In Anoka County, a grandmother was caught hunting deer with her 12-year-old grandson near corn she had placed on the ground and in a mechanical feeder in blatant violation of baiting laws.

"She knew it was illegal, but she tried to justify it by saying he was 12 and needed to shoot a deer," said conservation officer Travis Muyres. The 63-year-old woman was cited and her gun seized.

In Crow Wing County, two hunters recently were cited and had their guns seized for placing pipes filled with corn near their deer stands. The hunters camouflaged the pipes and anchored them to trees so they couldn't be easily seen.

"They said they knew it was wrong, but they were trying to get any advantage they could to get a deer," said conservation officer Tim Collette.

Those are only two of more than 100 baiting cases in Minnesota this fall that resulted in citations, fines, gun seizures or all three. Hundreds more were investigated. With another Minnesota deer hunting season winding down, conservation officers say baiting deer remains rampant, despite efforts in recent years to discourage it.

"It seems like it's getting worse," said Maj. Rod Smith, Department of Natural Resources operations manager. Conservation officers issued 92 citations and seized 59 firearms on opening weekend alone. The DNR will survey officers at the end of the season to get a final tally, but Smith expects the numbers to top last year's total of 141 baiting citations.

"It's not that we're enforcing it any more than last year, we're just getting a lot more complaints," Smith said.

And some hunters clearly haven't been deterred by $400 fines, $500 restitution for an illegally taken deer, or even the threat of losing a prized gun or bow. Some argue that stiffer penalties are needed.

"What we have now isn't working, that's pretty apparent," Smith said. "Something needs to be done."

DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten isn't ready to say he'll support stiffer penalties, but he said the issue likely will come up at the Legislature next year. Legislators eliminated some baiting loopholes last session, but didn't alter penalties.

"We don't have a formal proposal ... but the enforcement the past couple of years doesn't appear to have deterred those who want to illegally bait," Holsten said. "Increased fines and penalties are a possibility."

Baiting deer, which is allowed in some states, including Wisconsin, has been illegal in Minnesota for years. Wildlife officials say baiting and feeding can concentrate deer, making them more susceptible to disease. The presence of bovine TB in northwestern Minnesota deer -- and of chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin deer -- heightens that concern.

Baiting also disrupts normal deer movement and violates "fair chase" ethics, said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife management section chief.

But it's the impact baiting can have on fellow hunters that has prompted many tips this fall to conservation officers. In Anoka County, at least two groups of hunters, perplexed at the lack of deer, discovered bait on neighboring properties and called officers.

More willing to report violations

"People are more willing to turn in their neighbors when they see the change in deer patterns," said Muyres, who has seized five guns for baiting violations. He said he believes the baiting trend can be traced to outdoor hunting shows on TV.

"The idea of a successful hunt has changed," he said. "Now you have to shoot a big buck, like on TV. They don't think it's a successful hunt if they sit out there and don't shoot a deer."

Smith said he believes some hunters are baiting to compete with other baiters. "It's almost feeding on itself," he said.

Collette, who patrols in Crow Wing County, said he believes officers are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. The state should consider banning deer feeding Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, he said. (Currently, people can put out bait or feed for deer, but it must be removed at least 10 days before hunting can occur.)

"We would support that," said Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. "We are absolutely opposed to baiting." Current penalties aren't working, he said.

Another deterrent would be the loss of hunting privileges for a first violation. Hunters now need two baiting convictions within three years (if they don't have other violations) to lose their hunting privileges.

"When I write a ticket, invariably they don't ask how much it costs, but whether they will lose their hunting privileges," Collette said. For now, it's unclear whether there would be support in the Legislature.

"If it's still a problem, we'll have to figure out if it's an enforcement issue or a deficiency in the law," said state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley.

But Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, takes a far different view.

"We should allow baiting," he said. "You can hunt over agricultural fields. You can hunt over food plots. I'm not going to run out and author a bill to allow baiting ... but just because there's food out there doesn't mean you can take an animal."

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

In Anoka County, a grandmother was caught hunting deer with her 12-year-old grandson near corn she had placed on the ground and in a mechanical feeder in blatant violation of baiting laws. "She knew it was illegal, but she tried to justify it by saying he was 12 and needed to shoot a deer,'' said conservation officer Travis Muyres. The 63-year-old woman was cited and her gun seized. In Crow Wing County, two hunters recently were cited and had their guns seized for placing pipes filled with corn near their deer stands. The hunters camouflaged the pipes and anchored them to the back of trees so they couldn't be easily seen. "They said they knew it was wrong, but they were trying to get any advantage they could to get a deer,'' said conservation officer Tim Collette. Those are just two of more than 100 baiting cases in Minnesota this fall that resulted in citations, fines, gun seizures or all three. Hundreds more cases were investigated. With another Minnesota deer hunting season winding down, conservation officers say baiting deer remains rampant, despite efforts in recent years to discourage it. "It seems like it's getting worse,'' said Maj. Rod Smith, Department of Natural Resources operations manager. Conservation officers issued 92 citations and seized 59 firearms just on opening weekend alone. The DNR will survey officers at the end of the season to get a final tally, but Smith expects the numbers to top last year's total of 141 baiting citations. "It's not that we're enforcing it any more than last year, we're just getting a lot more complaints,'' Smith said. And some hunters clearly haven't been deterred by $400 fines, $500 restitition for an illegally taken deer or even the threat of losing a prized gun or bow. Some argue that stiffer penalties are needed. "What we have now isn't working, that's pretty apparent,'' Smith said. "Something needs to be done.'' DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten isn't ready to say he'll support stiffer penalties, but he said the issue likely will come up at the Legislature next year. Legislators eliminated some baiting loopholes last session, but didn't alter penalties. "We don't have a formal proposal...but the enforcement the past couple of years doesn't appear to have deterred those who want to illegally bait,'' Holsten said. "Increased fines and penalties are a possibility.'' Baiting and disease Baiting deer, which is allowed in some states, including Wisconsin, has been illegal in Minnesota for years. Wildlife officials say baiting and feeding can concentrate deer, making them more susceptible to disease. Baiting also disrupts normal deer movement and violates "fair chase'' ethics, said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife management section chief. "We're adamantly opposed to baiting,'' he said. "Every other state that has baiting has cautioned us to hold the line and not allow it.'' The presence of bovine TB in the northwestern Minnesota deer herd - and of chronic wasting disease in neighboring Wisconsin - heightens that concern, Simon said. But it's the impact baiting can have on fellow hunters that has prompted many tips to conservation officers. In Anoka County, at least two groups of hunters, perplexed at the lack of deer they saw opening weekend, found bait on neighboring properties and called officers. "People are more willing to turn in their neighbors when they see the change in deer patterns,'' said Muyres, who has seized 12 guns this fall, five for baiting violations. He believes the baiting trend can be traced to outdoor hunting shows on TV. "The idea of a successful hunt has changed,'' he said. "Now you have to shoot a big buck, like on TV. They don't think it's a successful hunt if they sit out there and don't shoot a deer.'' Smith said he believes some hunters are baiting to contend with neighbors who also are baiting. "It's almost feeding on itself,'' he said. Collette, who patrols the Cuyuna State Recreation Area in Crow Wing County and assists neighboring officers, said he believes officers are seeing only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to baiting. He and others say the state should consider banning deer feeding from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. Currently, people can put out bait or feed deer up to 10 days before the start of the deer hunting season. Another deterrent would be the loss of hunting priveiiges. Hunters now must have two violations within three years to lose their hunting privileges. "When I write a ticket, invariably they don't ask how much it costs, but whether they will lose their hunting privileges,'' Collette said. "To me, baiting is poaching.'' Meanwhile, if hunters want to stiffen baiting penalties, they'll need to support the idea, Smith said. "It will have to have the support of people who hunt and fish,'' he said. And for now, it's unclear whether there would be support in the Legislature for tougher penalties. State Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, chair of the key Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he wants more information. "If it's still a problem, we'll have to figure out if it's an enforcement issue or a deficiency in the law,'' he said. But Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, chair of the Game, Fish and takes a far different view. "We should allow baiting,'' he said. "You can hunt over agricultural fields. You can hunt over food plots. I'm not going to run out and author a bill to allow baiting...but just because there's food out there doesn't mean you can take an animal.'' Doug Smith•dsmith@startribune.com