Using bait while deer hunting is legal in more than one-half of the states with huntable whitetail populations. Each year, hunters literally spend millions of dollars annually on corn, apples, carrots, pumpkins, sugar beets, sweet potatoes and just about anything else deer will eat. As the editor of one of largest deer hunting magazines in North America, I’ve spent countless hours listening to the “great bait debate.” It seems that hunters either love it or hate it. My view?Just like everything else in life: In moderation, it doesn’t hurt anything.
Research by Wisconsin deer biologists indicate that 40 percent of that state’s bowhunters and slightly fewer gun-hunters, admit to using bait at least some time during the hunting season. The research also indicates that success rates are slightly higher for baiting bowhunters vs. hunters who don’t bait. Ironically, the success rate for gun-hunters who bait is substantially lower vs. gun-hunters who do not bait. That difference can be directly linked to the whitetail’s uncanny ability to detect human pressure and modify its behavior to deal with it.
All things being equal, baiting is an effective way to kill unpressured deer. Although I prefer to hunt deer over natural food sources — because they are easier to pattern that way — I have hunted over bait on occasion. The results have been mixed, and deer sightings have almost always been skewed toward does, fawns and young bucks. Until this hunting season, I had never dabbled with any of the commercial products designed to attract deer. Honestly, I thought they were mainly products designed to be used in areas with little to no native forage. My views changed when I tried a new product called “Party Mix” from Outdoor Brandz of Oklahoma.
This product, from the makers of Nutra Deer supplements, is designed to attract deer, plain and simple. From the first time I used it, I must say that it most definitely works. I met the product’s inventor, Jeff Williams, at the Southeast Outdoor Press Association conference in Missouri earlier this fall, and he gave me a small 5-pound bag of Party Mix to try out, no strings attached. “Just pour it in a thin line near one of your stands,” he said. “If there are deer nearby, they will investigate it. Let me know what you think.”
Again, I was skeptical. However, while heading out for a bowhunt about a month later, I thought, “What the heck? Might as well try it.” I was hunting in an area where baiting is legal, but only 2 gallons of feed can be used at a time. The stand I was hunting was overlooking a stunted rye field. Deer hadn’t been using the field much, so I thought I’d sprinkle the Party Mix 25 yards from my stand and sit back to enjoy the afternoon.
I was in my stand for about an hour when I noticed movement across the field. I instinctively raised my binoculars to my eyes. It was a buck, and a decent one at that, but he was at least 80 yards out and heading straight for the woods. The wind was swirling, but it was mainly blowing from where the buck was standing to me. That’s important to note, because what happened next was nearly amazing.
When he was about 60 yards away, the buck stopped, lifted his muzzle and began licking his nose. I thought he had surely winded me. I was wrong. Without hesitation, the buck made a bee-line for the spot where I had sprinkled the Party Mix. He approached cautiously, bobbing his head and occasionally stamping his hoof. Within about minute, however, he settled down and worked over the mostly powdered concoction spread out in the field. He licked it, nibbled it and even ate the vegetation that it came in contact with. He was nice 6-pointer with a rack as wide as his ears. I am still kicking myself for not shooting him, because his body was thick. Likely a 2-1/2-year-old, but that’s a pretty decent buck for this particular hunting area.
I didn’t shoot the buck because it was early in the season, and I had held out hope that I might see a bigger buck as the season progressed. I also held off probably because I was so stunned that the deer seemingly approached my stand solely because he had smelled the attractant. All tolled, the buck spent 45 minutes in front of me and near my stand.
In the weeks that have passed, I’ve had other encounters with young deer, and I’ve used the product to get deer to stop in front of my trail cameras. Will I use it next year? Most definitely. I won’t use it as a be-all-end-all to kill a deer, but surely as another tool when applicable to certain hunting situations.
To check out Nutra Deer’s Party Mix for yourself, click here.