To Plant Or To Feed, That Is The Question

J. Bobo

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In today's outdoor world, there's an abrupt distinction, and sometimes there's even arguments, between hunters and their thoughts and opinions, on baiting and supplemental feeding programs. Some say 'What's the difference? It's all the same! You're providing something that didn't come there naturally.' And then some say that 'corn, protein pellets, soybeans, etc. in a feeder is totally different than a food plot.' 'Totally different?' I ask you this, 'With what intention did you place the feeder in the woods? With what intention did you plant that food plot?'

Exactly! The base reason anybody does any of it is for them to have a greater chance at success. Now some may have done it so they could see more deer. Some may have done it so they can draw and attract more deer. Even some may have done to make the deer healthier so they can grow larger racks. And some may have done it so they can kill more deer.

Now, I'm not a wildlife biologist. I've stayed in a Holiday Inn Express a few times though. But I'm still not a biologist. Had I known what one was, however, when I went to college I believe it is where I would have studied. I love the outdoors. Since my first trip hunting with my dad at 8 years old, I've longed to live in the woods and do the best that I can to accomplish that each fall.

So I ask, 'What's the difference in baiting and supplemental feeding?' I feel the difference is the longevity that you engage and perform in the task. Supplemental feeding isn't seasonal. Some hunters don't ever put anything in the woods until the beginning of the season and then they hunt over it immediately hoping to get an easy kill. These are 'baiters'. And as far as I'm concerned, this could include anything from a feed bucket/trough to a food plot. But is that true for a selective hunter who has set standards in what he will or will not shoot? Some people and these are few in number compared to others, only want a food source, whether planted or placed, to assist them in monitoring their herd.

But some have programs where they provide feed (corn, protein pellets, soybeans, etc) year round through feeders. These are true supplemental feeders. The same are those that have food plots whether it be annual or perennial. It is something to provide nutrient supplements that the deer aren't getting enough of naturally.

Is this a bad thing? No, not necessarily. But it requires commitment and dedication. You can't start it and then quit it. Seasonal food supplementation is not beneficial to the long term health of the deer herd for next year. It can have detrimental effects on the deer as well seeing as they've been taught to survive and thrive on items that are super beneficial and then taking them away and putting them back solely on the land.

Year round supplemental feeding is an expense. And again it requires time, commitment, and dedication. To only throw out and provide from just before hunting season and during doesn't give the deer much benefit. The does have birthed their fawns and gone through a strenuous summer nursing and weaning the fawns. The bucks, worn down, have already developed their antlers and are preparing to breed again soon. To feed only during the season at most is a way to help the deer 'break even' but not really to benefit them. After the rut, the bucks are worn down and need high quality forage to regain their loss of energy and go into the hard winter months. The does need high quality feed to carry their newly conceived and unborn yearlings to full term.

Food plots are tough. Not everybody has a green thumb. There are lots of variables, some of these are controllable and some are not. Weather, fertilizer, soil pH, Weed infestation, Over grazing are some that come to mind. The best location to plant one doesn't always have the best soil or the easiest access for equipment. Sometimes the property doesn't allow the size food plots we need. The list goes on and on. Feeders and troughs are easy, simple methods. There's not much work involved. However, they can have issues too like varmints, molding, expense to refill, length of time they last before refills, etc. Some folks consider feeders lazy. I get that. But I don't think unnecessary.

Which is preferred? In my opinion, neither. I believe a good supplemental feeding program utilizes spring and fall food plots mixed in perennial and annual blends (brassicas and clovers, corn and beans, sorghum and peas, oats and chicory, etc) as well as scattered and established feeders with high quality, high protein feed. And let's face it, though corn is rather attractive to deer, the nutrition isn't there. It's a carbohydrate. It puts on weight. It helps deer through the winter. But it needs an additive with it to give the nutrition. Soybeans have high protein. So do acorns. As well do protein pellet feeds developed by various manufacturers.

When you plant a food plot, or fill a feeder, what's the first one of the thoughts you have? It's probably, 'what will they like best?', 'What will have the best drawing power?' These are valid questions and definitely are worthy to be considered. Everything has drawing power whether feed in a trough or what's growing out of the ground. Think it not so? Then explain why deer will prefer one oak tree and its acorns over another or why they'll frequent and visit a honeysuckle patch over a kudzu patch. Everything has drawing power. Drawing power thus also equals holding power. Another question that should be asked is 'what will the deer not only like and will not only draw the deer, but will have the most benefit for the deer?' My choice is a food source that is high in protein, highly digestible. In food plots this would consist of soybeans, peas, clovers, and alfalfa. These items are known for being high in protein and highly attractive to deer. One thing to keep in mind when planting these is to make sure your plot is big enough. I've seen mini plots planted in beans and peas be hammered in a night or two with nothing but stems left coming out of the ground. For feeders, I choose feeds such as whole soybeans mixed with corn, or stabilized rice bran mixed with a high quality protein pellet feed that has high protein content as well as other nutrients like calcium and phosphorus for aiding in antler growth and development.

The range of a whitetail deer can be small or large. Put the rut in the equation and it can be downright huge. For those with small pieces of land, this can be aggravating and depressing. It can make one wonder 'is it worth it if the deer walks across the line and gets shot?' Absolutely, obviously the larger the land you have the less worries you have. But if you have a large piece of land that has no drawing power and your neighbor(s) does, the same problems can occur. You've got to draw and lure them in order to hold them. All else is futile and wasted efforts that are not getting their most potential return on your investments. That's where you need to be heading. We are all working class men with families and responsibilities. We all share a hobby. We all want to be successful hunters. We all want to see more deer and healthier deer. We all want to harvest bigger deer.

So now what are you willing to do to achieve it?

Posted by J. Bobo under Deer Hunting on December 19, 11 10:52 AM | Permalink

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