Baiting Whitetails

Posted by: Patrick Meitin on Sep 9, 2013

Baiting whitetail deer made me a better bowhunter. You see, I bowhunted my first whitetail deer while attending college in Texas.  I considered myself a fair hand at bowhunting by then, having taken a number of trophy elk, many mountain and desert mule deer, a few pronghorn, Coues whitetail and black bears, all while growing up in New Mexico and occasionally venturing to neighboring states such as Arizona and Colorado.  By then I’d also successfully guided bowhunters for several years.

Texas -- more accurately the whitetail it harbored -- soon convinced me I’d lost my touch.  Bowhunting from elevated stands was new to me (I’d only engaged in spot-and-stalk ploys ‘till then), Texas brush country certainly not fitting the feeding- and bedding-area model offered by the magazine whitetail “experts” (especially those from the Midwest), Texas deer-movement patterns wholly random and unpredictable.  And my whitetail luck started out nothing but bad, bad.  I was jinxed, pure and simple, barely able to scratch out the occasional doe while everyone around me arrowed trophy bucks regularly.

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All of these Oklahoma whitetail were baited legally during the opening week of archery season.  No one in the group outwardly offered any feelings of remorse or felt they had to justify their actions.

But there was one huge difference between myself and those successful friends.  They could afford feeders (several of them, in fact) and truck-loads of corn.  I could not.  It was only by the good graces of those friends I was able to hunt at all, coat-tailing onto their expensive deer leases, allowed to shoot does or management bucks to satisfy lease agreements and management objectives.  And it was only through these friends’ good graces I was able to tag as many deer as I did – when they’d feel sorry for me and allow me to occupy one of their corn-feeder stands.

Just like most nimrods who have zero experience bowhunting in this manner, I assumed it would be slam-dunk, all too easy (“shooting fish in a barrel,” “slovenly unethical,” “taking candy from a baby”).  Did I miss any predictable anti-baiting clichés?  I needed meat, pure and simple.  If guarding one of these feeders proved any of these things…all the better.  A steady diet of Ramon noodles and priced-to-sell dented canned goods afforded by a college budget was wearing a bit thin. But I had it all wrong. When it comes down to it, shooting younger does and bucks off of bait is indeed sometimes simple.  But it’s the rare instance when trophy bucks more than 3 ½ years old is easily taken due to baiting.

Easy As Pie

Texas feeder deer proved some of the most neurotic, hunter savvy and jumpiest around.  If you can put arrows through five of five mature whitetail does visiting feeders without getting busted, outright missing due to a wild string-jump or otherwise blowing it, you’re truly a shot-timing master.  Texas feeder deer ultimately taught me a higher degree of patience, provided insight into body language directly pertaining to shot timing; when to draw, when to hold still, when to wait or pass, when to push it, how deer react to the shot when they do “jump the string,” how to aim to compensate for this, how equipment set-up affects string jumping (the old speed vs. silence debate), how to make bows quieter, and especially shooting under pressure.

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Author Patrick Meitin killed this handsome Oklahoma buck over bait on the very last day of a tough hunt.  The presence of bait did not make shot timing or shooting under pressure any easier.

Against It?
On one hand bowhunting feeder whitetails made everything to follow seem like child’s play.  On the other I admittedly would’ve received many fewer shots without the attraction of that corn. The great bait debate’s one of those topics -- like shooting game beyond 40 yards, taking shots at animals standing anything but broadside, mechanical vs. fixed-blade broadheads, just to name some obvious controversies – with the ability to instantly polarize the bowhunting community. Feeding deer is most beneficial in areas with no natural focal points like limited bedding cover and concentrated food.  This makes baiting extremely popular in dry, brushy areas like Texas and Oklahoma – no doubt one of the reasons baiting took such a firm hold in these states.

The anti-baiting crowd shouts indictments including words such as “unsporting,” ”unethical,” “lazy,” “slovenly,” “wrong” and so on.  Those who do bait shrug and carry on, feeling they’ve nothing to justify.  It’s also interesting to note those who object most vehemently normally have no firsthand experience to back their claims – to which they will respond, “I don’t need to murder someone to know it’s wrong;” or something as inane.  It sometimes seems to me many bowhunters, given the power and opportunity, would immediately force everyone to do everything exactly as they do (this also holds true of personal equipment choices, such as the tired traditional vs. compound debate). I really don’t care if you view baiting as wrong – even where it is perfectly legal.  If you wish to make bowhunting more difficult than it already is good for you.  Really, I understand that.  I regularly still-hunt whitetail with traditional bows when I know perfectly well sitting a tree-stand and shooting a compound (which I also do regularly) would prove much more productive.  Sometimes I simply feel like testing myself.

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A friend of the author eventually put an arrow through this gorgeous Texas buck, but only by applying proper woods skills – minding the wind, executing the entire scent-control program and approaching his stand carefully.

And, while I defend baiting as an ethical and sporting means of pursuing whitetail (again, where legal), in reality sitting directly over bait to get my deer constitutes a minuscule percentage of my annual approach (only Oklahoma in recent years).  I only qualify that statement because I have fed deer to get better trail-cam photos and provide starting points for trailing missions on snowy mornings to learn more about deer movements, discover scrapes and so forth.  In Idaho – where I live and bowhunt whitetail most extensively – feeding deer’s perfectly legal, hunting those sites is not.       

Is It Personal?
Which is really the crux of the matter when it comes right down to it…  Whether you condone deer baiting or not generally hinges directly on the regional practices or customs you’re subjected to.  Darn few negative comments to this post will begin with, “I live in a baiting state but refuse to do so because…”  Bowhunters who aren’t legally allowed to bait typically look down their noses at those who live in states where baiting is perfectly legal and locally accepted.  Baiting laws, after all, are rarely based on solid biological strictures.  An easy example: Idaho allows hunting directly over bait for black bear in a plethora of selected units, but not for deer (or elk).

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Deer know they are vulnerable when approaching food (or limited water), making them understandably nervous.  Deer on feed can prove some of the toughest around to get drawn on because of this.

Neighboring Washington allows wide-open, unrestricted baiting for deer and elk, but bear baiting is strictly forbidden.  Identical habitat, different rules.  Or another: In Texas (and Oklahoma) baiting has evolved into an institution, darn few hunters pursuing deer without feed involved at least partly.  Across the border, in New Mexico, feeding deer even recreationally can get you in hot water with the law. 

Game laws are usually based on local tradition or hunting conditions.  Idaho’s dominated by rifle hunters, who really don’t require bait to collect long-range deer.  Archery’s more popular in Washington, baiting making bowhunting more productive in many of its thickly-vegetated regions.  Much of Texas is dominated by brushy, flat country with few funneling terrain features.  New Mexico deer habitat is mountainous, making glassing and stalking much more feasible.  This is my take in any case.  Discovering the real impetus for such laws would require digging into century-old records.  

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Bowhunter Daniel Hawthorne uses bait to pursue northeastern Washington’s monster big-woods whitetails, but this hardly assures his success.  He has been chasing this behemoth for three years without a shot.      

In bowhunting, whether pursuing deer, elk, bears or turkeys, following the food is key to success.  Wild game is found most readily in their pantries.  When we bowhunt big game we are, in essence, hunting food.  So the question finally begs asking: Is bowhunting near a small, heavily-manipulated food plot more ethical than a bait pile?  How about a Midwest corn or soybean field corner littered with deer sign?  Or that sharp ridge of acorn-bearing white oaks?  The place where the farm truck hit a bump, spilling a bit more peas than is normally provided via standard machinery waste? Obviously, avoiding feed altogether makes bowhunting very tricky indeed. What are your thoughts?

Patrick Meitin

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22 Comments on "Baiting Whitetails"

Re: Baiting Whitetails #
nothing wrong with it if it isn't illegal. Bait is nothing more than food plots.
Posted by Dnoodles on 9/9/2013 5:59:01 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
My opinion I don't think you should be able to bait deer. It's just like the article said its like shooting fish in a barrel. It's more challenging if you do you scouting, find bedding and travel areas to food plots and water holes, view you cameras and put out several stands where you think they travel the most and keep you fingers crossed that you made the right choices. To me baiting is more like cheating. My opinion
Posted by Jwpjarcher on 9/9/2013 9:16:19 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I personally am not a fan of baiting. But some people hunt venison to feed their families and survive. They don't have time to fool around and spend day after day in the field. Who am I to impose my ethics on them? And as Ted Nugent once said "You bait a hook when you fish, why is it different for hunting?"
Posted by Eric on 9/9/2013 9:56:22 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
Baiting does put the odds in your favor but it is certainly not easy. There are much more "unfair" or "unethical" ways of hunting that are legal. For instance dog hunting is legal in VA where I live and it completely ruins hunting for still hunters. I am up for baiting for this reason, it doesn't over pressure deer herds.
Posted by Jeremy Yancey on 9/10/2013 10:35:51 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
So long as it's legal baiting doesn't bother me at all. Everyone hunts for their own reasons. For those of us who enjoy the thrill of the hunt (scouting, hanging stands, moving locations, chasing that "big buck") it may seem like cheating. But for someone who has very limited time or resources, or simply wants to harvest an animal for the meat I don't see any problems with it. I think it should be left to the individual to decide what they want to get out of hunting rather than for others to tell them what they should do. Just my 2 cents. Great article Pat!
Posted by Justin Zarr on 9/10/2013 1:41:12 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
No way! 100% fair chase is the only way. Using bait is like using dogs for hog hunting. Sure, you may shoot a lot of animals, but how hard it is when you got a few dogs smelling out the animal you want to shoot? Get real.
Posted by Ryan on 9/11/2013 5:38:24 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I think a lot of the people who criticize baiting are from states where it is not legal and don't really understand how we hunt in states where it is legal. I live in Texas and hunt here and in Oklahoma. I scout, pattern deer using game cameras, call and rattle, and try to play the weather. I find high traffic areas to put feeders, but also set up stands without feeders. I don't shoot anything that walks out in front of me, and try to manage the deer herd. While the does and younger bucks can be patterned and seen regularly at the feeders, mature bucks cannot. They will show up semi-regularly for the first week or two of bow season, and then will lose almost all interest in corn until late December. I usually move away from the feeders in mid-October and hunt at places where multiple trails converge or at pinch points between large sections of woods. I will sometimes use a decoy, but not usually. The two biggest bucks I have ever shot were not at feeders. I know from experience that hu
Posted by Matt on 9/11/2013 7:42:09 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
To me Baiting Deer is just a small part of how I hunt. I have scouted my property many times per year. I put in food plots because of the harsh WI winters. Baiting deer is not a deer tied up with a rope and shooting the biggest buck of you life at 10 yards. Baiting is helping the animals that we all have an addiction for survive year after year. Also it helps me know I will keep deer on my property year after year. and I have some motivation to go each and every year.
Posted by Mitchell Mueller on 9/11/2013 10:19:45 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
It's nice to see people finally accept feeding as a way to pattern and concentrate deer. I bowhunt whitetail in Texas as well and can tell you that arrowing a deer under a feeder is a lot harder than you may think! great article
Posted by Denver Dyer on 9/11/2013 1:33:08 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
No, As we here in NY It's been illegal for years or feeding of any kind and as I just found so is even feed plots are illegal here and that for the D.E.C. site...
Posted by Lonewolf1 on 9/11/2013 3:55:22 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
Where I hunt deer are small in size and number and being disable I am unable to do a lot of walking so baiting helps tremendously putting meat in the freezer and I have also seen deer pull completely off of bait when the acorns start falling
Posted by Randy Hanson on 9/11/2013 4:57:56 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I hunt in the mid west I see positive and negative in baiting, it is not much different than hunting around a corn or soybean field that has been recently harvested. However when someone puts out bait in their yard in the middle of town then the vehicle collisions start piling up.. We have an abundant population of deer I would like to be able to hunt over bait in my favorite spot.
Posted by Scott Anderson on 9/11/2013 6:31:01 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I see both points of this argument but when people say there is no difference between baiting and hunting a cut corn field, I don't think that's a valid point. Corn is grown where the soil and nutrients allow it to be grown and there are many other factors, especially weather, that play into it's growth. You also have to remember that the primary reason for a corn field is not to attract a deer. I think you should be allowed to do whatever the climate and terrain will allow. If the plains of West Texas could produce corn, then it would be great to hunt. All baiting does is level the playing field for areas with sub-par habitat for deer.
Posted by Ethan on 9/12/2013 1:47:51 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I don't use a lot of bait just to keep my camera's working and try to pattern the deer. I think it does not cause any problem's if done right .But I could see the use of feeder's legalize in WI. I use to sell a lot of bait and food plot seed's when I was manager of the local feed store .It made us a lot of money and help us get through winter.
Posted by Charles Bahlow on 9/12/2013 2:07:09 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I hunt North Alabama and Southern Tennessee. The seasons here are long and these deer are pressured. I have always felt baiting is unethical here, but believe that you might never get a shot in South Texas or Canada without baiting.
Posted by Mike R on 9/12/2013 8:22:42 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
Everything you people say you do check cameras, find bedding, food sources etc baiters do too. Just because I lay out corn and apples in a few spots, does not mean every buck in the county quits their day job and feeds at my baits during daylight hours. I bait just to give me an additional spot. Deer come to it, as often or not as any natural food source. To think a deer will come to the same bait daily like clock work from far and wide, shows the lack of knowledge any of you have of deer. I have trail stands, near bedding, agricultural fields, food plots I planted (baiting in my opinioin) Mineral licks (baiting again) and in spots where I lay corn or apples. I have killed 6 deer in my 6 years of hunting. 1 1.5 year old buck was killed over bait.
Posted by Chago on 9/17/2013 7:17:17 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
It is legal to hunt over bait here in ontario, but I do not do it anymore because I can be more successful in other ways. My opinion- do it if you want, but you will see more does and small bucks, and less mature deer...
Posted by Bud on 9/17/2013 12:42:06 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
Hunters do all sorts of things to help fill their tags and baiting; whether it be a feeder, a slat lick, a pile of apples or a food plot - helps to give us better odds. I have 1 acre. The deer routinely feed on our beans, apple trees, beets and pumpkins. Throwing a few extra of these items on the ground around our stand to promote a close shot is ok in my book. It is also legal in our WMU.
Posted by Mookman on 9/25/2013 10:45:11 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I hunt in an area of Oklahoma where it seems everybody feeds the deer all year long just to watch them. Some will even tell you they do it so the deer won't get killed during season. I am basically forced to bait just to keep the deer in the woods. A good number of them actually stay within 50 to 100 yards of the feeders most of the year. If I could get away without baiting I would but it is almost a necessity now. So until the rest of the surrounding people take down their feeders and let the deer go back to their natural feeding habits I will keep trying to draw them into my neck of the woods. Besides I would rather spend my money on new toys than corn.
Posted by john on 10/3/2013 10:04:01 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
I prefer to match wits with a deer and challenge myself . It forces me to learn and understand a deers world in their perspective .I am not always sucsessfull but when I am it is very rewarding.I live in a place where the woods are big and there is no agriculter. I understand some tv hunters bait for kill shot entertainment and sponser money. Thats great for them but not for me. I prefer to earn my deer through hard work wearing out boot leather,agian it is a personell issue. What kind of hunter do you want to be.
Posted by kevin on 10/10/2013 6:47:47 AM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
Baiting Whitetails is not cool. And Huntting over bait realy does not require any skills. It called Hunting for a reason not Killing. I also dont think any person who shoots game over bait should be alowed in the record books.
Posted by Sean on 11/27/2013 2:28:40 PM
Re: Baiting Whitetails #
States that allow baiting should keep separate trophy records from those that don't. All I know is that if any of you bigshots came to my world in Pennsylvania you go home empty handed and crying. If I came to yours I'd come out with one every time.
Posted by Don H on 12/4/2013 8:42:42 PM

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