Five Pennsylvania Counties Allowed to Bait Deer After Christmas

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

Beginning Dec. 26, hunters in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties may hunt for deer over bait on private property as a result of regulatory changes approved recently by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Recommended in the agency's Urban/Suburban Deer Management Plan and finalized by the state's Board of Game Commissioners in October, the regulations permit hunters to use baiting to increase the deer kill in the state's highly-developed southeastern counties, where deer conflicts are difficult for some residents, and where hunters have had challenges getting close to deer, because of access issues and safety restrictions.

"Baiting provides the means to pull deer from suburban woodlots and private properties harboring large numbers of deer to areas where hunters can legally and safely take them, and away from places where it's simply not appropriate to hunt or field-dress a deer," explained Jeannine Tardiff, Game Commission deer biologist. "Baiting surely wasn't our first choice in the agency's decades-old effort to address deer overpopulation in southeastern Pennsylvania. But, it is one of our few remaining viable options to increase hunter's success.

"The Game Commission - and many municipalities, too - prefer that hunters manage this ever-shifting problem through legal hunting, which provides municipalities a no-cost solution to deer conflicts. Hunting has been used to manage the state's deer population for more than 100 years. But managing deer around Philadelphia and its highly-developed suburban counties has been an evolving problem over the last 50 years, because hunters increasingly are limited by access issues and safety regulations. Hunters needed more tools to increase their success, and baiting is one more tool that we now are offering to accomplish that goal."

Under the new regulations, hunters are permitted to use bait only on private properties. This year, the use of bait is not permitted until Dec. 26. However, for the 2007-08 deer seasons, hunters will be able to place or distribute bait two weeks prior to the opening of the archery deer season and continue until the deer seasons conclude. Bait accumulation in any one location cannot exceed five gallons total volume at any given time.

"Make no mistake, baiting is about reducing deer numbers," explained Tardiff. "The intent is to maximize deer harvests, not provide supplement food for deer."

After examining other states' methods of permitting baiting and development of an Urban/Suburban Deer Management Plan, the agency first took action to permit baiting within the parameters of the law at the Board's June meeting. While the Board's final vote to permit baiting at its meeting in October was unanimous, the Board also indicated that it took this step with reluctance. The law continues to prohibit the use of bait for deer hunters in all other counties, including Allegheny County.

"I'm hoping that after this vote, we'll never use the word 'bait' again," said Game Commissioner Gregory Isabella after the Board vote.

Game Commission President Thomas Boop emphasized that the vote to approve baiting was "to address a special circumstance in a special part of the state. I don't think anyone should construe this as a feeling by the Board that we're going to move forward on the baiting issue in other areas, other than in the special regulations areas."

In fact, to ensure a thorough review of this new tool, the Board included a sunset provision, which requires the Board to reconsider the matter before March 31, 2010. Without reauthorization, the use of bait in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties would cease to be permitted.

Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat. The agency also conducts numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations and sportsmen's clubs.

The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars for its annual operating budget. The agency is funded by license sales revenues; the state's share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals derived from State Game Lands.

AGENCY PROVIDES GUIDANCE ON USING BAIT IN DEVELOPED AREAS

The Pennsylvania Game Commission's Deer Management Section has developed recommendations and guidelines on how hunters in those counties where the use of bait has been permitted can use bait efficiently to increase deer harvests.

The Deer Management Section highly recommends using an automatic feeder to distribute bait at times when you expect to be hunting to increase your chances of success and reduce visits by non-target species, such as raccoons and squirrels.

"Automatic feeders will limit the amount of bait available - and reduce your feed mill costs - and persuade deer to visit bait sites during hunting hours," said Jeannine Tardiff, Game Commission deer biologist. "They help minimize human disturbance - fewer visits to place bait - and subsequently increase the comfort level of visiting deer.

"Antlerless deer frequent bait more often than antlered deer. In a study using gravity feeders, which provide food 24 hours a day, only 16 percent of the bait was removed during legal hunting hours; this can be increased three-fold through the use of automatic feeders."

Tardiff noted that other baiting recommendations are:

  • Select a stand location downwind of the bait site and the most likely travel corridor deer will use to reach the site. The wind should blow from the bait to you, not vice versa.
  • Minimize human disturbance at the bait site, by visiting the location as little as possible, and hunting in a tree stand.
  • Beginning with the 2007-08 deer seasons, pre-bait two weeks before hunting the site.
  • Hunters should be positioned at least one and preferably two hours before an automatic feeder dispenses.
  • Hunt one day at the bait site, then take three days off before returning to hunt.
  • If an automatic feeder malfunctions or if bait is not available, deer activity can decrease within one day.
  • When bait is available 24 hours a day, deer tend to feed more frequently during the night and their nocturnal behavior increases as hunts progress.
  • Adult does and mature bucks are the first to change their activity patterns when disturbed at sites where bait is continuously available.
  • Research shows that deer do not use bait sites outside their normal home range, but nearly all deer within their home range will visit the bait site.

"This information is intended to increase the success of hunters using bait in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties," explained Tardiff. "These recommendations are simply advice on how to use bait more effectively. Their incorporation into efforts to hunt over bait should increase the likelihood of seeing deer while on stand."

Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat. The agency also conducts numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations and sportsmen's clubs.

The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars for its annual operating budget. The agency is funded by license sales revenues; the state's share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals derived from State Game Lands.