Deer baiting, feeding ban implemented in Oconto, Menominee counties

Deer in woods, July 9, 2016 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

(WLUK) -- Baiting and feeding deer will no longer be allowed in Oconto and Menominee counties after Nov. 1.

The state Department of Natural Resources is implementing the ban following the discovery of chronic wasting disease in a deer killed at Apple Creek Game Farm in Gillett.

Opening weekend for Deer Hunt 2016 is just six weeks away, and that discovery is bringing changes ahead of the season.

43 of Wisconsin's 72 counties are now affected by CWD, and according to state law, baiting and feeding deer is prohibited in those counties.

Oconto County and Menonminee County are the latest to be added to the list.

At the Sportsmen's Xchange in Stiles, bags and bags of deer bait crowd the aisles. Travis Schmechel says bow hunters and others are buying.

"We ordered 20 bags of apple corn, like 20 trophy rocks, some deer-licious mineral. Lots of stuff," said Travis Schmechel, Sportsmen's Xchange Store Manager.

But starting November 1, using that corn to bait or feed deer in Oconto and Menominee Counties will be illegal.

"Recognizing that we're fairly early enough in the deer hunting season that the bulk of the potential baiting activity is yet to come, and we can curtail that, and have decided to do so," said Jeff Pritzl, DNR District Wildlife Supervisor.

Pritzl says chronic wasting disease can spread quickly from deer to deer, and piles of bait can serve as the source.

"You got multiple animals visiting the exact same spot, and repeated times. So you introduce a sick animal, into that situation, and it just increases the risk of transmission." said Pritzl.

Meanwhile, Schmechel is reevaluating his inventory of deer bait, and also, chronic wasting disease.

"It's pretty crazy. To think that in the middle of the season, we got a new law, focusing on this. I know it was found on a game farm, and everyone else is kind of being punished for it. Just doesn't seem right," he said.

When it comes to baiting and feeding, hunters opinions are mixed.

"I believe it helps a lot. Now you're just going to hope that something just comes walking through," said Schmechel.

"As you hunt the fields, I don't have to bait. There's a lot of people who hunt in the woods would have to," said George Steigelman, Crivitz.

"I'm not too worried having to not be able to bait or anything. If you're a good hunter, you'll be able to get your deer," said Jason Winans, Oconto Falls.

The D-N-R says the most up-to-date regulations for the hunt are online, and include things not listed in the official 2016 guide.

The agency is also planning an education effort leading up to Deer Hunt 2016.

DNR officials say they will monitor a 10-mile radius around the area where the affected deer was reported for the next couple years to see if any other deer contract CWD.

State law requires the DNR to impose a baiting and feeding ban for any county within a 10-mile radius of a location where a CWD-infected deer is found. Menominee and Shawano counties are both within 10 miles of the game farm, but there has been a ban on baiting and feeding in Shawano County since 2014.

CWD attacks the brains of deer, causing the animals to grow thin, act strangely and eventually die.

The ban does not restrict the sale of bait and feed in the counties for other uses or for use elsewhere. It is still legal to feed birds and small mammals as long as feeding stations are within 50 yards of a human dwelling and too high for deer or otherwise designed to prevent deer from getting into them.

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