Fall Turkey: the Conundrum Season | Sports


Deer hunters who use bows eagerly anticipated the opening of the season, which was on September 2 this year. The serious ones had made prior preparations by hanging stands, placing cameras and by baiting — most often with corn, either plain or flavor-enhanced.

In Kentucky, one can hunt deer from September until mid-January during various weapons-based seasons. No matter what our personal opinions about it might be, it is legal to hunt and kill deer on private land in Kentucky over any bait substance that will attract them.

Beginning and concluding contemporaneously with deer season is fall turkey season, also with its phases for use of bows, crossbows and firearms. It is not legal to hunt and kill wild turkeys in Kentucky over bait.

During the recent fall call-in episode of Ky. Afield, the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife’s program on KET, some odd conversation occurred.

Someone asked if it is legal to shoot turkeys with a bow from a stand where the site is baited with corn for deer. The Conservation Officer fielded this question and of course said no, adding that the whole area — and there is no set distance — would be considered as baited.

He went on to state that a mineral block would also make the site illicit for turkey hunting. Shortly after this, one of the guest biologists spoke of fall turkey hunting and touted it as “fun” and that there should be much more participation in it.

I would loved to have asked him where he thought hunters could do all this additional fall turkey hunting, since deer hunters have corn-baited most every farm that is open to them, and illicit sites are not confined to the immediate location of the corn.

Deer hunting is the unrivaled monarch of the Kentucky hunting season. Wild turkey hunting is second only because of its popularity in the spring, when it is the only hunting available, and is probably not close to second in popularity during the autumn.

Corn baiting has become the penultimate strategy of deer hunters, so common that hunters and outfitters feel compelled to bait in order to compete with other hunters at attracting and holding deer on their properties. Deer hunters are not going to stop using corn in order to make their properties legal for turkey hunting.

The definition of what constitutes a baited site compounds the difficulty. It is also illegal to take turkeys within an “area of influence” from the bait. To illustrate, I posed a hypothetical situation to a Wildlife and Boating Officer, usually thought of in the vernacular as “Game Warden”.

My hypothetical ran thus: Farmer Gray has a stand of large oaks on his property. They have produced a good crop of acorns. A turkey flock roosts regularly in Gray’s oaks. No one is baiting Gray’s land to hunt deer, but on Old McDonald’s adjoining farm, the deer hunters who have leased it have kept the corn out all season. The birds leave their roosts, clean up the acorns fallen over night and then proceed down a bluff and across a holler 300 yards to the corn on McDonald’s place. Is it legal to hunt turkeys on Gray?

Paraphrasing the officer’s answer, if persons hunting on Gray know about the bait on McDonald and use that knowledge to intercept them, then that is hunting over bait just as if they were sitting on the corn.

My Messenger conversation with the officer did not go this far, but it is not unrealistic to imagine that authorities might decide that the presence of corn bait on McDonald is an influence that is holding the birds on Gray and a wider area, and that any part of Gray’s farm and all the farms adjoining McDonald’s are baited.

This broad interpretation of zone of influence raises several questions, all pertaining to fairness. Is it fair or reasonable to hold Gray, his family members, and others he allows to hunt on his land responsible for what is happening on McDonald, over which they have no control? Is it fair to limit how Gray can hunt on his land based on what McDonald is allowing on his? Does Gray have any right or obligation to question McDonald about what is happening on his property? Would it be reasonable for Gray to ask McDonald not to allow corn baiting on his farm, given that this might cost McDonald the opportunity to lease his land to deer hunters? Does McDonald have an obligation to inform Gray that deer hunters are baiting his land with corn without Gray taking the initiative to ask?

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In any system such as America’s, where we value private property and resent the imposition of the State too deeply into our affairs, the answer to each of these questions is “No!” The best policy among neighbors is “What happens on our farm stays on our farm!” or “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” But this is not a desirable situation.

A local outfitter who uses corn primarily to obtain photographs, but not for hunting, told me that “Everyone I know who hunts deer is using corn.”

An individual from Salt Lick in Lewis County, who holds a position in the local justice system, remarked: “Out of state deer hunters have leased that entire country across the creek from me. They buy and dump corn by the ton.”

The officer I spoke with agreed that “With all the corn outfitters are putting out, large areas could be affected.” It seems that deer hunting has come down to a matter of competing bait piles, and it is not my intent to criticize this. It is legal and widely accepted. Not to do it — unless you are blessed with a super food plot and penultimate habitat — is probably to relinquish any success at hunting on your property.

It would be interesting to do a straw poll of wildlife officials about their opinion on baiting deer. They do not allow it on the WMA’s but make no effort to control it on private lands.

The officer I spoke with expressed his opinion that he wished it were not permitted at all. That is a wish I doubt he will ever see fulfilled. Prohibition of baiting for deer would bring a seismic outcry from the constituents that keep paychecks coming to wildlife personnel and gas in the tanks of patrol vehicles. Sale of corn and various other commercial attractants is a big business. Deer baiting as a hunting strategy here in Kentucky is, to borrow and alter a phrase, “Too big to ban.”

It’s just wrong that deer hunting strategy and wildlife regulations join to make legal fall turkey hunting places so hard to find. The fix is really simple but not one the rule makers will embrace: Change the regulation in fall hunting so that zones of influence do not extend across property lines and that a violation occurs only if the hunter is actually sitting on the corn.

If the bureaucrats won’t change this, then the legislators ought to do it. As things stand, the fall turkey season is a conundrum and very much an empty offering.

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