"If the goal is to put venison on the table, shooting is good."
Whenever we publish a story or air a Bowhunter TV program that involves deer baiting, readers and viewers pummel us. For the latest example, see Between Bowhunters (p. 10), in which David D. Smith, from Wisconsin, throws a few hard blows.
He makes some valid points, and, personally, I agree with much of what he says. Still, as an editor, writer, and hunter, I feel compelled to respond because his letter, like many others, doesn't address the whole picture.
As an editor, I feel some need to defend the content of our magazine and TV program.
The fact is, baiting is far more widespread than many people realize. According to C.J. Winand's "2009 Deer Forecast" (see www.bowhunter.com), deer baiting is legal in all or parts of 29 states/provinces. So it is widely practiced, and we, as a magazine, don't take a stance on baiting. It's just another legal hunting method we occasionally cover. The responsibility for setting regulations rests on the individual states and provinces.
As a writer, I see value in participating in all legal hunting methods because I cannot write -- pro or con -- about any hunting method unless I've been there and done that. So I've hunted deer over bait. In years past, I've hunted over corn feeders in Texas, and during the past two seasons, I've hunted over bait in Saskatchewan and Washington.
As a hunter, having hunted over bait allows me to draw some informed conclusions, and when Smith writes, "I am sure it does make things easier," I would not fully agree. As C.J. points out in his response to Smith, baiters actually spend more time in the field per deer killed than do non-baiters.
My experience would bear that out. Where I was hunting, trail cameras showed plenty of mature bucks -- feeding at night. But seeing one during the day proved to be a whole other story.
Around the baits, deer are more cautious and skittish than in natural situations, probably because they are vulnerable to predators and are continually vying with each other. As a result, on stand you simply cannot move. Even the slightest rustle of clothing will send deer into flight, never to be seen again.
Smith said that baiting is "'¦not hunting; it's shooting." That depends on how you define hunting. No, baiters don't have to sleuth out travel routes, creep through the woods for hours, or call like world champions. But those aren't the only elements of hunting. Sitting dead still for 11 hours in below-zero weather takes unwavering discipline, and in that sense, hunting over bait requires some serious hunting skill.
Perhaps more to the point, even if it is "shooting," is that so bad? If the goal is to put venison on the table, shooting is good. And I can attest that deer shot over bait taste just as good as those shot anywhere else.
I can also attest that the sight of a monster buck near bait is no less thrilling than anywhere else. That's one reason I went to Saskatchewan and Washington, two mother lodes of trophy bucks. Heck, killing my biggest buck ever would be easy.
So, in 2008, I spent eight full days on stand in Saskatchewan and never lifted my bow. In 2009, I spent another eight days there and killed an average eight-pointer the last hour of the last day. In Washington in 2009, I spent nine days on stand. On the seventh, I started to draw on a good buck -- and got busted by another deer. That was my only chance.
Thus, in 25 full days of hunting over bait in the great North Woods, I tagged one average buck. Frankly, I would have been happy with a little less hunting and a lot more shooting.