With the hunting season looming, new restrictions on baiting and feeding deer have given hunters pause before buying a license for the upcoming season.

In a response to the increase of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission adjusted deer hunting rules in late January to ban baiting and feeding in the Lower Peninsula. While there was consideration to reverse the ban in July, state legislators have decided to move forward with the new rule before archery season begins at the start of next month.

“I think it’s more important for us to have hunters buying hunting licenses,” Jimmy Gretzinger said. Gretzinger is a Grand Haven Twp. native and an executive producer for the “Michigan Out of Doors” television show. “I personally don’t believe that the ban will stop the spread of the disease. I don’t know if the DNR necessarily thinks [the ban] will stop it. They’re just trying to slow it down.”

The link between baiting and CWD is unclear. Where it affects hunters is in their confidence in seeing deer in areas where they ordinarily might not. Those on the other side are skeptical.

“The reason for the ban is to stop the spread of CWD,” Gretzinger said. “They believe that deer being in nose-to-nose contact could potentially spread CWD to each other. The problem is, the deer live nose-to-nose. They’re already swapping fluids in their day-to-day life.”

Brooks Wheeler is a local native who may now decide to take an hour-long trip to other property to hunt instead of doing so locally.

“I’m always going to hunt,” Wheeler said. “The baiting ban hurts the person that only has a small area to hunt. I’ve hunted all my life around Grand Haven.”

Wheeler had hunted in areas that later became department stores, and what is left is just a 10-acre area.

“The only way I would ever see deer there [now] is if I baited,” Wheeler said. “They’re coming there because I was putting [bait] there.”

With more potential challenges in place, the ban’s effect could be problematic as it pertains to the number of hunters. If hunters feel they are less likely to see deer with the aid of bait, they may consider not buying a license at all.

“We may be losing thousands of hunters across the state,” Gretzinger said. “In northern Michigan and the UP, there’s just a lot less food. Bait piles are much more effective.”

The deer hunting season did technically start over last weekend, with a “Liberty Hunt” for youth and hunters with disabilities. Another point of contention for hunters is the fact that hunters in the Liberty Hunt have an exception to use bait.

“For bow hunters, you have to get them close,” Wheeler said. “The only way to get a good shot is to get them close, and it’s tough to do that without bait.”

Local law enforcement has stressed using more traditional methods to attract deer. Nik Kalejs is the local biologist for the Muskegon State Game Area, and he believes that the spread of CWD is too much to ignore.

“We’ve always looked at baiting restrictions as the appropriate response,” Kalejs said. “The primary interest for us is to find out where we are with this disease. It’s a serious disease. It’s affected several states and a couple Canadian provinces. What’s less clear is how the disease can be spread and what the extent of the infection rate is.”

This year’s ban may serve as a type of test run for the DNR, who introduced the bill to the state legislature and made the initial recommendation along with the Natural Resources Commission.

“If we see a big change in numbers as far as hunters and deer harvested, they may consider [a change],” Gretzinger said. “It’s a really hot thing right now, because everyone’s getting ready for the season.”

Gretzinger also thinks that hunters are simply angry with how far the rules can extend.

“They’re frustrated by a lot of regulations. If you look at the deer hunting guide, there’s a lot of things you can and can’t do, and there are certain places you can do it and you can’t do it,” Gretzinger said.

“It can be really confusing for anyone to look at it and know what they’re doing. We don’t know if it’ll be 1,000 people or 100,000 people, but it’ll be a fair amount of people that won’t hunt because they feel like they won’t see deer without baiting.”

Contact Kyle Turk at kturk@grandhaventribune.com or on Twitter @KyleTurkGHT.

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