QUESTION: I hunt in the Sandhills of South Carolina, where it's perfectly legal to use bait, and all my neighbors adjoining my property put out piles of corn all season long.
I've tried putting out corn and monitoring it with a game camera. I've found most of the deer activity to be at night. Does making feeding this easy cause them to become nocturnal? If so, what can be done to change their behavior?
Also, can I accomplish this on my property alone (130 acres), or would I have to get all my neighbors to go along? Hunting is starting to get more frustrating than fun. - Lee N.
ANSWER: It's interesting you should ask, considering where you are from. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist Charles Ruth has been researching the subject of baiting, and how effective it is from both a hunting and management perspective. He compared harvest and effort between the Coastal Plain (where baiting is permitted) and Piedmont (where it is not).
"The results," said Ruth, "were shocking."
And the more data we gathered, the more our findings were reinforced."
He found, for starters, the Piedmont's total deer harvest was 33 percent greater than that of the Coastal Plain.
More important from a management standpoint, the doe harvest was 41 percent higher in the Piedmont; and the number of does harvested per buck was 12 percent higher in the Piedmont. Coastal Plain hunters also had to hunt longer to take a deer - six percent more days per deer harvested.
Why? Other research has shown baiting changes deer movements and distribution. When bait is available, deer tend to visit bait sites more at night, and it is mostly younger animals that visit during daylight.
Ruth cited results from another South Carolina study area where baiting had evolved to supplemental feeding and the ratio of night visits to day visits was 25:1.
These results strongly suggest certain types of baiting might actually work against you as a hunter.
Can you change it? Maybe.
In isolated conditions, you can increase daytime visits by limiting the time and amount of food available. This is best accomplished with a spin feeder set on a timer to go off in daylight. Deer quickly get conditioned to it and learn the first ones there get the food. Again, it's mostly does and young bucks.
However, if your neighbors are making food available 24/7, this will probably be considerably less effective.