Minnesota’s top 10 deer hunting-related violations

St. Paul — Want to come home citation-free after this weekend’s firearms deer opener? You can start by not baiting for deer.

Hunting over bait was the most common Minnesota deer hunting-related violation the past two years, and three of the past five.

Despite a decade-plus of warnings and publicity about the illegal activity – including regular pre-season reminders from state conservation officers that they are closely monitoring the practice – a segment of the hunting public just can’t kick the baiting habit.

The state Legislature increased penalties for baiting back in 2012. Though still a misdemeanor, enhanced fines for a first violation run about $400, plus forfeiture of firearm, and a loss of hunting privileges for a year.

DNR Enforcement this week provided Outdoor News with a list of the top 10 deer hunting-related violations, and baiting ranks high, said Division Operation Manager Major Robert Gorecki.

“It’s pretty consistently No. 1,” Gorecki said. “We have people who call our field offices and St. Paul central office and report it all the time.”

COs cited or warned 173 hunters in 2021 for illegal baiting and 201 in 2020. At 159 warnings or tickets, baiting was the No. 4 most common deer-related violation in 2019. That was after a No. 1 ranking in 2018 with 213 encounters.

Depending on the region of the state, illegal whitetail baiters are using sugar beets, pumpkins, and compressed grain blocks to attract deer to their stand sites, though corn remains the go-to food because it’s so readily available.

Interviewed on Monday, Gorecki noted that state COs were monitoring active baiting locations this week leading up to the Saturday, Nov. 5 firearms deer hunting opener.

“It’s a very time-consuming enforcement effort and we put a lot into it,” he said.

Only about 20% of the annual baiting cases result in warnings.

Last year, no valid license/registration permit ranked as the second-most common violation. Transporting an uncased/loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, and failing to validate a deer license or tag came in as the third and fourth most common violations.

Gorecki noted that hunters who fail to validate their deer tag throws a red flag toward COs working the season, because hunters who return their deer home without a validated tag might potentially be considering using it to tag another whitetail.

The ratio of warnings to citations for the failure to validate violation over the past half-decade has run about 2:1. Though hunters are supposed to validate their tag at the deer kill site, officers use some discretion in citing hunters.

“Is the hunter dragging the deer a short ways before tagging it? We don’t want to make criminals out of people who aren’t trying to do something illegal,” Gorecki said. “But once that deer is loaded on a vehicle or back home, they’ve had many opportunities to tag it.”

Rounding out the top 10 violations were: No. 5 – License/registration/permit not in possession/displayed;  No. 6 – Failure to register deer; No. 7 – untagged deer; No. 8 – Lend/borrow/transfer license; No. 9 – No red/blaze orange; and No. 10 – Feeding in a CWD zone.

The 8th most common violation was “lend/borrow/transferring” of licenses. Forty-four people received a ticket for the charge in 2021, down from 63 in 2020. Another 32 and 31 people received warnings the past two years.

People typically receive tickets for the violation when they claim to be party hunting but one “party” isn’t actually afield. Gorecki acknowledged that COs use discretion in when to apply a citation, but the statute says that hunters should be afield together.

That doesn’t mean within hearing or visual range of one another, but generally two people need to be afield simultaneously on the same piece of property.

“Two people hunting in two zones across the state is not party hunting,” Gorecki said. “And we can’t have one guy afield and another guy inside watching TV. Both need to be afield.”

State COs cited seven people in 2021 for not wearing blaze orange and another 17 in 2020. It was the No. 9 most common violation in 2021 and 2020. In addition, 69 and 80 people received verbal warnings for no blaze those two years. Blaze orange laws have been on the books for decades, and Gorecki said it’s hard to believe hunters still get that one wrong.

Warnings are given to folks who appear to have legitimately forgotten or been lax when starting a hunt. But occasionally it’s clear a hunter believes he’s getting a leg up on the deer by losing the blaze.

“We don’t see a lot of it, but if someone is sitting up in a tree in camo with a gun, we deal with it,” he said.

For the first time, feeding in a CWD zone broke into the top 10 in 2021, and that’s not a surprise. Different from baiting, recreational feeding of deer in CWD zones is prohibited, and after years of working to educate the public about the concerns of wild deer congregating together and potentially spreading disease, the DNR has become more aggressive in enforcing the rule. The state issued 42 verbal warnings and 16 citations for feeding in a CWD zone last year.

Other reminders

Gorecki had additional advice for hunters heading out this weekend for matters that don’t fall within the top 10. Trespassing occurs year-round, so hunters need to know where they are, get permission, and landowners should properly post their land.

Also, be safe with firearms and wear your blaze orange. Letting multiple family members know where you’ll be hunting makes the job of emergency personnel much easier if something goes awry.

“Make a plan and tell people where you’ll be. Not doing so can make a first responder’s job a lot harder,” he said.

And a final reminder: Hunters cannot use radio-controlled devices in the taking of a deer. Cell phones are great pieces of safety equipment afield, Gorecki said, but hunters should not using them to rally drives or otherwise coordinate their actual hunting.

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