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Deer baiting citations hit record high

December 21, 2011

By Doug Smith, StarTribune.com

Threat of fines, gun seizure hasn't chilled the rampant practice.

A common way to illegally bait deer is to fill a plastic pipe with corn, often anchored to a tree, that feeds out the grain as it is eaten.

More Minnesota deer hunters have been cited for illegally baiting deer this fall than ever before.

And the problem remains pervasive among some hunters, despite stiff fines, the threat of having their guns seized and possibly losing their hunting privileges.

State conservation officers have issued 144 baiting citations and have seized 134 guns and bows. And that likely is just the tip of the iceberg.

"There's way more baiting going on than we're finding, I guarantee you,''
said conservation officer Paul Kuske of Pierz, Minn. He and other officers investigated 12 suspected baiting cases on opening day of the firearms deer season in November. "We issued five citations, seven warnings and seized five guns,'' Kuske said.

Department of Natural Resources officials say that while a small minority of the state's 500,000 deer hunters place bait to attract deer, it remains a rampant practice, and has been for the past five or six years.

"People are busier and want instant gratification,'' said Lt. Col. Rod Smith of the DNR. "They want to go out and shoot a deer on opening morning -- and they want a trophy.''

One Twin Cities area man has been cited for baiting deer at the same hunting camp near Grand Marais three times since 2005, including this fall.

"The first two times he just admitted to it and didn't really say much,''
said conservation officer Darin Fagerman. "This time he's pleaded not guilty and is denying he knew it was there.''

Baiting violators face about $400 in fines and court costs, and confiscation of their hunting equipment. They can lose their hunting privileges for three years if they have more than one serious violation in three years.

And if they've shot a deer they baited, they face another $500 in restitution -- $1,000 for a trophy animal.

Minnesota has banned deer baiting since 1991, though it is legal in some states, including Wisconsin. Apples, corn and sugar beets are most commonly used to attract deer.

Wildlife officials here say baiting -- and recreational deer feeding -- can lead to concentrations of deer, making them more susceptible to disease.
They also argue it disrupts normal deer movement, and violates "fair chase''
ethics.

"It's a disease issue, it's an ethical issue, it's a fairness issue,'' said Kuske. "It creates an advantage over other hunters. The great majority of [honest] hunters I deal with, they just shake their heads. It's just not how you do things.''

And those legal hunters often get upset and report neighbors they believe are baiting deer, Smith said. The increase in citations this fall occurred despite no extra efforts by law enforcement, he said. "We received a slight increase in complaints to our officers,'' he said.

Those caught baiting usually don't offer excuses, said Kuske.

"Baiting is a very intentional act,'' he said. "People plan it out. They have to haul it to the woods and place it there. When you catch someone, they don't usually have a lot to say.''

Proposals have been made in the past to ban deer feeding from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, as a deterrent to deer baiting.

"We're very much in favor of that,'' said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. Currently people can legally bait or feed deer, as long as the bait is removed at least 10 days before hunting occurs.

Johnson's group also supports increasing the restitution penalties for poached deer.

Minnesota's regular firearms and muzzleloader deer seasons have closed, but the archery deer season continues until Dec. 31.

Doug Smith 612-673-7667

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