The Bait Debate: Is Hunting Deer Over Bait Unethical?
A couple weeks ago I attended an Oklahoma bowhunt revolving entirely around guarding bait. Fifteeen bowhunters received about a dozen shots, seven mature bucks ultimately tagged. Those are good numbers anywhere whitetails are hunted. And it had everything to do with bait.
The entire baiting debate's one of those topics -- like long-range shooting, less-than-broadside shot angles, mechanical verses set-blade broadheads -- able to spark heated debate around campfires. The anti-baiting crowd spews indicments such as "unsporting," "unethical," "shooting fish in a barrel," normally without the slightest first-hand knowledge. Don't get me wrong -- bravo for you if you prefer to make hunting as difficult as possible.
Those who occasionally do hunt bait (in the big picture, baiting constitutes a small percentage of my annual approach) know that it can be far from a slam-dunk proposition. Whitetails approaching bait can be as cautious as a restaurant kitchen rat. Shot timing becomes hyper-critical and string jumping nearly assured which is something you actually have to anticipate. In other words, there's a little more involved than most of the anti-bait crowd will conceed. And, I do understand there are always exceptions, as with anything.
Whether you condone the use of bait for deer typically hinges directly on regional practices and customs. Those who aren't legally allowed to bait normally look down their noses at those who live in states where baiting is perfectly legal and locally accepted. State baiting laws, after all, are seldom based on solid biological data. For instance, Idaho allows baiting for bear, but absolutely not for deer, though recreational feeding is perfectly legal. Neighboring Washington is wide open to baiting deer and elk (truck loads if you wish), but bear baiting strictly forbidden. In The Lone Star State, baiting has evolved into an institution with darn few hunters pursuing deer without corn involved at least partly. Across the border, in The Land of Enchantment, baiting is not only taboo, but even feeding deer for fun can get you in trouble.
Game laws are normally based on local tradition or social conventions with Idaho's dominated by fervent rifle hunters, who really don't require bait to collect long-range deer. Bowhunting's more popular in Washington and baiting helps to make bowhunting more feasible in many of its big-woods regions. Much of Texas is dominated by brushy, featurless terrain with little funneling topography. Most New Mexico deer habitat is mountainous, making glassing and stalking more productive. You see where I'm going with this. Discovering the real reasons for such laws likely requires digging into century-old records.
And of course the question really begs asking: What's the difference between hunting over bait and sitting over a small, tightly-managed food plot? Or a Midwest corn field corner littered with deer sign? Or an isolated grove of acorn-raining oaks? Or a haystack nightly raided by winter-starved deer and costing a farmer money?
Ethical bowhunting is all about heeding established local laws most of all. Outside that, how you decide to hunt is completely up to your own conscious, and that Oklahoma hunt bothers mine not at all.