MINNEAPOLIS -- Baiting, illegal party hunting and transporting loaded firearms are the three most common Minnesota deer hunting violations, according to statistics kept by the Enforcement Division of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DNR Conservation Officer Jeff Denz of Willmar said overall compliance with statewide deer hunting regulations is very good. With nearly 500,000 whitetail hunters afield last year, only 1,400 were busted by game wardens in the 10 categories that represent the vast majority of enforcement actions, according to the stats.
"We go from group to group and it's just a small percentage of hunters who knowingly or unknowingly are breaking the law," said Denz, a 10-year veteran of the game warden staff.
Here is a breakdown of those most common violations:
-- Hunting with the aid of bait
Patty Holt of DNR's Enforcement Division said hunting over bait was the single most common bust during last year's deer season. Nearly 200 citations were issued and another 56 hunters received warnings, Holt said.
Under the law, all bait or feed must be removed from hunting grounds at least 10 days before shooting. In the event of a detected violation, the site is placed off-limits to all hunters for 10 days and the violator could lose hunting privileges for a year, Denz said. Generally speaking, conservation officers also will confiscate a violator's firearm.
"If one guy in a group is baiting, he is affecting all other hunters on the same property," Denz said.
Cracking down on people who hunt deer with the aid of bait is an enforcement priority, Denz said. Fines run as high as $375. But it's a difficult regulation to enforce. Locating the bait can be challenging, and it's difficult to catch someone in the act of hunting over bait. He cautioned that some deer lures in the shape of salt blocks and mineral blocks are considered food.
Denz said comprehensive deer-feeding bans in the three large zones where the DNR is conducting surveillance for chronic wasting disease (CWD) this fall will simplify baiting cases in those areas. That's because feeding is completely off limits in any part of the zones this year.
Those zones surround two CWD-tainted deer farms in Crow Wing and Meeker counties along with territory in and around Fillmore County's CWD management zone where the DNR is trying to contain a CWD outbreak first detected last fall in wild deer.
-- Transporting a loaded firearm
Last year, 131 deer hunters were ticketed and another 38 were warned for carrying a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, Holt said. The law applies to travel in all modes of motorized transportation, including four-wheelers, snowmobiles, motorcycles, tractors, cars or trucks. When taken in any sort of vehicle, a firearm must be unloaded and should be kept in its case. One exception for not casing your gun applies to hunters if they are going to or coming from that day's hunting grounds. This exception was designed for hunters who travel long distances on foot during deer drives and receive transportation to or from meeting places. Fines for violators range up to $275.
-- Illegal party hunting
Denz said cases of illegal party hunting often include a mixed bag of violations -- including failure to validate a harvested deer with a timely, properly notched tag. Other rules trampled during illegal party-hunting schemes include improper lending or borrowing of deer tags, over-limit of deer, hunting without a license and failure to register a deer within 48 hours of harvest.
Denz said the scams center on stockpiling licenses in the names of people who aren't hunting. A hunter will illegally use the fronted tags before using his or her own tag in order to stay in the field with an unfilled tag. Scofflaws of this sort are found most often in deer permit areas where hunters can harvest only one deer.
Party hunting is OK when one hunter tags a deer shot by a companion, as long as the two actively are hunting together. When someone fails to tag a deer or register one in a timely fashion, it's a red flag of "a bigger picture of illegal party hunting," Denz said.
"Most people are doing it right, but the guys who are doing it wrong, of course, we all want to catch them," he said.
According to DNR statistics, 844 citations and warnings were issued to hunters last year in the oft-related areas of no license, untagged deer, illegal possession of deer, illegal lending and borrowing of licenses, failure to validate a harvested deer with a tag and failure to register a deer within 48 hours of harvest.
Holt of the DNR said the two other most common violations enforced last year by game wardens were private land trespass by hunters and failure to comply with high-visibility clothing requirements. More warnings than citations were given out last year in each of those categories.
This year's Minnesota firearms deer season opens Nov. 4.
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