A few years ago, after giving a whitetail seminar at the Minnesota Deer Classic, I struck up a conversation with one of the attendees. He mentioned that he hunted “up north” and just didn’t see many deer. He then said something like, “I wish I could grow one of those food patches so I could kill them more easily.”
You are not alone in your thinking. That mentality regarding food plots is pervasive in the whitetail ranks. This image is partially grounded in reality and partially rooted in an incredible PR campaign. After all, good luck watching a whitetail hunting show without seeing a carefully tended clover patch or a two-acre tract of standing corn planted specifically for hunting.
The important piece of information missing from most of those episodes is that those properties would provide incredible deer hunting without a food patch. When you have large tracts of land to work with in proven white-tail states, that’s pretty much a given.
But those shows have had a trickle-down effect on the hunting community for a long time. One result is that food plots have become standard practice for almost anyone with the land and the means. However, many of those people soon discover that it’s not always worth squeezing the juice out of the food parcel.
The work, the reward
People often compare bait to food plots, but dumping a pile of corn on the ground is a different beast than farming the land and getting something to grow. The end result may look similar, but the process is different.
That process is also one of the most enjoyable parts of having food parcels. It’s an excuse to do something with an end goal and it can be fun. It can also be a disappointment, because even if you do manage to get something to grow, there’s no guarantee that the hunt will be easy.
This is an unspoken truth about food parcels. They do not guarantee success and they do not make you a better hunter. In fact, they could make you worse.
Without escaping gravity
Even if you only plant 1/16th of an acre in clover or oats for a small slaughter plot, you’ll want to hunt it down. You’re going to put a camera on it. You are going to install a blind or a ladder next to it.
With each movement, the gravity of the food parcel becomes a little stronger. The pull to go sit in the family booth on the patch where you should see some deer is strong and can lead to foolish hunting decisions. In this note, I speak from experience.
I have a small killing plot on property I own in Wisconsin that has taken me years to develop. It’s a little patch of shit in a fringe deer area, but still, I have a hard time not sitting down. It’s so easy, and while I know I could do some work to give myself a better chance of hunting bigger deer, I often don’t.
This is one of the disadvantages of plots. If you have them, you will hunt them. Often, you will hunt them down too much.
Whitetails have an amazing sense of smell. It is so well developed that they can smell which types of plants offer them the best micronutrients. They use this to customize their diet to their needs at certain times of the year. There’s a lesson in that, which is that in times of plenty, they know how to rank their nutritional choices.
In September or October, they may stop to nibble on whatever is in their plot, or they may ignore it entirely in search of hard mast or some other food source. This could also coincide with their fifth encounter with a hunter in the plot in a few weeks, which may further sour them on location. In other words, a food patch is not the excuse not to really hunt as many think.
This could be the main reason why some consider food parcels to be overpriced. They allow us to believe that the work is finished when in fact it is not. The work to get a plot going and churn out some deer-friendly calories may be in the rearview mirror, but that’s not the end of the deal. Deer still want to survive, they still have plenty of food options, and they’re not shy about skipping a meal during the day, when they might sneak in sometime after moonrise when it’s safer.
Plant them because it’s fun. Plant them because the process is rewarding, and food plots offer plenty of critters as an additional buffet option. But don’t plant them just because you think they will remedy all your deer hunting problems. They won’t, and can actually make them worse, if you’re not careful.
Featured image via Matt Hansen.