Oak Duke: The difference between baiting and food plots

Oak Duke

In some of our woodlots there appears to be more than a bit of confusion -- if not hypocrisy -- when we start talking about feeding deer.

Some believe that feeding deer is an unethical way to attract deer. During hunting season it is called baiting, which is considered not only bad in a sporting sense, but also when considering game management and the health of the deer herd.

But if the deer food ingested is grown on the land, then it is generally considered a food plot and not baiting.

So what’s the difference? And aren’t they simply two aspects of the same thing?

Dump a couple 100-pound bags of shelled corn below a tree stand in a clearing in the woods and you may be considered illegal and/or unethical in some parts. But if we grow the corn under the same stand, with the idea of attracting deer, of course, then it is not only legal, but called in some other quarters “good game management and habitat improvement.” (If not a good way to kill a deer!)

I know of some pretty elaborate elevated hunting stands in the middle of a large food plot, put there for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to take advantage of concentrated deer for the purpose of tagging them.

Does anyone else see that maybe this issue needs a bit of ethical fine-tuning?

What’s right and what’s wrong? Some hunters believe that food plots are simply an elaborate and hypocritical way of baiting deer.

State laws differ as widely as individual hunter’s perspectives on the right and wrong of feeding deer. So we can’t look to our governmental game manager’s for a definitive answer.

States where no deer feeding is allowed include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

However, baiting deer is allowed in these states: Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, New Hampshire, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

And yet other states, a third category, have current restrictions on baiting deer, kind of walking the line between deeming the process of putting out food to attract deer for the purpose of hunting as OK in some situations, but not in others. They are: Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

The creation of food plots has evolved into a million-, if not billion-dollar cottage industry, attached to the world of hunting through an umbilical chord of seed. And it has become an extremely competitive business within itself.

Bottom line: The food plot methodology and product that concentrates deer and wildlife in a given location and is marketed best by a company, wins.

Governmental game law regulators should re-examine and redefine the terms of feeding and attracting wildlife and thereby extract itself from the hypocrisy and confusion built into its present regulations and understanding.

Oak Duke, publisher of the Daily Reporter in Wellsville, N.Y., can be reached at