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Deer baiting swamps Minnesota DNR

Illegal deer baiting has increased again this fall, and it has left conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources "overwhelmed," according to their acting regional supervisor. The practice has become more common in recent years.

"It has hit a new high again this year," said Tom Provost, acting DNR regional enforcement supervisor at Grand Rapids. "The sheer number of complaint calls that came in before the season -- I haven't seen the like before."

Conservation officer Don Bozovsky of Hibbing cited 11 hunters for baiting in recent days, nine of them on opening day, according to the DNR's weekly conservation officer report. Rifles were confiscated from several hunters who were cited for hunting over bait, the report said.

Minnesota's firearms deer season opened Saturday and continues through Nov. 23.

Bozovsky and other conservation officers are staying busy with baiting.

"Overwhelmed," Provost said. "It's by far their No. 1 workload."

Baiting complaints have increased steadily over the past five years despite a high deer population. Hunter success rates are about 50 percent in Northeastern Minnesota.

"The primary thing is, we're getting folks looking for immediate gratification," said Mark Johnson, executive director of the 19,000-memberMinnesota Deer Hunters Association based in Grand Rapids. "They think a deer hunt should be like they see on TV in Georgia, over a bait pile. They're not focusing on what the hunt is about. It's the chase and the outdoor experience."

Conservation officers are often tipped off about baiting by other citizens. The officers can then stake out baiting sites ahead of time and catch hunters in the act. The DNR also uses enforcement-division planes to spot baited sites from the air, Provost said.

Hunters typically use corn for bait. Some throw alfalfa pellets over the top of the corn to make it less visible. Some hunters use blocks made from molasses and apples, Provost said. All are illegal.

Last fall, the agency's officers wrote 82 citations to hunters shooting over bait.

"We're going to be well in excess of last year," Provost said. "I think we'll be successful in trying to slow this down."

MDHA's Johnson said he appreciates the DNR's ramped-up enforcement efforts on baiting.

Wisconsin allows baiting in amounts up to two gallons per 40 acres across much of the state, although the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources discourages the practice and is working to get it banned. Michigan also allows baiting. Minnesota banned baiting for deer in 1991, although the practice was not widespread at the time.

"There are things that are legal in other states that are not legal in Minnesota," Johnson said. "That doesn't mean we should lower our ethics. I think Minnesota is different. We hold ourselves to a higher standard."