This topic is one that can be broken down into three questions and answers, each one getting more complex and more complicated.
1. Is baiting fair chase? No.
2. Is baiting ethical? Maybe, sometimes.
3. What is baiting? Well… we’ll attempt to define that shortly.
There is nothing about baiting that is “chase”, forget the “fair” part. Dumping a bunch of corn or carrots underneath your tree stand so you can sit your lazy ass in one spot and let them come to you isn’t hunting, it’s just killing. A situation such as this one is pretty clear, but beyond this, things get muddy.
Baiting might be ethical in certain situations, but those situations I wouldn’t call “hunting”. If you are looking for a nuisance animal or it’s a culling situation in an urban or suburban environment, it is better for all parties involved for the animal(s) to come to a safe spot, rather than some guy with a bow creeping through backyards in search of said animal. Whether we call this hunting or pest control or something else we can debate at another time, but if it’s not hunting, then fair chase goes out of the equation.
Now, as to the question, “what is baiting?”, well, different people have different ideas about that. The example I gave above is an easy one, but some people believe the following are all baiting:
· Sitting on a cornfield
· Habitat improvement for the express purpose of bigger deer
· Sitting on a watering hole
Many of these examples are unique to certain animals and locations. If you’re hunting elk in Colorado you might sit on a watering hole, but there is no cornfield to sit and you’re most likely on public land, so you’re not improving the habitat. My best attempt at defining “baiting” would look something like, the placement of attractants with the explicit intent of bringing game animals to a certain place for immediate or short-term harvest.
I think most hunters would agree sitting over a watering hole is just smart hunting. Not every watering hole gets used, so you’re looking for sign, and if your method of hunting is still hunting, I can’t think of too many better places to sit than over a watering hole. As for the cornfield scenario, I think it could go either way. If you’re sitting on a cornfield that is for the explicit purpose of agriculture and you’re taking advantage of the deer pursuing the few pieces of corn not picked up at harvest, I think again, you’re hunting a natural food source and that’s smart hunting. However, if you or the landowner, purposely don’t harvest all the corn for commercial or agricultural reasons, but rather leave some to attract deer, then yes, I think that fits my definition of baiting.
Habitat improvement is something I think all hunters and conservations should pursue. Will helping the herd help your hunting? Sure, it will. However, your intention in this is to produce habitat to support the herd all year long and well into the future and not just to lure a big buck near your tree stand. Habitat improvement is something we all should care about for the long-term health of our herds and all the other animals, game or not, that live alongside the game animals we are chasing.
Having grown up in Indiana and having hunted white tail deer in Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, I understand the complications of this issue. My friend’s dad’s property that I hunted in Kentucky was a small piece of land with a small vineyard on it. The vineyard attracted turkeys and deer to the property (though the grapes were long gone by deer firearm season). Considering the relatively small range of a white tail, was I baiting? I’d say no because the grapes were long gone by late November. However, being a small property, I had no idea what the neighbors were doing. Did they have bird feeders that were attracting deer to the neighborhood? And if so, was I hunting over bait? I would say the answers are “no” and “no” because in two seasons hunting out there I didn’t see one damn deer and if the neighbors did have some attractant out, I had no knowledge of it. You can only control what you can control and that is the essence of this question.
I think this all boils down to whether you are manipulating nature to affect your hunt. Yes, we use technology to improve our odds, which we have since we started hunting millions of years ago and which without, our species would look very different today. With all of that technology is it really necessary to bait? Shouldn’t the hunt be about the pursuit and the time in the woods? If you just want to walk a few hundred yards to a tree stand and sit in it for 90 minutes to kill something for food, why don’t you just drive five miles to the grocery store and buy a steak? Where is the passion? Where is the participation in the natural world?
I think there are a few black and white truths in this world, but baiting, like almost all questions of morality and ethics, is made up of a lot of gray. There are only two limitations on you as a hunter: state and federal wildlife laws and your conscience. The first one you have to answer to your fellow hunters and citizens on. The second, you only have to answer to yourself, your community and your creator. All I hope is that hunters take the time to consider the second as much or more than they take to consider the first.
“A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”
– Aldo Leopold