Brainerd – “Oh, so you plant, and hunt deer over food plots,” a man recently said to me. His comment held overtones of resentment.
I feel fortunate to own 70 acres of land in central Minnesota. For years I have implemented many habitat improvement projects, including food plots, to attract more wildlife to my acreage.
Creating deer food plots is an example.
Although I had spent my entire life in the outdoors, I was as green as a well-maintained lawn when it came to farming for wildlife. Now, with two decades of dirt under my fingernails, I more fully understand and appreciate the link between the land and whitetailed deer and other wildlife. The learning process continues.
Here in Minnesota, hunting deer over bait is illegal. Even supplemental feeding (or recreational) is discouraged by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In fact, the DNR is considering a statewide ban on deer feeding. The main concern with deer feeding is that the practice puts animals in proximity to one another and possibly increases the spread of diseases such chronic wasting. The ban would not include planting food plots.
Yes, food plots also concentrate deer to a certain extent, but not like a feeding station where an effortless meal is readily available. In some areas, deer from miles around often leave well-managed habitat to gather in proximity to the feed stations. Thus, overbrowsing of the nearby habitat occurs, which affects not only the health of other wildlife but also the long-term health of the habitat itself.
For example, an over-browsed section of forest can take decades to recover. In addition, some deer biologists claim it can be difficult to attain sufficient deer harvests in areas where feeding has significantly shifted deer travel.
When I first bought my land, had it been legal to bait deer in Minnesota like it is in a number of other states, and had I chosen that route to attract whitetails to my land, I would not have garnered the many valuable, interesting and entertaining lessons the outdoors has to offer.
This link to nature is a huge benefit of food plots.
Some hunters who do not plant food plots and hunt over them consider the idea to be cheating. I disagree, and so must a multitude of landowners. One only needs to walk the aisles of a sporting goods store. You’ll see sections dedicated to food plot seed and other products.
Hunting deer over a food plot is not like the shooting of fish in a barrel. In addition, anti-food plot people often claim they can’t afford to plant and maintain food plots, and that they don’t have the time to invest in deer management work.
Putting in food plots can be expensive — but, when compared to the yearlong practice of feeding deer, the cost of even a well-maintained food plot is comparable. Also, food plots actually become an element of proper deer habitat. A pile of deer feed doesn’t need good habitat surrounding it to support deer.
Ultimately, the debate over hunting over food plots shouldn’t be decided by its effectiveness. What is important is the long-term health of the whitetail herd and their habitat, an environment that is shared by many other creatures besides deer.
Last week I spent almost an entire day working on my food plots. Gratifying? Yes. Nature provides me interesting tidbits every time I set foot on my land no matter what my intent.
For me, providing deer and other wildlife with the year-around nutritional benefits of food plots is a passion that goes far beyond hunting.
All hunters and stewards of the land should remember that.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.