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After law change, DNR seeing increase in deer baiting

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BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is intensifying its efforts to spot corn, pumpkins and other deer food that is being dumped as deer bait in advance of next weekend's firearms deer season opening.

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While it's illegal in Minnesota for hunters to use food to attract deer, a recent revision to the state's deer baiting law may be creating confusion, potentially making the DNR's enforcement efforts more challenging this fall, officials said.

"The change has led some landowners to think they can bait deer this year," said DNR conservation officer Capt. Ken Soring of Grand Rapids, Minn. "But deer baiting is still illegal in Minnesota, and we're enforcing the law as in past years."

The change was made this year in recognition that deer often move from one neighbor's land to the next.

The Legislature revised the baiting law to say that a deer walking toward one property owner's legal deer food or illegal deer bait could be shot by an adjacent landowner en route, provided the adjacent landowner wasn't party to the bait or feed's placement.

Before the change, the adjacent landowner could have been cited for shooting a deer whose movements, generally, were influenced by bait.

"I think the revisions could have been worded better," said DNR deer biologist Lou Cornicelli. "Some people are looking at it and trying to find loopholes to get around the baiting laws on private property. But I think it says what it needs to say."

About 500,000 whitetail hunters are expected to take to the woods for the firearms season, which begins Saturday.

So much baiting has been found by the DNR that the agency might use its three helicopters to drop conservation officers onto suspected violators, officials said.

Deer baiting was prohibited in Minnesota beginning in 1991, when the practice was largely unknown in the state. Now, the DNR says, baiting -- though still practiced by a minority of hunters -- is commonplace.

Hunters who bait seek an edge to bag more and bigger deer. But wildlife managers say deer baiting -- which is legal in Wisconsin, Michigan and some other states -- is unethical and over time could undermine support for hunting among the general public.

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