Dave's Warden Report, Vol 17

"The Last Report - Not all Baiters are Violators, but all Violators Bait"

Approximately two years ago I offered to write stories about violations revolving around deer baiting and deer feeding. I had done this with the hopes of educating the public to the existing law enforcement problems with baiting and feeding with the ultimate hope of helping eliminate the practice from Wisconsin. There are an infinite number of stories available but I tried to be selective, with the purpose of showing how diverse and wide spread the problem is.

As I have stated many times, deer baiting and feeding have become the catalyst for deer violations. It has lead to an increase in late hunting, multiple bagging of bucks during the bow season, group hunting violations, cabin shooting, the illegal shooting of bear, hunter conflicts, etc. I could keep submitting stories, and although many would find the stories interesting and different, the theme is still the same. We have a law enforcement problem in Wisconsin because of baiting and feeding. Not all baiters violate but all violators bait. Baiting and feeding has become the tool of the violator, making it easier for the violator to violate, and harder for the warden to catch them. It has caused many to cross over to the dark side and break the law. If after reading the stories I've submitted, someone does not believe we have a problem, than a hundred, a thousand stories will not convince them.

I have therefore decided to submit only one more story. The following is a prime example of why I say "Not all baiters are violators, but all violators bait."

In 1985, Lincoln County Warden Tom Wenninger (since retired) received information that the Stangs and Gants were baiting and over bagging ducks in and along the northern Langlade and Lincoln County border. That was it.

It wasn't a lot to go on but once Tom relayed the information to me we decided we would increase our patrol time in that area with the hopes we would discover some clue to the suspects activity. It was a monumental task, as there are literally hundreds of small bog lakes and beaver ponds in and along the northern border of Lincoln and Langlade Counties.

We did scour the countryside that fall but did not find any area baited for waterfowl. We had patrolled on foot, truck, ATV, and even used the plane so it was frustrating to not find what we were looking for. In the late summer of 1986 Tom tried to get more information from the cooperator. Unfortunately, our informant didn't know where the suspects had hunted. He did insist that the Gants and Stangs did kill a huge number of ducks and geese in 1985 though.

In September of 1986, we got a break. I invited a number of neighboring wardens into my administrative area to look for bear baits. Tom Wenninger and Don Mezei (since retired) were working along the Lincoln/Langlade County line when they found where a vehicle had been pulling off and parking along a woods road. A man made trail led through the woods to the north. They followed the trail, assuming they would find a bear bait but instead the trail ended at a small unnamed bog lake. They flushed about 20 ducks from the lake. They thought this odd because it was not a body of water that should attract ducks. Tom and Don looked briefly around the shoreline but didn't want to linger too long so they walked back to their vehicle and left the area. Tom later relayed the information to me and we made arrangements to visit the lake again and do a more thorough investigation.

Two days later we found a place to hide the vehicle and then walked through the woods to the lake. After a short search, we found what we were looking for. Shelled corn had been broadcast along the south and east shorelines. The framework for a blind was found along the east shore. We gathered some corn for evidence and then left the area. The only problem was the corn was found more than two weeks prior to the waterfowl opener. We would have to make one more visit to make sure the lake was baited within 10 days of the opener for a baiting violation.

Two days before duck season, my deputy (Phil Migas) dropped me off and I again hiked into the lake. There was still corn so I gathered some evidence and then had Phil pick me up. As we were leaving the area, we met a vehicle. We stopped to check them for loaded guns and then proceeded on. We never thought much of the encounter, because they weren't our suspects, just typical road hunters.

I worked that pond for the first seven days of the waterfowl season but no one showed. I was frustrated. Why was it baited but not hunted? Tom learned the answer to that question over the winter. The cooperator heard that our suspects didn't hunt that pond because we were seen in the area and were spooked. The cooperator did tell Tom that the suspects did hunt over other baited ponds that fall and again shot an excessive number of ducks and geese.

Tom and I didn't know if the Stangs and Gants were going to hunt the one pond we knew about but we were still going to look for them in the fall of 1987. Again, we got lucky. One of Tom Wenninger's deputies was driving along a woods road just into Lincoln County (approximately two miles east of the previously baited pond) one evening when he spotted one of our suspects driving out of a dead end logging road. The deputy knew that the logging road ended at a beaver pond so he relayed the information to Tom. Tom in turn relayed the information to me and we made arrangements to meet the next evening. We called Randy Falstad (Marathon County Warden) to help us.

We didn't want to park our vehicle in the area so Tom drove his personal vehicle and dropped Randy off at the beaver pond and me at the lake we knew they had baited the previous year. While I was checking out the lake for corn I heard a door slam so I hid in some balsams. A short time later, one of our suspects appeared at the south shore and broadcast shelled corn along the shore. The hunt appeared to on again for my pond. Randy had some success too. He found shelled corn at his pond. Maybe after three years we would have some luck catching these guys.

Opening day found Warden Supervisor Dick Streng and I at the pond in Langlade County and Randy Falstad and District Warden Jim Blankenheim monitoring the recently discovered pond in Lincoln County.

Dick and I watched ducks come and go to the bait on our pond throughout the day but just like the previous years, no one came to hunt. Jim and Randy never saw anyone come to their pond but after the noon starting time someone surprised them by shooting into a cluster of mallards from a well concealed blind of balsams. They sat back and waited. The suspect never shot at a duck while flying but would wait until they were grouped in front and then shoot only once. Jim and Randy never did get into a real decent position to observe so they were uncertain how many ducks the suspect had shot. Towards dusk, they decided to approach, but when they got to the balsams, the hunter was gone. They couldn't believe it. They had never seen anyone enter nor did they see him leave. When we met up that night both Jim and Randy were embarrassed and angry that the violator had gotten away. We had no choice but to try again the next day.

As in all the previous years, no one hunted the pond I monitored but someone again hunted the pond Jim and Randy were at. This time they didn't wait too long. The suspect was one of the Gants. His methods were that of a life long poacher. Only shooting at ducks once as they fed on corn in front of his blind. Maximum kill with minimum attention. The ducks were breasted out and the meat hid in a thermos. The remains were stomped down into the muck. In a very short time he had killed 16 mallards. He entered and exited the pond from a well concealed trail that led through the woods for a half mile to where his truck was hid. We can only speculate that the reason we didn't have a hunter at our pond was they had several ponds baited and hunted them at when the opportunity arose.

So what does this have to do with deer baiting? I'll gladly explain.

The next deer season Tom Wenninger received a complaint on Monday of the deer gun season that someone was hunting illegally in his area. When Tom investigated, he found one of the Gants hunting in what will be forever referred to as the "Killing Fields". What this violator had done was cut shooting lanes on Lincoln County Forest Lands. His tree stand was like the hub of a wheel and several shooting lanes radiated out like spokes for that wheel. At the end of each spoke was a large, very large, pile of bait. Tom estimates the total amount of bait numbered in the several hundreds of pounds, possibly covering an area 30 yards by 70 yards total. Three drag trails indicated he had been very successful already. He had cut so much timber that Lincoln County Forestry Department got involved and cited the baiter for timber trespass, in addition to the DNR hunting violations.

The following fall Joe Ryder (retired Merrill Warden) and Tom Wenninger investigated a bowhunting complaint involving one of the Stangs, partner in crime to the Gants, and fellow baiter. Eventually they cited Stang for shooting a buck and then putting his wife's tag on the deer. When questioning the wife, she turned to her husband and asked "honey, do I hunt deer with a bow". The deer was killed over bait.

The Stangs and Gants are violators and are successful because of baiting. We would never consider allowing hunters to hunt waterfowl over bait for obvious reasons, yet we allow it for deer hunting. I have difficulty following the logic. We don't allow it for turkey hunting for obvious reasons, yet we allow it for deer hunting. Same logic?

This story exemplifies why I can confidently say that Not All Baiters Violate But All Violators Bait. This is why the violators have embraced baiting so enthusiastically. It makes them more efficient and harder to catch. It is also why the violators fought so hard to preserve baiting. These also are the same people that certain legislators, like Scott Gunderson, in turn embraced. Because of legislators like Scott Gunderson, deer baiting and feeding remains a headache for Law Enforcement, a threat to the health of our deer herd, and a tool for the violator.

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