A Look Back At The Deer Baiting Debate

Since the legalization of baiting in Georgia’s Southern Zone only, has your deer hunting been better? Worse? No impact? GON wants to know.

GON Staff | January 22, 2018

Before hunting deer over bait became legal in Georgia’s Southern Zone, it was the hottest deer hunting topic ever debated amongst Peach State hunters. Tempers flared, things were said that shouldn’t have been, and it’s highly likely that some friendships were even lost over the issue.

It was emotional.

But then it happened. It took an act of the state legislature, but hunting over bait became legal in the Southern Zone prior to the beginning of the 2011-12 deer hunting season.

We can still remember the first Truck-Buck archery entry that came in stating, “killed over a corn pile.” It took a little while getting used to hearing hunters talk about killing deer over bait piles seven years ago, but we did, and life rocked along.

It’s safe to say that the smoke from that fiery debate has blown away, but GON still hears fairly regularly from Northern Zone hunters who wonder why they can’t hunt over bait.

Back during the monumental passage of the legalization of baiting in the Southern Zone, enough Northern Zone hunters got behind an effort to keep deer hunting over bait illegal in the top half of the state. Enough hunters got in the ears of their local politicians and voiced their concerns about baiting where they hunted. Therefore, the bill was changed to only allow for baiting in the Southern Zone, and that’s what passed into law.

Those Northern Zone hunters won for their efforts, and today, Northern Zone hunters still can’t legally hunt within 200 yards or within sight of bait.

GON is curious after seven years. As a hunter in this great state, How does the Georgia law on baiting for deer—legal in the Southern Zone and illegal in the Northern Zone—affect your deer hunting today?

You get a chance to share your thoughts through our VOTES Ballot on this month’s cover. Participation in VOTES is through the printed issue of the GON magazine.

To refresh yourself with the pro and con arguments on baiting, we referenced several GON articles that were printed prior to the legalization of baiting. We pulled most of these arguments from the January 2006 issue, where we gave pro-baiting and anti-baiting sportsmen the opportunity to plead their cases.


The Case Against Deer Baiting

Jeff Young, a sportsman involved with legislative issues, and several other hunters penned the 2006 argument for the case against baiting deer.

“Public support for hunting is won at an early age,” said Young. “Anti-hunters and hunters alike are highly active in their childrens’ elementary schools. Consider the following example: As a hunter, you speak to your daughter’s sixth-grade class on all the great things hunters do for wildlife. You’re followed by an anti-hunter.

“The anti-hunter says to the class, ‘He is a hunter, and let me show you what they really do.’ He then holds up a poster-sized photograph of a camo-clad hunter blasting a small deer with his head in a pile of corn.

“This is the image the kids will remember, and your daughter will be ridiculed about every time hunting is mentioned. Is this what you want for hunters, our youth and Georgia hunting? We don’t.”

A tactic of the anti-baiting crowd was to shoot down arguments made by the pro-baiting folks.

“Some proponents have claimed that baiting is the great equalizer,” said Young. “For example, ‘The club next door has all these big food plots, and I can’t afford to plant food plots. They are taking and shooting all my deer. So, we need to legalize baiting to give the little man a chance.’ Sounds good! However, the little man doesn’t and never will have the money or time that the big man does, so he’ll get out-baited and still lose in the end.”

There was concern that the close contact of many deer in a small location, like a bait station, would up the odds for diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). There was also concern that baiting would cause disease in other wildlife.

“Baiting deer could make a variety of birds, including turkeys, susceptible to aflatoxins and other diseases associated with increased contact with droppings or fermenting grains… There is a potential for negative impacts on numerous bird and mammal (including deer) populations,” said Todd Holbrook, a former WRD assistant chief of Game Management, in a 1992 GON article.

Those against baiting argued that just because baiting is legal in other states, like Texas, wasn’t reason enough to make it legal in Georgia.

“According to J. R. Perkins, a Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist, food plots can be planted where cultivation is possible and soil types and rainfall meet the requirements of the crop planted,” said Young. “Unfortunately, in much of Texas, summer rainfall isn’t adequate for food plot production when a deer’s need for good nutrition is high.

“According to Perkins, feeders should be dispersed and located adjacent to adequate escape cover, and in an area where wildlife will not be disturbed. No hunting should be allowed around or near the feeder.”

Another argument was that hunting deer over bait would turn deer more nocturnal. Many said killing a mature buck at a feeder was highly unlikely and would yield less sightings, making the hunting worse.

After seven years of legal baiting in the Southern Zone, GON wants to know if the concerns expressed by the anti-baiters have become real-life issues.


The Case For Deer Baiting

The pro-baiting crowd used the term “baiting” along with “supplemental feeding.” For consistency, we’re simply going to call it baiting below.

Deer hunter Tony Sapp and several other pro-baiting supporters provided a 2006 article on why baiting should be allowed in Georgia.

Those in the pro-baiting camp pointed to GON’s 2006 cover ballot, which showed that 64.4 percent of hunters wanted baiting legal statewide. There were 7,194 sportsmen who submitted a ballot to GON.

“Baiting is an effective tool to harvest deer and also increases your chances at harvesting deer,” said Sapp. “According to studies done in Wisconsin and Michigan, it was shown that bowhunters using bait were 14 percent more likely to harvest a deer, and gun hunters were 6 percent more likely.”

Baiting was argued as a way to increase deer weight and antler size.

“With the poor soil and native forage containing about 50 percent of the minimum protein and energy needed by deer for maximum growth, baiting becomes an integral part of having a healthy deer herd,” said Sapp.

Pro-baiters said there was no data linking deer baiting to disease outbreaks.

“Although CWD can be spread by nose-to-nose contact around food sources, such as oak trees, food plots, and, yes, baiting stations, there is no evidence any of these contributed to the recent outbreak of this disease,” said Sapp.

“Mark Toso, president of the Wisconsin Deer Hunters Association, said, ‘Don’t let all this hype and confusion stop you from doing what you enjoy. The sad truth is that hunting itself is more of a risk factor than CWD. If you are concerned about the risks involved with CWD, you probably shouldn’t be driving either.

“Aflatoxins is a disease associated with moldy corn, and although the anti-baiting minority likes to point this as a threat to deer herds, I have found no evidence that aflatoxins pose a serious threat to deer.”

The issue of ethics was addressed, as the pro-baiters pointed to the 25 other states that do allow hunting over bait.

“It’s hard to believe that there are those who think hunters in over 25 states across the United States are hunting unethically just because they disagree with the manner of herd management being used,” said Sapp.

Deer baiting proponents said the legalization of baiting would help the overall cost to the hunter.

“With many clubs having to find new property every few years because of timber properties sales and the property owners not allowing food plots, the cost and upkeep of baiting stations on small tracts and on short-term lease property becomes a less-expensive alternative,” said Sapp.

It was argued that baiting stations would also give hunters more time to make sure it was a deer they wanted to shoot and would provide a more accurate shot.

After seven years of legal baiting, we’d like to hear how it has affected your hunting.

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