Fall is fast approaching and with it comes deer season, duck season, turkey season…the list goes on. Basically, fall is a mash-up of a hunting version of My Favorite Things. Instead of whiskers on kittens or warm woolen mittens, though, we’re talking racks on bucks and warm(ish) waterproof waders. And while I’ve been thinking about my upcoming hunting seasons I’ve also been thinking about related topics like caliber selection and…baiting.
Before we delve into this one let’s go ahead and say it’s legal. There are places you cannot bait, some due to long-standing regulations and some due to the spread of CWD and EHD, but for the sake of argument let’s shelve that and discuss the idea of baiting where it is legal.
If you aren’t familiar with baiting, here’s a quick definition. Baiting means you put some sort of edible substance on the ground to attract your prey – deer, hogs, whatever – whether that bait pile is corn, minerals, or hay (it’s a long list). Hunters bait to encourage animals to visit an area. Photographers do it, too, as do people who just want to see deer or squirrels frequenting their property. So, is it ethical?
Baiting is controversial. Not only that, there are factions within the baiting realm that argue their way is purer than the others. Bowhunters bait, they say, to ensure a closer shot; deer hunters often bait – or feed deer, which is a bit different – and add minerals to encourage bone growth and bulk. There are those who dump bait piles of corn and minerals for deer and those who chain out barrels with grease, candy, or molasses-soaked oats to attract bears. Duck hunters do it, too.
When you bait in a fair-chase scenario where animals can come and go as they please, there are no guarantees. It isn’t a high-fence property where animals are often fed similarly to pets or corn is trailed from a side-by-side while the animals trail along behind it. When you bait deer on free-range land the buck you’ve had your eye on may or may not show up.
You can put out dozens of trail cams and obsessively track his routes, but there are no guarantees. Yes, baiting will increase your odds, but it doesn’t mean you’ll absolutely get the buck you want (or any buck at all). Who here has sat on bait every weekend throughout deer season and never seen a shooter? Probably a lot of you, if not everyone.
Oh, planting food plots is not different than baiting. It’s more time-intensive and involves significant labor and an understanding of the best crops to attract deer but I have news for you: it’s still bait. We plant food plots specifically to bring deer into the area. Same goes for staking out that acorn grove you know Whitetails love to visit. Does that sound like baiting?
If you’re hunting free-range and have feeders dumping corn or a food plot bursting with clover, more power to you. I know from long experience the likelihood of free-range deer or hogs showing up at bait. It’s a maybe/maybe not situation.
I’ve spent endless hours hunting over bait only to have no shooter bucks come through because hey, we’re talking about ethical hunting here. You don’t take a shot just because something with a rack walks up. We grow bucks and does. This isn’t a free-for-all. Right? “If it’s brown, it’s down” should not be your credo.
Bottom line is that baiting with corn, planting food plots, and sitting on an acorn grove are all in the same realm. The regularity with which guys who plant plots claim to be better than the guys dumping corn would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.
You’re all trying to lure animals in. And although it might be a surprise to some, I don’t believe there’s anything unethical about free-range bait. Ethical hunting comes down to a few things: can the animal in question get away or are they confined to a set space, do you have a clean shot, and is it legal? Are you being a good sportsman?
Respect the animal. Follow the laws. Be a good sportsman. Be grateful for the opportunity you have to sit in the woods and fields enjoying the beauty of nature.
Want to bait? Go for it. ‘Merica.