Almanac: Bill makes aggressive run at illegal baiting of deer

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2012 - 12:47 AM

Despite stiff fines and the possible seizure of guns or archery equipment, illegal deer baiting remains rampant in Minnesota.

Last fall, more hunters -- 144 -- were cited for baiting than ever before.

But a bill at the Legislature may force scofflaws to think twice. If it becomes law, a person convicted of baiting deer would lose hunting privileges for a year. No exceptions. The DNR proposed the measure.

"The people we are finding baiting deer know they are violating the law,'' said Rod Smith, DNR assistant enforcement director. "We increased the fine to $300, and we've been seizing firearms, and that doesn't seem to be stopping people.''

Fear of losing their hunting privileges might, he said.

Under another provision in the wide-ranging game and fish bill, a person convicted of poaching a trophy buck would lose hunting privileges for five years. A trophy is defined as a deer that scores higher than 170.

"We'd love to see it at 130 or 140,'' said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, which has pushed for years to strengthen poaching penalties.

But Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who is carrying the bill in the House, said he's not thrilled with the language.

"I don't like making people criminals,'' he said. "It's the DNR's bill, and I'm not going to gut it. I've already made some changes they don't like.''

Currently a person wouldn't lose their license if they poached a trophy buck and they had no other such convictions on their record. Those with two "taking'' violations in three years now lose hunting privileges for three years.

Smith noted the pain of losing one's hunting privileges extends beyond Minnesota's border. Minnesota is part of a 35-state compact in which those who lose hunting privileges in one state lose them in all 35 states. The bill was approved by the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources committee. It still has to pass several more committees and the full House, so more changes could be made.

Walk-in funding?

That committee removed a $15 fee the DNR had proposed to fund the state's fledgling walk-in hunting access program, meaning that when federal money runs out next year, the program will die. Some legislators said the fee was too high.

The program is funded for this year, and about 25,000 acres are expected to be leased for public hunting next fall. But federal funding has been cut off, so the funding issue will have to be addressed if the program is to continue.

Wolf season

The bill also establishes a wolf hunting season at the start of the regular firearms deer season; the DNR had proposed starting it at the end of November. And it sets the hunting and trapping license fee at $26 for residents, not $50 as proposed by the DNR.

"I don't know too many people who will pay $50 on the remote chance of shooting a wolf,'' McNamara said. Nonresident hunting licenses would be $250; nonresident trapping wouldn't be allowed. The DNR can restrict the number of hunters and the wolf harvest. It also lowers the restitution value of wolves taken illegally from the current $2,000 to $500.

Hunter-angler impacts

The game and fish bill also:

• Eliminates the state's venison donation program. Legislators said it costs too much.

• Requires the electronic sale of hunting and fishing licenses, even during a state shutdown.

• Allows the use of remote-controlled, motorized decoys for waterfowl and dove hunting.

• Removes the requirement that snowmobilers have large registration numbers on their sleds.

• Restricts the use of body-gripping traps in an attempt to reduce the incidental killing of dogs.

Price's last show?

Hugh Price launched the Minnesota Deer Classic 30 years ago. But now he's bowing out.

"This definitely will be my last show,'' said Price, 75, of Elk River. Last year he said he was putting the show up for sale, and now he has three potential buyers. He said he expects to close the deal by the end of the month.

"I have mixed emotions about it,'' he said. "I've been doing this for 30 years.''

But he's unlikely to disappear. Price could well be at the Classic next year, helping out the new owners. And he has no plans to retire to a rocking chair. He still owns and runs a small sports show in St. Cloud, which he plans to continue. And Price, an avid bird hunter, says selling the show will give him more time for hunting.

Doug Smith •

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