By Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer

Georgia lawmakers are considering making baiting deer legal statewide (it is already legal in the southern part of the state) as debate continues about a similar move in Tennessee.

Twenty-one states currently allow baiting.

Tennessee is not among them. Here it is illegal to put out any kind of bait to lure in deer, turkeys, doves or other game for hunting 10 days prior to the start of the season.

Bait such as corn can be put out, but it must be entirely removed, and any mechanical feeder disabled, before hunting around that spot.

Submitted photo
Hunters debate the practice of putting out bait to lure in deer. The ones congregated here are feeding on acorns naturally strewn on the ground.

Anyone caught hunting over bait faces a citation and other penalties.

A report by Richard Simms on Rhea County Outdoors finds Tennessee hunters divided on the issue of baiting, but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is adamantly opposed to the practice.

The concern of TWRA wildlife biologists primarily centers around the potential spread of disease, such as dreaded Chronic Wasting Disease, if deer are lured into a concentrated feeding area.

However, as Simms notes in his report, mechanical deer feeders are permitted to be used year-round by non-hunters who simply enjoy watching the animals. If it is safe to use food to lure those deer into viewing areas, why is it problematic for hunters to do the same thing?

The other opposition to baiting involves ethics. Some hunters believe baiting violates the spirit of free-chase by using food to lure in deer, then setting up a stand and waiting to shoot them when they come in to feed.

They claim shooting animals over bait is not true hunting. They say sitting in a stand and waiting for a deer to walk up to a feeder – usually at close range – requires no hunting effort or skill; it is simply target shooting at a live target.

Proponents of baiting, however, point out that it serves the same purpose as food plots, which are legal. Crops favored by deer are planted specifically to lure the animals into the plot, where a hunter is waiting in a stand.

The only difference in baiting and a food plot, they say, is that the food in the latter is naturally grown on the site while in the former it is brought in and distributed.

Ethically, the purpose – and the result – is basically the same: food is used to lure deer into a specific area where a hunter is waiting to shoot it.

In wilderness areas of Canada, putting out baits to lure in bears is the only practical way to hunt them. That also applies to deer in some vast open areas in Western states. In states such as Tennessee, however, opponents of baiting claim it’s not necessary and it is simply a lazy, unethical way to kill a deer.

It will be interesting to see how the bait debate goes. Not many years ago it was illegal in Tennessee to use a crossbow to hunt deer, and now it is legal and commonplace.

The TWRA did a complete about-face on its position on cross-bows. Might it do likewise on its stand against baiting?