The Georgia legislature is considering a law change that will legalize hunting deer around feed with no distance restrictions in the Northern Zone.
House Bill 923 and Senate Bill 450 are both simple paragraphs of legislation that make legal in the Northern Zone what’s been legal in the Southern Zone since 2011. The bills remove the north’s “200-yard and out-of-sight” restriction for hunting deer over placed feed, so there is no distance restriction.
Some history on Georgia’s split baiting laws might be helpful.
In 2011, legislators approved a law to legalize the practice only in the Southern Zone. That legislation originally sought to legalize it statewide, but political wrangling ended up splitting the state. There was general statewide opposition from conservation organizations like the Georgia Wildlife Federation and QDMA and about one-third of Georgia deer hunters.
In south Georgia, there was support from key politicians and the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation, along with a higher percentage of deer hunters. Meanwhile, some key politicians in north Georgia opposed the measure. Neither side would give in, and the compromise result was to make it legal in the south and to keep it illegal in the north.
A GON VOTES survey last month asked how the current baiting law—legal in the south and illegal in the north—impacted deer hunting. Among Northern Zone deer hunters, 7 percent said the current law had a positive impact, 39 percent said it had no impact, and 39 percent said it had a negative impact. For Southern Zone deer hunters, 47 percent said it had a positive impact, 36 percent said it had no impact, and 10 percent said it had a negative impact.
The point of that survey was that we have seven years of this being in place—no baiting in half the state and baiting in the other half. What’s been the impact? Has it affected positively or negatively the deer herd, hunting quality, Law Enforcement effort and resources, anti-hunting efforts or the spread of disease?
A common sentiment among Northern Zone deer hunters has been that the baiting law should be the same statewide—whether it is illegal or legal.
If there are legitimate reasons why it should be one way or the other, those issues don’t apply to half the state and not the other.
Reggie Dickey is the President of the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation, and his conservation organization was instrumental in getting the 2011 legislation introduced.
“That was my bill,” Reggie said. “It took me eight years to even get it to the floor (for a full vote by the House).”
Reggie said the history of feeding deer in Georgia has been lost in the fog of divisive and often ugly debate.
“What people don’t realize is that it was never illegal to hunt deer over feed in Georgia until around 1995 when they made it 300 yards and out of site. There was no law against it. Around 2001 they came around again and made it 200 yards and out of site. But they never took the feed out of the woods.”
Regarding current opposition to HB 923 and SB 450, Reggie said, “They are saying it’s unethical and the anti-hunters will be all over us. Well, have they in south Georgia?” Reggie asked. “Not a bit.”
A Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) action alert sent Feb. 21 to its “Camo Coalition” members pre-populated a message that could be sent directly to an individual’s state senator and state representative with a subject line that read “I oppose deer baiting.” The action alert said the GWF is “a strong supporter of ethical, fair chase hunting… and is opposed to the shooting of baited deer under both our fair chase standard and the professional, science-based management standard.”
Reggie said, “If you feel like it’s unethical, don’t do it. There are a lot of things that are legal that I don’t do, but does that mean I have to make sure they are all illegal because I don’t do it?”
Reggie said the experience in south Georgia the past seven years has largely been a non-event.
“It’s not a golden bullet. You’re not going to kill all the deer in the country over a pile of corn. If you did, we would have killed them all in the 70s. And it doesn’t make them all go nocturnal. What makes them go nocturnal is people walking in the woods. As soon as deer season is over, they come back out during the day, whether the feed is there or not.”
The Senate version of the legislation, SB 450, has very strong co-signers, influential senators from north Georgia. That version is expected to make it out of committee for a full vote by the state Senate. The House version, HB 923, has to come out of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee, where it could be stopped before seeing a full vote by the House. The committee did not discuss HB 923 during a meeting Friday, Feb. 23.
UPDATE: Camo Coalition and QMDA issued and action alert against SB 450 on Feb. 27 stating:
“GWF and QDMA opposes SB 450 for the following reasons:
• Baiting has the potential to accelerate transmission of diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), bovine tuberculosis and several others. This is especially significant given the recent discovery of CWD in Mississippi, the closest state to Georgia to find CWD in its herd. This discovery increased the number of states with CWD to 25. As is so often in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (especially as there is NO CURE for the always lethal CWD).
• Surveys reveal that the majority of the hunting and non-hunting public objects to shooting over bait.
• Research confirms that baiting increases deer movement/feeding at night and does not increase hunter success.
• Predators have been shown to key in on feed sites to ambush deer – thus increasing deer mortality rates.
• Baiting increases reproduction/spread of nuisance animals such as feral hogs and raccoons.
SB 450 is not good for hunting, wildlife management, or wildlife conservation. Therefore, we urge you to join with us in opposing this bill.”
DMAP For Landowners
House Bill 950 began as legislation with several diverse and non-related elements, and those different elements had varying degrees of support. For example, the Georgia Wildlife Federation liked a part of the legislation that created a DMAP program (Deer Management Assistance Program), but GWF was originally opposed to HB 950 because it also extended the deer season to Jan. 31.
On Feb. 23, HB 950 was clarified so that DMAP became the primary law change. DMAP was a significant part of WRD’s latest 10-year deer management plan, and it is something WRD has been hoping to implement. DMAP will likely result in the hiring of more game-management biologists, and it gives landowners the ability to manage for their specific needs, instead of trying to manage deer and habitats while constrained by regulations and restrictions created on a larger scale to meet more general needs.
According to HB 950, which passed out of committee on Feb. 23, “As may be appropriate and based solely on sound wildlife management principles, the department is authorized to develop a deer management assistance program that may include applicable fees and may prescribe property-specific deer harvest seasons without complying with the statewide bag limit.”
Approved DMAP properties could have archery-only deer hunting until Jan. 31 and could be prescribed their own unique deer limits. The legislation does not address program specifics, such as the cost of DMAP enrollment or any tract-size requirements.
HB 950 also extends archery-only deer hunting to Jan. 31 in Bibb, Chatham and Clarke counties to go along with Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties, which already have extended archery-only deer hunting.
These bills could change again—and dramatically. If you’re interested in one of these proposed law changes, tract the bill’s progress at www.legis.ga.gov, and you can also get contact info for your representatives.
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