Baiting Deer Illegally or Just Feeding the Squirrels?

June 26, 2017

People ask all the time whether it is illegal to bait or feed animals in Wisconsin. The lawyer answer, that people always hate, is “it depends.” The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently clarified that whether baiting or feeding is illegal depends on whether the person baited or fed animals for the purpose of hunting those animals. In other words, feeding the animals in an area where you do not hunt appears to be okay, but baiting animals to your deer stand to get a better shot at the monster buck is illegal.

This article summarizes the recent decision from the Court of Appeals. First, some background: In response to the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) problem, the Wisconsin Legislature directed the DNR to create “rules that prohibit feeding deer for hunting or viewing purposes” in counties affected by CWD. The DNR took this directive and created a rule where “deer baiting and feeding is prohibited in entire counties” that have been established as CWD-affected areas. You can see the list of counties affected by CWD at the DNR’s website here.

However, DNR defined baiting and feeding as baiting or feeding “for the purpose of hunting wild animals.”

Back to the recent Court of Appeals decision. In State v. Walker, a DNR warden watched Walker place pumpkins and corn near two tower deer stands on the day before deer season. The DNR warden also saw about ten pumpkins under a tree in a clearing on another farm Walker owned. The DNR warden spoke with Walker, but Walker did not admit to leaving the corn or pumpkins to bait deer to the stands for hunting purposes. Instead, Walker asked if he could hunt near the food sites or whether he would have to wait until the animals ate the bait.

The DNR wrote Walker citations for illegally baiting deer. Walker fought the citations at a trial where the DNR wardens testified about the facts. At the end of the trial, the court threw the tickets out, ruling that the DNR had to show that Walker left the food “for the purpose of hunting” and that there was no evidence that Walker or anyone else intended to hunt near the food.

The DNR appealed, but the Court of Appeals agreed with Walker and the trial court. The Court wrote that the DNR’s regulations only prohibit baiting or feeding wild animals for the purpose of hunting or viewing them. In other words, it is not illegal to place food plots or food piles; it is only illegal if you do so with the intent of attracting animals to that food so you can hunt or watch them.

So what’s the answer to the question of whether you can feed deer in Wisconsin? It seems that you can feed deer for any reason except to hunt or watch them. You can feed wild animals because you think they are hungry, to increase the population on your property, or just about any other reason you can think of. Sometimes the answer to the question depends on just how creative you can be with your reasons.

For more information, check out State v. Walker, at this link, or the DNR Regulations on baiting and feeding wild animals, Wis. Admin. Code NR 10.07(2m), at this link.