Dave's Place: The Hunter's Purpose

A yes-and-no answer to the food plot question

Field & Stream Online Editors

Last week, I ran your letters regarding whether or not planting food plots specifically for deer hunting is the same as baiting. Some of you answered an unqualified yes, with one reader going so far as to call food plots "a load of $#%@," which probably contains an element of truth, what with manure's being a common fertilizer. Others gave an unqualified no -- one reader suggested that hunters "back East forget that not everyone has an acorn crop to hunt over." (I can only speak for myself as an eastern hunter, but there isn't an oak tree within 10 miles of most of the places I hunt.) Most of you, however, said both yes and no.

So, collectively, your answer to the question was: Yes, no, and it depends.

I agree.

Some food plots are examples of baiting. Many are not. The question then becomes: What does it depend on?

A few readers felt that the size of the plot makes all the difference, but I can't agree with that. On the one hand, a hunter who plants a very small plot but doesn't hunt directly over it probably isn't baiting. On the other hand, someone who plants a large plot but is very adept at popping long-range deer that enter the field from virtually any angle might be guilty.

Several others said that it depends on the hunting style. In other words, if a hunter can simply set up over the food and wait for a deer to show up in a specific spot, then it's baiting. But I'm not sure this matters much either. For example, a hunter might find a little patch of uncut corn on a farmer's property. He might set up right over the food, wait for a buck to show, and fill his tag. His hunting style is virtually identical to that of someone sitting over a bait pile. Yet none of us would call this baiting because he didn't put the food there with sole purpose of killing a deer over it.

In my opinion, it's the hunter's purpose that makes the difference. With both baiting and food plots, the hunter introduces a food source that wouldn't otherwise be present. It doesn't matter whether the food is placed there or planted there. What matters is why.

There's only one reason to put out a bait pile: to lure deer to a specific location to be shot, which is not to say there's necessarily anything wrong with that. It may not be my first, second, or third choice in how to hunt deer, but if it's legal in your area and you don't have a problem with it, God bless. The question, after all, isn't whether baiting is bad, but whether food plots are examples of baiting.

Likewise, then, the hunter who plants a food plot only for the purpose of luring deer to shoot at is baiting as far as I can tell. But unlike the practice of baiting, there are other considerations involved with food plots. If even part of a hunter's motive for planting a field of alfalfa is to improve the habitat for deer, which will also improve the habitat for other game animals, then it is different from baiting. Moreover, many food plots are not hunted directly over at all -- but are planted to improve the habitat and thereby draw and keep more deer on the property to be hunted in other ways.

In the end, any hunter knows a bait pile when he sees one. But the only person who knows whether a given food plot is an example of baiting is the individual who planted it.