To Bait or not to Bait? (Huntin' Whitetails).
The baiting debate is guaranteed to stir up controversy that pits brother against brother and hunter against hunter. You only have to check out www.Bowsite.com to see that this contentious topic rivals the crossbow for controversy! Within the last few years, baiting has reached climactic proportions in Michigan, most notably in the infamous Deer Management Unit 452. As with many controversial and complicated topics, benefits and disadvantages can be identified for various user groups. Using DMU 452 as an example, let's examine the baiting topic further.
Spread of Diseases: Biologists believe the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) and many other infectious diseases has increased due to high deer densities; magnified social stress; and increased contacts with other deer through nose-to-nose contact, food, feces, and urine at bait sites. Furthermore, many of these same diseases are transmittable to domestic cattle. In Michigan, the cost to the agricultural industry to contain TB is estimated at $16 million dollars every year.
Science has recently proven that TB bacteria can survive 3 to 4 weeks on food sources, and that cattle, deer, and other wildlife can be infected from contaminated foods. This is one reason why the Michigan Farm Bureau passed a resolution asking for a complete ban on deer baiting statewide.
Energy and Range Effects: The cumulative effect of "artificial energy" added to the environment by baiting and feeding profoundly affects natural processes. In northern areas, deer often are not yarding in a timely fashion and are not subject to the natural selection that winters impose. Productivity and survival are enhanced, elevating herds above natural carrying capacity and therefore putting abnormal pressure on natural vegetative communities. Even if citizens don't care or understand, hunters should care, because the long-term effects of excessive baiting are not good for the deer or the habitat, and, in the end, hunting.
Privatization of Deer: Another concern is that those who hunt over bait, in essence, privatize deer to their specific bait area. Assume a hunter who does not bait scouts hard to identify a promising area only to have another hunter set up a bait site less than a half mile away. Obviously, one hunter can affect the success of many other hunters, and hunters who don't bait could wind up on the losing end. Baiting also causes a patchwork of deer distribution that denies equal access to game, interferes with proper harvest management, and concentrates too many deer in certain habitats.
Hunting Success over Bait: Studies in Michigan and Wisconsin revealed that hunters who use bait have been no more effective in taking deer than those who have not used bait. In Texas, however, hunters who use bait have reported higher success rates than non-baiters. The differences between the states should be interpreted with caution, due to the differences in existing deer populations, seasonal extremes, habitat, and baiting methods (automatic corn feeders are used in Texas). The Texas study also suggested that as hunts over bait increased, deer became more nocturnal. Another study, this one in Mississippi, showed that bucks only use bait sites during 10 percent of legal hunting hours.
Social Factors: In Michigan, use of bait is increasing. In 1984, only 29 percent of hunters used bait, while in 1993 this figure increased to 56 percent. In 1994, 71 percent of all bowhunters reported using bait, compared to 53 percent of all firearms hunters. A survey in 1993 showed that nearly 75 percent of hunters who used bait reported that baiting was more exciting because they could watch more deer and other wildlife. Within these studies, hunters believed that they had a better chance to harvest a deer by baiting than with other methods. They also believed they needed to compete with others who were using bait. Additionally, hunters became more territorial of their bait sites, due to the time and money they had invested. Some people may argue that bait hunters have lost confidence in their own traditional hunting skills when deer herds have never been so abundant.
Feeding deer is a popular pastime enjoyed by both hunters and nonhunters. Baited deer can become habituated to people, which provides good opportunities for close-up viewing and photography. Most folks who bait love to watch all the critters that come to the bait sites. Baiting also can benefit local economies. In 1992, a Michigan survey estimated that people spent more than $50 million on deer baits.
Ethics: A telephone survey in Michigan showed that 33 percent of nonhunters viewed baiting as acceptable, 58 percent said it was unacceptable, and 9 percent were undecided. Ignoring disease, energy, and privatization effects, many argue that if you ever used an attractant to lure deer to your stand or a grunt call to coax a deer into range, you used a form of baiting. What's the difference, some people would argue, between using these methods and dumping out a pile of carrots? Although baiting proponents are increasing in Michigan, the antibaiters are also very vocal and are motivated by a sense of ethics and other concerns. Even though people totally opposed to baiting are in the minority, their dedication is just as personal as those who choose to bait.
Safety: During the last two decades when baiting has increased in Michigan, the number of hunting accidents has decreased. Many believe that baiting has helped lower accidents because hunters remain stationary and are usually shooting downward or into a safe background.
Suburbia: Limited baiting can be argued as beneficial to hunters in suburban environments because it can draw deer out of areas where hunting isn't allowed and concentrate them in areas safe for shooting. Thus, baiting can help reduce high deer densities in areas off-limits to hunting and can broaden potential hunting areas. The one big difference between baiting in suburban settings and DMU 452 is the quantity of bait. In suburbia, most hunters put out a bucketful or two of bait, whereas in rural regions like DMU 452 they dump truckloads of bait into huge piles.
Conclusions: Although an outright ban would eliminate biological concerns related to baiting, it could start a public relations war in areas where baiting is legal and has a strong following. Recently, Wisconsin DNR biologist Keith McCaffery presented an excellent paper at the Midwest and Northeast Deer Groups in Michigan. McCaffery proposed a compromise of a 2-gallon limit per day for baiting of all forms of wildlife. McCaffery's proposal could reduce disease concerns, excess energy impacts, and wildlife privatization effects. It would also allow a gradual adjustment in the bait industry. Although his proposal may not be a total solution to the problems of baiting, it definitely is a step in the right direction.
Just like speed limits, rules to limit and regulate baiting are in the best interests of all involved. From this you might conclude I'm antibaiting, but guess again, because I do bait deer on occasion. The point here is that when hunters negatively affect the overall condition of a deer herd, common sense and regulations must follow. Tom Morang from Michigan Bow Hunters Association said it well:
"We must think of the resource before our own self-interests! We need to be concerned about the future and health of our resources. We need to be concerned about a cause bigger than our own self-interest. If we don't show one another that we care, what will those nonhunters think when they realize that a bag of corn or carrots to hunt over is more important to us than the health of the herd?"
C. J.'s SUMMARY
Nowadays, baiting has progressed beyond a question of ethics into a major biological issue. Baiting involves complex issues well beyond the scope of this column. Traditions and baiting techniques vary greatly from hunter to hunter and from state to state. Although baiting has been popularized by hunters hoping to enhance their chances for harvesting deer, it has evolved into a bio-political issue. Political interference should not be an ingredient to the final decision on the overall welfare of any deer herd! But if we hunters do not resolve the baiting controversies ourselves, the nonhunting public will resolve them for us. And many of us probably will not like the outcome!