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Deer hunters expressed different perspectives at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission meetings held Tuesday to discuss proposed chronic wasting disease regulations.

As expected, a lot of people attended. At the Little Rock meeting, which was held in the auditorium of the AGFC's headquarters, I lost count between 65-70, but it might have been closer to 100. Our man Doug Thompson said that 130 attended the Fayetteville meeting.

The Little Rock audience commented mostly on a pair of proposed regulations about feeding wildlife and using bait for deer hunting. The regulations appear contradictory, but they are not.

One regulation prohibits feeding wildlife statewide with some exceptions, like bird feeders. The purpose is to discourage people from unnaturally concentrating deer with feeders in places where hunting does not occur. Many people have corn feeders in their backyards to attract deer, but they do not hunt in their yards. Some like watching deer from their kitchen windows. Sometimes wives forbid husbands from killing "their" deer. Local ordinances or property owners association codes might prohibit hunting, as well.

The baiting proposal creates a limited exception by allowing hunters to use bait from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, which corresponds roughly to the muzzleloader and modern gun deer seasons. That's when hunters kill about 95 percent of the deer taken annually in Arkansas.

Two archery hunters asked the commission to consider allowing baiting for a short time before archery deer season, which begins Sept. 24.

A few said that baiting should be banned outright. If baiting facilitates the spread of CWD from Jan. 1-Sept. 30, then obviously the peril does not abate during the hunting seasons, they said.

Without baiting, on the other hand, hunters will kill significantly fewer deer, especially in south Arkansas where deer numbers are high, but the amount and quality of deer forage is poor.

Opponents often say that killing deer over bait isn't hunting, but sniping, and that we have raised a generation of hunters that are lost if they can't hunt over bait.

The second part of that argument is false. Today's deer hunters are more knowledgeable, more skillful and more scientifically driven than ever.

Besides, moral judgments taint scientific arguments. Elitism is exclusive. A statewide disease management strategy must be inclusive to be successful.

Arkansas hunters kill about 20 percent of the state's deer population every fall, which fulfills an immediate mission of herd reduction. A regulation that would decrease that level of reduction would be counterproductive to disease control.

In time, maybe more hunters can transition from baiting to cultivating permanent food sources. The latest issue of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine has an outstanding article about food plots in southern industrial pine forests.

For those who haven't the time or resources to plant natural food, or who hunt on land that does not allow agricultural manipulation, baiting is about the only way to attract deer to stands in woods that are close to biological deserts. The baiting proposal is a fair and reasonable compromise that accounts for the probability that we've had CWD in Arkansas for at least a decade.

It has only been urgent since February, which is kind of like worrying about your diet on the eve of a quadruple bypass.

Those attending the Fayetteville meeting were most interested in the suspension of the 3-point rule in deer management zones 1 and 2.

The 3-point rule, effective since 1998, prohibits shooting a buck with fewer than three points on one antler. It protects young bucks and shifted the brunt of the annual kill from 1.5-year old bucks to 2.5-year old bucks. It is vital to quality deer management and is a major reason why Arkansas bucks have better antlers than they did before 1998.

Only one 4-year old buck was killed during the Phase 1 CWD sampling effort in Newton County. None was older than 4. Ricky Chastain, the AGFC's assistant deputy director, said he believes there simply aren't any age-4 or older bucks in that part of the country. CWD kills them early.

Suspending the 3-point rule does not require you to shoot spike bucks or 2x2s, but letting young bucks walk in CWD country does not guarantee that they will live long enough to achieve their potential.

Sports on 05/26/2016

Print Headline: Baiting hot topic at CWD forums

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