A lively hearing on LD 62, An Act to Remove the Prohibition on Baiting Deer, drew lots of testimony on both sides of the issue. Senator Peter Lyford, a member of the legislature’s IFW Committee, sponsored the bill, and another committee member, Steve Wood, cosponsored it along with five other legislators.
Among several opponents of the bill were Dave Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association, along with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Speaking for DIF&W, Jim Connolly, Resource Management Director, listed several reasons for the agency’s opposition.
“Concentrating deer at greater than natural densities exposes them to disease through saliva and fecal matter,” he testified. He also predicted this would lead more people to feeding deer in the winter, something the department discourages.
Jim also predicted that baiting “will likely 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 afforded to hunters in order to keep harvests at sustainable levels.” He also reported that DIF&W is “trying to grow the deer population and we are currently meeting our harvest objectives and do not need to increase success rates.”
SAM’s Dave Trahan testified, “We see no real biological or management based reason to support LD 62. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been able to manage the white tailed deer population without having to use deer baiting as a tool. For that reason, we oppose LD 62.
MPGA’s Don Kleiner noted, “This bill if enacted would be in effect statewide and I am here to tell you that populations of deer are not high statewide. Indeed, improving hunter success in some of the management districts could have serious implications for our deer population.”
I particularly enjoyed Maine guide Guy Randlett’s testimony, in the “neither-for-nor-against” category. And I want to share that with you. Here it is.
Since 2010 my friends and I have spent a fair amount of time hunting in Canadian provinces where hunting deer over bait is legal and popular. Up until then we devoted two weeks for hunting deer in Maine, staying at two different sporting camps in the North Maine Woods. Since 2010 we have settled on dividing our deer hunting between the provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario, Canada, where we stay at sporting lodges and avail ourselves of their guiding services. I consider myself to be a trophy hunter. It a buck doesn’t have big antlers, I just watch him.
I will first dispense with the fallacy that this method makes easy hunting. My success rate proves that! In daylight, even the smaller deer are very apprehensive of making a final approach to the apples, carrots, corn, or oats. When a buck shows up, it’s typically for about two seconds as he checks the bait area for does.
One aspect of this method that concerns me is the possibility of “turf wars.” That is, people claiming a sort of squatters rights so to speak, to the point of some kind of conflict and bad feelings. I am sure you have already heard other concerns as well.
On the favorability side of this method, it’s just plainly a very enjoyable way to hunt. I see a fair number of deer, and other animals big and small, and lots of birds. Sitting in a nice dry ground blind in a comfortable chair from dawn till dusk only enhances it all for me. We all have fun comparing our day’s experience back at the lodge. I truly look forward to it.
Dave Kelso of Madawaska submitted written testimony in favor of the bill, and presented the best arguments in favor of the bill. Here is Dave’s testimony.
Thank you Representative Peter Lyford for sponsoring LD 62 and I want to thank the committee for taking the time to read my statement.
I want to go on record of being in favor of LD 62. Currently under the law we already allow baiting of deer. According to the 2016-2017 Summary of Maine Hunting Laws, page 13 Deer maybe hunted over “standing crops or foods that have been left as a result of normal agricultural operations or as a result of natural occurrence”. Under current statute a landowner can plant crops such as turnips, radishes, even corn and legally hunt over this type of bait. Landowners may also plant other crops to attract deer such as select types of clover and rye and still be legal.
To me “normal agricultural operations” means a crop is planted and then harvested. Some byproduct or chaff may be left behind during harvest being “normal”. But to me when you plant crops for the sole purpose to attract deer, you are indeed baiting. What is the difference between a landowner planting a bait source for hunting purposes and another person putting out a $10.95 bag of Deer Crack to hunt over?
The landowners and others that are planting food plots to hunt over, use the argument, “we are doing it to help the deer” is weak at best. Maine’s deer herd is well below the carrying capacity of the available habitat throughout most of Maine. Their 1 to 2 acre food plots are simply a way around the baiting laws. These food plots are seldom placed near deer wintering areas. Even if they were near deer wintering areas with 40 inches of snow covering them in open areas required for growing, deer would still not utilize them.
Opponents of deer baiting use the argument “with the deer bunched up around bait, it may spread outbreaks of CWD or other diseases”. This again is a very weak argument. Whitetail deer group up every winter in suitable winter habitat (of which we have very little left) and in areas where they are being fed and have been fed for quite some time during the winter months.
My first experience with hunting deer over bait was in the late 1990’s on a trip to Saskatchewan. Hunting deer over bait is the normal hunting method in the Canadian Province. It was an eye opening experience.
First, baiting deer is not as simple as dumping a bag of apples or a bucket of carrots. Outfitters here use mats of chaff mixing the bait in. Each snow storm meant a new layer of matting had to be laid down and more bait added. You were not really hunting the deer that came to the bait. You were hunting the male deer that were coming to chase the females that were on the bait itself.
The area of Saskatchewan we were in was very much like the big woods of Northern Maine. The Hunting season framework was very similar to Maine’s. The outfitter told me that even with a four week gun season it was really only a three week season and could be shorter depending on the snow depth. By Thanksgiving week, deer were heading to wintering areas and no amount of bait was going to keep them around. In years that the region got considerable snow fall early in the season, deer were off to the winter habitat early and the baits were just a stopping point along the way.
My next experience with hunting over bait was in Southern Quebec along the Maine border. Hunters here hunt almost exclusively over bait for deer and moose. Available hunting land is at a premium in Quebec. You either own land to hunt on or you lease it. There is limited public hunting land.
In Quebec they start baiting in June. They use certain types of bait early summer, the type of feed that the deer seek out coming off their winter diet. As the season progresses they switch to other feeds. By the time hunting season arrives they are using a different type of feed which not only attracts the deer but will benefit them for the coming stresses of winter. These hunters are literally farming their animals.
Another experience I had to learn about deer baiting was on a hunting related business trip to Michigan. While it was not deer season during my visit I saw numerous box blinds in trees, on the ground and on posts. I asked my host what it was all about as some of these blinds were as close together as 100 yards. He told me that they were that close as it was two different property owners or lease holders. To Hunt deer in Michigan you own land, lease land or belong to a hunt club. He laughed when he said, “the person with the best bait pile wins”.
In all of these different places it is common practice to hunt over bait. Hunters see nothing wrong with the practice. In the cases of Quebec and Michigan their landscapes are very similar to Central and Southern Maine. Saskatchewan was very much like Northern Maine.
Hunting in Central and Southern Maine is changing and has changed considerably since I grew up in Gardiner. No longer can you walk unencumbered from one piece of property to the next. Posted land is now the norm. I understand landowner’s views on hunting and allowing access to their land. By allowing baiting for deer, landowners would be in a position to charge a lease fee for bait sites. What would those lease fees be worth? That is a market that is going to have to decide itself. I have a friend in Quebec that leases 10 acres, which he feels is big enough for two bait sites for him and his wife. He pays $600.00 per year. On either side of him are other hunters leasing or owning land doing the same baiting.
The organization, North Maine Woods would be able to charge hunters for deer bait sites just as they do now for bear hunting. I am also sure that the amount of Canadian hunters returning to Maine would increase with the enactment of LD 62.
The way that we hunt in Maine is changing and is going to change even more just in my lifetime. Leases and hunt clubs are going to come to Maine. You are going to be hearing about antler restrictions. With limited land and the possibility of having to judge a deer before pulling the trigger, baiting only makes sense to allow everyone an equal opportunity.
There is going to be many rules and laws that will have to be considered should LD 62 pass. I have included a rough outline of some rules that would help make LD 62 a possibility.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I do hope that LD 62 becomes reality.
Yesterday, the IFW Committee discussed this bill in work session and voted 9 to 2 against it. The bill will now makes its way to the House and Senate for action, where it most certainly won’t be enacted.