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