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Baiting, Ethics and Other Moral Hunting Dilemmas

Hunting brings out various perspectives in various hunters, and it's up to you, within your state's legal boundaries, how you decide to face these moral and ethical dilemmas. 

It's important to be aware of your state's regulations when it comes to baiting because it can have a big impact on the environment

Here’s the deal. We seem to live in a time when we are so divided about everything, we can’t seem to agree about anything. If you get more than two hunters together and try to discuss ethics, namely hunter ethics, it can soon degrade to a point where sleeves are being rolled up and knuckles are flying.

The dictionary – which nobody uses anymore – tells us ethics are “moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity.” That seems simple enough, but after 35 years of dealing with hunters and hunting activities as a Department of Natural Resources Officer, I began to think nothing was simple.

Nothing seems to come under the ethics microscope in the hunting world as much as baiting, the placing of food enticements to hold game animals in an area and draw them into range. Opinions on whether baiting is right or wrong, ethical or unethical, vary as much as what is the best rifle cartridge/caliber for white-tailed deer, and that is a lot.

Where you stand on this issue seems to have a lot to do with your home state and your past hunting experience. In other words, if you come from a part of the country where baiting of certain animals is traditional, legal and has been going on for a long time, you are usually alright with it and see no problem. If you don’t come from such a background, you may think baiting is no less than the work of the Devil and people that practice baiting probably drown little puppies in their spare time.

For example, I have always been opposed to baiting turkeys. No doubt I’m biased about this as it has always been illegal in my home state. In my career as a Conservation Officer, I spent a lot of time tramping the woods to find bait sites and then lots more hiding out in camo waiting for the illegal hunter to show.

In my area I think baiting turkeys is bad business and can really hurt local populations. If you go down to Texas, I understand it is legal to hunt turkeys around bait, and I doubt if hunters there give it a second thought.

One thing is for certain, every state is different. Some states allow the feeding of wildlife, but not hunting over it. Some allow baiting of certain animals but not others. Check your state’s regulations and talk to the appropriate authorities before you start any baiting operations.

You say potato, I say patata

Simply defining what baiting is or is not may be harder than you think. Most sportsmen would agree that dumping a pile of corn or other grain and apples on the ground, or having it dispersed from a feeder and hunting over it is baiting. What about the very popular activity of growing a food plot on your hunting ground and hunting over it? Because you grew the grain or other plants at this location, not simply throwing the food on the ground, or having a feeder do it, does this make it different than baiting? I don’t know, you tell me.

What about natural food sources? If there’s an apple tree in your deer woods and the deer are working it, it is likely you will put up a treestand nearby. Is that baiting? How about hunting over a water hole, is that the same as baiting? Don’t ask me, I’m just giving you things to consider, so you can argue about it at the barber shop and around the water cooler at work.

Depending on the type of hunter you are, you may have different thoughts about the ethics of baiting.

The baiting of bears seems to hit some people different than say deer and turkeys. Bears can be baited with a variety of items, from the traditional corn and sweet feed, to donuts and other pastries, to all kinds of meat and fish. In some areas, hunters will flat out tell you baiting is the only way you may ever see a bear.

Again, much of how you may see this method of hunting may hinge on your background as a hunter and where you hail from. Bait hunters are often quick to tell you baiting is a much more ethical (there’s that word again) than hunting bears with hounds. The hound hunters, as you may surmise, think otherwise.

What’s fair?

Somewhere in any discussion like this the time-honored phrase “fair chase” always comes into play. Nobody, except maybe some internet experts, knows exactly what this means. The Boone and Crockett Club is a prestigious, long-standing conservation minded group and has the best definition that I know.

“Fair Chase,” as defined by the Boone and Crockett Club, “is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”

One problem, of course, is this “improper advantage” to me may not mean the same to you. What is ethical to you may be a grievous sin to me. Most of us would agree that chasing animals with a snowmobile or an airplane would be an improper advantage. Is using bait in some form an improper advantage? How about a high-powered scope on your rifle, a GPS locator on your hunting dog, or an electronic calling device?

Boys and girls, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but hunting is not fair and it never will be. We humans have advantages in the form of things like opposable thumbs and a lot more gray matter (well, most of us) than the game animals we hunt.

If you could make hunting fair, how would you do it? Would we hunt with nothing but a sharp stick and wear a loin cloth? I can tell you right now that I’m not doing it. The thought of me and some of my buddies showing up on a trail camera like that, well, let’s not go there.

The way I see it, how you handle the baiting issue in your area should be like making cornbread, it should be simple. If baiting is legal in your state and you want to do it, then do it. If baiting is illegal, or you just don’t want to do it, then don’t.

Within the boundaries of the laws in your state, hunting should be as you see it. Pursue your game as you see fit, preserve the link back to your ancestors who were hunters, just like you.

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