13 Reasons You Have Bad Fortune with Food Plots

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Are Your Food Plots Usually a Success or a Failure?

You Don’t Understand How Deer Use the Landscape

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1 | You Don’t Understand How Deer Use the Landscape

One of the most important aspects of planting food plots has nothing to do with putting seed in the ground. It has to do with how deer use the landscape. Knowing such helps determine where to locate your food plots. The most-utilized food plots are planted in locations where deer already frequent. Think of it as trying to put the food plot in the deer’s way as it moves from its bedding area to a primary food source and back again. Locating food plots away from high-traffic areas in hopes they draw deer to new areas will produce diminished results.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock / Bill Jordan

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You Don’t Maximize Efficiency of the Food Plot

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2 | You Don’t Maximize Efficiency of the Food Plot

There are numerous ways to maximize the efficiency of a food plot. Choose a plant species that will produce the maximum amount of forage and that will also peak around the time you plan to hunt the most. If available in the type seed you plan to purchase, choose the plant species variety that is optimized for your specific area. Lastly, if you aren’t leaving (or planting it if it’s absent) early successional growth as a food plot screen, you should be.

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Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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You Don’t Optimize Food Plot Size and Shape

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3 | You Don’t Optimize Food Plot Size and Shape

The shape of your food plot is extremely important. Standard circular, oval, square and rectangular food plots don’t direct deer travel. Food plots in the shape of a T, U, J, L or V do direct deer traffic. It’s been my experience that whitetails are curious animals. Typically, if they come out into the food plot in one location, they’ll travel at least far enough to see the rest of the food plot. Put your stand close to the vertex (turning point) in the plot to take advantage of this behavior.

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Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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You Don’t Recognize When It’s Best Not to Plant One

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4 | You Don’t Recognize When It’s Best Not to Plant One

Part of knowing food plots is knowing when and where not to plant one. Sometimes, depending on the location, the best thing you can do is not plant anything. A food plot I planted several years ago was a prime example of this. I bush hogged an area within a small block of timber that was full of early succession growth (briars, grasses, etc.) to clear for a small ¼-acre food plot. The result? I ended up seeing less deer after doing so. I removed quality bedding cover in an attempt to provide a food source. But after I did, there was less bedding cover nearby to harbor deer. As seen, planting food plots can do more harm than good if not used properly. My advice — don’t take away quality bedding or security cover to create a food source. In most states, good bedding cover is more limited than food to begin with.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock / William T Smith

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You Don’t Test the Soil

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5 | You Don’t Test the Soil

Soil tests are crucial. Knowing the pH is important so you know how much fertilizer and lime to apply. Sure. You can plant food plots without doing a soil test. I’ve done it myself. But you risk a failed food plot by doing so. And don’t become complacent and opt not to test the soil just because you’ve planted in a given spot in the past with good results. Soil changes over time and nutrients become depleted.

Photo credit: Craig Watson

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You Don’t Consider Soil Composition

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6 | You Don’t Consider Soil Composition

Soil pH isn’t the only thing to consider. Soil composition is, too. The type of soil you’re dealing with will dictate what you can and can’t plant. Different plant species require different types of soil. Clay. Silty. Loamy. Sandy. Etc. All different types. All different in the species of plants that prefer them.

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Photo credit: Craig Watson

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You Don’t Wage War on the Weeds

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7 | You Don’t Wage War on the Weeds

Spraying is crucial. Not spraying for weeds is a recipe for failure. You remember that whole bit in the intro on creating your own luck? This is part of that. You’ll be crying over your food plot instead of killing deer over it if you don’t take the right steps.

Photo credit: Shutterstock / S. Mileus

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You Don’t Plant the Right Plant Species for Your Area

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8 | You Don’t Plant the Right Plant Species for Your Area

Different plants do best in different parts of the country. That said, some do well just about anywhere (relatively speaking). Finding one that works for your area, and even more important, your goals, is certainly part of having a successful food plot.

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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You Don’t Plant at the Right Time

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9 | You Don’t Plant at the Right Time

Timing is everything when it comes to growing something. Strategically timing your planting efforts is a key concept in the food-plot world. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. There’s a list of plants that can be planted during each of those seasons. But plant the wrong thing at the wrong time and you’ll see less-than-ideal results.

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Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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You Don’t Keep an Eye on the Forecast

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10 | You Don’t Keep an Eye on the Forecast

Dropping seed in the ground just prior to a good, soaking rain is just as important as following the planting dates on the back of the bag. Watch the forecast for high chances of rain. You’ll be way better off if you plant your food plot just prior to quality rainfall. If you put seed in the ground and then it doesn’t rain for weeks, depending on the type of seed, the risk of seed rot increases by the day.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock / Givaga

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You Don’t Use the Right Planting Practices

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11 | You Don’t Use the Right Planting Practices

You don’t need a big expensive tractor and implements to plant food plots. You don’t need a tractor at all for that matter. Whatever method you use to break ground with will work as long as it exposes the soil. But you still have to follow general agricultural rules and practices to experience the best results.

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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You Don’t Plant the Seed at the Right Soil Depth

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12 | You Don’t Plant the Seed at the Right Soil Depth

Common planting depths range from ¼-inch to 2 inches. Some seeds simply require top-of-ground soil contact. All said, you still need to know what the optimal depth is for the seed(s) you plant. Planting too shallow or too deep can limit germination and restrict food plots from reaching their full potential.

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Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

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You Don’t Monitor and Protect Your Planted Food Plot

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13 | You Don’t Monitor and Protect Your Planted Food Plot

Food plots are an investment. So why do some hunters fail to do what they can to monitor and maintain them? In areas with high deer densities, it’s crucial to put up exclusion fences. For certain plant species, post-emergence weed killing is necessary. Still, others need periodic mowing to keep them in top order. In times of drought, irrigation may be necessary. See what I’m getting at?

Food plots are a great tool that can greatly benefit the deer and your deer hunting. But they’re not easy to master. And they pose a list of challenges. But you can tame bad food plot fortune by avoiding these 13 mistakes. Do so and you’re well on your way to a fun fall filled with lush plots and healthy deer.

Don’t Miss: How to Use Food Plot Enclosures to Prevent Overgrazing

Photo credit: Josh Honeycutt

Are you a hunter wanting to learn how to accomplish your goals? Check out our stories, videos and hard-hitting how-to's on food plots and land management.

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Ask Michael Scott from “The Office” and he’ll tell you he isn’t superstitious. Instead, he’s just a little ‘stitious.

But in the real world, luck isn’t a thing. I think, most times, you create your own luck — good or bad. Knowledge, understanding and preparedness lead to “good luck.” Lack of knowledge, shortcuts and procrastination lead to the alternative. No, we aren’t in complete control of life — including food plot life. Things happen. And even the best food plotters plant food plots that fail. That’s the exception, though. Not the rule. And avoiding these 13 mistakes will lead to some green, luscious food plots that’ll be good for the deer and your deer hunting.