Hunters in Alabama can now bait whitetail deer and feral swine under certain conditions with the purchase of a special permit, after the Legislature made the practice legal in the session that ended last month.
“This bill allows people to hunt over corn with a purchase of a license,” said Jim Hill of St. Clair County, a state representative who voted yes to the bill and long-time hunter.
Under previous law, hunters had to be at least 100 yards away and out of line of sight of bait. This means that a hunter could not place a source of bait, like corn, in an open field and wait within 100 yards for a deer. Under the law Gov. Kay Ivey signed into effect May 6, that restriction is waived with possession of a baiting permit.
“Now you can be 20 yards from your bait if that’s what you choose to do,” said Arli Fortner, Archery and Fishing manager at Shotgun Sports and Outdoors in Saks.
According to the new law, bait includes “shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn and wheat, or other grain, salt, or any other feed whatsoever that has been so deposited, placed, distributed, or scattered” with the intention of attracting an animal to a specific location where a hunter is trying to kill or “take” the animal.
Versions of the bill were introduced in earlier years but failed to become law. The main concern in prior years was trying to determine what constitutes “baiting” and simply supplemental feeding when hunting — the only difference being the distance between the feed and the hunter.
“We hunt over green fields and I think people have done things to draw these deer in and that’s something that is fine,” Hill said. “I have no problem with it.”
Hill is one of many hunters who supports this law, but the reasons for support vary.
“I could see this being beneficial if our state conservation department decides to make an effort to manage the deer herd,” Hill said.
Hill believes allowing hunters to bait animals within 100 yards can be a good way to control the deer population. He also says it’s not much different than methods already being used by hunters.
“They were still pulling the deer to the corn, but now they will just be closer,” Hill said.
While Fortner also supports the new law, he doesn’t think it will make a difference in the amount of deer hunted.
“I don’t know if this is going to all of the sudden kill so many more deer,” he said. “Once deer get a little pressure, they go nocturnal on you.”
Capt. Jim Kirkland, a state game warden based in Jacksonville, said the new baiting law shouldn’t affect the deer population because the bag limit per season hasn’t changed.
“The limit is still going to be the same with allowing three bucks to be killed per year,” Kirkland said. “It shouldn’t change if hunters abide by the bag limit. It might give them the opportunity to kill more does, but most hunters don’t seem to kill does anyway.”
Jeff Hardin, owner of Hardin Taxidermy and Specialty Meat Processing in Lincoln, believes the new law is “a good thing,” but he also doesn’t think it will affect much because some hunters were baiting animals prior to the law being passed.
“I see corn in about every deer that comes in. There is nothing new there,” Hardin said. “The state will probably lose money because most of the revenue comes in off of tickets.”
According to fiscal notes by the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Game and Fish fund of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources could lose a maximum of $146,000 because of this law — that chunk of money was previously collected from fines of hunters who violated the old bait law.
Kirkland said the old baiting law was one of the main laws game wardens enforced.
“We got a lot of complaints about people baiting so we wrote a lot of tickets,” Kirkland said.
Even though game wardens across the state issued around 650 baiting violations per year the past few years, averaging around $162,500 minimum per year in revenue, Kirkland said he and other game wardens and officers support the law above anything else.
“We are for all forms of legal hunting,” Kirkland said. “If the law changes, we will adapt and do whatever is required.”
Lawmakers expect revenue from hunters who purchase baiting permits to make up for some of the loss. For Alabama residents, the permit is $14 with a $1 issuance fee. For non-residents, the permit is $50 with a $1 issuance fee. The issuance fee will be paid to and retained by the agency or office where the permit was purchased.