Minnesota DNR wants tighter deer baiting law

spectr17

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DNR hopes to tighten law prohibiting deer baiting.

Doug Smith, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Feb 6, 2002

State conservation officers say the trend is unmistakable: More Minnesota deer hunters are illegally placing bait in the woods to attract deer during hunting season.

Although a law prohibiting baiting deer has been on the books since 1991, it is vague and difficult to enforce, officers say.

DNR officials now are considering ways to tighten the law before deer baiting becomes even more prevalent.

"We're seeing more and more baiting all the time," said Tyler Quandt, a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who patrols the Red Wing area.

Quandt encountered a hunter this fall who had dumped a pickup truck load of corn in a field near his deer stand in hope of attracting deer. In northern Minnesota near Roseau, conservation officer Troy Fondie discovered a dump truck load of sugar beets piled near a deer hunting shack.

"You name it and they're putting it out -- sunflower seeds, sugar beets, oats, carrots, pumpkins. There's lots of baiting going on," Fondie said. "It's amazing."

Dale Ebel, a conservation officer in the Duluth area, has seen the same trend.

"Deer baiting has really dramatically increased up here in the past five years," he said.

Corn is the bait of choice. Though there aren't any corn fields in the heavily wooded area he patrols, more than half of the dozen deer remains he checked last fall contained corn, indicating they probably had been fed.

"I think it's a real problem and needs to be addressed," Ebel said.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said his office in Grand Rapids also has received numerous complaints from members who are encountering deer baiting.

"They are saying that people are circumventing the law by using feed to lure deer in for hunting," he said. "We are opposed to baiting deer. It's disturbing."

Baiting law fuzzy

The existing baiting law states clearly that "a person may not place or use bait for the purpose of taking deer." However, it goes no further than that, leaving enough legal loopholes to make the law nearly unenforceable, conservation officers say.

"It's too vague," said Quandt, who is on a DNR deer committee that is considering options to the law.

Hunters in his area can place piles of corn near their deer stands and, if approached by a conservation officer, say that they placed the feed for wild turkeys or pheasants -- not deer, Quandt said.

"It's very difficult to prove intent," said Maj. Chuck Schwartz of the DNR's enforcement division.

Another loophole: The DNR's hunting regulations distributed to hunters implies if the bait is placed out of sight of the hunter, it's not considered baiting.

"We're not sure where that came from," said Schwartz. "It's not in the law; it's someone's interpretation. It's telling people how to beat the charge."

While the law has become a headache for conservation officers, it's the possible biological consequences from deer baiting that has DNR wildlife officials concerned.

Ripe for disease

"We consider the deer baiting situation to be very serious," said Tim Bremicker, DNR wildlife division chief. "It's a method of taking we don't support and want to prohibit."

There are several reasons for the concern.

"It brings deer together in a social group that is not natural," said Steve Merchant, DNR forest wildlife program leader. Those large groups of deer become more susceptible to contracting and spreading diseases.

"We have a real concern about disease transmission," Merchant said.

Michigan, which allows deer baiting, has been dealing with bovine tuberculosis outbreak in the deer herd. Some believe deer baiting has exacerbated the outbreak there, and baiting now is prohibited in the disease outbreak area.

"We also have a real concern about changing deer behavior," Merchant said. "Putting food out short-stops deer and prevents them from going to wintering areas. If they get caught at bait stations far from winter cover, it could lead to greater winter mortality."

There also are ethical "fair-chase" concerns.

"It's not hunting, it's shooting deer over bait," Quandt said. "I don't think that's the direction hunters want deer hunting to go, and it's not the direction the DNR wants it to go."

In other states where baiting is legal, large baiting operations have been placed next to tracts of public land, leaving fewer deer for hunters on the public lands.

As it is, conservation officers say they believe some Minnesota hunters are beginning to bait because they see hunters on neighboring lands baiting and don't want to be at a disadvantage.

Finding a solution

Officials from the DNR's enforcement and wildlife divisions are discussing ways to tighten the baiting law. That could be done through a lengthy rule-making process or at the Legislature. It's uncertain whether the law will be tightened before next fall's deer hunting season.

One factor that complicates the issue is that a large number of rural Minnesotans feed deer for recreation. While recreational deer feeding also is controversial, DNR officials said the intent of any baiting law change won't be to outlaw such deer feeding.

However, one option, Schwartz said, might be to prohibit deer feeding until Jan. 1, when the deer hunting season would be over.

Said Quandt: "Hopefully we can take some of the confusion out of the law. There will be people currently baiting who won't be happy, because it's very effective."

-- Doug Smith is at dsmith@startribune.com .
 

KIDKY

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These people act like shooting a deer over bait is like taking candy from a baby, well i got news - it AIN'T.  It's legal here in KY, and we put out bait every year.  It's my humble opinion that hunting over bait is actually MORE difficult because the deer are on TOTAL alert.  They're NOT stupid, they come in looking all over the place, stiff-legged, noses in the air.  Am i the only that thinks this way?
 

Thonzberry

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I think the part the sucks when it is illegal to bait and someone baits, they give the honest hunter a bad rap. As the saying goes," there is a bad apple in every bunch"!!!!!!
 
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