MARQUETTE - Deer baiting is one of those activities that has its supporters and detractors.
"It's not so much cheating but the sense of old-fashioned hunting where you literally just go into the woods to find game," Tom Ryan said. "You go to him, you outsmart the game and get it rather than having it come in and eat out of your hand."
While Ryan discussed the personal choices that can be made in regards to baiting deer, he assisted a customer in cleaning the barrel of a rifle at Wilderness Sports in Ishpeming. His customer, Dale Fredette, who teaches hunter safety courses, contributed his own philosophy of baiting.
With the apple harvests in the area not producing well this season, many area deer bait vendors are feeling the effects by only being able to sell sugar beets, carrots and corn. (Journal photo by Amanda Monthei)
"It's like putting your dog out by a dish and then putting a chain on him and having him try to get to the dish," Fredette said. "Sooner or later, he's going to either lay down and sleep or he's going to leave."
While the two of them discussed their experiences with baiting, they also discussed the potential repercussions that could result from using large bait piles in an irresponsible fashion.
With the outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease in the southwest corner of lower Michigan this year - which has since affected 30 counties and killed nearly 12,500 deer - many hunters are being forced to be more conscious of baiting procedures. In fact, baiting in the Lower Peninsula was illegal up until June of 2011, but has since been allowed again.
"The whole issue behind baiting is concerning the issue of disease within the deer population," Ryan said. "What they're tying to avoid is physical contact between the deer while they're eating. If you have all your food concentrated in one pile and you get several deer in that pile, they're going to have to make contact with one another and if one is carrying a disease it may transmit to the other."
Ryan suggested using a smaller amount of bait and spreading it over a much larger area to avoid contact between deer. Personally, Ryan said that a bag of corn can last him up to four years, whereas some hunters use a whole truck bed full in a single season.
"I usually use it more to try to attract the deer to an area," Ryan said, adding that he also likes to keep track of deer activity with the use of bait. "I use a very small amount over a very large area. It serves my purpose just fine and I don't have to lug in 50 pounds on my back."
On the other end of the spectrum is Joe Marzec, who has been selling bait - primarily carrots and sugar beets - on U.S. 41 between Negaunee and Marquette for the past few months. While he isn't a hunter, Marzec has been feeling the pressure of the season as he tries to break even this hunting season.
"I was going to do it at my shop, but I figured 'wow, 20,000 cars a day or something drive on U.S. 41,' so we rented this spot and have been up here," he said. "You ain't going to make money hand over fist but as far as making money my first year, it's been okay."
After attempting to do something similar last hunting season, Marzec said he couldn't find anyone to sell him bait. However with some planning this season, Marzec had two farmers who were willing to grow all the beets and carrots he would need. That ended up being nearly 400 tons of beets and 250 tons of carrots.
"I did no advertisement or anything, I did nothing at all, but we hope to double (those numbers) next year," he said. "I figured I'd try it this year, and if it flopped then I'd just shut her down and not do it next year. My plan was to sell 250 of each this year, so we did better than I thought."