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LIBERTY — Last year's first illegal bait pile was easy to spot.
Driving near Old Liberty Road in the heart of Sullivan County, Lt. Deming Lindsley could see the heap of bread from his patrol car.
"It was all sliced bread and rolls," said Lindsley, of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation police. "The pile, without exaggeration, was 2 foot high."
Hunting over bait:
It comes with penalties
In New York, hunting over bait is a violation that carries a $250 fine. Killing a deer over bait is a misdemeanor, accompanied by a $2,000 fine and license revocation. Baiting is not illegal in every state, nor is it illegal for every animal. For example, hunters can kill bobcats over bait in New York.
Source: State DEC
Two young men sat near the bread mound, their bows and arrows poised. Their uncle had loaded his truck at a day-old bread store in New York City, then driven to the Catskills, where he'd dumped the food in the woods. The men were waiting for deer to come and make themselves easy targets.
As deer and bear hunting season opens Saturday, environmental officers will be on the lookout for hunters using bait, a violation that is becoming more prevalent in our woods. In Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties, citations for hunting over bait were up 85 percent last year, according to DEC records. Police and hunters said that competition on smaller plots of land — and laziness — have caused the increase.
Bait piles come in all varieties. Some unlawful hunters toss corn, apples or broken pumpkins into a heap on the ground, just within range of their hunting stands. More elaborate schemes include a feeder hung from the trees that disperses grain at timed intervals. The theory is all the same.
"The deer will keep coming back because they always know there's food there," Lindsley said. And the hunters will have an easy shot.
There are myriad reasons for the rise in bait hunting. Because sportsman are hunting on smaller plots of land, Lindsley said they want to be sure that deer migrate onto their land and not their neighbor's, so they sprinkle some corn around. And some bait hunting can be attributed to simple laziness.
"Some folks want to hop in their ATV, drive to their hunting stand, shoot a deer, hop back in their ATV and go home," Lindsley said.
But longtime hunters say that using bait spits in the face of good sportsmanship, and that's why the vast majority of bait hunters who are caught get reported to the DEC by upstanding sportsmen. They draw a distinct line between hunting and killing. Hunters use rub marks on trees and hoof prints to track the animals' migration, while cheaters, they said, spread some food to divert deer from their natural path, and wait nearby.
"Hunting over bait spoils it because it's not fair," said Frank LaBuda, the Sullivan County judge and veteran hunter. "Let's face it, to draw the deer toward you and away from their natural habitat so you can get an easy shot is killing, not hunting."