The disgrace of baiting for deer
Dear Woods-N-Water News:
I'm not any more qualified to write this article than any hunter who has hunted Michigan for 50 years or more. My father and his ancestors hunted before me and I have tried to pass this on to my children. I have hunting friends and relatives in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas (where I hunted for 4 years) and they keep me informed on hunting conditions in those neighboring states. However when deer hunting reaches a standard so low it is ruined for the true hunter it is time to speak out and call it what it is - an activity that discourages true hunting and promotes indolence.
For years and years and years my family, including my father, uncles, and cousins gathered for the Nov. 15 opening and hunted by standing on ridges or on deer runways, sneaking through woods to locate and harvest a buck, or making drives or traveling around looking for a new place to hunt for the next day. We got to see the country, the countryside, what was over the next hill, or around the next corner or what is on the other side of the road or swamp. When one moved around you saw a variety of wildlife or the signs of wildlife. If you were hunting with your son/daughter you shared these experiences together.
Several times we traveled to the U.P. and set up an "old fashioned" deer camp in the woods near our chosen hunting area, and we went out and hunted; we did the standing, the sneaking, the deer drives, and the scouting. More importantly we killed bucks, and when Michigan had a sensible tagging system we all hunted together until we broke camp and had a great hunting experience. We created what is often called "camaraderie."
Baiting ruined this great hunting experience. We are raising generations of hunters who sit over a bait pile and watch it through the porthole of a plywood blind. Their hunting experience is walking from camp down the same path every morning and late afternoon to the same blind and then reversing their steps back to camp. Their deer season is seen through a porthole. Their hunting world is the inside of a blind. If one gets cold he doesn't go out and sneak around to find his buck (and warm up) but turns on the heater to stay warm while listening to a radio or reading a book.
If a little buck "comes in" for his daily handout and is harvested, the hunter follows his well worn path to camp to report his "luck." The conversation is one sentence; "what time did he come in?" As there is nothing more to report or talk about. There is not any conversation about hearing the deer coming down the ridge, or I just caught a glimpse of an antler, or he came out on the drive, or I got him with a great shot, or I tracked him until I found him, or I jumped him three times until I finally saw his head, etc.
How does a true hunter compete with apples, beets, corn, pumpkins, carrots, and molasses blocks? He doesn't. My experience is deer will travel great distances to a bait pile, and this is mostly just before dark or after dark. The true hunter, up early in the morning standing on that favorite ridge will not see a deer as the deer do not move in the morning. They feed at night at the convenient smorgasbord. Remember when you sneaked around the woods and saw deer feeding or browsing (like cattle do) around 11 am or 3 pm? Not anymore. If a hunter wants to see deer he must get on the bait pile trail and then will only see deer moving to the bait just before dark.
This past season I hunted a farm in the eastern U.P. six times. The farmer told me as soon as the baiting started on the surrounding neighbors the deer simply left his farm. I hunted mornings for five days and never saw a deer, even though there were buck signs with lots of scrapes and rubs. On the sixth day we had fresh snow and it was plain to see the deer were moving from the swamp straight to the neighbor's bait pile and then straight back to the swamp. On the sixth and last day I skipped the morning and went out at 4 pm. Sure enough, at dusk five deer came out of the swamp and bee lined it to the neighbor's bait pile.
Baiting has led to another problem. In the years before baiting, one never heard talk about harvesting too many bucks, but after a few years of baiting the talk about there not being any bucks started. The cause of overharvesting bucks was and is obvious - the little bucks readily come to the bait pile and are shot. Before baiting, many small bucks got through the season because one had to spot the antlers through the brush and then get a shot. In addition we have a
10 day muzzle loader season over bait with "souped" up muzzle loaders with scopes. So we really have a 26 day rifle season over bait, not to mention the extremely long archery season over bait with over 400,000 archer hunters - so it doesn't take much to figure out what happened to the little bucks - baiting must
The taking of too many bucks over bait has lead to another problem that has destroyed the old deer camps. The fun times of true hunting. That is, Michigan's current tagging system. It encourages baiting. At the start of this article I told how five or six of us took a week off work and set up a U.P. deer camp. We hunted together the entire week and killed some nice bucks but never filled all the tags. We group hunted and it was a great experience together for young and old alike.
Then, because too many little bucks were being killed over bait, instead of eliminating baiting as should have been done, the state started playing with the tagging system by requiring a "living tag" but issuing two tags. That apparently was unsatisfactory, so now they have one tag, or if you want two tags you must shoot 3 or 4 points on one side. However, if you are a hunter
hunting down that favorite ridge you do well to see the antlers, but there is never time to count them and still shoot. So the true hunter must buy one tag and then quit hunting when he gets his buck, (which is very difficult when competing with bait piles) but the hunter looking out his porthole over bait can buy two tags because he can count the points and take two bucks.
So when planning a hunt to the U.P., what license should the group of hunters buy? The fun of the old deer camps was going out and finding the whitetail in fair chase, and hunting with his group for a week of great experiences. Under the present tagging system the true hunter must buy one tag and if lucky, then sit in camp while his family hunts without him. This is
What many have forgotten was we did have a one buck law for rifle season, where you could kill one buck with a rifle, but the group got to hunt together as long as there was a tag in the group. This worked well for years, many years, perhaps 80 or more. Baiting and bureaucrats changed this and the tagging system has been a mess ever since. So is it time for the group of hunters to take their week off in another state or province so they can hunt together as they
use to for the entire week and have fun together - like they use to in the Michigan woods.
However progress is being made. Baiting is not allowed in the Lower Peninsula and Wisconsin has partially banned it and I do not believe Minnesota ever allowed it. Although it is true baiting helps deer get through the winter it is not hunting and does not resemble hunting. Winter feeding by sportsman's clubs and others is a great help to the deer.
We should go back to the licensing system of the 1950s when a father and son could hunt together as long as one had a tag and not a system that punishes the hunter by forcing him to buy one tag and if lucky then sit down. Then neither the father nor son wants to see a buck because the other one would have to hunt alone - what fun is that? We now reward the hunter who looks through a porthole at his smorgasbord; while listening to the radio and reading his book - he gets two tags and passes this way of hunting onto his children.
The disgrace of baiting must go.
January 26, 2011