Years and years of bow hunting for whitetail deer has shown us that each year is different from the last. Buck sign and buck travel routes show up in different places. And yet there are those most self-evident constants that we as deer hunters cherish.

       After all, the woods are the same and the deer are there.

       But with the advent of food plots, food grown to feed deer, deer hunting requires less and less understanding of woods lore, woodsmanship, and the ability to read sign.

    One could say, " Food plots take the wild out of deer hunting." 

       The favorite tree stands are in the same place. And the tried and true routes to the stands are the same. We park in the same place, walk to the stand on the trail from the camp, year-after-year, the same way. The shadows lengthen and shorten just the same, like sundials.

       It is comforting and a good feeling to be up in an old, favorite tree stand.

       But as the season ticks on and the leaves fall, sometimes those early flickers of infatuation grow dimmer.

       The action doesn't materialize as we expected, dreamed, and remembered.

       As the years go by we haul up different bows, different arrows into that same stand.

       Maybe our camouflage is new, again.

       We've worn out a lot of pairs of hunting boots too. Those trees that hold those favorite tree stands have grown, imperceptibly, as has our deer hunting knowledge.

       But there we are, in the same stand, years later.

        We have learned that whitetail bucks alter their behavior in a radical fashion as the rut accelerates. And the breeding bucks' movement pattern is shaped, altered, and determined by those breeding time patterns.

       Ironic, but we don't have to hunt in a different stretch of woods to hunt in a different stretch of woods.

        That may seem at first to be a bit solipsistic. But the preferred feed of the whitetail deer each year changes, to some degree, determined by accessibility.

       But that is changing now, as food plots increase in popularity.

       Traditionally, to truly hunt we had to pay most attention to the mast crops. Does and bucks gravitate to the best; most carbohydrate- and fat-laden foods available in their range.

       This year, it appears we will hunt over a bumper crop of apples. Wild apple trees have not borne fruit like this for years. Does will arrange their living patterns accordingly. And where they go, the bucks follow, setting up their breeding patterns, as always in relationship to the does.

       But fruit and nut trees rest. They need a year or two off to replenish their reserves and put their energy into growth instead of the next generation. They are never the same, year-in-and-year out, except to the casual observer.

        And there we are, year in and year out in the same tree, in the same stand maybe unaware of great, but subtle changes in the woods each season.

        Farmers' crops have the same effect on whitetails as does wild mast. If a field of corn next to a woodlot is chopped or picked at a different time in two consecutive years, the deer will alter their patterns accordingly.

       And don't overlook the effect of "thorn apples" whitetails love the little red fruit on the Hawthorne and Buck thorn shrubs. A heavy crop of thorn apples in a large swath of buckthorn will also draw the deer like a magnet.

       We may remember times when certain wild mast and agriculture, "super-charged" a particular stand for one year.

       But on the subsequent year, that same tree stand could have been mediocre or a bust, simply because the mast crop had changed.

       This is not to say that there are not some stands that are good every year. Because of their location, the layout of the woodlot, the shape of the surrounding fields and cover, and the prevailing breezes make some stands productive to some degree year in and year out. And we are lucky indeed to have one.

       But even these "magic stands" evidence activity levels that are still to some degree dependent upon the particular season's crops.

       Traditional deer hunting theory has seemed to favor two types of hunting; an emphasis on food and feeding patterns in the early part of the bow season and a focus on breeding sign in the latter stages. But now with the advent of food plots, deer hunting tilts the scale toward feed.

       With the advent of food plots, there is no longer the same necessity to scout and analyze and become part of the woods in a primordial way to fill a tag. Food plots take the wild out.