HARRISBURG, PA – Fifty-pound sacks of shelled corn sit stacked at the end of the aisle.
On the bottom shelf, an assortment 25-pound salt blocks, some of them apple-flavored or advertised as high-protein varieties, are wrapped in plastic, next to gallon jugs of liquefied mineral attractants.
Any or all of these products are perfectly legal to purchase. And depending on where in Pennsylvania you’re standing, and the time of year, they might or might not be lawful to use outdoors to attract deer or other wildlife.
But at least 30 days prior to hunting an area where baits like these are used, all such products must be removed from it completely. Even their residues must be gone. And if the requirement isn’t met, any hunter in that area is considered to be hunting illegally over bait.
Aside from a few, very narrow exceptions, hunting through the use of bait is illegal in Pennsylvania.
Yet, each year, it remains one of the top violations for which Game Commission wildlife conservation officers file charges. And the prevalence of baiting seems to have grown in recent years.
In the 2015-16 license year, which ended June 30, charges were filed for hunting over bait in 503 cases statewide. That’s up from 468 hunting-over-bait prosecutions in 2014-15 and 422 in 2013-14.
While many cases investigated by the Game Commission reveal a clear intent to break the law – such as piling corn or apples or placing deer-attracting minerals on the ground in a hunting area – other times the case specifics are a little more complex.
But any question about what’s legal and what isn’t always can be answered by the law.
What is Baiting?
Under Pennsylvania law, it generally is unlawful to hunt in or around any area where artificial or natural bait, hay, grain, fruit, nut, salt, chemical, mineral or other food – including their residues – are used or have been used within the past 30 days as an enticement to lure game or wildlife.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little of a product is being used or has been used in an area. If it’s been used there within the past 30 days, or if residue remains, hunting there is off limits.
The requirement for residue to be removed is deserving of deeper examination, said Thomas P. Grohol, who heads up the Game Commission’s law-enforcement bureau.
Some hunters in the summertime will place apples or salt blocks in their fall hunting areas in attempt to bring deer in front of their trail cameras and inventory what lives there, Grohol said. Such a practice is lawful, as long as the bait isn’t placed within a Disease Management Area, where it’s illegal to feed deer intentionally, or it’s not attracting bears or elk, the feeding of which is prohibited statewide.
But the type of bait used in an area outside of hunting season might also dictate when the area can be hunted, Grohol said.
“If you’re dealing with apples, deer will eat them completely and there’s not going to be any remaining residue,” he said. “So as long as they were gone from an area at least 30 days prior to someone hunting there, no law has been broken.
“But if a salt or mineral block was placed out, it undoubtedly was rained upon and that salt or mineral seeped into the soil,” Grohol said. “Evidence that residue remains might very well be obvious to investigating officers, too, because such areas often continue to draw deer and other wildlife that will root and dig for that residue in the ground. In such a case, the hunter would need excavate that ground and haul all of it out of the area, and then after 30 days, hunting could take place there.”
Of course, none of that is an option on state game lands, where the feeding of wildlife is prohibited.
But on private lands, it’s something hunters must consider. Less than a month remains until the start of the archery deer season. The statewide archery deer season opens Oct. 1, and in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D, the Sept. 17 archery opener is only weeks away.
Grohol said that, under the law, it doesn’t matter if a hunter caught in a baited area placed the bait or not. Each hunter is responsible for ensuring an area has not been baited prior to hunting there.
“In addition to physically inspecting their hunting areas to make sure they’re free of bait, hunters are encouraged to question the owners or caretakers of properties where they hunt to drill down deeper into the possibility the area has been baited,” Grohol said.
Nothing in the law that prohibits baiting pertains to normal or accepted farming, habitat-management practices, oil-and-gas drilling, mining, forest-management activities or other legitimate commercial or industrial practices.
Hunters may hunt in areas with agricultural crops or where treetops have been felled by loggers. If they have permission, they can even plant their own crops, food plots and trees, and hunt there lawfully, Grohol said.
“What is illegal are those baits that are brought into an area and placed out, then not cleaned up in their entirety within 30 days prior to hunting there,” he said.
Hunting over bait is a summary offense punishable by a $150 to $300 fine.
But like many violations of the state’s Game and Wildlife Code, one violation might mean others are present, too, Grohol said.
For instance, if someone hunting illegally through the use of bait kills a deer in that area, he or she not only would be charged with hunting over bait, but for unlawfully taking the deer – a charge punishable by up to an $800 fine and a month in jail, he said. There would also be a minimum $800 replacement cost for the deer, and if the deer was classified a trophy buck, the replacement cost would be $5,000, he said. If other violations are present, additional charges might result, as well, Grohol said.
Each case is different, Grohol said. Investigating officers always strive to be fair, and in cases where it’s apparent a hunter unknowingly was hunting in an area baited by another, it’s more likely a warning would be issued, he said.
But if bait is found on the ground, the law requires the area be closed to hunting for 30 days after the bait and all residue was removed.
“So the illegal actions of the person who placed the bait can result in fairly long-term consequences against all hunters in that area,” Grohol said. “Even with the archery season, which at six weeks long is one of our longer deer seasons, if 30 days are taken out of it due to baiting, it’s essentially been shut down. Law-abiding hunters in that area probably aren’t going to be very happy about that.”
Southeast Special Regulations Area
Baiting by deer hunters in the Southeast Special Regulations Area is permitted, but only if certain guidelines are followed.
The Southeast Special Regulations Area includes all of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, and also includes Ridley Creek and Tyler state parks during special controlled hunts.
Baiting is not permitted in the Southwest Special Regulations Area, which includes all of Allegheny County, and it can be used in the Southeast Special Regulations Area only on private land. Bait is limited to shelled corn and protein pellet supplements – to be dispensed up to three times a day during legal hunting hours through automatic, mechanical feeders. The bait dispensed cannot exceed five gallons per site.
Baiting is allowed on private property in the Southeast Special Regulations Area because traditional hunting and deer control methods have proven ineffective there.
Any natural or manmade nonliving bait can be used to attract coyotes for hunting or trapping.
However, when trapping coyotes, the bait may not be visible from the air.
In Pennsylvania, the prohibition on bait visible from the air applies to trappers of all species. It serves among other things to protect bald eagles and other birds of prey from becoming caught in traps.
Feeding of Wildlife
The feeding of wildlife in areas where hunting occurs could be considered baiting, depending from how far away animals are being drawn to feeding sites, and many other factors.
“If animals are clearly being drawn to feed that’s placed out near homes or elsewhere, and someone is hunting them along that travel route, hunting over bait charges might be appropriate,” Grohol said. “The facts of each case are considered individually, but the feeding of wildlife near a hunting area is something hunters need to take into account and evaluate to make sure they’re complying with the law.”
Additionally, the feeding of wildlife is prohibited in several circumstances.
It is unlawful to feed wildlife anywhere on state game lands.
And on all lands public or private in Pennsylvania, it’s unlawful to intentionally feed bears or elk, or to place any food, fruit, hay, grain, chemicals, salt or other materials that cause bears or elk to congregate or habituate in an area.
If bears or elk are being attracted to an area because of other wildlife feeding, wildlife conservation officers can issue written notices to temporarily halt feeding activity, Grohol said.
The prohibition on the feeding of bears and elk decreases the possibility these often-large and powerful wild animals will lose their fear of humans, creating potentially dangerous situations.
The prohibition also helps protect bears against the spread of mange – an increasingly prevalent threat that often is fatal for bears – by removing congregation areas where healthy bears might encounter infected bears, or pick up the mange-causing mites infected bears leave behind at feeders.
Likewise, the prohibition on feeding gives elk an additional layer of protection against chronic wasting disease (CWD), which can be passed directly or indirectly among members of the deer family.
In areas of the state where the Game Commission has established Disease Management Areas (DMAs) in response to CWD being detected, the feeding of deer is prohibited. Any feeding of other wildlife that is attracting deer is considered feeding deer, and unlawful.
Feeding causes deer to congregate in unnaturally high densities, and by prohibiting feeding, this requirement serves to slow the spread and decrease the prevalence of CWD in areas where it’s been detected. The use or field possession of urine-based deer attractants are prohibited within DMAs for the same reason.
Grohol said feeding and baiting need to be considered together because of the link they share in attracting wildlife.
“As with any other matter, if a hunter has a question over whether activity occurring on or near a property he or she hunts might be considered baiting and make hunting there illegal, they’re always free to contact us for an answer,” Grohol said. “And for hunters who have placed or otherwise are aware of bait in their fall hunting areas, they need to make sure they remove it completely 30 days before hunting there.”
Questions can be sent to the Game Commission by e-mail to email@example.com and calls can be directed either to the appropriate Game Commission region office or the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters at 717-787-4250.
And if you find bait on public land, especially from September through November, please report it to the Game Commission. Take a photo and record the coordinates if you can.
MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau – 717-705-6541
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