Along The Trail 2-9-17

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Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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Last week, while in Michigan, a group of us had an interesting discussion over dinner on the topic of food plots…

Well, for a group of bowhunters, it was an interesting discussion, but for most folks and the casual reader of this column, the conversation would likely be a big yawner! Boring with a capital “B”…

I guess I should give a brief description of what a food plot is for the followers of Along the Trail that might not know. According to the USDA, a food plot is an annual or perennial planting of grain, cover crops, grasses, forbs, legumes or a mixture thereof to provide food for a variety of wildlife on rural lands.

Food plots are utilized by all sorts of wildlife here in our part of Indiana and they can provide a supplemental food source for animals during a lean time of year or a bitterly cold winter. But, in all honesty, the majority of food plots that are planted each year have nothing to do with the welfare of wild animals or to improve habitat…Nope, most food plots planted by deer hunters are for one thing and one thing only, to draw deer in to a specific area and to manipulate their movement. This was the topic of conversation between my friends and I over dinner. The ethics behind the use of food plots, is it “fair” chase? Are we changing the way whitetails move through our hunting spots? All sorts of discussion was generated about the topic. Most of it was civil, although there was some passionate debate, pro and con. Some of the conversation was mildly heated, but I attributed most of that to the adult beverages around the table.

Now, in full disclosure, I have no issue with food plots and I ‘ve hunted them when available. In the past, when I controlled a piece of ground, I had planted several food plots and know first hand how many other species of wildlife use them for food and cover, but to be honest, my goal behind planting the plots was to lure a deer within range of my bow. I believe that most other deer hunters use food plots in the same way. I know several fellow hunters that spend countless hours, not mention literally thousands of dollars planting and maintaining deer plots. They have spent time researching and planning their locations and to their credit, have had a great deal of hunting success. There is even a whole section of the outdoor industry dedicated to food plots that ranges from specialized seeds to tractor and equipment manufacturers making gear designed for the planting of plots.

But, the question with the use of food plots is this…Are we as deer hunters losing something when we hunt over these plots? Have we changed the game from hunting for deer to one of farming for deer? Rather than using old time woodsmanship and hunting skill, we are changing deer’s patterns and manipulating their movement rather than “hunting” them. It seems that too often, we’ll bush hog a small field, till it up, sew some seeds and then pray for rain. We throw a shooting shack up on an elevated platform and then wait for a hungry deer to come into our newly planted, lush green field planted with a treat for them…I don’t know, the more that I think about it, the less enthused I am about the use of plots specifically for hunting.

There really isn’t a big difference between food plots and the use of bait in my eyes.

I do believe that food plots have a place in the role of deer hunting, but more as a way to improve the overall habitat of a piece of property rather than being a field full of a buck’s favorite candy. Maybe, rather than hunting the edge of a plot waiting for a deer to stroll by, we use the supplemental food source in much the same way we do a ridge loaded with acorns or a deer’s bedding area. We use our hunting knowledge and experience rather than emphasizing the quickest path to success, the easiest means to an end…If we use food plots in conjunction with other land improvements such as hinge cutting, improving browse, hardwood plantings, controlled burns and removing invasive plants, all of our local wildlife will benefit and maybe we as hunters will retain some of our skills and still be hunters rather than just shooters.

– David Hewitt