by Ryan Taylor

The question of whether or not to bait whitetails has caused many discussions and arguments. There are hunters who bait constantly because it's legal in their area, there are hunters who bait their property when it's not legal, and there are hunters who just don't bait. As to any argument, there are always pros and cons of both sides. There are many days when I hunt that I'm glad there are "no baiting" laws in Missouri and there are days when I wish I could put a little something out just to see some action! All in all, do hunters that bait legally take every deer they see? Do hunters that don't bait take every deer they see? Are you going to see more deer if you bait? What is considered bait? All these questions leave mixed feelings in a hunters mind.

State Map for Baiting Whitetail Deer

Typically it is the young hunter who enjoys setting out some bait and catching that whitetail off guard. Many of our senior hunters prefer to hunt the old fashion way. Just because your state allows baiting to take place does not mean you have to participate in this action. Many hunters choose not to bait their area because they feel it is ethically wrong. I am reminded of a scene in a show I used to watch called King of the Hill where Hank takes his son Bobby out deer hunting. They go to a hunting spot and sit over a feeder. This depiction is accurate to many hunters. They sit there and see a deer come in but Bobby just can't shoot it because it was drawn in by feed. They leave the hunting area having felt they did the right thing. Or did they?

There are hunters out there who feel so strongly about not baiting deer that they throw out the word unethical. Is baiting deer where it is legal really unethical? The main honey hole spots on my hunting area are water and food sources. Since Missouri had baiting laws, am I practicing an illegal act if I hunt over soybeans or corn? In the Conservation Departments eyes I'm not. But how is this different than putting out corn every week in a feeder for deer to frequent? Either way the deer are drawn in by food. The same could be said about water. If you hunt over a water source, are you using the water as bait to harvest a whitetail?

Baiting whitetail deer
So why do all the states in this great country have laws about what you can and can't do when it comes to feeding deer? In Missouri, the laws are very strict about baiting and what you can and cannot use. For example, I can put out salt or mineral licks during hunting season while I hunt, but they cannot have grain in them. I can also bait for the purpose of drawing deer to my property and to catch them on my trail cameras, but I have to remove that bait ten days before I actually hunt the area. Why the regulations and why all the laws? Could it be that some hunters abuse the baiting practice? I would guess so. Let's face it, there are hunters out there who do not have good ethics and do not have good morals and they will use any means they have to kill a deer. That would be my guess as to why Missouri has baiting laws that forbid baiting deer during hunting season. We've all heard the line that all it takes is one person to ruin it for everyone. Well this may just have happened.

So why not bait? What's so wrong about baiting whitetails to your property? If you have the money to spend on corn or other minerals or attractants why not use them? I have to admit if I lived in a state where that was allowed, I would be greatly tempted to run a feeder year round. My main goal as a hunter is not to get that giant buck every year (although it would be nice) but it's to harvest deer so that deer herd numbers don't get overwhelming and so that I can help feed my family and others through a shared harvest program. I guess you could say I have a problem with baiting deer to ONLY shoot those big bucks. If you're going to bait whitetails, you should harvest the does as well.

What types of bait are there to use if it is legal or if I want to set some out for trail cams? I strongly recommend visiting your local MFA or Agri-services center. Setting out whole corn or even cracked corn will do. Many people get fooled into buying apple corn or other flavorful treats that deer love, but to me, it's unnecessary. In fact, the deer on my property eat regular whole or cracked corn faster than the apple corn. Apple corn also seems to attract the raccoons and opossums in my area faster than regular corn. What I don't buy is the bagged mineral mixes. I was once given a bag from a friend of mine and it was in pellet form. By the look of the bag it would bring in the largest bucks in all of North America! Naturally I was skeptical. I placed it out in front of my trail cams and saw normal deer movement through the area, but none of the deer even ate the pellets. This bag had a strong aroma of apple. When I went to check my trail cams I noticed all the pellets had swollen up and become a large ball of mush. Do the research yourself, and find what will work the best in your area. I only lay out corn and the occasional salt lick and trophy rock. Other than that, my money is not supporting it.

I am a believer that bait should only be used to view, via trail cameras, what's in your area. I also set out mineral licks not because I can but because I want the deer on my property to get the nutrients they need to survive and live healthy. Let's face it; we don't want deer that are malnourished or diseased.

As always, check with your conservation department on baiting laws. Find out if your area of the state allows it and find out what the consequences are if baiting is done illegally. Most importantly, if your state or area does not allow it, don't cheat. Cheating will lead to hefty fines and possible hunting restrictions placed upon you. If your state allows baiting, do it the correct way. If you are trying to tag that bruiser make sure you also harvest the does as well. I recommend helping out the hungry in your area one way or another. Use the map to determine if your state allows baiting. Make sure you check with your department of conservation to see what areas your state allows baiting if only certain parts are cleared for this practice.