Beginning this season, legal deer baiting will be allowed on all private hunting land in Georgia south of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
By Paul Rackley
North Georgia hunters now have the same opportunities this upcoming season to pursue deer with the use of supplemental feed as hunters in the southern part of the state.
On Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board voted, in essence, to allow unrestricted hunting over supplemental feed on private hunting land throughout the state. The board specifically voted to move the Northern Zone line to include only the Chattahoochee National Forest in the far northern reaches of the state, which opens hunting over corn or other supplemental feed on private land elsewhere.
It is still illegal to hunt over bait on public land.
"We wanted to level the playing field for hunters across the state," said Wes Robinson, director of Public and Governmental Affairs for GDNR. "This only eliminated the distance requirement for deer hunters in north Georgia."
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After the General Assembly failed to pass bait-hunting expansion this spring, Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order telling the GDNR Board to take a look at the issue.
The board sought comments from hunters to determine whether the rule that limited hunters in north Georgia from being within 200 yards of supplemental feed should be changed. The board received 1,141 comments on the issue, with 70 percent being in favor of the change.
Hunting over feed has long been controversial in way more areas than just the Peach State, with numerous arguments on both sides.
Some people consider it a landowner issue where folks should be allowed to hunt how they see fit, within some limits, of course. Others see the potential for spreading diseases, including chronic wasting disease, a major issue for deer biologists who are still trying to understand the disease.
Another issue with supplemental feeding is that there is some evidence that shows hunters actually see fewer deer when setting out corn, especially during years with high hard mast crops. On the other hand, hunters might see more deer on years with low hard mast crops.
Some see this as a serious problem, as years when more deer are being taken by hunters, deer are also struggling for nutrients to continue the next generation. However, since annual changes in harvest and population means much less than long-term trends, most consider this to be a minor issue. In fact, a study conducted by the GDNR showed little to no change in harvests, whether or not baiting is legal in the state.
Regardless, hunters in north Georgia now have the same opportunities that hunters in the south of the state have had since 2011, when the legislature, right or wrong, made supplemental feeding legal.