The baiting dilemma

Published 12:49 am Sunday, March 30, 2008

NATCHEZ — The bill passed by the Mississippi Senate last week that would allow the hunting of deer over grain or other food, commonly known as deer baiting, continues a controversy that has been raging for a long time.

Should Mississippi hunters be allowed to hunt deer with bait?

The divisiveness on the issue was demonstrated even in the vote as the bill passed by a razor-thin 25-24 margin.

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The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives, where it must be approved before heading to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk for his signature.

Under the bill, food must be placed in a feeder.

The Senate amended the bill to require that feeders not be placed within 100 yards of someone’s property.

Another Senate change would allow for the use of spin feeders by the hunters.

Critics of the bill say deer baiting takes all the sport out of hunting while proponents of the bill say it will help control the state’s spiraling deer population, which is estimated at over 2 million.

“By allowing the hunters to use feeders and shoot over the deer eating, then they can selectively shoot certain deer,” Senate Wildlife Committee Chairman Tommy Gollot, R-Biloxi told the Senate during a debate before the vote. “You can control the population.”

Deer baiting is currently illegal in Mississippi and is punishable by a fine.

However, the law is almost impossible to enforce and many hunters currently bait anyway, local hunter Michael Petty said.

“Everybody is already doing it anyway,” Petty said. “There’s no way to stop people from doing it.”

Petty said he does not bait deer, but wouldn’t have a problem with it if the bill is made law.

“As long as people do it in the right fashion, and don’t let the corn pile up and sour, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “I have no problem if it will help people shoot deer and control the herd. It’s a situation that needs to hurry up and be resolved.”

While Petty is comfortable with the idea of baiting deer, Roxie resident and deer hunter Keith Whitehead is very much against it.

“I am absolutely opposed to it,” Whitehead said. “When I grew up and learned to hunt, I was taught to go out and find a food source, look for the trail and find a place to hunt. All that is out the window now.

“All you have to do is throw a pile of corn out on the ground and put up your shooting house there. It takes all the sport out of it. It ceases to become hunting and becomes killing.”

Whitehead also said he doesn’t put much stock in the argument that deer baiting will help control the deer population.

“The department of wildlife regulates the number of deer you can kill in a season,” Whitehead said. “Fifteen years ago you could kill 10, now it’s down to five or seven. If they want to control the deer population, why not just increase the limit?

“The argument that it will control the deer population just doesn’t wash from that standpoint.”

Whether to bait deer or not bait deer is a contentious debate that has been raging for a long time and promises to continue as the bill continues to pass through the branches of the state government.