The Great ‘Bait’ Debate: Is Hunting Deer Over Bait Fair Or cheating?

IS THIS HUNTING?

That headline caught my eye over 15 years ago as the cover story of a prominent hunting magazine displayed on the rack at the grocery store. The cover photo depicted a mature, big racked buck feeding on a large pile of corn. Instinctively, I knew the article was not going to be positive towards those who legally bait deer. Unfortunately, I was right, the author lambasted everyone who “cheated” at hunting deer by using bait to draw them in for a shot.

First of all, I strongly recommend you NOT bait deer by dumping a sack of corn into a large pile. Within hours of getting wet, or by the moisture from the ground, the corn will begin to sour, and the only thing you’ll attract are flies and hogs, both of which are on my personal extermination list. Nasty creatures they are, both will dine on anything alive, dead or rotting, even feces. Sorry for the sidebar, so back to my advice.

Instead of dumping a pile of corn on the ground, broadcast it over a large area, about 20 yards in diameter will do. The corn will not sour and will last until the deer and other critters find it, plus, you’ll attract more deer since they can all eat and not compete for the single pile of corn. If the corn does get wet, it may sprout, but even then the rabbits, squirrels, coons, foxes, and deer will eat the tender new shoots.

By now you should gather that I am NOT opposed to baiting deer, and in this article, I will challenge your predisposition against baiting and delve into why we should not only accept, but support other hunters’ choices of legal methods and means of taking deer.

As a wildlife biologist, I can attest that baiting would not be legal if the state believed it would create a slaughtering of the deer herd. In Texas, hunters only kill about 500,000 deer each season, and that’s from a heard of 4.5 million. Baiting is legal here (in most counties), and widespread practice. I don’t believe there is a ranch or deer lease in the infamous “Golden Triangle” of South Texas that doesn’t utilize feeders that throw corn.

Hunters also feed sendero’s (narrow lanes cut through the thick brush) as they drive the ranch each day as well. Elsewhere, except in counties where it is illegal to bait, you’re weird if you don’t. Yet, it fails as a mechanism to trim our herd down to 2.5 million, which would be the optimal population for deer and land alike. I guess there’s not much slaughtering going on. Even with five deer tags per hunter, our state’s 500,000 deer hunters are only bagging one deer apiece average. That means a lot of hunters are not killing any deer. Yep, baiting just doesn’t give the deer a chance. Onward…

The Bait Debate

Let’s take an honest look at why baiting deer may bother you. I imagine there are other reasons why some of you are against it, but here are the most common complaints I hear from anti-baiting hunters around the country:

1.  Anti-baiting hunters: Baiting is cheating. In other words, some think it makes hunting too easy, or, you’re lazy! Deer gotta eat, right? And they love corn (or apples, carrots, etc.), so give them a steady supply and you’ve got an easy target. Besides, you don’t have to run up and down ridges or walk the long way around the backside of hills or fields to avoid being detected when you walk to and from the well-placed stand that you set after weeks of scouting in the backcountry. That’s what real hunters do, right?

ME

Well, that may be true for some of us fanatics, but I can guarantee that only a small number of deer hunters work that hard to get their deer. If cheating is the basis of their argument, then I contend that most hunters who do not bait are just as “lazy” as the baiters. How, you ask?

  • Most hunters hunt within just a couple hundred yards of where they park (pickup or 4-wheeler), that’s a fact.
  • Few hunts the backwoods of wilderness areas, instead, they concentrate on local farm deer, that don’t run at the first sight of a vehicle or person. And, the majority spend more time in camp than they do pursue their prey.
  • Gotta have breakfast at 10, and lunch at 2, plus we need to find out how our buddies did on their morning hunt! And, why get up early and get settled on standing an hour before sunrise, it’s a lot easier going in after dawn starts to crack, right?
  • Plus, you can’t shoot a buck before legal light anyway, so we might as well get that extra sleep to make up for the late-night poker game and the one too many beers that clouded our gambling judgment.
  • Plus, we’ve got to spend more money on the latest gadgets and gear, no?
  • Why hold the bow when you can hang it within arms reach on a fancy bow hanger above your head? Why learn how to instinctively judge distance, just pull out the range finder and zap it! Why learn woodsmanship? Just press a button on your GPS device, head out, and follow the route mapped out on the screen to find your way back!
  • Need I go on? All that stuff, it’ll put some horns on the wall and venison in the freezer, no? Besides, why waste money on things that would really make a difference in our hunting outcomes, like going to seminars hosted by well-known buck masters, or buying How-To books and videos, and then applying what we learn by spending our free time in the field scouting, observing, and keeping notes of what we find. Naaa, gotta watch football. Yet, we don’t criticize ourselves for being “normal”, do we? Nor should we!

Ever notice what Fred Bear, Howard Hill, or Glen St. Charles carried with them in the woods? A bow, compass, knife, some incidentals in their pockets, and maybe an apple. They drove to the trailhead and walked in. They also all wore “gentlemen’s” clothes while they hunted – wool pants, a warm shirt, and a comfortable hat. Simple methods, but very effective hunters. It was a different time you say? I couldn’t agree with you more.

2. Baiting is not natural! Oh really? Hmmm….let me take this opportunity right now to cast a light on another circumstance that almost every deer hunter in the country has implemented, or wishes he could afford to – the food plotThat’s natural? You plow up a piece of land, stripping it of its natural flora (if it hasn’t been already), apply lime to balance the pH, fertilize the soil, and scatter high dollar genetically engineered non-native seed to attract and feed the deer. Oh, that’s right, we’re trying to “grow bigger horns”, sorry. All that’s left to do is wait, watch it grow, and then place stands over the deer’s entry and exit points and wolla!, instant easy shot, every morning and evening when the deer come out to feed. Plus, you might even pull the deer off your neighbor’s place, provided he doesn’t have a better food plot himself! In my ever so humble opinion, anyone who is a proponent of the food plot, and kill deer out of that food plot, and criticizes those who bait, is a hypocrite.

Additionally, I’ll argue that anyone who utilizes the following means and methods of legally hunting deer and then calls anyone else who baits a cheater or lazy, is a hypocrite as well.

1. Using dogs to run deer (don’t forget cougar, bear, fox, coons, etc.). Tradition and heritage run deep, no? This topic is a major divider between us with just as much emotion as baiting. Interesting how we think our way of doing things is the only right way isn’t it.

2. Food plots. Covered that one already.

3. Agricultural crops. They’re not natural either, but this one seems natural because we’ve been farming since ???. Besides, we’re not planting these crops to attract the deer, and if the deer love to eat our crops too, we might as well take advantage of their doing so, right? Besides, there’s nothing more fun and challenging to hunt than those old cagey corn field bucks!

4. Deer drives. That’s not cheating? Hunters pushing terrified deer through funnels so the other hunters waiting in ambush can pop them as they frantically try to evade the intruders behind them?

5. Deer scents, calls, and decoys. That’s right, those are cheating too! Besides, nothing natural about the scent you buy in the store, it’s gathered from pen-raised does that are forced to come into estrus while held in indoor enclosures, then manipulated with artificial lighting to trick their biological clock into thinking it’s time to come into heat! What buck that’s pumped full of testosterone would pass up the opportunity to breed a doe that just left a hot scent trail right in front of your stand? Hmmm?

If he hesitates, don’t forget to call to him with that plastic doe-in-heat bleat call, which sings that alluring love song, “tonight’s the night”. Music to his ears. If that doesn’t work, set out an injection-molded plastic doe decoy, spray her down real good with scent eliminating solution to hide your scent from handling it, then splash some estrus scent on her rump. If you don’t shoot him first, he’ll mount the decoy to breed it, and when he knocks it over it’ll give you the laugh of a lifetime! Speaking of laughs, set out a buck decoy with only one antler, splash some rutting buck glandular scent on it, rattle some horns (those cool plastic ones) and when you see a big buck checking it outcall to it with your super-duper mega monster buck call! He’ll stiff leg right over and when the decoy doesn’t acknowledge him, he’ll charge and knock it over! You won’t believe the expression on that buck’s face when that happens! I’m busting a gut just thinking about it! Ooops, back to being a “natural, non-cheating” hunter. Let’s see, what else is there…

6. Scent eliminating clothing and products. Why be careful where you walk, just wear rubber boots. Why hunt the wind, just wash your body odor down the drain and wear hi-tech, partialized carbon clothing that prevents you from stinking beyond the fabric cocoon! You can then spray everything else you wear and tote into the woods with scent eliminating soap spray. Oh yea, don’t forget the artificially flavored “acorn” cover scent to hide anything up you didn’t take care of already.

7. Tree stands. Why hunt on their terms, on the ground at eye level, when you can hide 25’ up in the air, wearing camouflage patterns that mimic every kind of known foliage and skyline in North America. Chip shot if you can stay quiet. I guess we all don’t want to be real hunters, sneaking through the woods like a predator and sneak up on them for a shot.

8. Weapons. What do YOU hunt with, a: High power rifle? Cheater. You can kill deer out to 300 yds and beyond, without it having any idea it’s being hunted. Forget about scent control, camo too. If legal, just drive around until you see what you want to kill, then prop your rifle on the hood for a stable rest and blast away! Happens all over the country.

Black powder? Cheater. Not much difference from these new weapons and the high powers. I don’t see any resemblance between today’s black powders and the one Jeremiah Johnson toted. Scoped, center fired, weather proof synthetic stock and breach, convenient, pre-measured powder pellets, and sabot copper-jacketed bullets, now that’s challenging and takes much skill to kill a deer! Deadly accurate ranges out to 200 yds ain’t’ bad either.

Compound bow? Cheater. Let’s see, draw weight let off up to 85% so you can draw long before the deer can see or hear you, release caliper for a smooth & accurate release every time, front and rear sight system for William Tell accuracy, even in near-dark conditions out to 50 yds and beyond! Now that separates the archers from the boys, doesn’t it?

Longbows and recurve bows? Cheaters! The guy that invented the bow wanted to be able to more easily kill game beyond the limitations of the atlatyl. And the guy that invented the atlatyl wanted to be able to more easily kill game beyond the limits of the spear! Little did either inventor know, they each invented a different kind of the most basic of machines. Hmmm, seems like we’ve been cheating at killing game for a long, long time. Are you ready to go back to the rock and club as your weapons, hunting deer while only wearing a loin cloth? If so, don’t hunt them near a food source, that’d be cheating!

Conclusion

Concerning the tone of my article, it was purposefully written to reflect the sarcasm, self-righteous pomp, and puffery I’ve witnessed in the attitude of too many hunters I’ve encountered who thought they and their hunting methods were the only worthy, noble, and “ethical” standard.

As a nation, our hunting ethics are defined by who we are as people, often reflecting our history and traditions. Fifty states, each of which their government sets standards and regulations that guarantee thriving game populations provided we follow those regulations set each year. The 100’s of counties or parishes within each state also create additional regulations that define how we may conduct ourselves afield, as it should be. What one locale finds ethical and sporting, another elsewhere doesn’t. And, that’s OK. That is until we criticize our neighbors for exercising their choice. What a shame, this “I’m superior” mentality reminds me too much of racism.

In my next article, I’m going to illustrate how you can utilize automatic feeders to create deer traffic throughout your hunt area, which in turn opens up new stand sites in areas that might otherwise be unproductive. I’ll also delve into the why, when and where of supplemental feeding, (which by the way is a fancy word for baiting), and explain that it is not always productive. Deer prefer natural browse whenever they can get it, including a sweet white oak acorn over a kernel of corn any day. Until then, have a great season! 

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