Does providing supplemental feed to deer offer more advantages than disadvantages?

By Grant Woods,

  Filed under:

← Grant's AnswersDeer Biology
Question
On Sun, Feb 21, 2016 at 1:31 AM, randal chappell wrote:

Dr. Woods,

For years the Alabama legislature has been trying to pass bills allowing deer hunting over bait. In recent years the bills were labeled as supplemental feeding to assist landowners with distance and out of sight restrictions. I believe they were targeted to actual baiting which is now evident as this year House bill 43 and Senate bill 62 have no restrictions other than one will not be allowed to simply pour the bait out on the ground and bait is explicitly stated. This follows the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board finally allowing \'supplemental feeding\' with distance and out of sight requirements beginning this past hunting season. These two bills would also allow baiting of feral swine, and while it may seem contradictory, I would support baiting hogs since they are an invasive and destructive species.

I have fought this for several years with multiple letters to state legislators, wildlife officials, and our governor as well as speaking before the Conservation Advisory Board and senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry committee. I have found many studies which point to more cons than pros concerning supplemental feeding which includes increased risk of disease transmission, habitat destruction in immediate area, and increased predator presence in the area which can affect non target species as well. While I have put out corn before in front of trail cameras in the off season, I now find myself hesitant to do so and question the safety of feeding even if done properly by professional wildlife managers.

As I see you and others on videos feeding I can see where this may be beneficial to the deer herd\'s health if done properly, but still worry about the possible con\'s (primarily disease transmission) involved. Supplemental feeding may be OK, but I feel sitting on a pile of bait is unethical and I know for a fact from conversations with non hunting friends that the public sees this practice as unethical and distasteful as well. I can with a clear conscience hunt over food plots and explain them to others because of the nature of the food being more natural as it is in its growing state from the ground and it is dependant upon rain and proper growing conditions provided by our Heavenly Father. Since fields are spread over a larger area, the risk of disease is much less. Also, fields still benefit wildlife after the hunting season is over. Some would most likely spend their money on bait rather than fields and then after the season the wildlife would have less. The non hunter can see this when taught.

I would very much appreciate your thoughts on this subject as well as the studies done which show this in a negative light. I enjoy your informative website and videos and value your professional opinion. Hoping you can ease my worries on the cons of supplemental feeding.

Sincerely,

Randal R. Chappell

234 Willow Park Dr.

Hayden, Al. 35079

Randal,

Your question was very well written!  

I agree with you that there can be both advantages and disadvantages to supplemental feeding.  

Both research and experience show that supplemental feeding can result in increased body weights, antler size, and fawn recruitment (number of fawns surviving to six months of age).  Feeding can allow predators to pattern deer easier, etc.  

There's no doubt that supplemental feed can cause deer to be in close proximity and have physical interaction.  However deer are extremely social and have regular physical interaction.  The two diseases that have attracted the most attention with regards to feeding is tuberculosis and CWD. Tuberculosis in deer is limited to a relatively small area.  So let's focus on CWD.   The pertinent question seems to be “Does supplemental feeding cause additive (more) physical interaction (expedite the spread of CWD) or is this interaction compensatory with normal behavior.”  

To my knowledge the highest incidence of CWD is on National Forest lands in Wyoming and Colorado where the use of supplemental feed and minerals have been prohibited for decades.  In this case CWD spread rapidly without the presence of supplemental feed.  There is more supplemental feed used over a larger area in Texas than anywhere else.  Throughout the vast majority of Texas CWD hasn't been detected.  Many universities maintain captive deer for research and most of these deer are totally depending on supplemental feed due to the small size of the research facilities (pens).  I'm not aware of a single deer that's had CWD in any of these facilities.  

It certainly appears supplemental feeding isn't the primary cause of the spread of CWD and likely doesn't cause this disease to spread faster based on large scale observations.  

Citizens clearly enjoy feeding deer, birds, etc.  These activities engage folks with wildlife and add a significant amount to tax base that supports government wildlife management agencies.  

I'm not aware of a clear answer as to whether supplemental feeding of deer offers more advantages or disadvantages.  At this time and based on the information available I believe citizens should be allowed to provide supplemental feed if they wish.  

I do not look at supplemental feeding (goal of increasing nutrition) the same as baiting.  Baiting is a cultural issue – just like southern states having very long gun seasons and northern states have very short gun seasons and very long archery seasons.  I agree with you that the non hunting public isn't as receptive to baiting as they are non-baiting hunting techniques.

This clearly is not a black and white issue.  I hope those involved will be flexible and be willing to change as more is know about CWD and deer behavior!

Enjoy creation,

grant

February 24, 2016