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Senate passes deer baiting bill after contentious debate

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is in the process of deciding whether to make hunting over bait legal in the state, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from moving forward with a bill that aims to do the same thing.

On Wednesday, the Senate debated for more than an hour about a bill that would allow the hunting of deer over grain or other food.

Critics say the practice takes the sport out of hunting. Supporters say it’s a means of controlling the state’s growing deer population.

The bill passed 25-24, but was held for more consideration. It could be taken up again as early as Thursday. If the bill clears the Senate, it will go back to the House.

During debate, Senate Wildlife Committee Chairman Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi, stunned his colleagues when he told them deer are being hunted over bait legally in Tunica County.

“They’re using bait in Tunica County, right now? Legally?” Sen. Walter Michel asked.

Gollott responded: “They’ve got turnip greens in all those lands up there. If that’s not baiting, there’s not a cow in Texas. I asked them if they’re going to eat those turnip greens, and they said ‘No, that’s for the deer.’”

Hunting over bait is illegal, but hunting over food plots isn’t, said James Walker, a MDWFP spokesman.

Under the bill, food must be placed in a feeder. The Senate amended the bill to require that feeders not be placed within 100 yards of someone’s property. Another Senate change would allow for the use of spin feeders by hunters.

“By allowing the hunters to use feeders and shoot over the deer eating, then they can selectively shoot certain deer. You can control the population,” Gollott said.

Walker said Mississippi’s deer population is around 2 million.

The pending legislation comes as the MDWFP is gathering data to determine whether hunting over bait should be legal in the state. Walker said legislation passed last year gave the agency the authority to make the decision.

Since then, the agency has sent out 187,000 surveys across the state to hunters to ask their opinion about hunting over bait. Walker said information also has been gathered from other states that allow hunting over bait.

“We’re going to take all this information and our intent is to address the issue in the next 60 or so days,” Walker said, adding that 15 states allow hunting over bait.

Michel, R-Jackson, said the bill was an attempt “to dummy-down the sport.” Michel said if senators allow more debate on the bill, he plans to offer an amendment to remove the provision that allows hunting over bait and instead add two weeks to deer hunting season.

“It boils down to ethics,” Michel said. “Is it ethical to put a pile of turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes 20 yards in front of the shooting house and shoot at deer?”

The bill is House Bill 1089.