What if there was a way to keep the local deer population fed, even adding supplements for better health, while learning their movements?
There is a way, and it’s usually—but not always— called baiting. Some hunters see it as an unfair advantage while others consider it a part of fair chase. However, many people forget that there’s more than one kind of baiting. Here are a few tips, tricks and random asides regarding the practice of baiting deer.
Is It Legal?
Baiting deer is legal in a little under half the states in the country. The specifics of precisely what that means depends on the location. For example, a salt lick could be considered baiting, and it’s worth mentioning that you’re usually only allowed to bait on private land.
Before you set out a feeder, salt lick or a pile of corn doused with attractant, check the laws in your area.
Whether an act is an unintentional violation or not, it’ll still be a potentially serious offense if you’re doing some- thing that’s illegal. Be sure you know the law.
What Is Baiting?
Here’s where things get interesting. When the aver- age hunter pictures bait, they imagine a feeder spewing corn from a spinner at specific times, or maybe a massive salt or protein block.
In reality, baiting isn’t only about bringing in a bunch of corn or supplements. Food plots are also a form of baiting. One of the states that seems to get it when it comes to how diverse baiting really can be is Texas. That state has regulations saying that baiting includes any kind of food material, vegetation, mineral or related sub- stance. Of course, in Texas, you’re allowed to use these things to attract and feed the wildlife, at least on private land (and most of the Lone Star State is private). Conversely, in Virginia, baiting isn’t allowed. However, food plots—vegetation—isn’t considered bait.
What it comes down to is that from a legal perspective, the definition of bait depends on the location. From a real-life perspective, we’re aware it can be anything meant for consumption that we placed there to get deer coming in. That includes those clover-filled food plots that so many hunters claim aren’t bait. They are, though, and that’s fine.
Is It Fair Chase?
This is an area where discussion of the topic can easily lead to disagreement. Fair chase applies to animals that aren’t contained in a specific area. That means those animals have the ability to come and go as they please, whenever and wherever. It also means that a line of corn at a high-fence property is definitely ringing the dinner bell, because the deer have nowhere else to go. Placing a feeder on low-fence or no-fence land isn’t nearly as predictable. You can hope the deer will show, but there are no guarantees. Deer roaming on free-range land can pick and choose whether or not to eat at your proverbial table.
When it comes to deciding if baiting is fair chase, it depends on your personal experience and opinion.
Here’s this hunter’s take: We are conservationists at heart. Seeing deer thrive and multiply is something we enjoy, and the truth is, there aren’t always reliable food sources.
Here in Texas, I have a Moultrie Deer Feeder 325 Standard set on one of the more desolate spots so that there is some sort of food available. There are entire massive areas of nothing but dirt and mesquite trees, meaning it’s not a shock to see thin, underfed animals. Putting out a feeder keeps the local deer population fed and also lets me watch their movements and habits on a trail camera. Baiting isn’t only about getting the attention of your target buck. It’s also about keeping all the animals fed. You can’t pick and choose which animals eat your bait. Personally speaking, if baiting is done on open land without a high fence forcing the deer to stay put, I say it’s fair chase.
What Baits Are Good?
There are a variety of methods used to bait deer. You can set up a tripod feeder with a timed spinner, dump a pile of feed on the ground or set out a protein block. A food plot can be planted with whatever vegetation you like to use. There are liquid and gel attractants that can be poured on bait on the ground. There are also pow- ders that you can mix with the corn in your feeder. Those additions might just be used to add a stronger scent to attract deer, but they also tend to provide addition- al calcium, protein and other necessary supplements.
Keeping deer well-fed and supplemented ensures their survival and encourages reproduction. It really is good conservation.
More Specifically, Food Baiting Options Include:
- Shelled corn
- Food plots of vegetation such as clover, oats, wheat and rye
- Vegetables, including pumpkins, carrots and more
- Fruit, such as apples
- Corn, dried on the cob
- Liquid mineral attractant
- Powder mineral attractant
- Salt or protein licks/blocks
- Peanut butter
Ways To Dispense The Food Include:
- Tripod feeder with a spinner on a timer
- Pile on the ground
- Post or tree-mounted trough feeder
- Gravity deer feeder
- Hanging feeder
- Shakedown feeder
As for blocks, they’re usually simply set on the ground in the desired location. There are some trays and stands available for them as well.
When To Bait?
The time you get your bait set out depends on where you live and when your season starts. And, of course, if you’re planting a food plot, you’re going to follow the planting schedule for your zone. Many hunters begin putting out corn in the late spring at the same approxi- mate time food plots are being planted. Others don’t set up feeders until a month prior to season, and still others forget it entirely until the season is underway.
You’ll have your best, consistent success if you get feeders out well in advance of the season’s start. That’s how habits are formed and how patterns can be learned. Once the animals know there’s a reliable food source, they’ll start including it on their menu. If you’re using a timed spinner you can narrow this down even more by making the corn available at specific times. That doesn’t mean a doe will be standing there right on the dot, wait- ing for the feeder to go off, but it does happen at times.
Will Other Animals Eat Bait?
Yes, you’re going to have all manner of creatures after your bait, whether it’s corn, apples or wheat. The ones you may have to worry about when using feeders are fe- ral hogs and raccoons, because they do a fantastic job of destroying things. This is why I mentioned the Moultrie Deer Feeder 325 Standard. It has a large-capacity drum— it holds up to 325 pounds—and the legs are the correct height and shape to keep the feeder upright. That isn’t true of all feeders. I’ve gone through more than a few that have been easily toppled by hogs due to their lighter weight or poor design. Cages can be used to try to keep raccoons away from spinners and timers.
As for food plots, there’s not really anything you can do to protect these from the ravages of something like hogs. A sounder of hogs will utterly demolish a food plot in a shockingly short timeframe, and when they go after a plot of land, they majorly redecorate. If you live in an area where hogs aren’t an issue, you have less to be worried about with your food plot. Simply plant one large enough to handle the wildlife where you live and enjoy the scenery.
Why Should You Bait?
If it’s legally allowed in your area, baiting is a good way to feed literally all the animals—game and non- game alike—while encouraging deer to make an occa- sional appearance. When done on free-range land, there are no guarantees a deer will show up during a hunt, but it does increase your chances.
Baiting really is part of conservation, because it ensures everything from deer to birds are well fed while also helping you fill your freezer. To keep it fair chase, bait on low-fence and no-fence land, and enjoy the view of fat, healthy does and strong bucks. It’s worth the price of some corn and protein powder. Now, get out and hunt. It’s the season!