used in combination with more extensive management techniques such as:

Timber thinning to permit food and cover growth to prosper on the forest floor.
   Prescribed bums to set back plant life to the earliest stages.
  Strip disking in fallow fields to provide insects, seeds and bare ground throughout the field area.
  Conversion of fescue sod to native warm season grasses.
  Reduced mowing. Mow only when necessary to prevent trees from overtaking ditchbanks or old fields. Time mowing to occur in early spring, prior to nesting season.


  • Remember, there are no magical formulas for instantly producing an abundance of small game. The broader land uses on an area influence the small game population more than food plots. Where they can be applied, extensive practices can greatly increase populations. After these practices are in place well-planned food plots can provide the "icing on the cake" to facilitate hunting and to provide for specific habitat deficiencies.
  • A variety of good planting materials are available commercially. A brief description of one spring and one fall seeding mixture using commonly available seed follows.


  • The following plant materials can be broadcast or row planted on a prepared seed bed from early April in the coastal plains through early June in the mountains. This mixture is resistant to deer browse.
  • Good annual mixtures contain strong stalked members of the grass family such as Egyptian Wheat, Sorghum, Milo or Hybrid Pearl Millet. These plants stand well in the winter and provide cover as well as producing seed.
  • Browntop Millet, German Millet, and Proso Millet produce good seed quickly and are often used by young birds and rabbits in late summer.
  • Kobe and Korean Lespedeza produce good insect populations, browse for rabbits, and a seed that is used by quail in winter.
  • The mixture should contain equal parts by weight of the strong stalked grasses, early producing millets, and annual lespedezas. Fertilize and lime according to soil tests. Plant at a rate of 15 lbs. per acre and cover lightly (1/2 inch or less). (Some reseeding of lespedezas will occur so move to a new area to make additional plantings the following summer).
  • Where deer populations are low other legumes such as cowpeas or soybeans can be added sparingly to the above mixture.


  • Wheat Barley or Rye plantings can benefit quail by providing seeds and insects the following fall and winter. Plantings should be made in late September through November. Prepare a seed bed, and plant at a rate of 50 Ibs. per acre. Fertilize and lime according to soil tests. Topseed with Kobe or Korean Lespedeza at a rate of 10 Ibs. per acre in January or February to 4 increase seed and insect production. (Some reseeding of grains and lespedezas will occur so move to a new area or make additional plantings the following fall).
  • A good source for information on locally adapted plant varieties and planking dates is your county office of the Cooperative Extension Service. For additional wildlife technical assistance or wildlife planting materials information contact:


North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Wildlife Management Division
1722 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1722
919 733-7291