Baiting and feeding deer in the U.P.

ESCANABA — I would say that we’re seeing the second generation of hunters who have never known any other form of deer hunting other than over bait. To coincide with that are those who firmly believe they must feed deer through the winter months regardless of conditions.

Bait used for deer hunting is defined as a substance composed of grains, minerals, salt, fruits, vegetables, hay, or other food materials, which may lure, entice, or attract deer as an aid in hunting. What started out as a small practice has evolved into an industry of not only the use of produce sold in great quantities, it has also been a source for packaged products sworn to be the best in hooking deer on your particular spot. One in particular alludes to being addictive to deer like cocaine. While there was no immediate public objection to using bait, in certain circles like older camps, it was a point of condemnation.

A book “Dumbing Down Deer Hunting”, written 20 years ago by James A. Lahde Ph.D., addresses the contrast from the tradition hunting methods to bait-blind hunting when “Thirty years ago, the practice of shooting deer from a camp window was considered illegal or, at best, unethical. Knowledge that one sat in a warm shack 30-40 yards from a pile of bait would have reaped endless scorn and ridicule from hunting companions. This is not ‘hunting;’ its target shooting. Where’s the fair chase? Where’s the thrill and intensity of the stalk? Where’s the challenge of outwitting clever whitetails on their terms, in their environment, playing by their rules? The only challenge is getting a bigger bait pile and what to do with the inevitable doe, spike- or fork-horn (that shows up to eat). The whole hunt is mechanized and encapsulating; the very essence of hunting is lost.”

Upon reading this I, as a bait hunter at the time, strongly objected to his perspective that everyone using bait was not a hunter. It wasn’t for my interest but instead for those who had no other opportunity or ability to hunt “old school” methods. I was referring to those who are inexperienced, have disabilities and/or are aging and unable to navigate rough terrain with the ease they did when younger. It could be a tool of sorts.

Where I do agree with Jim Lahde is his expression that, “The Hunt’ — once considered a wonderful, necessary distractions from a busy, structured lifestyle — has become instead and extension of the same.

The reality of the situation today must also include the fact that any deer hunter sets up a stalk and stops along a trail between natural feeding and bedding sites to intercept and shoot said deer is utilizing a food source as the attractant. Using bait in levels of moderation does no harm to the resource if done properly.

Today the concern over using bait for deer is not the issue of ethics as much as it is a formula with the potential to spread disease. Deer sharing food sources that have had contact with one infected can be a source of cross contamination. Most commonly, disease references a bacteria or virus. They both die outside the host however some can be sustained on food sources in cooler weather. A new vector on the ground today is an element; a mutant protein known as a prion, and is a cause for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). It does not die and can last in virtual perpetuity. If the food product is shared by individuals that have dropped partially eaten bait, the potential of spread is enhanced.

The preponderance of CWD in the Lower Peninsula (LP) has been cause for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to ramp up its response to CWD with intensified controls, especially feeding and baiting.

Baiting and feeding (of deer) is currently banned in 20 LP counties. All are within the CWD Response (Hot) Zones. There are a few exceptions to include hunters with disabilities who meet specific requirements may use single-bite baits in these counties during the Liberty and Independence Hunts, only.

A baiting and feeding ban throughout the entire LP will take effect Jan. 1, 2019. It is important to note that as of now, and without the find of CWD here, the Upper Peninsula is not under the change and all prior rules stay. If CWD does present itself here, all bets are off and changes will take place. What is important and could impact the level of response if change is necessary for compliance to these rules.

The MDNR is recommending use of “single-bite” food sources for those who bait. Products that require deer to bite off or pick at a food source can be a source of cross contamination to other deer as they feed after. Single-bite baits are defined as shelled corn, nuts, beet pulp, deer feed or pellets, or wheat or other grain.

Bait volume at any hunting site cannot exceed two gallons and dispersal (on the ground) must be over a minimum 10-foot by 10-foot area. Mechanical means such as spin casters are also permitted as long as it does not distribute more than the maximum volume allowed. It is also recommended that the baiter move the ground location around to again reduce the occupation of the same plot of ground.

The MDNR admits it did not realize the intensity of baiting and feeding that takes place across the U.P. and the practice is of high priority for monitoring this season. For at least this season, no changes will take place and it is a good time to learn and follow the rules in our joint efforts as conservationists to keep the U.P. CWD free.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday

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