As much as I despise Northernoakshunt's intolerance, and I disagree heartily with his assertion that bait and food plots are equivocal to each other as well as with high-fencing, I will say there is a kernel of truth in there. Mind you, I've got plots. I've been doing habitat improvement for 9 years now. I've hunted every which way over the years.
Bottom line: once you start improving your habitat, a lot of what was your previous hunting experience disappears.
It is not like bait. Hunting over bait or doing supplemental feeding is not the same as putting in a plot. In the former, you're just laying out something tasty and hoping a deer comes buy to eat it. With supplemental feeding, you're trying to add nutrition to the deer's diet.
Food plots and other habitat improvement have far reaching consequences that bait does not. You may be feeding deer, but you're also changing the whole ecology. You may be providing nutrition, cover, bedding, etc. for a bunch of species beyond your target. You're changing patterns of movement. You're changing the carrying capacity of the land. The list is long and complex.
For years I was doing a plan that was sort of everything-but-plots strategy. I did not have the means to get a plot planted on my 200 acres, and I did other things that the wildlife biologist suggested: selective mowing, selective cutting, strip disking, edge feathering, etc. Just letting the land go was not enough. I needed to be purposeful about it, but I was having good luck after 6 years of doing that before I got my first plot planted.
Now? Listen, I have to be honest: it ain't like it was the first year. There are obviously a lot more deer on the property, and I have a lot more sightings of decent shooters. So let me at least agree that Northernoakshunt is right up to a point. Taking an active role in managing my property changed things dramatically.
Where Northernoakshunt is dead wrong:
1) I don't need a fence. My deer are not only more numerous, but they're more predictable and consistent. As a for-instance, my deer used to disappear in August, and I would not see them again until mid-October. Now, I have enough food available to them that the doe's don't all vanish for 2 months and go hide in the river bottoms.
2) Just because I know what field my doe's are going to be feeding on a given day, does not mean it ain't hunting. The bucks have a 20 sq mile range. At any given time I have probably one good shooter on the property,but where he is is anybody's guess.
3) My hunting experience has gone from a few-weeks-every-fall experience to a year-round affair. Killing the deer has become sort of an anti-climax. This weekend I need to get down and talk to the guy haying my fields and give him directions. I'm with my deer and turkey all year 'round.
4) Deer take an incredible amount of forage to grow. If you've got a 180" buck, he may have eaten close to 30 tons of forage over the years to get that big. If the big white hunter goes out and bags him that man has done nothing to put anything back to the system except leave a 75 lb gut pile and a lot of hot air. I'll put that up against the 2 acres of plot I planted, and the 2 acres of new cedar thicket I grew last year any day.
5) America logged off nearly everything East of the Mississippi River before 1900. The deer were nearly extirpated. Everything that's out there has been managed in one way or the other. Either you are doing something to actively manage the land you're on, or you are benefiting from the efforts of someone else's management. You can be a dolt, a snob, or a hypocrite, but the days of being Daniel Boone or Meshack Browning are over.
One other point, and then I'll get off my soap box. If you'd asked me half-way through my tenure at my farm if food plots were effective, I'd have said they were an unnecessary extravagance. The everything-but-plots strategy had worked wonders. Then I put in my first plot. Yikes! It doesn't mean all the deer are out in the middle of the field, waiting to be shot, but the my first attempts at putting in some clover and cover-wheat paid huge dividends. The whole 200 acres improved.
My neighbor baits. He baits a lot. Believe me, baiting does not do it the way plots do it. Do not make the mistake of equating the two. This is not like sitting over a pile of corn waiting for something to come in. What food plots have done is taken a property that had shown steady improvement over the years and given it a huge boost. Numbers are up, the number of twins is up, the number of doe groups is up. Everything is showing the deer are happier and healthier.