Whitetails: The Benefits of Baiting on a Small Property

I use bait.

There it is. Boom. With those three little words, I've just earned myself a legion of fans. And lost an equal number.

But it's the truth.

I include the use of corn in my arsenal of tools and tricks in an effort to kill deer. It's a controversial tactic, no doubt. But where legal it can be an efficient and effective tool, one especially important when hunting small parcels.

I'm not here to debate the ethics of baiting. Where I live in southern Michigan, it's legal to bait deer though there are some fairly stringent restrictions on the practice.

For starters, you cannot bait or feed year-round. As a landowner, this can be problematic. One of the primary goals of most who own hunting land is to create a place where deer feel safe and will live year-round. But how do you do that if you're limited in the amount of acreage available? That's right, with supplemental feeding.

I've talked about this subject a bit with several well-known deer hunters who manage sizeable chunks of ground and they've all said the same thing: Year-round feeding is important because it boosts overall herd nutrition and conditions deer to using the property as a home base.

Second, Michigan allows hunters to use just two gallons of bait and it must be spread over a 10-foot by 10-foot area. You cannot have more than the allotted two gallons of bait out at any time.

It doesn't take a couple of deer very long to consume two gallons of shelled corn, thus establishing any sort of consistent food source requires multiple visits to the property each week to replenish the supply.

It's a major pain in the butt.

But that corn allows me to position deer in front of trail cameras, it helps me to define travel routes, and it may be increasing the overall holding capacity of the property. It also means I must intrude on the property more than I'd prefer. So any potential benefits may be limited.

In areas where baiting and feeding are allowed year-round without restrictions, a small property can be greatly enhanced with a sensible feeding approach.

Would I prefer to establish food plots and related food sources instead of using bait? Yes. I admit that hunting over bait does make me feel a little like I'm cheating. I'm not sure if that's because I think it actually is giving me an unfair advantage or because I cringe a little at the thought of all the social media superheroes who will be quick to run my name through the mud when I admit that I will sometimes use bait in certain situations.
Regardless, to establish the type of plots required to provide enough food and attraction throughout much of the year, I'd need a lot more acreage than the 17 that I own. But a couple of barrel feeders can be used on just about any size parcel effectively.

The most critical aspect of hunting smaller parcels of land is to limit the human pressure placed on the ground. Sensible use of bait can help with that.

I have two small food plots on my 17 acres along with a small patch of corn. Totaled, they cover maybe three acres. Even with the limited number of deer using the property, that food will be wiped out by the end of November. Using corn won't do much to increase the amount of food on the property but it does allow me to hunt it more effectively because the corn can be placed in areas I can access easily without bumping deer on my way in or out.

The same principle applies for trail camera monitoring – a critical piece of the hunting puzzle. Again, the corn can be placed in a manner that allows me to check cameras without intruding too deeply into the property.

To me, bait is a tool that can be used to improve your hunting on small pieces of ground. Sure, like all tools it's one that can be abused. But using bait helps me see more deer. It helps me learn more about those deer. And it helps me have more fun when hunting.

Which is pretty much exactly why I bought the land in the first place.