Baiting deer is the subject of lots of debate in Lansing this month. There's a ban on feeding deer in the Lower Peninsula that could be lifted in June.
The restriction was a response to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in one deer in 2008. But no more sick animals have been found. And the pressure is growing to let hunters bait wild deer.
When baiting deer was banned in the Lower Peninsula three years ago, the state hotline to report poachers was flooded with calls. Almost 600 tickets were issued that year. But now phone calls and tickets are fewer. The assistant chief of law enforcement Dean Molnar doesn't think it's because people are baiting less.
"In my opinion, it's to the point that people are saying, 'I think I need to bait too, so I'm not going to call in my neighbors anymore,'" he says.
Molnar spoke last week to the Natural Resources Commission, the group that will decide whether to lift the ban. His officers tell him hunters are working hard to avoid being caught.
"They're finding that the bait is being cut up and chopped," he says. "In fact, it's being ground up. We've had some reports of people actually buying juicers and are juicing their beets and their carrots and spreading the pulp out as you would with apple mash after it was going through the cider process."
For at least half a century hunters in Michigan have put out corn, sugar beets, carrots and other vegetables to attract deer in the fall. But wildlife biologists generally agree it's a bad idea. Deer are wild animals, after all. Setting out a pile of food causes them to congregate in ways they usually wouldn't and that can spread diseases like bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.
Many hunters recognize this and oppose baiting, including Kevin Gould from Ionia County. He told the commission disease is just one reason not to allow baiting.
"I see huge benefits for us not baiting deer," he says. "One: it increases the number of hours and days in the woods. I think that's a huge benefit. Be out in the woods longer to harvest that deer. Be more selective. Learn about the environment. Huge benefit."
Wanting The Right
But many other hunters want to bait, especially in northern Lower Michigan.
Deer are most plentiful in the southern part of the state, and baiting is still allowed above the bridge in the Upper Peninsula. But in northern lower regions lots of people hunt on land where deer are scarce. Some corn or a few apples can improve their chances of seeing a deer on opening day.
Don Inman thinks it should be allowed. He's a retired conservation officer who lives in Presque Isle County, where the baiting ban has been around longer because of bovine tuberculosis. Inman says the ban hurts the sport of hunting.
"There's no question that the number of hunters that have been coming up here have gone down," he says.
Inman thinks concerns about diseases might be overstated and he says small amounts of bait don't attract big crowds of deer.
"From my experience, and all my friends too who have hunted in this area and hunted here when bait was legal, we barely saw, like, four deer. We put out a coffee can of corn and spread it around," he says."
So far the state's largest conservation group, Michigan United Conservation clubs is opposed to lifting the ban. But MUCC recently held a panel discussion to explore the issue at the request of its members.