Illegal deer baiting hits new levels

ST. PAUL -- An "unprecedented" number of firearms were seized from Minnesota hunters last weekend as illegal deer baiting reached new high levels, say Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials.

Standing in front of deer feeder filled with shelled corn, conservation officer Don Bozovsky, left, interviews a hunter about illegal deer baiting on the Minnesota deer opener near Hibbing, Minn., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009. Corn was spilling out of the feeder into a pile on the ground, and the man's deer stand was 30 yards away.

ST. PAUL -- An "unprecedented" number of firearms were seized from Minnesota hunters last weekend as illegal deer baiting reached new high levels, say Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials.

Exact figures haven't been tallied yet, but conservation officers across northern Minnesota seized dozens of firearms and handed out just as many fines, typically $385 each, to baiters.

In District 1, which includes Roseau, Baudette and Thief River Falls, nine conservation officers made 28 deer baiting cases over the weekend and seized 25 firearms, according to Lt. Pat Znajda, the district supervisor.

If convicted, hunters permanently will lose those 25 firearms, which, if valued at an average of $500 each, are worth an estimated $12,500.

Conservation officers don't have to seize firearms for illegal deer baiting, and some don't, but Znajda said frustrated ethical hunters peppered his officers with baiting complaints before the season started. The complaints most often came from hunters fed up with a neighbor's baiting.


Some hunters showed up at Znajda's house to complain about the illegal baiting they were seeing.

"Some people were pretty bold about (their baiting)," Znajda said. "We had a DNR pickup parked next to a small airport, and someone was baiting just past the pickup. They would have had to drive past our pickup to place their bait."

Deer baiting has become "epidemic" in northern Minnesota, said conservation officer Jeremy Woinarowicz in his weekend report, and many officers are now spending the bulk of their opening weekends chasing illegal baiters, according to DNR officials.

In the northern two-thirds of Minnesota, about 114 officers worked the deer opener and 67 reported either investigating or writing tickets for deer baiting in their weekend reports.

Keith Backer of Blackduck reported that the largest buck he saw over the weekend was taken illegally over bait.

Maj. Rodmen Smith, who oversees enforcement operations for the DNR, said he believed the number of firearms seized from the two-day opening weekend was unprecedented, because of the spike in illegal baiting.

He said baiting essentially has become an accepted method of taking deer for some people.

"I worked on Sunday and went on some baiting cases in the Mankato area," he said. "I heard two different parties say something that was disturbing. They said they cleaned up their bait when the 'baiting season' is over. That means they clean up the bait because it has to be gone 10 days before the start of the season. Apparently, people are in the mindset now that there is a baiting season -- and it ends 10 days before the season."


DNR officials say seizing a firearm is one of the most effective means of getting the message across that officers are serious about enforcing the state's baiting laws.

Smith said illegal baiting began "to explode" in the early 2000s, and by 2006, the DNR faced a situation that appeared to be getting out of hand.

The agency always has had the authority to seize firearms in baiting cases, but most officers used their discretion. In 2006, with baiting getting worse, the agency stepped up its efforts and sent a directive stating firearms seizure was a uniform option for officers. The baiting fine was increased from $100 to $300 (court costs typically add an additional $85 to the fine).

What more could be done to discourage hunters from baiting?

One policy that has been floated is to make deer feeding and baiting illegal from Sept. 1 through the end of December. That change would require legislative approval.

"If you put on a feeding ban, it would put everyone on a level playing field," Znajda said.

There is no doubt that this year's slew of baiting cases is the result of ethical hunters turning in illegal baiters. Though aerial surveillance is a big part of the DNR's baiting enforcement, many of its best investigations start with tips from other hunters.

Ethical hunters can become savvy to baiting in their neighborhood, either by detecting shifts in deer movements or by field dressing a deer and finding corn spilling out of its guts. Officers say they get plenty of calls from hunters who have had that experience.


Baiting has implications for transmission of diseases and certainly for the ethics of fair chase.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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