Concerns Over Big Game Hunting with Bait

February 20, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Over the course of the past year we’ve heard a lot about hunting big game over bait in North Dakota. Some hunters engage in this practice, some have never tried it but support it, and still others would like to see the practice prohibited statewide.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department, while recognizing that hunting big game – mostly deer – over bait is becoming more popular with bow and gun hunters, has a number of concerns relating to this issue.

To understand where the concerns are grounded, it’s important to know the definitions described in Game and Fish regulations.

Hunting big game over bait involves “the placement and/or use of bait for attracting big game and other wildlife to a specific location for the purpose of hunting. Baits include grains, minerals, salts, fruits, vegetables, hay or any other natural or manufactured food,” when placed for hunting purposes.

Scents or lures, water, food plots, standing crops and livestock feeds including hay, and grain spilled by farm trucks and combines as part of normal farming practices are not considered bait.

In North Dakota, hunting big game over bait is not allowed on state wildlife management areas, state school land, state parks land, or land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, such as national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas.

In addition, 24 states prohibit hunting over bait entirely.

The complexity of the issue has given rise to literally years of discussion both within the Game and Fish Department, and with other groups, agencies, clubs and individuals.

Here’s a summary of Game and Fish Department concerns. They are not related to one single aspect, but rather involve a combination of wildlife management, biological and disease factors.

Deer Hunting Access

Bait sites alter natural deer movements and can congregate deer on a few select properties, which reduces public hunting opportunity. Artificial food sources can “pull” deer out of natural habitats on both public and private land from miles away.

Deer Management

It’s understood that deer sometimes “yard up” in the winter in relation to dependable food sources or habitat, but hunters may begin placing bait in late summer and continue only until hunting stops. Deer attracted to baits can become habituated to artificial food sources, and when that food source is no longer kept up, deer seek out other easy food such as agricultural commodities. Deer congregated in large groups on private lands with little access creates the potential for lack of adequate harvest.

Deer Disease

Wildlife diseases such as bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease have a greater chance of spreading when animals are congregated. Diseases are transmitted between animals by nose-to-nose contact and ingesting saliva and feces from infected animals. The potential for these situations is increased when bait sites are present, vs. a landscape without bait sites.

Tuberculosis is currently being battled in northwestern Minnesota at a cost of millions as well as the loss of significant portion of the local deer population.


Fair chase is the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of free-ranging wild game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage. Does hunting over bait create an unfair advantage? That’s a question we all must consider. 

I’ve been at meetings across the state and heard many arguments against one or more of these concerns. On the other side, as the agency charged with managing the state’s wildlife, it is the Game and Fish Department’s responsibility to let people know when concerns arise that could negatively affect wildlife populations or public hunting opportunity.

No doubt this discussion will continue in many forums as fall progresses.


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