by Lia Biondo, MUCC Policy Intern
To bait or not to bait?
As firearms season quickly approaches us, many deer hunters have already made their decision and are anxiously anticipating opening day. committed to the hunt, and the surrounding deer population. Baiting is legal in most of Michigan, except for the Northeast Lower counties of Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Oscoda, but there are some important regulations regarding the use of bait that must be followed.
“Bait” is defined as “a substance composed of grains, minerals, salt, fruits, vegetables, hay or other food materials, which may lure, entice or attract deer as an aid in hunting.” Baiting can only occur from September 1 through January 15, and only in the counties where it is legal. The bait volume cannot exceed two gallons, and must be spread out over a minimum of a 10×10 plot.
The easiest way to measure volume is to grab a gallon milk jug and scoop two gallons worth of your preferred bait into a five gallon bucket. Mark that line in the five gallon bucket and you won’t have to fumble with the measuring scoops next time you bring bait out. To easily eye a 10×10 plot, start at one corner and mark it by placing a bit of bait on the ground. Walk three paces and mark that corner. Continue until you have four corners and then evenly disperse the bait throughout that 10×10 square.
Remember, that feed must be placed directly on the ground. It can be scattered by other means, such as a mechanical spin-cast feeder, so long as the amount dispersed does not exceed two gallons. To reduce the risk of disease, the DNR recommends to only bait when actively hunting the area and to move the bait site each time so as not to be repeatedly placing bait on the same ground.
“Feeding” is not the same as “baiting” and applies only to those instances where feed is placed out for non-hunting, recreational viewing purposes. “Feed” is defined by the DNR as “a substance composed of grain, mineral, salt, fruit, vegetable, hay or other food material, that may attract deer or elk for any reason other than hunting.” The same regulations as baiting apply, with the addition that feed may not be placed more than 100 yards from a residence on land owned or possessed by that person and at least 100 yards away from any area accessible to cattle, goats, sheep, new world camelids, bison, swine, horses or captive cervidae.
Not included in the above regulations are food plots, standing agricultural crops or food placed a as a result of normal agricultural practices. These are not considered “feed” or “bait”.
As with any hunting, fishing, or trapping practice, sportsmen and women should make ethical judgments regarding their take of game. Large-volume baiting has been known to spread diseases, particularly bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. The concentration of animals in one area – such as around a large and unregulated bait pile – brings the animals into closer contact with one another. This higher concentration of animals increases the risk for disease transmission among the population. Because bait can be a vector for disease transmission, MUCC’s members passed a resolution opposing the use of bait for deer hunting in 2007.
Baiting may also affect movement patterns, as deer delay migration into winter habitats due to fall baiting. This could keep deer populations in areas lacking natural food sources, which could cause starvation when supplemental feeding is stopped. In addition, baiting could draw in deer populations that the surrounding environment cannot support for a prolonged amount of time.
Baiting does increase the chance of hunter success and has grown into a deeply-rooted Michigan tradition. For new and old hunters alike, sometimes the best times in the blind are had when you are actually seeing deer! For these reasons, baiting remains popular among some Michigan hunters.
However, DNR Wildlife Biologists have reported that with a record acorn crop throughout western and central Michigan, deer may have not be as receptive to bait sites. In addition, in many areas of the Thumb and other agricultural communities, corn is still standing, which could affect the movement of deer populations.
Your own personal decisions and ethical judgments, as well as what is best for your hunting site, will answer the “to bait or not to bait” question.. No matter the method you choose, be sure to follow all rules and regulations set by the DNR. We owe it to ourselves and our fellow sportsmen and women to conserve, protect, and enhance Michigan’s natural resources. We wish you a Happy Opening Day!
by Lia Biondo, MUCC Policy Intern