Gander Mountain is offering this Beginner’s Guide to Food Plots to help new and seasoned hunters learn more about the benefits and opportunities found in food plotting. We'll also provide you with helpful information so you'll be able to get started on your own food plot. View our step-by-step instructions, planter's guide, essential gear, and accessories in order to turn your area of land into a functioning, successful food plot and improve your wildlife population.
A food plot is a designated area of land that is planted with supplementary food sources specifically for wildlife. Landowners often incorporate a food plot in order to sustain their wildlife population as well as boost their hunting success for the next season. Food plots can vary in size, shape, species of plants, and frequency of planting, all based on what types of animals landowners are hoping to attract. Plots are generally planted in the fall or spring, but timing can vary depending on the region and whether the plant is a perennial or an annual. Many factors go into planning a food plot, but building a food plot can be easy and produce extraordinary results when grown and maintained properly.
Almost all firearms have some kind of sighting device. Whether the gun is equipped with iron rear and front sights or a more powerful scope, you need help in lining up a target. The benefits of using a scope are the simplicity of aiming and the reduced strain to your eyes. Lining up your target through iron sights means you have to focus on the rear sight, the front sight, and your target, which is often frustrating and sometimes impossible for older eyes. With a scope, you just line up the crosshairs or reticle with your target. Most riflescopes also magnify your target so it appears closer and is much easier to see. The result is a precise shot and a much better chance of hitting your target. People with impaired vision are also able to adjust the focus at the ocular or eyepiece, so they get a clearer view of what they're aiming at.
Game cameras and hunting equipment such as blinds and treestands are great tools for observing your land to see where animals naturally gather for food and protection. Set up your trail camera or treestand and analyze the area you're considering planting. Take a look at your camera's images and survey from your vantage point to see where wildlife prefer to meet. You can find a complete list of food plotting accessories in our Wildlife Management Accessories section.
Another factor to consider when choosing the location of your food plot is the pH level of the soil. Knowing the characteristics of the soil not only helps determine the best type of plant for that area, it also gives you the knowledge to amend the soil. Neutralizing the pH of the soil is incredibly important to building a food plot, as the soil will need to have a fairly neutral pH level to grow anything. Fertilizers are a great way to improve the pH of the soil. This will be discussed further in Step 3 under "Building Your Food Plot."
You can determine the pH level of your soil by performing a pH or soil test using a kit or meter. These tests are easy to perform, generally only requiring you to collect a dry sample of the soil using the kit you select. Try to reach soil 2 to 8 inches from the surface in order to get an accurate reading of the root section of the ground. If your food plot is going to be three acres or larger, multiple soil tests should be performed throughout the area. Gander Mountain offers soil test kits from major brands like BioLogic, Whitetail Institute, and Chapin Outfitters, which can be found by
Determine what you want to plant based on factors such as whether you want to stimulate big growth for the upcoming hunting season or simply encourage local wildlife to visit your area. The geographical region in which your food plot lives will greatly influence the success of your food plot. Many seed varieties that may grow well in the southern United States are not well adapted to grow in Midwest conditions, and vice versa.
Different animals prefer various types of plants. For example, deer and turkeys are attracted to grasses, legumes, peas, etc., while pheasants favor seeds such as thistle grasses, sumac, nightshade, and sunflowers. Also, different types of forage are utilized by game animals at different times throughout the year. For example, brassicas reach their prime nutrition after a hard frost and are consumed later in the year. It is important to understand how and when game animals will be visiting your food plot.
Each species of plant has different requirements on how and when they should be planted, particularly depending on whether the plant is an annual or a perennial. Annuals perform their entire life cycle within a single growing season and will need to be planted each year. Perennials persist for many growing seasons. Generally, the top portion of the perennial plant dies each winter and regrows the following spring from the same root system. Although perennials require less frequent planting, they may need more upkeep throughout the year than traditional annuals.
Clover, corn, and wheat are well-known food plot choices, as they are fairly easy to grow and provide year-round nutrition. Sugar beets, turnips, and brassicas have also increased in popularity, as hunters have seen the plants’ successes in the late fall/early winter season, and animals love their sweet flavor.
Visit our Planter’s Guide to see a complete list of the various plants that game animals prefer, their growing frequency, and more help in finding the best products to fit your needs.
It’s time to dig into the soil that you have chosen. Before you mow, consider the shape of your food plot. Most animals like to stay close to the tree/plant line for protection. A skinny rectangle is a common type of food plot shape and is easy to maintain. An hour glass and V shapes are other popular food plot patterns as they can influence animals to gather at a certain point.
By encouraging animals to meet at one particular point, you raise the likelihood of seeing more animals on your trail camera or from your treestand and increase your chances of a successful hunt. Once you have selected the shape, mow the area as short as possible in order to prepare a base for your upcoming food plot.
Existing weeds and grasses threaten to sabotage the growth of your plot. It's important to spray a commercial-grade weed and grass killer across your plot to destroy the existing growth before you begin planting. Plants fight for space, and the unwanted grasses and weeds will attempt to regrow over your new plot. Utilizing a weed/grass killer preserves the space for your food plot, promoting consistent, healthy growth. You will need to use the weed/grass killer again before planting, so be sure to have enough on hand for two applications.
Fertilizer and lime are necessary in order to guarantee nutrient-dense soil for your upcoming food plot. Wait 10-14 days after applying your weed/grass killer, and then spread your lime and fertilizer as determined by your soil sample. Lime increases the pH of acidic soil—the lower the pH, the more acidic the soil is. Areas will need more or less fertilizer or lime based on the health of the soil.
Lime comes in two different forms—pulverized and pelletized. Pulverized lime is powdered and keeps pH neutral for a few years. Pelletized activates faster and keeps pH neutral for a season.
Most forms of fertilizer and lime can be spread by hand, by a seed/fertilizer spreader, or by specialized tractors.
Disking the land that you are about to plant lightly mixes the lime and fertilizer into the ground and improves the nutrition of your soil. There are many options when it comes to breaking up the ground. For smaller projects, simple hand tools or a tiller will work great. For larger plots, many commercial ATV disk or plow type machines that can be pulled along behind an ATV or small garden tractor will be especially helpful and make quick work of it. Gander Mountain offers a variety of spreaders and disk accessories. Disking tools and other ATV/trailer accessories can be found here.
The difference between disking and tilling is that disking breaks the soil more roughly than a tiller. Disking is generally preferred when building a food plot because it requires less time than a tiller and the ground doesn't need to be as finely broken down as when a farmer tills land for crops.
Smoothing the area before planting prepares a good, flat seedbed, particularly for tiny seeds such as clover. You can use a roller or other equipment to roll the soil flat. For small plots, using a lawn roller behind your ATV, dragging a chain link fence with weight over the plot, or even using a lawn mower can be effective.
Waiting 10 to 15 days after disking and smoothing your soil allows new unwanted vegetation to grow, giving you the upper hand in making sure it is completely gone. Weeds and grasses have a tendency to grow back even after the first herbicide use. By waiting and using your weed/grass killer again, you guarantee that there are no dormant plants, leaving all the space and nutrients for your food plot.
Do not disk the soil again beyond this point, as it could encourage additional growth of weeds or grass and disturb your soil’s nutrients.
Now that you’ve completed the preparation stage, it’s time to plant. For the best results, be sure to spread the seed evenly, but sparingly. Applying too much seed to a food plot can reduce resources in the soil and cause the plants to fail. You can use any kind of spreader to plant your seed, whether it is manual or controlled by an ATV, depending on your preference and food plot size.
Achieving good seed-to-soil contact is of the upmost importance for complete food plot success. Driving over your newly seeded food plot with a roller or an ATV can gently push the seed into the soil without disturbing the ground itself. Planting right before an adequate amount of rain or watering based on the recommendations of the product can also ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Your food plot is flourishing, and you can start to enjoy the benefits. Keep in mind that you may need to periodically use a grass herbicide a couple of times throughout the growing season to control the presence of unwanted weeds or grasses. Mowing the food plot can also help control weeds and promote new growth that is more palatable. However, not all crops respond to weeding and mowing, so follow the directions on the seed packaging and research your specific crop type.
In addition to weed and grass control, fertilizing your food plot again at least once per season can stimulate continuing growth of your food plot. With a good knowledge of your plant choices and proper maintenance, you can have a working food plot and successful hunting experience for many years.
At Gander Mountain, we strive to give you the information and products you need for an excellent hunting season. Now that you’ve read this beginner's guide to a successful food plot, you'll be better prepared as you look through and purchase all the essential tools you need, such as soil tests, seeds, ATV accessories, and more by click here.
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|Alfalfa||X||April - May or August|
|Buckwheat||X||X||X||X||X||X||May - July|
|Chicory||X||April - May or August|
|Clover||X||April - May or August|
|Grain Sorghum||X||X||X||X||X||X||April - May|
|Peas||X||X||X||X||X||May - July|
|Ryegrass||X||X||X||April - May or August|
|Soybeans||X||X||X||April - May|
|Sunflowers||X||X||X||X||April - May|
|Triticale||X||X||X||X||April - May or September|
Incorporating products like feeds, minerals, attractants, feeders, and trail cameras can take your food plot to the next level. Feeds and attractants are an excellent treat for wildlife and can make your food plot even more attractive to animals. A feeder easily spreads the delicious food as needed and encourages animals to gather at a specific spot of your choosing. Trail cameras allow you to see where the wildlife is coming from and moving to, giving you an experienced edge for the upcoming hunting season. At Gander Mountain, you’ll be able to find high-quality attractants and innovative trail cameras from today’s most popular brands.
Once your food plot has developed and you’ve analyzed your trail camera's images, you can set up your treestand in the perfect location. Place your treestand with a clear view of where wildlife prefers to meet and feed. Treestands come in a variety of styles to fit your needs and prferences: ladder, hang-on, climbing, and tripod. If you are going to spend any time in a treestand, be sure to have a proper harness for a safe and fun hunting excursion. Explore Gander Mountain and let us help make sure your food plot and hunting season are the most successful that they have ever been.