To Bait or Not to Bait....

Mike Furman

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With the exception of broadhead design, not many topics in the deer hunting world stir up as much debate as the issue of baiting. This is a hot and controversial subject that brings forth passionate arguments from both sides of the fence, each offering valid reasons for and against.

With the long, hot days of summer waning and thoughts of them soon exchanging for the cooler days of early bow season on the minds of most of us, trips to and from our woodland and farmland hunting grounds become more frequent as we prepare for 'game day'. Scouting, stand site preparation to include building or erecting lock-on stands, shooting-lane trimming, and clearing or trimming entry and egress pathways all become part of our pre-fall preparatory agenda and reasons for our excursions into the forest. And, with the modern advent of trail camera absentee scouting, yet another justification to embark into the whitetail woods is included on our to-do list.

Then, once we find the right spot and maybe get a glimpse of something decent we may want to pursue during the season on that trail camera, the almost daily ritual of hauling some form of bait, be it corn, C'mere Deer or your own home-brewed concoction of sorts becomes another logistical and not to mention financial issue to contend with! Sound familiar? To complicate matters, given the extremely scent-savvy, wary and introverted nature of our quarry, the whitetail, one would assume that you should make at least some effort towards watching what you do and how you smell while doing it before season, right? Or do you? I mean, come on, it's still a month, maybe two or three, before September; everything will calm down by then, and by the way, you're not actually hunting yet, so does all this scent and noise detection hype really matter now, if at all?
Based upon my experiences in the deer woods, I think it does, absolutely, and given some amount of thought, it just might play another angle into your decision of whether or not to bait your stand site(s).

Most times, when the topic of whether or not baiting should be permitted as an accessory to pursuing game arises, the argument usually involves ethics issues and herd health. Some of those against will claim that it unfairly gives an unsportsmanlike advantage to the hunter. Those educated or in the business of biology and management argue that it contributes to food-borne illnesses and disease such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and the like.

On the opposing side, those who support baiting will claim that, particularly in the case of landowners and food plotting, that they are helping improve herd health, habitat, and the environment by managing their property, and then collaterally reap the benefits by harvesting game on or near the plot. On a much smaller scale, a small land/homeowner who owns a lesser parcel of land that he or she also privately hunts on, may argue that he or she is almost forced into a baiting scenario just to offset their neighbor's hunting activity, or simply to have a chance at even seeing a deer during daylight regulation hunting hours after working a fulltime job all week and juggling their children's soccer practices. All fit the bill for legitimate reasoning. But there may be another angle to this 'debait' that we are all overlooking...

Anybody who has hunted whitetails long enough has eventually learned, (usually the hard way) that they are extremely sensitive animals that, contrary to what you may think, do not like humans; we are predators to them; we are higher up on the food chain as some say. Every single minute of every day of every year, the whitetail deer is living its life and surviving in its native habitat, whether you're talking a four thousand acre farm in central Iowa or amongst a stand of white oaks and paw paws on four and a half acres behind a private homeowner's house in Maryland. They are expertly adaptive to their surrounding habitat and it is a matter of survival to them to make it their business to know every sound, smell and intrusion into their domain; be it a squirrel, fox, coyote, or clumsy human. Sometimes you can lessen your odds of being detected by taking certain measures (more on that in a minute), but most times your presence will be known...sometimes even twenty four hours after you leave.

Enter that clumsy, smelly human, (i.e., you, me...) into the picture. Every single time you or I set foot in the woods, despite even our best efforts, we leave some type of evidence, usually in the form of smell, behind. Every excursion or, as I like to refer to them as, intrusion into the woods, counts against us as a trespass. It does not matter if you are going to check your trail camera, scout, trim a shooting lane, or set bait; they are all 'chips' that have been cashed in against you. If it's young does and fawns you are after to fill the freezer full of meat, you may have a few more 'chips' to spare because these animals are not as wary as their mature elders. But if it's a mature buck that you are hunting, he will figure you out in a hurry, maybe after only being 'busted' once, and he will change zip codes on you as a result.

So, if you do plan to employ baiting as part of your hunting strategy, whether it's in an attempt to concentrate does around your area, and consequently attract bucks, or just to funnel deer past your stand for a still shot, and it is legal to do so where you hunt, how do you go about it without being detected and blowing your cover?

I personally used to be one to make countless trips to my stand sites with a half bag of whole kernel corn slung over my shoulder. Every year, it was literally hundreds of dollars worth of corn, and then the countless times being busted by deer either while making the special trip into my stand to lay out the corn pile, or by deer who were already under my stand at the bait pile while I was making my way in to actually go hunting, either in the afternoon or the predawn darkness. The times that I arrived at my stand site and got greeted by a snort and a white flag bolting away through the woods were far greater than the times I arrived undetected. Despite my best scent control and sniper-like approaches and egresses, the deer usually had me mostly figured out way before the pre-rut was even close. Oh, I would occasionally get lucky and a two or three year old would cautiously approach and offer me a shot at the limits of bow range or saunter over to sniff the does actively feeding there, but the interactions by mature bucks physically over top of the bait pile over the course of time were honestly slim to none. And if they did, it was always just a black and white trail camera image after dark.

So, if you are going to go about the bait pile game, my suggestion is that you limit laying out whatever bait you choose to use to a very limited basis, possibly only when you go to your stand to actually hunt from it. If you feel that you must make a special trip to put out the bait prior to a hunt, I would attempt to do so only during a breezy or rainy day so the noise and scent of your endeavor is washed out by nature. If you are going to attempt it on a clear, dry day, treat the mission just as you would as if you were hunting and make sure you are scent-free. Scent control is an all-or-nothing game. You can take that one to the bank.

Secondly, so many of us bow hunters, (myself included back when), I feel are missing so much of the point by focusing too much on the 'corn pile'. First, your efforts and money may be entirely futile and unnecessary if, for example you are hunting in proximity to an active farm field. Instead, focus your efforts on figuring the deer's ingress and egress points around these fields. The food source is there. It just doesn't make any sense to put out fifty pounds of corn every four days at a stand site that is a hundred yards off of a huge field of corn. Another point to consider; I have had friends complain in late September and early October about how they were no longer seeing any activity at their bait piles and were scratching their heads in disgust as their twelve dollars of corn grew mold over it. The answer wasn't too far away, after a little investigation. It just so happened that his stand was actually in a very good location, surrounded by several white oaks whose bountiful canopies began to yield their acorn crop right about that time. My friends, a whitetail deer will literally walk right over your corn pile to get to those sweet, fatty acorns.

Knowing your woods and the game you are pursuing and learning about both not only hones your knowledge and skills, but makes you a better hunter.

I do not believe hunters should focus all of their energy over a pile of corn, however, or for that matter, to just any one particular tactic or strategy. We should learn to be mobile and adaptive and evolve as the season progresses, just like the deer we pursue. Learn their habits, traits and behaviors and use baiting where applicable as another tool in your toolbox, and don't be afraid to experiment, within reason. Do your homework.

Any deer hunter will know that deer have a sweet tooth and love apples. I had asked the manager of the produce department at my local grocery store once if I could take the boxes of out of date apples they were discarding off his hands. I took them home and could not wait to dump the three boxes of out of date but still perfectly edible apples under my tree stand behind my house. A week went by and the only thing the now rotting apples had attracted was yellow jackets. Beautiful! What had happened? Deer are not dumb. The apples were not native vegetation, as there are no apple orchards or trees anywhere around, and I had thrown them a curve ball, and possibly spooked them. Use bait wisely and with discretion. You will quickly learn if it is appreciated or not!

The decision to bait or not, where legal, is a personal one. As long as baiting is allowed in certain states and areas, there will be those for and against it. If you have found that you have had success using bait to your advantage and it works for you, then I encourage you to do as you will and wish you further success.
Safe hunting!

Posted by Mike Furman under Deer Hunting on September 13, 11 08:47 AM | Permalink

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