Deer food buyer beware: misconceptions and myths

Buck Grazing
(Photo by Bill Key)

Take a trip through almost any farm supply, outdoor store, or hunting store in Illinois, and you will likely come upon displays that are well stocked and heralding the latest and greatest in salt or mineral blocks, grain, and other products marketed as wildlife foods, or attractants.

Yes, it’s perfectly legal to sell or purchase these products in Illinois. Unfortunately, what most fail to realize is that in almost every case, it’s illegal to use the products

In 2002, a ban on feeding wild deer was enacted. This ban continues and is part of the state’s continuing effort to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease in the Illinois deer herd. CWD is an always-fatal neurological disease found in deer, elk, and moose that causes them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose coordination and die.

There are many reasons why feeding wildlife is a bad idea. Feeding wildlife increases human dependency, habituates wildlife to humans, and, more importantly, can increase disease transmission. When wildlife concentrates in unusual patterns around food sources, there is an increased opportunity for disease transmission.

It’s worth noting that these commercial deer food products are available and legal for use by those possessing an Illinois Game Breeder permit issued by DNR who are raising captive (tame) deer. Other exceptions to the deer feeding ban include:

  • Incidental feeding of wildlife within active livestock operations.
  • Feeders for wildlife other than deer so long as deer are excluded from the feed in and around the feeder by fencing or other barriers.
  • Standing crops planted and left standing as food plots for wildlife.
  • Grain or other feed scattered solely as a result of normal agricultural, gardening, or soil stabilization practices.
  • Standing, flooded, or manipulated natural vegetation or food/seed deposited by natural vegetation.
  • Grain or other feed distributed as the result of manipulation of an agricultural crop or other feed on the land where grown, for purposes of dove hunting.
  • Elevated bird/squirrel feeders providing seed, grain, fruit, worms, or suet for birds or squirrels located within 100 feet of a dwelling devoted to human occupancy.For a complete list of exemptions, you can view the current Illinois Administrative rule at

Unfortunately, misconceptions and myths surrounding the feeding and attraction of deer abound.

Myth # 1 – “If the stores sell it, I can use it.” Nope – while it’s perfectly legal to buy or sell any of the myriads of products on the market in Illinois, it isn’t legal to use them. Some retailers place signage alerting customers to local and state regulations. Lots do not. Wildlife/deer attractants are hot sellers and big businesses. Retailers, by and large, are unwilling to give up those sales. Instead, retailers take the small buyer beware signage approach to address the fact that they are selling a product in a location where it’s illegal to use.

Myth #2 – “I’m not actually hunting over any type of purchased food, attractant, or bait. It’s just a food supplement for the deer in my hunting area.” Nope, you don’t have to be hunting over these products to run afoul of the law, although if you are caught hunting over them, it’s a steeper fine and ticket.

Myth # 3 – “I’m just a photographer, and I only use these products to bring deer in for my wildlife photography projects”.  Again, knowingly feeding and attracting deer is illegal. It doesn’t matter why.

Myth # 4 – “I’m only feeding the deer because I like to watch them and want to ensure they have plenty to eat. I’m a wildlife lover. We like to watch them every day. We don’t allow any hunting on our property. We are helping the deer and other wildlife by feeding them. ”  No, you aren’t helping the wildlife. Again, it doesn’t matter whether hunting is involved or what the real reason you might be placing out supplements, mineral blocks, or attractants. It’s illegal to feed deer in Illinois.

Instead of grabbing these products at your local farm store, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Wildlife division. IDNR can help you learn how you can improve habitat, plant food plots, and find safer and more natural ways to help all wildlife in your neighborhood and hunting areas.

Whether you are a wildlife watcher, photographer,  or hunter, it’s important that you know and understand the current Illinois law regarding feeding deer. Remember, it’s in place to benefit our state’s wildlife.

Categories: — — Illinois – Gretchen Steele, CWD, Whitetail Deer

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