Friday, September 18, 2009

Feeders, Feeding, Food Plots: Are they Fair?

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I was doing my daily readings of the bazillion blogs I follow, when an article on Extreme Outdoor caught my eye. To Feed, or Not to Feed? That is the Question... is as contentious a subject as there ever is. It's right up there with High Fence hunting if you ask me. And I am always looking for contentious!

I wrote Paul and asked him if he would mind if I reprinted it here on The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles. Paul graciously and enthusiastically agreed to the proposal. My hope is to get a good discussion going and once again learn new perspectives from my fellow hunters.

While doing my daily run-through of the blogs I follow, I came across an article written by Rick at Whitetail Woods. His article entitled Deer Feeders, Can be Worth Added Cost particularly caught my eye. Rick featured a tri-pod style feeder he encountered while at a friend's house. He did a great job giving specifications of the product. While the post was aesthetically flawless, I couldn't help but think about the implications of using a feeder, and perhaps the "ethical" dilemma that comes with it. Since I couldn't get the subject out of my mind, I decided to create a post to further explore this issue.

I'd like to start this off with a short story. When I started turkey hunting, I learned that a semi-distant relative hunted land very close to the land I was hunting. Every year, he harvested a large Eastern Turkey. After hunting hard and having little luck, I wondered how the heck he managed to do so well every year. I eventually found out his secret. Prior to and during the hunting season, he would take a bucket of corn and dump it in front of his favorite place to sit in the woods. Every day, equipped with a new bucket of corn, he took to the woods. He never had to wait long to pick the bird of his choice to harvest.

The BIG questions here: Is this cheating? Is baiting, in general, a dishonest way to hunt?

At the time, I'll admit I was furious at the idea of baiting or feeding. What he was doing took no skill. He never had to call or stalk the turkeys. He just had to sit there and wait. It wouldn't matter if he spooked the birds off--they would be back for more corn, and he would be waiting for them (another BIG question: Is this really hunting?)

My initial reaction is this:
Is this cheating? Yes. By placing a food source in an area and intentionally sitting over it for the purpose of harvesting animals gives the hunter an unfair advantage over the game they are after.

I wanted to push the issue a little further, and the first comment on Rick's post helps me do so. "Native" writes:

"Great thing that feeders are starting to lose their undeserved stigma Rick! It is so funny how (here in California) a person will disparage the use of a feeder, but will go right out the very next morning to hunt over a Barley Field. Same thing No? The other reality is the fact that we must supplement the food source for today's wild life. Just as with Factory Farming for people, so must it be with our wild life because there just ain't enough land to support us all anymore without doing so"

"Native" brings up a very good point. What is the difference between placing your stand in the corner of a cornfield and throwing out a bucket of corn every day? Either way, the hunter is taking advantage of the fact that animals have to eat. If placing the stand in the corner of a corn field is considered smart for understanding that game will travel to and from this location, then using a bucket corn or any food supplement should also make the hunter "smart" for doing so...not a cheater.

One might suggest that there is still a clear difference between using a feeder or food plot and sitting on the edge of a corn field: a feeder or food plot has one specific purpose--to attract animals. A corn or bean field might be considered a more "natural" food source for animals because they don't exist for wild game. The farmer who grows the field has an agenda for the crops, and that agenda doesn't include the feeding of wild animals. Because of this difference, one could also suggest the use of food plots or feeders should be rendered illegal because they are meant specifically for the attraction of wild game. While this solution seems logical for a "fair" hunt, it just can't happen for one simple reason: wildlife/habitat restoration. Every year, tons of money is spent to increase habitat for animals. This is exactly the same as creating a food plot or using a feeder. For example, a farmer patronizes the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP in a field on their land to increase habitat for pheasants. The farmer also plans to hunt the pheasants when a decent population exists in the CRP. Creating habitat, even in the name of hunting, is seen as a noble cause. No one has a problem with this. But what is the difference between giving animals a home and giving them food? Creating a CRP field and feeding game can both be done in the name of hunting, and both benefit the wild game and hunters. If we allow increased habitat for hunting, we must allow feeders, food plots, and salt blocks.

Another approach to the matter: Feeders, food plots, and salt blocks are all methods of attracting wild game to a hunting area. Hunters use many means of attracting animals all the time. Scents, calls, and decoys are used every season to attract game and get them within shooting range. If we removed the use of food sources to attract game, it seems only logical to remove all forms of attracting during the season.

One must also keep in mind that not all regions have good food sources to begin with. While Iowa has lush corn fields that keep animals well fed all year, locations in the southern United States don't have this rich vegetation. Feeders and food plots supplement the health of the animals, as well as create hunting opportunities.

Some hunting scenarios require a food source for a successful harvest of game. Bear hunting is often done by baiting. While this doesn't seem like "hunting," it is often the only way to even see a bear and make a clean shot.

While I don't think feeders and food plots can logically be taken out of the hunting scene, I will not use them in my own hunting. Hunting itself is determined by the individual. Personally, I like to make my hunts as challenging as possible. If someone else defines hunting by results and chooses to do whatever it takes to get results, so be it. The same debate can be placed on many aspects of hunting: using a blind vs. not using a blind...using a modern bow vs. a traditional bow...hunting with a bow vs. hunting with a gun...the list is endless. In the end, hunting is what you make of it.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know--I'm curious to hear various opinions on the subject.

Paul Steeve

Yes please, a good and bracing conversation is what we all need after this week's shenanigans!

Albert A Rasch
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Related Posts:

Giving Conservation a Bad Name
Game Reserves, High Fence Hunting What are the Facts?
Sometimes it is Hard to See the Forest...
High Fence Hunting


native said...

Very good and timely post Albert,
As we converse here, hundreds of thousands of individuals are sitting in a stand overlooking a grain field, and awaiting that perfect opportunity to harvest an animal.

Whether it be for a Trophy animal or simply meat, the fact of the matter is that be it a grain field or planted food plot, it is still nothing more than an oversized feeder.

And also the other fact which everyone seems to be overlooking these days is that, there just simply is not enough open land to support (by the mast alone) a large population of hunt-able animals anymore.

By this I mean that if we humans do not feed the animals out, and especially during the winter months, that they will surely die off until sustainable numbers are reached in the areas where they subsist entirely off of the mast crops (naturally occurring food source)

And until this equation is fully understood by everyone, Hunters and Non- hunters alike, this FEEDER controversy will continue on and into eternity.

As you have stated yourself Albert, very much like the High Fence issue.

native said...

The trick (and skill) is to track the animal's movements to and from the feeder, and then ambush them about 300 yards "away" from the feeder itself.

Because if you go shooting them under the feeder, this will turn them nocturnal, and then in order to harvest your animals you will have to resort to spotlighting.
And at that point it is not called hunting anymore but just simply killing!

Anonymous said...

This has been to some extent the cause for some arguments in the past of what people think is ethical and what they think is not.

I agree with native when he said (The trick (and skill) is to track the animal's movements to and from the feeder, and then ambush them about 300 yards "away" from the feeder itself).

This way you are helping to feed the deer and hunt them from a distance without scaring them and making it seem like your baiting.

Gun Slinger said...

Feeding, or better said supplemental feeding, is an established management tool from the days of the Mongols and before.

The perceived objection to it is the simplification of the hunting process. When it is taken advantage of people object to it. As Native pointed out, a feeder isn't that much different from a watering hole, and finding their access route is what hunting is about.

In the end as Albert and others have mentioned, anything to do with hunting is what you make of it.


Phillip said...

Great piece by Paul here! It's a logical disassembly of the argument that avoids the quagmire of "ethics" and "morals" and simply suggests that maybe feeders aren't quite the evil they're made out to be.

There's a lot more to the discussion, of course, but this is a great start!

Personally, I never cared much for hunting bait or feeders, and still don't if I have the option of wandering the land and discovering my own natural "feeders". But in many cases, it's a good way to go... especially if it helps meet management goals (increased harvest, selective harvest, etc.).

Wild Ed said...

On the top of Elephant mountain in the Texas Big Bend Country is a small spring and a mineral lick where Bighorn sheep, Mule deer and Javelina have gone to lick the hard rock minerals from the ground and drink water for hundreds of years. About 10 yards from this is a stacked rock blind with just enough window left in the rock for an Apache to pull his bow and shoot and arrow through the window into the heart of a sheep or deer standing at the spring or licking minerals.
I pay for supplemental feed and food plots so we will have more game. Without it the habitat will not support the numbers of game animals we have in Texas. I will hunt how I please as long as it is legal and defend your right to hunt as you please as long as it is legal wherever you hunt. Have a fun and safe season whatever your weapon and whatever your method.

Albert A Rasch said...

That's a great anecdote. I can imagine sitting in that blind and wondering who else sat there, hopeful that a deer or javalina would happen by.

I have used feeders in pursuit of hogs, but I always figure out how they came in and ambush them elsewhere. I've mentioned this before, I won't hunt bear over donuts and bacon grease, just not my cup of tea. But I would hunt them over a carcass. Not much of a difference really, but there is one for me. And as I am fond of saying, a hunt is what I make of it.

This is a great topic, and I want to thank Paul again for allowing me to reprint it here. Don't forget to visit his Blog, Extreme Outdoors.

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

I guess it would really boil down to your purpose for being out there. Are you out there to harvest game for the freezer? Or to hunt? Hunting can be done anytime by anyone, just ask a good photographer.

Game harvest is regulated by the state to a given period of time and requires a payment of fees for those wishing to harvest a game animal. The tags are not the hunting license, they are purchased separately for each individual animal you wish to harvest.

Hunting and harvesting can be combined, but they are in no way the same thing, and the line can be blurred by many to suit their particular taste. No matter how you choose to define the issue, hunt or harvest, the hunt is over when the harvest hits the ground with exes in their eyes.

R. Gabe Davis said...

I think what angry white man says goes back to what Albert always says "hunt by your own dictates" lets not judge each other so quickly and realize that it is ok to dissagree on specifics as long as we agree that PETA and its kind are dangerous and must be defeated.

Debait said...

The only 'fact' (conjecture) mentioned above that is likely to be true is that the bait debate will endure for a long time. More often than not when terms like ‘facts’ or 'the fact of the matter is' get mentioned it is usually simply no more than a rationalization to defend an opinion, position or behavior.
The refusal or inability to distinguish the difference between naturally occurring food and water sources or circumstantial crop fields and mechanized devices that distribute manufactured pellets into a barren patch of gravel or a pile of apples, acorns, grain or bag of attractant that is intentionally located in an area that they would not exist otherwise is just another rationalization and perhaps a bit disingenuous.
Fingers are often pointed to other types of equipment and technology, but this is at best just a diversion and weak attempt at yet another justification and should be reserved for a separate discussion.
It would seem that the small number of individuals that have the financial resources to provide supplemental food for deer year round do not have much of an impact on the amount of forage required of the total deer population, let alone the minuscule amount set out by baiters for 5 to 7 days more or less of the 365 days that 30 million deer are fending for themselves in their own domain and apparently doing quite well on their own. A little more research may reveal some actual numbers to determine what those requirements are compared to what humans might possibly be able to contribute.
Here are a few known truths:
White-tailed deer are generalists and can adapt to a wide variety of habitats.
A deer's diet changes depending on its habitat and the season. It eats green plants in the spring and summer. In the fall, it eats corn, acorns and other nuts. In the winter, it eats the buds and twigs of woody plants.
The Whitetail stomach hosts a complex set of bacteria that change as the deer's diet changes through the seasons. If the bacteria necessary for digestion of a particular food (e.g. hay) are absent it will not be digested.
So it would stand to reason that if you think you are doing the deer a favor by ‘supplementing’ them, you may actually be doing more harm than good.
Is baiting right or wrong? Yet to be determined, the debate continues.
Does baiting shorten the wait, make ’havesting’ more convenient, improve the odds, attract and retain bigger antlers in a preset range, increase the advantage and create controversy, and division absolutely.
If these are aspects that are important to you then by all means, load up the bags, buckets and fill the feeder to the brim.
If individuals are allowed to “hunt by their own dictates” and all methods are acceptable where is the line and where does it end? Remember the attempt at ‘laptop hunting’ a few years ago, just press enter to kill by means of a remote mounted rifle. Accepted at first, but thankfully even the supporters realized it went too far.

Albert A Rasch said...

Great comment Debait, amd welcome to TROC.


Bio Bo said...

From a biological standpoint, food plots and feeders are not necessarily habitat. They are food, but food is only a part of the habitat. For wildlife to be healthy and abundant in a specific area, it needs all the components of a healthy habitat... food, water, cover, travel corridors, edge, bedding areas, nesting areas, just to name a few.
Food plots provide a more natural way of supplementing the available food and nutrients in an ecosystem than do feeders and mineral licks. Food plots are also spread over a larger area, consequently lessening the concentration of animals in one specific spot. And thus, helping to prevent disease.
Feeders and mineral licks are useful as a management tool and as supplemental feed during the latter stages of a hot, dry summer or during a long, cold winter. But their primary use is simply to make animals more visible.
Hunting ethics in the matter is definitely an individual thing, as long as state laws are not infringed. We already have too many people in this country who want to tell everyone else how to live.
Personally, I choose to hunt without the use of feeders or licks, and because of the reasons listed above(especially the propagation of disease)I am not their biggest fan.
But, back to my original point, to think that feeders and food plots are the same is flawed. They are both food, and more and better food helps the habitat. But, without the other habitat components, they simply concentrate the available game in specific areas. They don't necessarily increase the carrying capacity. THAT goal requires a comprehensive habitat management plan.

Kirk Mantay said...

It's funny - I grew up in southern Virginia, where feeders = poaching, but "hunting" means sitting on the gate of your truck, waiting for a pack of dogs (as in 30 or 40 dogs) to run a scared ass, mangey atypical 6-point buck out of the woods, right in your face, to be shot repeatedly with buckshot (slugs illegal), and located by the dogs the next day.

But I've lived in Maryland for the last 14 years, where the culture and laws are the opposite. Almost everybody who CAN feed DOES feed, and no one would ever admit to chasing deer with dogs.

And that's just two states with a shared border!

Me personally? It depends on why I am hunting. I couldn't live with myself for hanging a B&C in the house that was taken (legally) over a dumptruck load of corn (yes, that happens). However, my hunting scenarios are more often "kill those damn deer off my farm!" in which case I will definitely bait, because I want to shoot two does and get on with my day, and so another hunter can have the same opportunity, until the popuation is set back a bit.

I also don't think I would call still-hunting over bait "hunting" at all. It's deer sharp shooting. In my opinion anyway.