Set­ting out bait for deer: Where it’s le­gal, it’s com­pli­cated

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum Colum­nist

Are you a Penn­syl­va­nia hunter de­bat­ing bait­ing for deer? The an­swer all de­pends on the lo­ca­tion of your Key­stone State hunt­ing grounds. In 62 of the state’s 67 coun­ties it’s il­le­gal to use bait to lure deer dur­ing hunt­ing sea­sons. But here in the South­east Spe­cial Reg­u­la­tions Area which in­cludes all of Bucks, Ch­ester, Delaware, Mont­gomery and Philadel­phia coun­ties, the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion (PGC) has placed its seal of ap­proval on the prac­tice with some lim­i­ta­tions.

Else­where in the state, the use of any type of bait to at­tract deer into your crosshairs is strictly pro­hib­ited. Un­der Penn­syl­va­nia law, it gen­er­ally is un­law­ful to hunt in or around any area where ar­ti­fi­cial or nat­u­ral bait, hay, grain, fruit, nut, salt, chem­i­cal, min­eral or other food – in­clud­ing their residues – are used or have been used within the past 30 days as an en­tice­ment to lure game or wildlife. It doesn’t mat­ter how much or how lit­tle of a prod­uct is be­ing used or has been used in an area. If it’s been used there within the past 30 days, or if residue re­mains, hunt­ing there is off lim­its.

“The re­quire­ment for residue to be re­moved is de­serv­ing of deeper ex­am­i­na­tion,” said Thomas P. Gro­hol, who heads up the Game Com­mis­sion’s lawen­force­ment bu­reau. “Some hun­ters in the sum­mer­time will place ap­ples or salt blocks in their fall hunt­ing ar­eas in at­tempt­ing to bring deer in front of their trail cam­eras and in­ven­tory what lives there. Such a prac­tice is law­ful as long as the bait isn’t placed within a Dis­ease Man­age­ment Area where it’s il­le­gal to feed deer in­ten­tion­ally, or it’s not at­tract­ing bears or elk, the feed­ing of which is pro­hib­ited statewide.

“But the type of bait used in an area out­side of hunt­ing sea­son might also dic­tate when the area can be hunted,” added Gro­hol. “If you’re deal­ing with ap­ples, deer will eat them com­pletely and there’s not go­ing to be any re­main­ing residue. So as long as they were gone from an area at least 30 days prior to some­one hunt­ing there, no law has been bro­ken.”

“But if a salt or min­eral block was placed out, it un­doubt­edly was rained upon and that salt or min­eral seeped into the soil,” Gro­hol said. “Ev­i­dence that residue re­mains might very well be ob­vi­ous to in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers, too, be­cause such ar­eas of­ten con­tinue to draw deer and other wildlife that will root and dig for that residue in the ground. In such a case, the hunter would need ex­ca­vate that ground and haul all of it out of the area, and then af­ter 30 days, hunt­ing could take place there.”

No won­der il­le­gal bait­ing re­mains one of the top vi­o­la­tions for which Game Com­mis­sion wildlife con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cers file charges. Get caught hunt­ing over bait, even un­wit­tingly, and it could be a very pricey propo­si­tion. While it’s a sum­mary of­fense pun­ish­able by a $150 to $300 fine, it could also open the door to other vi­o­la­tions. “For ex­am­ple, if some­one hunt­ing il­le­gally through the use of bait kills a deer in that area, he or she not only would be charged with hunt­ing over bait, but for un­law­fully tak­ing the deer – a charge pun­ish­able by up to an $800 fine and a month in jail,” Gro­hol said. “There would also be a min­i­mum $800 re­place­ment cost for the deer, and if the deer was clas­si­fied a tro­phy buck, the re­place­ment cost would be $5,000. If other vi­o­la­tions are present, ad­di­tional charges might re­sult, as well.”

While many other states per­mit bait­ing to at­tract game, oth­ers, like Penn­syl­va­nia, be­lieve it vi­o­lates the spirit of “fair chase.” None­the­less, the PGC has ap­proved bait­ing here in our South­east Spe­cial Reg­u­la­tions Area where there is an over­abun­dance of deer and too much posted ground they can use as sanc­tu­ar­ies. The idea is that bait serves to draw deer from their refuges onto prop­er­ties where hunt­ing is per­mit­ted. But be ad­vised that any­one set­ting out bait for deer here faces some fairly com­pli­cated reg­u­la­tions and re­stric­tions. If not fol­lowed to the let­ter, the PGC could fine the per­pe­trat­ing deer baiter for the same vi­o­la­tions that ap­ply else­where in the state as Gro­hol de­scribes above.

If you want to set out bait legally here, you can’t just dump out a few bushels of ear corn or set up a salt block. Tech­ni­cally, you can’t even toss out a hand­ful of shelled corn by hand in front of your tree stand. To avoid be­ing cited and/or fined, be sure you know and fol­low the PGC reg­u­la­tions. They’re com­pli­cated, so pay at­ten­tion:

First off, go on­line to the Game Com­mis­sion web­site and se­cure a Deer At­trac­tant Per­mit there. The free per­mits al­low for bait (specif­i­cally lim­ited to shelled corn and pro­tein pel­let sup­ple­ments) to be dis­pensed up to three times a day dur­ing le­gal hunt­ing hours through au­to­matic, me­chan­i­cal feed­ers. The bait dis­pensed can­not ex­ceed five gal­lons per site and the feeder must be la­beled with ei­ther the per­mit num­ber or the name and ad­dress of the landowner.

A num­ber of hun­ters I’ve spo­ken with have ex­pressed some sur­prise and a bit of con­ster­na­tion at how nar­row the PGC’s bait­ing cri­te­ria are. For ex­am­ple, they’ll ask why they can’t just dump out a load of ear corn, set out salt blocks, or at least use grav­ity feed­ers to dis­perse feed as is done in so many other states. Af­ter all, the ba­sic idea, prac­tice, and ob­jec­tives are the same, so why does the PGC find it nec­es­sary to im­pose so many seem­ingly ar­bi­trary “gotcha’” re­stric­tions on the prac­tice?

While I can’t an­swer those ques­tions, I must pre­sume that the PGC and their deer bi­ol­o­gists have im­posed these re­stric­tions for good rea­sons. Hun­ters who ques­tion or com­plain should just be thank­ful they still have an op­tion to set out bait, a prac­tice that is es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive for late sea­son bowhunters and flint­lock fans. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.pgc. pa.gov.

TALKIN’ TUR­KEY

Penn­syl­va­nia’s fall tur­key sea­son is set to open this Satur­day, Oct. 29, in most of the state’s Wildlife Man­age­ment Units. More about that next week.

SALT­WA­TER SEA­SON

There are still some floun­der in the back bays of New Jersey, Delaware, and Mary­land. The fluke are in the midst of stag­ing in the deeper chan­nels and in­lets as they be­gin their an­nual mi­gra­tion back out to sea. I man­aged to hook up with a dozen of the flat­ties while fish­ing in Ocean City, Md., last Thurs­day. Eleven of the fluke were throw­backs, but the one keeper was a hefty (and very tasty) 20 incher. While the floun­der will soon head out, the fall striped bass sea­son should soon be pick­ing up steam.

Some other states al­low hun­ters to use piles of ear corn like this as deer bait, but deer hun­ters here in Penn­syl­va­nia’s South­east Spe­cial Reg­u­la­tions Area are re­stricted to us­ing shelled corn.

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