Skip to main content

Baiting Deer Continues to Dwindle in Midwest

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting.

Baiting Deer Continues to Dwindle in Midwest

Baiting is banned in many Midwest states. In others where the practice is legal, restrictions continue to be added in an effort to reduce the spread of CWD. (Shutterstock image)

When the 2019 hunting seasons opened across the Midwest this fall, not one of the 13 states from Kentucky to North Dakota and Kansas to Ohio allowed deer baiting statewide.

Deer baiting is illegal in seven of the 13 states—Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota—and partially banned in the other six.

Kansas, Kentucky and North Dakota prohibit deer baiting on all or most public lands; and Wisconsin and Michigan broadened their bans to include most of both states as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continued spreading. Baiting is illegal in 56 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, and Michigan imposed a ban throughout its Lower Peninsula in January. In July, Michigan expanded the ban to cover a 660-square-mile area in the Upper Peninsula for parts of Dickinson, Delta and Menominee counties.

Ohio was the last Midwestern state to allow deer baiting statewide, but that changed after a deer tested positive for CWD at a Holmes County deer farm in January 2018. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources then moved to ban baiting for at least three years in 10 surrounding townships of Holmes and Wayne counties as part of its CWD testing and containment plan.


DIFFICULT CHANGE

But as Michigan demonstrated this year, no state wildlife agency bans baiting without a fight. Even though baiting is a recent phenomenon in whitetail country and played little to no role in deer hunting’s rebirth during the 1900s, those who bait defend it and cling to it quite ardently.


Michigan entered the current decade as the region’s undisputed baiting champion. Baiting established itself as popular tactic across the Wolverine State by the 1980s, and by the early 1990s nonbaiters were a distinct minority.

Wisconsin wasn’t far behind. Even though most Wisconsin hunters assumed baiting was illegal in the early 1980s, the only item actually prohibited was salt. Baiting then took off in the late 1980s and boomed through the 1990s as low-grade apples, beets, shell-corn and other produce became staples at gas stations and convenience stores in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

The Wisconsin DNR banned baiting statewide after discovering CWD in 2002, but lawmakers restored it in 2003 for areas where the disease hadn’t been found. Unfortunately, CWD is now present in wild deer in 26 Wisconsin counties and in captive deer in seven others. The state also forbids baiting in counties within 10 miles of where CWD is identified, and so 78 percent of the state is now “CWD affected.”

Of the Midwest’s 13 states, only Indiana and Kentucky have yet to find CWD in wild deer or in captive facilities. The disease, however, has been found in Illinois deer 30 miles from Indiana, and north of its border in Michigan. Likewise, although CWD has been found in six of seven states bordering Kentucky, and even though the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has tested over 30,000 deer and elk since 2002, the agency hasn’t yet found CWD.


Meanwhile, Wisconsin has become infamous for CWD, and it has documented more cases of the always-fatal disease than any other state or province in North America. The Badger State confirmed a record 1,063 cases in 2018, of which most are in its southern third.

LONG-TIME BAIT OPPONENTS

Wildlife agencies across the United States have long opposed baiting, given that it concentrates deer artificially and keeps them returning to small areas they steadily foul with urine, feces and saliva. Although scientists have not yet proven how CWD spreads, the disease is triggered by rogue proteins called “prions,” which deer shed in bodily wastes. University of Wisconsin researchers have documented prion concentrations at bait sites in CWD-infected areas.

Still, many hunters aggressively fight baiting bans and claim baiting is no different than hunting over crop fields or food plots. Baiting foes, however, note that once those food sources are harvested or eaten, deer move on. And even when crops and food plots are flush with food, deer spread out and don’t converge on the same square yard daily to eat. In contrast, baiters typically replenish the food in that square yard several times weekly for two or more months.


Dr. Grant Woods, owner/creator of “Growing Deer TV” and The Proving Grounds in southwestern Missouri, said hunters should not minimize the disease potential at bait piles.

“By its nature, bait has more disease risks than food plots,” Woods said. “I see huge differences. Whether a food plot has corn, clover, soybeans or whatever, deer bite the edible part and it’s gone. Even if it grows back, it won’t regenerate quickly, so the deer leave. They don’t put their heads back into the same little spot for their next bite.”

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

That’s why biologists think bait sites can become Petri dishes for culturing bacteria and other disease-causing agents. “It’s much more likely for contagious diseases to transmit when deer keep putting their faces in the same place alongside each other, especially when someone pours more food into that spot tomorrow, next week, next month and next year,” Woods said.

Despite such arguments against baiting, attempts to ban it typically end up in state legislatures.

POLITICAL SOLUTIONS

In its 2017 nationwide survey of wildlife agencies, the Quality Deer Management Association made this observation:

“The future of deer baiting will be increasingly decided by political desires and actual disease outbreaks, rather than (precautionary) recommendations from wildlife professionals. The history of deer management in North America makes it clear that if baiting is prohibited in your state today, it’s likely to remain that way in the future. Also, it’s an even better bet that if baiting is allowed in your (hunting area), nothing short of confirming CWD or tuberculosis is likely to change that in the future.”

But as the deer hunting world learned in December 2018, that possibility is growing increasingly likely. At Thanksgiving 2018, everyone considered Tennessee to be CWD-free. Two months later the Volunteer State had confirmed 183 cases.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Engel

Engel's High Viz Drybox Coolers

Versatile boxes available in four sizes; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

Tactacam Fish-I Camera and Remote

Tactacam Fish-I Camera and Remote

Recording your fishing success is a one-button deal with Tactacam's FISH-I Camera and Remote. Tactacam's Ben Sterns shares insight on the camera system with In-Fisherman's Todd Ceisner as part of our 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

RIO Slickcast Fly Lines

RIO Slickcast Fly Lines

Chris Walker, with RIO Products, talks with Editor/Publisher Ross Purnell of Fly Fisherman magazine about the new SlickCast lineup of fly lines for 2020.

Veto Pebble Mine Campaign

Veto Pebble Mine Campaign

Veto Pebble Mine Campaign

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.12 Great Catfish Baits Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time.10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

Field Skills: Want to be a better shooter? The first step is perfecting your release.6 Steps to the Perfect Trigger Pull on Your Compound Bow Hunting How-To

6 Steps to the Perfect Trigger Pull on Your Compound Bow

Jace Bauserman - August 27, 2020

Field Skills: Want to be a better shooter? The first step is perfecting your release.

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Sight Savvy: Different styles of bow sights each have their strengths—and weaknesses.How to Pick the Right Bow Sight for You Bows

How to Pick the Right Bow Sight for You

Tony Hansen - August 25, 2020

Sight Savvy: Different styles of bow sights each have their strengths—and weaknesses.

More adjustability and improved balance make these nine compounds even easier to shoot.The Best Compound Bows for 2020 Bows

The Best Compound Bows for 2020

Jace Bauserman - August 24, 2020

More adjustability and improved balance make these nine compounds even easier to shoot.

If you're like a lot of deer hunters, you probably hunt out of the same stands every season. You might want to re-think things.Take a New (Deer) Stand for Fall Hunting Whitetail

Take a New (Deer) Stand for Fall Hunting

Mike Marsh - July 09, 2020

If you're like a lot of deer hunters, you probably hunt out of the same stands every season....

Field skills: Here's how to find more game with binoculars every time.The Right Way — Some Wrong Ways, Too — to Glass for Big Game Hunting How-To

The Right Way — Some Wrong Ways, Too — to Glass for Big Game

Bob Robb - September 04, 2020

Field skills: Here's how to find more game with binoculars every time.

See More Whitetail

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now