In the publication, “Living on the Edge, An Overview of Deer Management in Maine”, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) strongly discourages individuals from providing supplemental feed (corn and hay) to deer. State biologists have proven that this long standing and previously accepted practice is actually detrimental to deer populations, having been proven to ultimately lead to malnutrition, increase predatation and contribute to the spread of chronic wasting disease. Instead of supplemental feeding, IFW offers other ways to help support Maine’s dwindling deer herd. One of these ideas, centers on the importance of landowners creating and maintaining food plots as a healthy alternative supplemental feeding method.
Maine landowners growing food plots can provide deer with a natural and sustainable food source that nurtures local deer herds while also providing a prime area to attract and hunt deer. While Maine law prohibits the placement of “bait” to attract deer, food plots, apple trees and even gardens provide natural forage are therefore not defined as bait in accordance with Maine law and are legal to hunt over.
Food plot construction is a relatively straight forward procedure, accomplished with minimal time and effort. While large scale food plots often require heavy equipment to plant and maintain, small scale food plots can be easily created and managed with a chainsaw, rototiller, rake and a good amount of determination. These half and quarter acre food plots are capable of offering thousands of pounds of supplemental feed to help support Maine’s struggling deer populations. Individuals without land large enough to host a food plot can, with permission, ask neighbors if they would find it acceptable to plant a small food plot on their property.
Some hunters feel that hunting deer over food plots is an unsportsmanlike behavior; however, these same individuals hunt over apple orchards, use deer calls, scents or decoys. Man made food plots, natural food sources, calls, lures or decoys are all methods of luring or “baiting” deer into close proximity so a hunter can take an ethical shot. Even now, scoped weapons, compound bows, deer attractants and electronic calls are viewed by some hunters as against the intrinsic values of “fair chase” and the high tech “toys” of those hunters lacking true hunting skills. Ultimately, hunters degrading other hunters for employing these tactics or tools, only damages us as sporting men and women. To we all need to be accepting of an individuals law abiding choices, ultimately support our hunting heritage and traditions.
Planting a food plot in the Maine wildlands requires an understanding of a few horticultural basics. Location, soil and seed are of utmost importance and must be carefully considered before planting. Food plot growth issues can almost always be traced back to a failure in one or more of these big three. As in real estate, location is king and with food plots this same axiom holds true. Potential plots should be examined to determine the amount of sunlight the area receives daily, as well as how well or poorly the soil drains. Taking time and carefully selecting a location is a key component to success. In Maine’s acrid soil, it’s a safe bet plots will need plenty of fertilizer and lime, lime and more lime to ensure plants thrive. The budget conscious, will want to consider growing plots comprised of clover and brassica, as these perennial mixes thrive well in Maine’s short growing season, do not require annual replanting and produce forage from early spring till late fall.
Obviously, not all deer hunters have access to sufficient land or the time needed to bring a food plot to fruition. If deer cannot be lured into sight then sights must be placed on the deer. For those hunters not “luring” deer, Downeast offers a myriad of choices for spot and stalk hunters. Spot and stalk is a time tested and extremely effective hunting method to employ in Washington County where the woods are dark, thick and deep and deer densities extremely low. Unless a perfect ambush location is scouted and predetermined, a hunter could sit for weeks or more in the woods and never see a shootable deer. To combat this, hunters need to be mobile and know how to tread softly in the woods. Moving through the woods after or during a heavy rain, using rushing streams or accessing prime area via canoe all work to help mask the sound of a hunters foot falls.
Following by canoe, the course of the Machias (Map 25 B-5) or the Narraguagus River (Map 25 C-1) hunters are provided with an effective means of accessing the backcountry without disturbing finicky whitetails. A personal favorite is an early morning paddle into Maine’s Public Reserve Lands or “The Great Heath”, accessible via the Pleasant River (Map 25 C-