My Apology to Well-Meaning Deer Hunters who Use Bait

Sometimes I feel sorry for being a defender of “fair chase” whitetail hunting in America. I realize using bait to attract whitetails to stand sites in the many states where it is legal today was likely the first and continues to be the only known means of successfully taking deer for a lot of U.S. hunters — actually millions. A big reason is, stand hunting near bait proved to be far more productive and practical than using old traditional hunting methods. Though I fail to understand why deer that have been flourishing on wild foods for more than 10,000 years now suddenly need bait foods with greater amounts of protein to be healthy, such hunting does have some benefits. It does not generally cause deer to abandon their ranges or become nocturnal during hunting seasons (though few stand hunters know how to take advantage of this). Temporaily, at least, it enables more hunters to take part in keeping deer from suffering the tragic consequences of starvation due to overabundance in winter. The trouble with using bait is, most mature whitetails soon realize it is dangerous to approach bait and stand sites where human airborne and trail scents are prevalent in daylight hours during hunting seasons. Most deer taken by stand hunters using bait today are therefore inexperienced fawns and yearlings. Except for hunters determined to take mature bucks, this seems to be acceptable to most huntrs.

My trouble is, I’m a relic of the “old school”of whitetail hunting. I’ve been hunting whitetails 73 years. I began when hunters like my rural grandfathers who were yet suffering from the hardships of the Great Depression were being forced to get use to the idea that they could no longer take deer year-around to feed their families. About that time it had become obvious whitetails and other edible American wildlife could no longer sustain suitable numbers under the pressure of year-around hunting (subsistence hunting) by growing numbers of Americans. Concerned hunters and politicians of that period scrambled to do something to save deer and other wild game while at the same time preserving our American heritage of hunting. To do this they decided deer hunting should only be a sport, limited to taking one deer per hunter per year during a limited hunting season and no hunting method should provide an unfair advantage over deer. Words like “sportshunter, sportshunting, sportsmanship, ethical hunting” and “fair chase hunting” thereafter described American deer hunting and hunters adhering to these principles were admired and respected.

The trouble is, annual, large-scale culling of less-fit, easy-to-hunt deer by millions of American hunters inevitably produced a race of whitetails that is far less vulnerable to old traditional hunting methods today, including stand hunting. To add to this vexing problem, about six decades ago forest whitetails began invading intensely farmed, suburban and even urban areas where their numbers are difficult or impossible to control via hunting. Using bait to attract whitetails to stand sites was soon discovered to be a practical way to alleviate matters (though not very productive for taking mature whitetails after bait has been widely used in any area for two or more years). Using bait thus became legal in many U.S. states. Unfortunately, it’s not “fair chase” deer hunting.

Many of us old school whitetail hunters feel using bait to hunt whitetails is not only unnecessary but downright disgraceful. If we say something that makes you younger hunters who use bait feel “blasted,” however, I for one am truly sorry. I know you are all “good guys,” many of you have become real experts at using bait and I also realize you and most others who use bait only do it because it is legal and much ecouraged in your state today, but now maybe you understand why some of us are beginning to feel a need to begin protecting our once revered principle of “fair chase” whitetail hunting.

Actually, while a beginning deer hunter back in the 1940s, I too soon became dissatisfied with old traditional hunting methods, not because we didn’t take a lot of deer back then, but because we so seldom even saw bucks like those commonly pictured on covers of outdoor magazines and calendars. Thus in the 1960s I began scientific hunting-related studies of habits and behavior of wild whitetails never done before by anyone I have ever heard of, hoping to discover more productive ways to hunt deer, specially older bucks. Beginning in 1980, I began sharing what I was learning in the first of more than 800 articles in popular outdoor magazines and 17 books. I was a pioneer of tree stand hunting and the first to accurately describe the whitetail rut. Since 1990 I developed six new variations of mature-buck-effective, “fair chase” stand hunting methods that without the help of anyone else enabled my three sons and me to take 98 mature bucks on unfenced public land in wolf country during the past 27 years where deer numbers have have never exceeded 11 per square mile and where only one buck could be legally taken per hunter per year. Many are now on our walls. By any standards, this is unusually great, do-it-yourself buck hunting.

It now being my goal to help preserve “fair chase” whitetail hunting and our country’s much revered, 85-year-old heritage of sportshunting, I am going to try to teach as many American whitetail hunter as I can how to use one or more of my new, much-needed, mature-buck-effective hunting methods, all “fair chase.”

Meanwhile, I promise to go easier on you guys who use bait.

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