Love it or hate it, baiting is legal in many states. Here’s how to do it properly.
Whether or not you agree with it, baiting deer is legal in all or part of at least 27 states.
Some, like Michigan and Wisconsin, have restrictions on the amount of feed hunters can use, while Louisiana allows baiting on private land only and with everything but sweet potatoes. Figure that one out!
Whether you agree or disagree with the rules, one thing’s for sure: Where baiting is legal, it’s wildly popular.
As many as 74 percent of Michigan hunters use bait where it is legal. It’s even more popular in South Carolina’s Low Country, a sprawling region of dense palmetto thickets, pine plantations and swamps. A survey of cooperators in the region’s Antlerless Deer Quota Program found that 94 percent of respondents use bait for deer hunting. Most of them use corn, and almost all simply pour the corn on the ground.
That’s not an effective way to kill deer, according to a report by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which says success rates are actually higher in the state’s Piedmont region, where baiting is illegal.
Hunters killed 28 percent more deer per square mile in the Piedmont, and they spent 22 percent less time to harvest a deer, according to the report. It also says it takes an average of 1,200 pounds of corn to kill a single deer in the Coastal Plain, based on the estimated amount used by all the survey respondents.
Hayward Simmons agrees it can take a lot of corn to kill a deer, but he figures the reason success rates are lower is that hunters who use bait are somewhat more selective.
“A lot of the people surveyed are practicing quality deer management, so they pass up smaller deer,” says Simmons, owner of Cedar Knoll Hunting Lodge, located in the state’s Coastal Plain. “I can say for certain that baiting is very effective. We feed all year to help keep deer on our property and to increase the overall population. There’s no question it works.”
Northern Wisconsin resident Mike Noskoviak doesn’t feed all year, but he agrees that baiting can be an effective way to kill deer, even mature bucks. The 43-year-old outfitter has been hunting all his life and using bait for much of his deer hunting for the last 21 years.
It took him a few years to figure it out, but instead of pouring corn on the ground well before the season starts, he now limits the amount of time he baits.
“I start baiting a stand seven to 10 days before I plan to hunt it,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that if you start baiting for a longer period of time, the deer go nocturnal, especially the mature bucks. It wasn’t until I reduced the time that I baited a stand that I started seeing bigger bucks in the daytime.”
Noskoviak is fortunate that he controls hundreds of square miles of northern Wisconsin forest. There is virtually no farmland in his territory and very little hunting pressure around him. That’s one reason his bait stations are so effective.
But there’s another reason Simmons and fellow South Carolina outfitter Terry Hiers think they do so well over bait: They never approach it on foot.
“We forbid our hunters to go anywhere near our bait locations,” Simmons said. “It seems like everybody wants to go look at the corn before they climb into their stand. That’s the fastest way to ruin a spot. One time I walked a 10-foot circle around a bait pile. The deer never touched it. It sat on the ground and rotted.”
Instead of walking to their bait locations to replenish them, all three outfitters rely on vehicles. Noskoviak drives up on an ATV and spreads his corn from a bucket. Both South Carolina outfitters spread corn with a gravity-fed hopper on the back of their truck. With the pull of a rope, they can drop corn as they drive through fields and along logging roads without stepping out of their trucks. That’s important, insists Hiers.
“Human scent is the number one reason deer won’t come to a bait pile during the daytime. It doesn’t matter if it’s corn or a food plot. If deer smell you, they will stop showing up in daytime,” he said. “Deer will get used to a truck, but not the smell or sight of a human.”
DON’T HUNT THE BAIT
That’s also why all three outfitters pay close attention to wind direction when they consider hunting locations each morning. If it’s blowing from a stand toward the bait, they won’t hunt it.
The presence of corn will not trump human scent, and you must hunt a baited stand no differently than you might hunt over a food plot, a trail or any other location, insists Noskoviak.
That includes limiting the amount of time you spend in each stand. Whitetails get wise to a spot that’s been hunted hard for much of the season and will avoid the area, bait or no bait. Or they simply go nocturnal.
That’s why Hiers’ clients hardly ever see bait. Instead of pouring corn a few yards from his treestands, he places his hunters 150 yards or more away from any corn sites.
He prefers to hunt trails leading to the bait, particularly during bow season, because mature bucks rarely approach a bait pile during daylight. They tend to hold back in thicker cover, waiting for darkness before venturing into the open. Those bucks won’t come to the corn at all if the site has been overhunted.
“I think a lot of hunters sit over their bait day after day and wonder why they aren’t seeing deer,” Hiers, owner of Blackwater Hunting Lodge, said. “It’s real important to limit pressure. If someone kills a deer from one of my stands, I won’t hunt it for several days, or even longer if we had to track the deer.”
Noskoviak shifts his hunters around as well, and Simmons will rest an area for a week or more, even if no one has killed a deer there. What matters most is giving the deer a level of comfort that keeps them returning to a bait station. The only way to do that is to lay off a specific location for several days or even weeks.
All three outfitters bait almost exclusively with corn for a simple reason: Deer love it. Noskoviak has tried other things and admits that apples work. But for him, corn is easier to get and to use. Two gallons of corn (the legal limit) will bring in more deer and lasts longer than two gallons of apples.
“I’ve tried sugar beets and carrots, but for some reason, the deer won’t touch them where I hunt,” he said. “I know hunters in Michigan do real well on those, but I don’t.”
Hiers has used sweet potatoes in his bait stations, but he uses corn exclusively now for the simple fact that it works. He figures deer will eat just about any of the common bait foods, but corn is readily available, relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
Corn is king in Texas, as well. Gary Smith, a guide for Texana Ranch in Hunt, Texas, says the outfitter he works for also feeds protein pellets from a gravity-fed feeder, but he can’t say he sees much difference in what the deer prefer. Sometimes, however, they don’t want anything from a feeder.
“If we’ve had a good rain and everything turns green, you won’t see a deer at a feeder,” Smith said. “A lot of people don’t realize that they don’t live on corn alone. In fact, I don’t often see big bucks stay at a feeder for very long.”
A heavy mast crop also will pull deer away from feeders. Corn is just another food source, and bucks in particular will browse their way to a feeder, eat a little and then continue on their way. The only time Smith sees mature bucks lingering around feeders is when the rut is on and does are present. Does will hang around feeders quite a bit longer, which is why baiting can be so effective during the rut.
“Don’t assume you are going to kill a big deer just because you have a feeder,” warns Smith. “There’s a lot more to it than sitting over a feeder and waiting.”
It can be extremely effective, though, if it’s done right.
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This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.