Hunters unclear on future of baiting deer in MI


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Baiting for white-tailed deer is still illegal in Michigan but recent legislation passed through the state House of Representatives has hunters hopeful they may soon be able to bait. 

State Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, sponsored Bill 4687 which the house narrowly approved, 56-49, Nov. 5. It now goes to the Senate for future consideration. 

Hunters in West Michigan say baiting is part of the tradition of hunting. In a statement, Hoietenga said hunters have grown accustomed to relying on bait come opening day.

“Baiting is a method that hunters have relied on for generations,” Hoitenga said. “There’s absolutely no evidence it contributes to the spread of disease.”

Merle Shoemaker of Al & Bob’s Sports in Cutlerville says he and many other hunters have been confused by the back and forth status of baiting in recent years. 

“They need to stop going back and forth with it. I think a lot of people are confused with what’s legal, what’s not legal,” Shoemaker said. “Baiting has been legal, and then not legal several times probably over the last fifteen years.”

In fact, baiting was most recently outlawed in 2008 over concerns of spreading Chronic Wasting Disease. Regulators then believed bait piles could lead to spreading the disease through mouth to mouth contact between deer while feeding.

However, in 2011, tests revealed no additional diseased wildlife. 

“The indications are there that you don’t really have to you know, stop baiting to stop the spread of CWD and that’s not how it’s necessarily spread,” Shoemaker said. “I don’t think that’s a good indication of something that spreads CWD necessarily. Deer have mouth to mouth contact all the time.”

The debate on whether to allow bait piles to return in West Michigan comes as hunting licenses have dipped nationwide and especially in Michigan. 

Shoemaker argues the changing laws could be part of the decline.

“It really deters would be hunters,” Shoemaker said. “As they change the laws a lot and then they stop paying attention. When they do it year to year, not everybody reads the hunting regulations all the time, and no one wants to get in trouble if they can avoid it.”

Bait piles can encourage hunters to hit the woods because if done correctly the feed can increase your chances of bagging a buck.

Some argue the practice reduces the sportsmanship of the hunt however Shoemaker says it’s not a guaranteed kill. 

“I don’t really think it makes them less of a sportsman. I think it makes it something that they believe will make it easier for them,” Shoemaker said. “But it can make them nocturnal. They’ll come to say a bait pile or carrot pile only so often before they’re spooked off of it and then once that happens, they become nocturnal.”

The bill’s sponsor believes baiting will lead to an increase in hunters heading to the woods. It remains unclear if the bill will pass through the Senate and be signed into law once it arrives on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk. 

Hunters this year will have to anticipate any potential change for next year’s hunt.

“We are still very excited for opening day this year,” Shoemaker said. “Whether they change the law or not, I just hope it stays that way, legal or illegal and quit going back and forth every three or four years.”

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