"Baiting Bambi" receives increased DNR scrutiny

Minnesota cracking down on outlaw hunting practice

The DNR officer cited Carey's granddaughter, too.

"I told I them I did it, and didn't go back and check before we hunted it," Carey admits. "Guess it was my fault. But a $380 fine for that? That's pretty high. I thought it was out of line.

"In a lot of states, including Wisconsin, it is not a crime to bait deer. What makes us different from Wisconsin?"

Conservation Officer Tyler Quandt of Red Wing, one of the officers investigating the case of the buck taken in Goodhue County
Minnesota DNR
Conservation Officer Tyler Quandt of Red Wing, one of the officers investigating the case of the buck taken in Goodhue County
Even with a timely tip, it's rare to catch a poacher in the act
Minnesota DNR
Even with a timely tip, it's rare to catch a poacher in the act

   

IN LATE FEBRUARY 2002, the Wisconsin DNR discovered an outbreak of chronic wasting disease. The disease turns deer's brains into spongy globs, causing emaciation and loss of bodily functions. As it spreads, the deer's behavior begins to resemble that of zombies—the deer have trouble lifting their heads, froth at the mouth, walk in circles, and blankly stare ahead. The disease inevitably results in death.

To combat the problem, the Wisconsin DNR immediately issued a statewide ban on baiting.

"From a biological perspective, there is a large amount of research behind the ban of baiting and feeding deer," says Jason Fleener, assistant big-game specialist for the Wisconsin DNR. "Baiting also creates a larger deer herd in places that can't support a large number of deer, resulting in ecosystem degradation."

Fleener points out that wasting disease spreads faster when deer live in groups. And at baiting piles, they also consume potentially infected poop and saliva.

In 2003, the Wisconsin Legislature muzzled the powers of the DNR and made it legal to bait in the majority of the state. But any county with a confirmed case of wasting disease or bovine TB would still fall under the ban. So far, that includes 26 of the state's 72 counties.

"Baiting ought to be outlawed," says Tim Van Deelen, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin's Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and author of the 2006 study. "It's really a no-brainer in maintaining the health of deer."

Both Van Deelen and Fleener think Wisconsin's laws need to change. They say that aside from the inherent disease threat, baiting gives a black eye to hunters.

"Hunters believe what they believe, and it's often hard to change those beliefs," says Van Deelen. "But this is a public good. It's like why you don't pee in the swimming pool. The ones sharing with you are paying the costs."

   

LOU CORNICELLI STANDS in a parking lot in Chatfield. His camel-colored Carhartts are blotted with bloodstains. In his hand is a hardcopy of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Around him are students from various state colleges. He tells them the skull of "Fred" is sitting in his freezer at home.

Throughout the afternoon, trucks pull into the lot, driven by hunters wearing blaze orange. The hunters carry their kill in the beds of their trucks, or the back of their minivans. One steps out of his car sipping a Mountain Dew and chewing on a red licorice vine. His hands are covered in dried blood.

"Can we cut into it?" ask the students.

"If you want, you can go ahead and slice it into cutlets for me, too," the hunter jokes.

A member of the group quickly slices open the deer's throat with a scalpel, plucks out its lymph nodes, and fishes out an incisor with pliers. The whole process takes a couple of minutes.

They're monitoring the age and density of the state's herd, while also making sure chronic wasting disease hasn't made its way into the state.

When the hunter comes back out, the group has him point to the exact location of the kill on a laminated map. For their participation, the hunters earn a small patch, and enter into a raffle for a .50 caliber muzzleloader.

At dusk, extended-cab trucks roll in four at a time. The lymph nodes are popping into plastic bags.

During a brief lull in the action, Derrick Frost, a senior at St. Cloud State and an outdoorsman since he was old enough to legally hunt, joins the conversation about baiting.

"I just don't get why you do it," he says. "Hunting is about tracking your animal, learning their behavior and their patterns of movement. There's nothing sporting about shooting over a pile of bait."

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