"Baiting Bambi" receives increased DNR scrutiny

Minnesota cracking down on outlaw hunting practice

Johnson recalls that on opening day this season he stopped two men for not immediately tagging their deer. They were already at their place, sitting in the backyard with their kills, sipping whiskey and Cokes. When they went for the tags in their truck, apples fell out of the door. One of the hunters looked back at Johnson and told him they were for eating.

"I went over and picked one up. It was rotten, and I asked him if they were any good for eating," Johnson recalls, laughing. "'Sure, guy, whatever you say.' I stuck them with a warning and told them their firearms would be gone if I caught them baiting again."

One of the biggest complaints Johnson receives from hunters is how baiting affects the feeding patterns. That's what really angers people in his area.

Conservation Officer Mike Hruza of Bemidji checks the license of a bow hunter
Minnesota DNR
Conservation Officer Mike Hruza of Bemidji checks the license of a bow hunter

"That's one reason for people calling into the TIP line," Johnson says.

Created in 1984, the DNR's Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline is way to anonymously snitch without neighbors knowing. The folks monitoring the calls don't even take down names, leaving the smallest possible paper trail.

The extra eyes aid Johnson, although not all of the leads come from people with the best motives. As he puts it, sometimes people call in to report a poaching if their neighbor shoots the buck they've been after, or use it as a way to settle domestic disputes.

Even with a timely tip, it's rare to catch a poacher in the act.

"If I get a call about poaching going on in Afton, I might have to drive 60 miles to get there," Johnson says. "By that time, the bad guys are gone."


ONE OF THOSE "BAD GUYS" IS Nick Muhar of Chisholm. He lives about an eighth of a mile from where he hunts, and he admits he's been baiting for the last five to six years. Last year, when he threw a bucket of apples down near his bow stand, he knew it was illegal.

"The reason I did it?" he asks rhetorically. "To tell you the truth...it cuts down on the time you have to stay in the stand."

A DNR officer tagged Muhar with a $375 ticket and seized his compound bow and several arrows, their value estimated at $700.

"I liked that bow," he says wistfully. "It worked excellent."

It stills puzzles Muhar why Minnesotans can't bait. All the hunting shops sell baiting gear. It's okay to put out salt for deer. And it's fine for hunters to shoot over food plots filled with alfalfa and clover.

"It's just a bunch of bullshit, especially for a bucket of apples," says Muhar. "And those DNR guys are assholes."

A hunter from Duluth who asked to be called "Rick" says he's done with supporting the DNR. "It's kind of a crappy subject," he says. "It's just embarrassing to have this over your head."

Rick and his wife were hunting 2.5 miles deep in the wilderness north of Duluth in a deer stand owned by one of their friends. The two uncased their weapons, a 30-ought-6 Remington and a scoped-up .30-.30 heirloom. They lounged for a while in the stand, waiting for the deer.

Then the DNR came rolling up.

"They told me there was bait there," recalls Rick. "I asked, 'Where?'"

The DNR informed him that bait had been photographed on the ground 10 days before they came to hunt. Under state laws, the ground must be clear of bait for 10 days prior to hunting over it.

Rick explained that it wasn't his bait. He had no clue there was ever anything on the ground.

"I told them the stand was a friend's of mine," says Rick. "The guy thought I was lying to his face."

The DNR officer fined him and his wife $380 each and took their guns, even the case off his four-wheeler.

Rick swears he never baited the land, and will never bait any spots in the future, but only because the state made it illegal. What irks him is that he doesn't believe baiting is wrong.

"Old guys can't move like 20-year-olds anymore," he says. "Baiting helps out."

And feeding is legal in Minnesota, so he doesn't get why tossing a bucket of apples out once or twice a year can decimate a deer herd.

"It might make them several thousands of dollars, but it's doing damage," he says of the DNR's fines. "It totally turned me off to helping the DNR in any way, shape, size, or form. I've helped them in the past, but never again. It soured me and everyone I know."

Up north in International Falls, Don Carey also felt the sting of the baiting law. The 70-year-old hunter was out with his granddaughter when a DNR officer entered the scene. Carey wasn't that surprised, as the two were only 150 yards from a DNR forestry station.

Like many hunters in areas where they compete with wolves, Carey regularly baits 15 days before he hunts. That gives the bait enough time to disappear. But unlike past experiences, it had rained that week, and a chunk of pumpkin remained in a small pool of water near the stand. That was the infraction.

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