Big trouble for hunting baited fields

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Stay clear: Waterfowl hunters need to be aware if they're working a baited field, which is against the law in Indiana and against the ethics of most hunters. | Supplied photo

To many waterfowl hunters, the hunt is more than sport; it’s a way of life.

A good deal of waterfowl hunting devotees are planning hunts within weeks of the previous season’s end. They’re buying blinds and decoys and shotgun shells, all in an effort to get tuned up for the 60-65 day waterfowl hunting season that begins in mid-October.

When the season opens, these avid hunters wake up well before sunrise to put on gear and march into a waterway to plant decoys, all for the opportunity to shoot a handful of ducks or geese at daybreak.

“More than any other group of hunters I know, the waterfowl hunters might be the ones seemingly born with that interest inside them,” said Gene Davis, a conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the last 31 years and himself an avid sportsman.

For many of the Hoosier State’s most devout waterfowl hunters, there’s purity to hunting waterfowl and principles to uphold, specifically given the depth and time one must commit to the process. These honorable, often unspoken codes make hunting over a baited field a major faux pas.

Current federal rules from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibit hunters from taking waterfowl over or around a “baited” area – as much a move to respect nature as to ensure the integrity of the hunt.

Severe punishment

A baited area is defined as a space in which a food source, generally harvested corn, wheat or salt, is placed into a field to attract waterfowl so that they can be shot. The maximum federal penalties for hunting over bait are $15,000 or six months jail, while those placing bait can be fined $100,000 or serve one year in jail.

Though the federal guideline was written in the 1900s in an effort to protect waterfowl from being killed in large numbers to appease demand in the commercial market, Davis said it remains just as relevant in the 21st century.

“If you can just pour food on the ground, then that takes the sport out of the hunt,” Davis said, noting that the use of any bait in Indiana remains illegal. “This is a question of hunting in a sporting manner and, more importantly, hunter ethics, which we take very seriously at the DNR.”

Remaining viable

This year, waterfowl and baited areas have captured more attention given how little rain fell in the state this summer. With so little rain, any areas that do have water will attract higher numbers of ducks and geese, Davis said, while those areas slim on water could become more susceptible to baiting.

“And we want the rules to be followed,” Davis added.

Davis said the DNR’s message to waterfowl hunters throughout the state, all but a small fraction of whom adhere to regulations, is a clear one.

“Look to the future,” he said. “If we want to continue to have waterfowl, then it’s important for us to follow the rules and to manage the areas we hunt so that they remain viable well into the future.”