Baiting, Food Plots, and Luring Deer
by Adam Johnson
In some states baiting whitetail deer is legal. In some states it’s not. But then in the states where baiting is not legal there is the food plot, which is basically a way to keep deer in the area without breaking the law. And then you have your deer feeders. These are people who spend a lot of money on corn and feed deer regularly to develop a pattern with them, and then in the prescribed time before the season starts they quit feeding the deer and turn them from pets into game animals.
I’m not here to debate whether baiting or feeding deer should be allowed or not. That’s up to the legislative bodies and the biologists to decide. The primary goal during the deer season is to harvest an animal. Some hunters strive for a trophy buck while others just want to put some meat in the freezer. The bottom line is that there are plenty of deer in the woods and fields and whether you are in a state that allows baiting or not, luring deer is a good way to make sure you have something to shoot at.
On the land I hunt we use food plots, because baiting is not legal in Minnesota. Of everything that is planted in those food plots I can tell you that the sugar beet is by far the most sought plant by the deer that feed there. What is interesting is that the deer leave the beets alone during the growing season and don’t start using them until about mid-November, which is right in the middle of my archery deer season.
I have hunted states that allow baiting and the sugar beet is a preferred bait by many of the hunters who put out bait piles. Like apples or pears, sugar beets should be spread out and not piled up, and it pays to cut a bunch in half to spread the aroma and lure more deer into the bait pile.
People talk about the bait pile, but in fact, it’s much better to spread the bait out over a large area than it is to pile it in one place. Let’s say you’re using apples. Take an apron with a big pouch on it when you go to bait and load the pouch with apples from the bushel basket. Put a few next to a rub and then cut a couple in half and add it to the whole fruit you just strategically placed.
The goal is to draw and hold deer on that spot so rather than put everything in one location where the deer can congregate and eat it all at once, spread out the bait and make the deer do some searching, finding a little pocket of apples here and a little pocket there. This way even when the apples run out the deer keep nosing around hoping to find another treat nearby.
You can’t walk into a sporting goods store anymore without seeing shelves loaded with bags of seed for food plots. These bags hold a mixture of clover, rape, vetch, peas, and other high protein plant seeds that are guaranteed to hold deer from well before until well after your hunting season.
The problem with food plots is they take a lot of effort to plant and maintain. The ground where the food plot is going needs to be prepped before planting and even if they say the stuff is going to keep coming up year after year after it’s been planted, that’s only if you don’t let the canary grass and thistle overtake it. It’s an ongoing chore to keep a food plot going every year.
Apple trees create a nice food plot. Trees take some time to get established, but once they start bearing fruit you can count on lots of deer visiting this site during the hunting season and there is little maintenance.
Some hunters I know plant gardens and then don’t pick the vegetables. You plant a dozen rows of corn, some pumpkins and summer squash. Forget zucchini; the deer eat everything else before they even think about raiding the zucchini patch. Put in some tomato plants, some muskmelons, and then fence or wire it so no animals can get in. About a week before the hunt take the fence down and you will have every form of critter you can imagine coming in. Lots of whitetails too.
Most hunters think of a food plot or baiting scenario as a way to lure deer into a shooting lane. I think of it more as a way to maintain a high population of quality deer on the property where I hunt. Patience will eventually put me in position to send and an arrow or a bullet at them. Whether planting a food plot or piling bait there is going to be some effort required to create an environment that will effectively lure deer and create a successful hunt. For many of us that effort is well worth the rewards.