Wildlife - Deer Information

A Retrospective on Hunting Deer Over Bait in South Carolina - Can Baiting Negatively Affect Hunter Success and Deer Harvest Rates?

The Extent of Baiting in the Coastal Plain

With the decline in popularity of dog hunting for deer in favor of still hunting, baiting began in earnest in the Coastal Plain in the mid 1980's. Initially the practice involved what most 3 people would consider true baiting, i.e. small amounts of bait being place in a few areas for the purpose of attracting deer to the gun. As time progressed, more hunters learned that the practice was not prohibited and the popularity of baiting increased. By the 1990's baiting had become very popular and it had become the typical way to hunt deer in the region. With this brought competition among hunters to insure that bait was readily available throughout the deer season so "their deer" would not be attracted to someone else's bait site. Additionally, some property owners and hunting clubs began to shift more towards what would be considered supplemental feeding, i.e. providing "bait" in quantity, time, and space for the purpose of affecting "management" of deer. In any event, by the year 2000 baiting was entrenched in the Coastal Plain and indications were that the magnitude of the activity could easily be affecting not only deer, but hunting as well.

In an effort to quantify the extent of baiting in the Coastal Plain, a survey was implemented in 2006. This survey involved participants in SCDNR's Antlerless Deer Quota Program (ADQP) and the survey elicited information on harvest strategies, habitat management, and baiting. The ADQP is a private lands deer management program that began in 1965 as a means for Coastal Plain landowners and lessees to harvest antlerless deer. Although the program is now available statewide, participation is dominated by properties in the Coastal Plain (98%). With approximately 1,800 properties, the ADQP is a very large program and includes significant acreage in all coastal counties. There are approximately 9.3 million acres of deer habitat in the Coastal Plain and the ADQP encompasses 3.7 million acres or about 40 percent of the available habitat.

Response rates for this survey were high, with 77 percent of program participants completing the survey resulting in direct data for 3 million acres of habitat. Ninety-four (94) percent of respondents indicated that bait or supplemental feed was used on their property. Corn was cited as the bait in virtually all cases. Eighty-five percent of participants indicated that bait was available outside of the deer season averaging 7.6 months per property. Feeding rates averaged 10,600 lbs./mi2 annually which is the same as 342 lbs./mi2/week or 43 lbs./mi2/day during the 7.6 months that cooperators averaged feeding. Based on deer harvest rates which were part of the ADQP record, it required an average of 1,200 lbs. of bait for each deer harvested. Given current corn prices of approximately $8 per bushel, this equates to about $170 per deer harvested above and beyond the typical costs associated with deer hunting.

Total bait sites reported by respondents were in excess of 30,000 with one bait site for every 116 acres of habitat which calculates to a distribution of one site every 422 yards. If the average deer has a home range of one square mile, then the average deer would have access to 5.5 bait sites in its home range. As a group, survey respondents provided in excess of 40.8 million pounds (728,621 bu.) of bait with a total value of $5.8 million at $8 per bushel.

Due to the scope of the ADQP in both acreage and distribution of properties, it is believed that results of this survey are representative of the Coastal Plain in general. Extrapolating to the region yields approximately 80,000 bait sites and 2.33 million bushels of corn with a value of $18.6 million annually.