A plague of baiters

By Tim
Spielman

Associate Editor

Even youths have been caught up in the web of increasing illegal
deer baiting

Aurora, Minn. – When Minnesota DNR conservation officer Mark
Fredin received a tip about illegal deer baiting on the opening
morning of the gun deer season, he didn’t expect to find a trail of
youths leading to the alleged St. Louis County violator.

But on his way to check out the situation, Fredin at first came
upon a 13-year-old and 14-year-old in the same stand – situated
next to a pile of oats. Following the ATV path, Fredin found a
17-year-old also hunting over bait, according to the CO report
filed last week. At the end of the path, Fredin located an adult,
also hunting over an oat pile, who admitted placing all the
baits.

According to Minnesota COs, that wasn’t an isolated incident of
illegal deer baiting during the gun hunt. Following opening
weekend, CO Dan Starr, of Tower, reported: ‘About 75 percent of
stands that were (checked) were found to have a hunter over bait,
or were baited and not in use.’ Corn, oats, and pumpkins were
common choices.

Is Minnesota becoming a state of bait? Or are more hunters
simply getting caught in the illegal act in 2005? That depends on
the enforcement official you ask. Some even say the activity seemed
to take off, once it was made illegal in 1991. Nowadays, hunters
are finding loopholes in the current law, prompting DNR officials
to recommend changes when the Legislature convenes next year.

Maj. Al Heidebrink has been around the DNR for 30-some years,
now working as the Enforcement Division’s operations manager in St.
Paul, but having spent the majority of his career as a field
officer in northern Minnesota. Does he see a proliferation in
illegal deer baiting?

‘Depends on the area and who you’re talking to,’ he said. ‘We’ve
definitely seen an increase in the number of cases, so it appears
to be an increasing activity in Minnesota.’

Most of the illegal activity seemed to occur during the first
week of hunting in the north, when some COs reported seeing
pumpkins loaded up right next to ATVs on trailers heading north,
Heidebrink said.

Capt. Ken Soring, Northeast Region enforcement manager in Grand
Rapids, said there was plenty of illegal baiting last year, so it’s
tough to determine if it increased this year. There might be some
distortion in the percentage of stands checked where bait is being
used, however. COs typically have a reason to check a hunter, and
that reason often is suspicion of baiting.

‘Obviously, there are a lot of people Š who are getting
frustrated Š or lazy who want to put the odds in their favor,’ he
said.

‘But we’ve had great weather; I can’t imagine a hunter going out
there and not seeing deer without bait,’ he said. ‘There seems to
be a little more (baiting) every year.’

There’s definitely more than there was when a new law made the
practice illegal, he said.

The ’91 law

Before the baiting law of 1991, Soring said, baiting was
‘extremely rare.’

‘Twenty years ago, I’d get a call about someone using bait
because people thought it was illegal,’ he said. ‘People would put
out a handful of apples or a pumpkin – I’d get maybe a call a year.
But once the baiting debate started up and it became a violation
(in 1991), the calls began to increase.’

Brian Buria, a CO in the Bigfork area, said baiting was rarely
an issue – until it was made illegal.

‘It brought more attention to (baiting),’ he said. ‘People
thought, if it’s illegal, it must draw in deer.’

Ed Boggess, DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife policy manager,
said the practice was made illegal for a number of reasons, from
those biological to ethical.

At that time, widespread deer baiting was occurring in Michigan
without restriction. Wisconsin, too, allowed baiting with some
restrictions.

‘We saw how (baiting) was changing the nature of hunting in
Michigan,’ Boggess said.

When public input was requested during the development of the
1991 law in Minnesota, there was little resistance, with the
exception of a few hunters from the North Shore who supported the
practice, Boggess said.

He said officials also believed the practice of baiting would
eventually have a domino effect.

‘It seems like, with baiting, it becomes something that someone
starts, and it forces someone else to do it. It almost forces
everyone to change the way they hunt deer,’ he said.

Further, the DNR feared the effects of concentrating deer via
baiting, which leads to nose-to-nose contact and a heightened risk
of the spread of disease.

‘It also can get to the point where baiting artificially raises
the (habitat’s) carrying capacity,’ Boggess said.

Soring opposes baiting because it changes the behavior of deer.
He’d like to see a change in the law that places restrictions on
recreational feeding, as well. For example, some people feed deer
near busy roadways, increasing the risk of car-deer collisions.

‘I wish we’d get away from recreational feeding during
late-summer and early fall,’ he said.

During hunting, he favors restricting baiting altogether.

‘What is hunting really about?’ he asks. ‘It doesn’t take skill
to put out a pile of corn all summer, then sit in a lawn chair and
whack a deer that’s eating the bait.’

Bird’s-eye view

Capt. Mike Trenholm, chief pilot for the DNR, said it doesn’t
take much training to spot a baited area from the air. Spotting
those willing to risk a fine of almost $200, along with possible
loss of weapon and deer, and restitution for a harvested animal, is
like ‘shooting fish in a barrel,’ he said.

‘You see trails leading from the deer stand like spokes on a
wheel,’ he said. ‘And at the end of the spokes you find the
bait.’

There are six conservation officers who patrol by air, usually
in one of three ways, Trenholm said.

The pilots will spot baiting during the course of other duties,
such as waterfowl surveys. They’ll also aid an officer who has
received complaints of baiting. Finally, pilots will fly a detail,
specifically looking for bait piles.

New legal language

Boggess said the DNR will attempt to sew up loopholes in the
baiting language during the next legislative session.

Currently, the regulations pamphlet states ‘no person may place
or use bait for the purpose of taking deer. ‘Bait’ is defined as
grain, fruit, vegetables, nuts, hay, or other food transported and
placed for the purpose of attracting or enticing deer.’

Boggess said the department would like to eliminate ‘purpose of’
language and replace it with ‘capable of’ attracting or enticing
deer. Further, the DNR would like to restrict when food can be
placed in hunting areas.

Categories: Hunting News

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