Thursday, September 10, 2009

To Feed, Or Not To Feed? That is the Question...

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 friends 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.


  1. Wow! This is a loaded subject, and I can't believe there aren't more comments.

    I think that hunting, and it's definition, is up to each individual. I don't bait. It just isn't my way of hunting, but I would never look down on another person for doing it - plain and simple.

    And I think the big difference between food plots, and dumping a bucket of corn on the ground, is the connection to the soil. Plus, dumping a bucket of corn on the ground, in a confined area, is just a recipe to spread disease, whereas a food plot, or a corn field, is spread over a much larger area.

    And to finalize this debate, and for anyone who is against baiting - and even though I already stated earlier that I don't bait to hunt - we all put a worm on a hook to catch fish don't we? Or some sort of artificial lure? What's the difference?

    I think, if it's legal and you want to do it, fine by me. I would never make someone hunt the way I like to hunt, or vice versa.

    Interesting topic.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. We aren't allowed to do it in Virginia so I can't say that I have much experience on the subject. I can say that I would not bait even if it was legal.

    Crop fields and orchards are common where I live and I have even hunted out of treestands that were hung in apple trees. I think there is a huge difference between hunting in an apple tree in a ginat apple orchard vs. hunting over a pile of apples that have been strategically placed miles from the nearest apple tree.

    I personally don't believe baiting is part of the fair-chase mentality of hunting, so I wouldn't teach someone to do it especially if it is illegal. However, if it is legal where a person hunts then I wouldn't find fault with a person for baiting.

    (I deleted my first post so I could add the link to the VDGIF website. The first sentence shows Virginia's baiting policy.)

  4. Hey fellows,

    This reminds me of the High Fence discussion. We could go round and round and try to decide what the moral implications are, whether it's fair or not, whether it is natural or not. But the long and the short of it is, that Tom won't hunt deer by a feeder, Albert doesn't want to hunt bear over donuts and bacon grease, and Simply Outdoors doesn't mind it, except for some biological issues that are very important.

    I think that what's important, and what these arguments usually revolve around, is what do you personally get out of the experience. I would like to hunt bear on the coastal plains of Alaska, where it is spot and stalk. But I have no objection to someone hunting them from a tree stand over donuts. I don't consider that to be particularly challenging, but I have no right to dictate to or question how another person experiences his hunting.

    I'll have to work on this subject a little more...

    Best regards,
    Mongol Rally

  5. It has always bothered me here in Tennessee that it is illegal to bait, but you can plant a food plot just for deer. I don't see the harm in baiting. The important thing about management is not how easy a hunter has success but the amount of game he takes. I would like to see more emphasis on poachers who kill more than their quota than trying to catch someone who kills animals in a way you disagree with. I mean the dear is just as dead if you shoot it out off a corn pile than if you climbed seven mountains, crawled on your belly and stabbed it with a knife in a briar thicket. Your pal the Envirocapitalist.

  6. Great post (and a great site)!

    You did a great job of breaking this down into a logical argument, instead of letting the emotional "ethics" aspect take over.

    Some folks will always have trouble with any method that makes hunting success "easier", be it compound bows, inline muzzleloaders, tree stands, hounds, or danged near anything else. Personally, I think that's fine and that's their choice. Hunt the way you want, if it's legal and safe.

    Is baiting cheating? I'd say almost anything we humans do to harvest an animal is "cheating". There's nothing "fair" about the predator/prey relationship. That's a false construct. As humans, we can add or subtract various degrees of challenge, but there is no fairness... no equity for the creature pursued.

    To be a little less esoteric, baiting is, as you mentioned, not a lot different from hunting an agricultural field or locating natural food sources. It's a question of degree, if there's any question at all. But give me a white oak tree that's dropping acorns over a pile of corn any day, and I'll kill more, better deer over those acorns than any bait pile hunter ever will.

    The more important question to ask about baiting is whether or not the practice is harming or helping wildlife management goals.

    Back in North Carolina where whitetail deer are decimating crops and colliding with cars at a record pace, baiting is permitted because it helps to increase the annual take. Out here in CA, where deer are fairly scarce and baiting is illegal, the increased kill ratio would be detrimental (although there are some isolated deer populations that could use the pressure). On the other hand, baiting for hogs would be helpful in this state because the hogs could use a little thinning (but it's still illegal, because CA laws are too often based on emotion and economy... which is another issue entirely).

    Likewise, there's been a good argument that baiting for bears allows hunters to be more selective, and to avoid accidentally taking sows with unweaned cubs or taking juvenile bears. The pro vs. con discussion there is ongoing, but it should give pause to the baiting detractors.

    The questions we should all ask are:

    Is it legal?
    Is it harming the resource?
    Is it safe?

    Beyond that, how anyone hunts should be a personal decision. Condemning one man for a practice simply because you find it personally objectionable is intellectually lazy and worse, it's counter-productive to the future of our sport.

    There's a lot more to be said in this discussion, but the bottom line is... if you stay clear of the emotional quagmire of "ethics" and focus on logic and practicality, most of these contentious issues become much less divisive.