The amount of hunting over bait violations that Wildlife Conservation Officers encountered on the first day of archery season was higher than past years, and Pennsylvania Game Commission officials believe the problem could spike a few more times in the coming weeks.
According to Mark Rutkowski, law enforcement supervisor for the PGC’s Northeast Region, WCOs investigated more than two dozen baiting cases during the Oct. 5 opener of archery season.
Seventeen individuals were apprehended, he said, and officers are continuing to monitor other baited areas in the region.
“We’re finding bait all over, it’s not selective,” Rutkowski said. “The amount of bait and apprehensions so far are above average, and we were taken aback by that because there’s an abundance of natural foods in the woods this year.
“When we turn 17 cases on the first day, that’s pretty high.”
Rutkowski said the figure could’ve easily been higher if not for the warm weather on the first day of archery season. Warm temperatures kept many hunters out of the woods and a lot of the stands placed near bait were empty when investigated by WCOs.
WCO Dave Allen, whose district includes part of Luzerne County, said the reason for the increase in baiting is greed. There are a lot more large bucks in the state now, he said, and that is driving some individuals to attempt to improve their chances by baiting.
“Even when I apprehend someone for baiting, they’re telling me how much they like the antler restrictions,” Allen said. “We’re still getting reports of more baited areas. It’s been pretty constant.”
Allen is encountering everything from corn and apples to clear liquids that are poured on the ground to attract deer. Rutkowski said some baited sites are created simply by dumping corn or another attractant on the ground in front of a treestand, while others can be more elaborate. He said he encountered a site years ago in Franklin County where tri-axle loads of apples were dumped in an open field.
“The individuals had a camp nearby and inside they had recliners on wheels. They would roll up to a window and look for deer, and shoot from the recliner,” Rutkowski said.
Baiting is different from feeding wildlife — a practice that isn’t illegal except on Game Lands or when it creates a public nuisance — in that the attractant is placed with the sole purpose of killing wildlife. When a baited area is discovered and an arrest is made, the responsible party is required to remove all the attractant from the area, in addition to facing fines and other penalties. The area is then posted — the size of which is determined by the amount of bait, and is off-limits for hunting for 30 days.
“We do that because even if the attractant is removed, if you had animals coming in there already on a daily basis, they’ll continue to frequent that area out of habit,” Rutkowski said.
Baiting incidents could spike yet again as more hunters hit the woods for small game, turkey and early rifle deer season. More hunters in the woods increases the chances of more bait piles being discovered, Rutkowski said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we start getting more calls,” he said.
Another spike could occur just before the start of the archery bear season Nov. 18. Rutkowski said violators could turn to piles of pastries and molasses in an attempt to coax a bear to their stand.
So what can be done to deter baiting?
Well, aside from the fines and penalties in place, Rutkowski said a basic concept of hunting needs to be re-emphasized.
“You have to re-instill the importance of fair chase in the average hunter,” he said.