The Bait Debate

The Bait Debate

“Corn and apples on the ground, 25 yards out.”

Sitting about 17 feet up in a tree sure gives me, the hunter, a great view.  It also makes it a little less likely for the deer to see me, smell me or hear me.  And, when they come in to eat the apples and corn I put there for them, they are distracted by all the free food!

Since the deer is distracted, it gives me a good opportunity to slowly reach for my bow or rifle and make my move.  It also gives me a clear shot at close range when the deer are relaxed and not expecting danger.

The subject of baiting for the purpose of hunting can escalate into quite the nasty debate, to say the least.  In some provinces or states, baiting is illegal and shunned upon, while in some it’s not.  In Ontario, where I live and do the majority of my hunting, it is perfectly legal to bait deer for the purpose of hunting.  It’s not legal however, in Alberta.  But, it is legal in Saskatchewan.  It is illegal to bait in Minnesota, but it’s permitted in Michigan.  So, clearly, it’s a regional thing and the laws vary from province to province and from state to state.

A lot of guys I know in my area do bait deer, especially the archery hunters who like close shots at relaxed deer that are not walking or running.  There are a lot of bear hunters in Ontario too and almost all of them set up bait sites.  The shots are often less than 15 yards over a bait site.  Baiting for the purpose of bear hunting has been accepted for a long time now by many hunters.  But, many of those same hunters deem it unethical and unsporting to bait for deer.  Hmmmm… interesting.  For many years it has been illegal to bait waterfowl and that’s a Federal Law, as opposed to a Provincial one that deals with baiting for big game animals.  I don’t hear anyone complain about not being allowed to dump 50 pound bags of corn in front of their blind.

First, let’s look at what baiting is really all about and the various types of activities that may not actually be called, “baiting” but are baiting, no matter how much you try to pretty it up or make it sound like something otherwise.  Let’s look at food plots, for starters.  If you don’t know what food plots are, they are typically small areas of anywhere from an acre to maybe 5 or 10 acres of land that has been developed and planted with seeds that grow crops specifically to attract animals, mainly deer.  In fact, most of the seeds are manufactured specifically for deer and “food plotting” has become a multi-million dollar business.  But, did you know that there are areas where baiting is illegal, but planting and hunting over a food plot is perfectly legal?  What’s the difference?

The Bait Debate

“A nice little “Butter Ball” buck.”

If you develop some land and plant it with crops specifically to attract deer for the purpose of hunting them, that’s baiting.  I don’t give a rat’s rear end if it’s not normally called baiting, but it is baiting.  It just looks a little nicer, with neatly grown rows, rather than a pile of corn or apples strewn about on the ground.  A food plot is food that you put there, that wasn’t there before, naturally.  And, you put it there to attract deer so you can kill them.  That’s baiting.  Or, call it “planting seeds that grow into crops that become bait.”  Take your pick.

What about salt licks?  You know – those big blocks of compressed salt that you can buy at the farm supply store for about five bucks.  I hear them called, “mineral stations” a lot of hunting shows on TV.  Call it what you want, it’s still baiting.  And, then there are the apple flavored blocks.   They’re a few bucks more than the salt blocks.  You should see them fly off the shelves starting in early October!

Now, I have to admit that I am one of these guys who is not all that supportive of hunting bears over bait.  I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.  I admit it… my opinion flip flops and changes as often as I change my underwear.  I have hunted bears over bait – I’ve shot a half dozen or so, all at less than 20 yards, all with my bow.  In 2005, I took a 425 pound blond bear in Alberta.  To any bear hunter that would be considered a trophy of a lifetime.  You should have seen the all the fuss back at the camp.   You would have thought I was Chuck Adams or someone.  But, privately, I kept thinking that I really didn’t deserve any credit.  All I did was shoot the bear at a whopping 8 yards.  Anyone could have done that.  I didn’t really hunt the bear.  I only shot it.

In the last few years I’ve been struggling with the ethical side of baiting for the purpose of bear hunting.  After much thought, I think I now know what’s been bothering me.  It’s not necessarily the act of baiting for bears that’s been the problem for me, but rather, the fact of what we bait them with.

Many bear baiting sites look like mini garbage dumps.  You’ll see barrels, some tied to a tree and some lying around.  You’ll also see and smell old oil from the local restaurant’s deep fryers throw all over the place.  You’ll see old bread, cookies, candies, gallons of molasses, old rotten parts of beavers or fish guts… and basically, a bunch of crap that would never be fit for humans to eat.

The Bait Debate 3

“A couple of fawns… the best meat there is.”

Bears aren’t fussy.  They love sweets and they love the smell of old French fry grease lofting in the air.  And, if ten or twenty gallons of old cooking oil has been spread all over the bait site by, the bears will walk through it and then spread that scent all the through woods when they walk to and from the site.  But, when we bait for deer, guess what we bait them with?  Not nasty old oil, rotten beaver guts, stale donuts or cookies…  At my stands you’ll see apples, corn, pumpkins, barley, soy beans and oats.  All good stuff.  And, there are no barrels or pails that make most bear baiting sites look like a garbage dump.

If you think about it though, am I really doing anything different when I bait deer as opposed to the guy who is baiting bears?  Well, not really, other than the type of bait I’m using.  It’s still baiting, whether it looks nicer or not.  Just like the food plots we so often see on hunting shows on TV these days.  Looks nicer, but it is still bait.

There are so many products on the store shelves these days that are made to attract deer.  They differ from food plots, since you don’t plant them.  Rather, you just dump them out onto the ground in front of your stand, or in some cases you spray it on some bushes near your stand.  Is that not baiting?  You’re damn right it is!  And, I happen to think doing so is just fine as long as you take an ethical shot at your deer so you kill it quickly and humanely and you don’t leave any garbage around your stand.  Some of the bear baiting sites I’ve seen are disgusting and give us hunters a bad name.

Now, if you are hunting in an apple orchard or on the edge of a corn field… is that baiting?  Kind of… but probably not.  You could sort of say you’re hunting over bait… kind of.  But, maybe not… Personally, I’d say hunting on a corn field is not hunting over bait because you didn’t plant the corn, the farmer did and he did so for another purpose altogether.  But, you may think that hunting on a corn field or in an apple orchard is a form of hunting over bait.

The bait debate continues.  What do you think?

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