Deer season is nearly upon us and hunters across the state are gearing up to head into the woods.
Head into any sporting goods or department store and you’ll find a logjam in the hunting aisles as youngsters and veterans vie for elbow room. Some will be trying on the new blaze orange parkas. Others will be stocking up on ammo … or calls … or lures and scents.
Increasingly – and often unwittingly – many may also be preparing to break the law.
In at least two of the larger stores in the Bangor area, the hunting aisles include display racks with products with names like “Whitetail Addiction.”
The label often shows a deer with its head nearly buried in a wallow (theoretically laced with the product being displayed). Before you pick up a bottle or box of products like that … and before you begin thinking of how many deer you’d see if you made such a purchase, you ought to realize a couple of things:
By law, you’re allowed to buy a product like this.
You just can’t hunt over it.
According to Warden Maj. Tom Santaguida of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the law is quite simple.
“Our general guideline is that if the deer can eat it, then it’s bait,” he said. “If it’s something they just smell, it’s not bait.”
Baiting deer, for the record, is unlawful in the state of Maine.
Whitetail Addiction and Deer Cane are each mixed with the soil or water. Sodium and other minerals leech into the soil, presenting deer with a tasty and aromatic “lick” that they will, in theory, visit regularly.
Santaguida said the proliferation of businesses selling products like Whitetail Addiction and Deer Cane – also commonly referred to as “Deer Cocaine” – has been noticeable in past years.
He said DIF&W personnel have tried to make so-called big-box stores – many of which stock their shelves without considering the legal ramifications of using some products in certain states – realize that they’re selling goods that could get customers in trouble.
The problem, he said, is that personnel at those stores often changes, and a new manager doesn’t realize what the old one has been told. Also, he pointed out, mail-order and Internet business conducted through major outdoors merchants like Cabela’s allow hunters to buy products that are perfectly legal to use elsewhere … but not in Maine.
“It’s a huge challenge to work with large entities,” Santaguida said. “The bottom line is that the responsibility rests with the sportsman, and they have to comply with the fish and game laws.”
Santaguida said the confusion is a result of different laws in different states.
“Baiting is a social question,” he said, pointing out that Maine law says baiting bear is legal, while luring deer with bait isn’t. “It’s [a question of] what the citizens of Maine want to allow. In a lot of states, [baiting deer] is legal.”
Santaguida said the use of products like this during hunting season is actually unlawful whether a rifle- or bow-toting hunter is standing nearby or not.
“You actually can’t even put it out there [in the woods] at this time of year,” Santaguida said. “Even grammy down in Lewiston can’t put deer bait in the back yard this time of year.”
The distinction between “bait” and “lure” is one that the Warden Service has thought about carefully in the past, Santaguida said.
Back in 1998, Warden Col. Tim Peabody addressed that issue in a memo to wardens in the field.
The high points of that memo, which Santaguida provided on Monday:
. Any product (commercial or homemade) that is placed in the fields or forest that is consumed by deer will be considered bait.
. Products (commercial or homemade) that attract deer by scent alone and are not consumed will be considered legal.
. Any crop, no matter how large or small, and no matter where it is planted, will be considered legal.
“You get these remote camps way out in the woods, and there’s a pumpkin patch or a squash patch,” he said. “That’s legal. To determine if it’s a garden or [if it was planted as] bait isn’t possible.”
So, maybe you haven’t finished up your last-minute deer-season shopping. Maybe you’re going to do so this week.
Just remember: Just because you can buy something legally, that doesn’t mean you ought to be spreading it around in the woods.
Maine youngsters headed into the woods for their own special deer-hunting day for the second straight year on Saturday, and many had successful hunts.
I’ve come up with a few good Youth Deer Day stories I’ll share in the upcoming days, but I’ll be listening over the next couple days if you think your tale might be worth some space in this column.
Hope to hear from a few more of you.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.