Beginning this fall, hunters across the state will be able to participate in the controversial practice of hunting deer near a feed station.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources board voted Wednesday to lift the restriction on “hunting over bait” from the northern portion of the state. Now the practice will be allowed on all of Georgia’s private hunting grounds except those located within the Chattahoochee National Forest.
The decision comes after an executive order from Gov. Nathan Deal authorized the board, composed of members he appointed or reappointed, to find an “appropriate” expansion of the practice.
Legislation passed in 2011 allows hunters in a “southern zone” — counties stretching across Georgia from Harris to Burke and south to the border — to hunt deer within 200 yards of a feed station while those in a “northern zone” were barred from doing so. The zones were created as a compromise between those who wanted to allow the practice and those who didn’t.
“This (change) fixes the disparity,” DNR Wildlife Resources Division Director Rusty Garrison said. “It gives equal hunting privileges to those hunters in the north.”
Biologists have said hunting over bait can facilitate the spread of diseases in deer, such as chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis.
They say deer can spread disease by eating from the same supplemental feed station that is set up when hunters participate in the practice.
In his April executive order, Deal said state officials “found no evidence that hunting over feed” has had a direct impact on the number of deer killed or led to more disease. The order also cited “inequity” between hunters in different parts of the state.
The agency held two public hearings last week seeking comment on the regulation. Garrison said of the 1,141 public comments received, about 70 percent of them supported the change.
Former DNR officials had written a letter urging the board not to expand use of the practice.
To opponents, baiting deer transforms hunting from a skill to just a kill. They say the practice makes it easier for hunters to rack up deer kills each hunting season.
Mike Worley of the Georgia Wildlife Federation called the use of words such as “fair” and “inequities” as a “cynical play on our sense of justice.”
“We don’t hear folks talk about inequities in having archery-only counties,” he said during Wednesday’s board meeting. “If someone wants to do those things, they simply get in their truck and drive. I have noticed, however, the words ‘fair chase’ seem to be left out of our vocabulary.”
Worley, while holding a T-shirt that read “at the start of every disaster movie, there’s a scientist being ignored,” said that no biologists supported expanding the hunting practice.
Jerry Brinkley, with the Doodle Hill Hunting Club in McDuffie County, said while he personally would not hunt deer over bait, he’s glad the board decided to expand the area where the practice is allowed.
“If the south can do it,” he said, “the north should be able to do it.”
Deer hunting season for those using firearms begins Oct. 20.