UGA Researchers Examine the Effects of Baiting on Deer Movements

By: David Stone

Few topics in the hunting community elicit such heated debates as the issue of baiting. Recent changes to hunting regulations in the Southern Zone of Georgia now allow hunting of deer over bait. With these changes come many interesting questions related to the effects of baiting on deer movements and harvest susceptibility. For example, does the presence of bait influence where a deer spends most of its time and does bating actually increase a hunter’s ability to harvest a deer? Similarly, does not baiting place hunters at a disadvantage compared to their neighbors who bait?  The University of Georgia Deer Lab, in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has recently initiated a study that will help answer some of the questions related to the effects of baiting on Georgia’s white-tailed deer herd.

Lead researcher David Stone with a captured deer

One of the primary questions we will investigate is whether bait sites attract deer from non-baited, adjacent properties to properties where bait sites are maintained. For instance, if a small property has a feeder placed in the middle of the property, how far will deer travel to feed at the bait site? Will deer from adjoining properties shift their core areas to include the bait site? And will maintaining bait sites throughout the year influence deer to stay there during the hunting season?

Another pressing question related to deer baiting is if hunting over bait increases harvest rates. Some hunters may see bait as the “magic bullet”. But does baiting actually increase deer harvest? And if so, what percentage of mature or “trophy bucks” are harvested over bait?

In early 2013, we will instrument a sample of deer (12 bucks and 12 does) with GPS collars on a study site in west-central Georgia.  These collars will collect locations of these deer every thirty minutes throughout the year – including the entire hunting season. This technology will allow us to determine where deer spend their time during legal hunting hours.  More importantly, we will be able to assess how far deer will move to a bait site, how baiting influences their home range and movement patterns, and when deer visit bait sites.  Some hunters surmise that hunting over bait increases nocturnal movement patterns – our research will assess the effects of hunter pressure on bait sites and harvest rates and determine the degree to which hunter pressure influences the timing of visitation by deer.  Ultimately, the data we collect over the next couple of years will help us answer the question of whether baiting increases susceptibility to harvest and harvest rates.

Preliminary results will be available following the 2013-2014 deer season.