Deer Baiting Debated

Legislation to allow deer baiting drew strong opposition from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Professional Guides Association, and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, pretty much guaranteeing it will be defeated, although Rep. Paul Stearns made a good case for it. I’m going to share Rep. Stearns’ testimony with you, followed by Nate Webb’s testimony for DIF&W.

Rep. Paul Stearns testimony in favor of deer baiting

Maine currently allows the baiting of deer. A person is allowed to grow crops that are highly desirable to a deer, and then position themselves near that food source in hopes of taking some venison or a trophy. We do not allow placing bait, which we deem unethical, and not living up to the standard of fair chase. l am certain that the deer are not sophisticated enough to know whether the carrots that they are about to dine on have roots in the ground or not. Gne is OK, while the other is a crime. In fact, we routinely and unofficially refer to one oi our programs as “the broccoli hunt”!

Deer are a resource of the state. It seems to me that a person owning land and having the opportunity to manage a food plot, has an unfair advantage over a person that does not. They have the ability to attract that resource onto their property, and to even post the land if they wish.

Here are some points to consider as we discuss this issue:

Allowing the placement of bait for hunting would allow game wardens to focus on higher level poaching activity.

It would allow better opportunities for elderly and disabled folks to hunt near their homes.

It would replace “fair chase” with “fair dispatch” . Recently we heard from a person that uses her dog to work with 100 clients a year, out of 400 requests, to trail wounded deer. Improving the odds of better shot placement might cut down on these instances.

lt would allow for far more safe and effective “control” hunts in urban areas.

It would allow consumers to hold their head high while walking out of Walmart or Tractor Supply carrying some the enormous amount of deer attractants and similar products that are purchased in our state, rather than mumble to the clerk “l’m a wildlife photographer” .

We could attach a fee for each site, and put the money in reserve for the study and development of strategies regarding chronic wasting disease.

Baiting deer is no guarantee of success. Ask folks that have sat near their food plots for hours.

Sporting groups and individuals would regulate themselves regarding whether to place bait or not. Fishermen and bird hunters do the same thing. Some folks would never shoot a grouse that was not on the wing, while some of us heathens are more than happy to take a bird on the ground if it means partridge for supper. Some fishermen would look at a bobber and gob of nightcrawler with disdain; to each his own.

In closing, I hope that the committee will be open minded regarding the pros and cons of this issue.

Nate Webb’s testimony against deer baiting

Good afternoon Senator Dill, Representative Nadeau and members of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. I am Nate Webb, the Wildlife Division Director for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, representing the Department, speaking in opposition to L.D. 1804. This bill is a concept draft regarding the baiting of deer.

The Department strongly opposes the use of bait for deer hunting, except in very limited, controlled circumstances such as special hunts that are established to address issues with overpopulated deer. Concentrating deer at bait sites exposes them to disease through saliva and fecal matter. In particular, baiting can promote the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is widely viewed as one of the most significant challenges in the history of modern wildlife conservation. If established in Maine, CWD may have devastating impacts on the state’s deer and moose herds, our hunting heritage, and Maine’s economy. Allowing the use of bait will exacerbate the transmission of CWD if it migrates to Maine. As an agency we have been working very hard to prevent the spread of CWD, and we are currently collaborating with the Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry and the USDA to develop and implement a comprehensive CWD Prevention and Response Plan for our state. This plan will be presented to the Committee next session as is relates to the carry-over for LD 638, another bill brought before this Committee this session.

In addition to concerns related to disease transmission, baiting of deer may alter or increase the success rate of hunters, and as a result the Department may need to shorten hunting seasons or reduce the number of antlerless deer permits to keep harvests at sustainable levels. It is very important to note that in most of the state (Northern, Eastern, and Western Maine) we are trying to grow the deer population and we are currently meeting our harvest objectives and do not need to increase success rates.

We are aware that some hunters have expressed concerns that baiting is not legal for deer in Maine, while hunting over food plots or agricultural crops is. Although we understand this perspective, the reality is that food plots and agricultural crops do not create a significant risk of disease transmission because they do not concentrate deer fecal matter and saliva in the same manner as a bucket of grain or pile of apples. ln food plots and crops, the edible portion of the individual plant are consumed and not available for the next animal to spread saliva or fecal material. Planted crops are also available to deer 24 hours a day, unlike bait which can be placed in a manner to encourage visitation by deer at a specific time of day, greatly increasing hunter success rates. We also believe that there could be increased conflicts among hunters or between hunters and landowners as a result of baiting during hunting season.

We do not believe there is any reason to eliminate the ban on baiting deer at this time. In fact, this Committee voted to increase the penalties for baiting deer in the last Legislative session.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.