WATCH: 5 Reasons Not to Bait Deer
It’s a question that comes up whenever hunters and land managers congregate: What is the true effect of baiting deer?
One of the hottest deer related topics is whether baiting should be legal — not just during hunting season, but at any time during the year. Valid arguments are made on either side: tradition, providing supplemental nutrition and increasing hunting success, and on the other side are arguments about artificially increasing deer numbers and the possible spread of disease.
But biologically speaking, should baiting be banned in whitetail country?
There is no easy answer. But there are biological reasons why baiting in some cases can be harmful. However, in other cases feeding deer can be beneficial — at least for the short term. So making a blanket decision for all of the whitetail’s range, might not even be feasible.
First off, it’s a fact that increased deer density creates more contact between deer, which can lead to an increase in the spread of disease. Chronic wasting disease (CWD), hemorrhagic disease (HD), or any other transmittable disease will increase in occurrence with increased deer densities. By baiting, hunters are artificially increasing the deer density in an area. Even though this is not permanent, the contact (as brief as it might be) could be enough to spread disease.
On the other hand, there are some benefits to the supple- mental feeding of deer, and it’s a common practice from Texas to Canada. In most cases, it is purely a supplement to their diet that helps sustain them through nutritionally stressful periods, or to increase hunting opportunity.
The Benefits of Baiting
In the North and South
In South Texas and other locales, extreme drought can limit not only water but also quality vegetation. This can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies which can lead to death. In the North, extreme winter conditions can make food impossible to find, and state agencies have even gone to the lengths of implementing winter feeding programs. High winter mortalities can decimate deer herds if they occur over multiple consecutive years.
But the negative biological side of supplemental feeding needs to be considered as well. There are several issues with supplemental feeding (mainly misuse) that can cause hoof sloughing, where hooves will break off and become infected, or aflatoxin (poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by certain molds that grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and grains) might be present from feeding corn that has not been properly stored.
Though not as common, these must be taken into consideration when feeding deer for the purposes of supplemental nutrition or hunting.
But what about areas with abundant deer — where the introduction of this unnatural source of nutrition will increase survival and reproductive rates? This sounds great, but can generate high deer densities that cannot be supported long-term by the habitat.
Implications for Hunting
OK, what are the hunting implications in regard to baiting? Of course, ethics will always be the No.1 issue, but there actually is a biological argument in regard to whether it actually increases hunting success rates. During the 1990s, studies in Michigan and Wisconsin showed that hunters who were not using bait were more successful than those using bait.
Why? Well, when deer don’t have to work to find food, movement decreases. In fact, South Carolina researchers found that with better deer body/nutritional condition, movement decreased. This can dramatically affect hunting, especially when research shows most of that movement is under the cover of darkness.
Whether for providing nutrition or for hunting purposes, deer baiting should not be taken lightly. There are advan- tages and disadvantages to feeding deer. At the end of the day, biology can lay down the facts but people — and lawmakers — will ultimately make the decision whether to bait, or to not bait.
— Jeremy Flinn is a professional deer biologist living in Missouri. An avid bowhunter and Deer & Deer Hunting contributor, he has provided valuable information to hunters and landowners for more than a decade.