Controversy aside, a lot of hunters use bait legally. Here are four strategies to help your odds
Bait is a four-letter word that can fire up even the most Zen-like bowhunter. I’m not sure why. There are pros, such as boosting nutrition and food source availability. It can obviously help put deer where you want them in terms of hunting purposes. But today, we’re just covering the different types of baiting, and whether or not you choose to do it.
In some states it’s legal to bait deer, but with stipulations such as requiring it to be out of sight or a minimum distance from your stand. Others regulate how much bait can be placed at once. A few states don’t regulate baiting at all. If you can back a dump truck brimmed with ear corn — topped with some Big & J BB2 — up to your favorite treestand every day, it’s fair game.
With that, let’s cover the different ways people implement baiting and the variations of this broadly used term.
Use No. 1: Herd Inventory
Many hunters (and even non-hunters) put bait in front of trail cameras to see what’s around. Hunters do this on the properties they hunt. Non-hunters generally do it within the curtilage of the home. Many states allow this in some fashion or another, but it mostly must be done outside of deer season.
Tactical Tip: In states that don’t allow bait during hunting season, all bait must typically be removed a certain number of days prior to the season. But there’s a catch. Remnants of bait on the ground can seep into the soil, and wildlife agencies can go as far as to test that soil to ensure no attractants remain once hunting season arrives. If you’re in such a state, it’s best to place feed and mineral in a tub. Simply dig an appropriately sized hole, place the tub in the ground, and pour the feed in. Then, when the time comes, remove the tub and you shouldn’t have any bait remnants on or in the soil.
Use No. 2: Supplemental Feeding
Serious deer hunters who manage vast acreages often implement full-scale feeding programs. They’ll place feeding stations to feed and hold deer in strategic locations, but the primary reason for this use is to supplement the diet of the local herd with extra nutrition.
Tactical Tip: Use Boss Buck feeders to make your feed last longer than just dumping it on the ground, and to prevent coons and other varmints from stealing as much of it.
Use No. 3: Holding Deer During Season
Some hunters use bait to hold deer on their property, but don’t hunt over it. This is a common tactic in the Southeast. It can be effective, especially in areas lacking in quality browse or agricultural food sources. When doing this, it’s a good practice to place the bait in the center of the property.
Tactical Tip: Most states have distance (or out of sight) limitations for deer bait. Study your laws, then measure the distance from your bait stations to any treestands, ground blinds or potential hunting locations. Make sure they exceed the required distance and that they’re out of sight, if that rule applies to you. Don’t forget that leaves will fall after the season opens, so something that’s out of sight early in the fall could be in plain view during the late season.
Use No. 4: Getting a Shot
Only about 25% of states with huntable whitetail populations allow hunters to shoot a deer over bait, but it’s a common and popular practice where legal.
Tactical Tip: Some say to pour out as much feed as you can muster. Others choose to limit how much they put out and replenish on a regular schedule. Try both and see what works best for you. Then, when putting out corn, don’t walk around your bait pile. Personally, I climb from the cab of my truck to the bed of it without touching the ground. Next, empty your yellow acorn sacks from the back of the truck and return to the truck cab the same way — without ever touching the ground.
So, do you use bait? And if so, in what capacity do you implement it?
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.